Signs of Desperation?

Is it just me, or is there some below-the-surface anxiety among party leaders over possible ramifications of a Giuliani ticket for the GOP? It seems the Virginia GOP is demanding a loyalty oath from primary voters. Party over principle!

Some Words of Mencken

"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin."

"Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself."

"All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it."

"There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."

"The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth."

"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists."

What an Opening

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Romney vs. McCain on Waterboarding

Romney says he's opposed to torture, but won't say whether certain techniques qualify as torture, for fear that the enemy will know of and prepare themselves for what we do. His position: trust us blindly not to torture, cause we say we don't, though we'll not be saying what we do.

Good for you, McCain, for not dancing around the issue. Remember: waterboarding is actual drowning done to simulate death; it can cause severe physical and mental pain. It is by definition torture, regardless of what the President or Governor Romney says (or won't say). It has a legal history in even Texas as being a crime.

Navigating in the Storm

It doesn't take much to get Catholic League president Bill Donohue worked up, but that doesn't mean his concerns shouldn't be taken seriously. His latest cause against anti-Catholicism is directed at the soon-to-be-released movie The Golden Compass, based on a books series called His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

At the moment I don't have much of an opinion on the whole brewing storm. I've found some films/books charged in the past with anti-Catholicism to be hardly that, and I haven't read the current works in question. Not all Catholics are horrified by the novels, however. Donna Freitas, writing in the Boston Globe, argues,
The book's concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman's work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman's work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman's work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox.
Feel better now? Carl Olson, who puts quotes around the word Catholic when applying it to Freitas, is unimpressed by her arguments. So are the Catholics at CUF. I can't imagine Freitas' arguments convincing, say, Chesterton, but take her arguments for what they're worth. From a different angle, the Thirsty Gargoyle reflects on why the Catholic Church is so often the villain (either explicitly or implicitly) in stories such as Pullman's.

Assuming Pullman's tales are attacks on religion, which books are more dangerous for the soul: these and other atheistic tomes and tales that may steer readers away from their faith, or the popular political polemics that may instill and fuel hatred in readers' hearts?

Of course, books may do both.

Why Commercials are Good

Toward a Hermeneutic of Hospitality

When we think we've got the other entirely figured out, we're fooling ourselves, and are probably missing an opportunity to learn something.

It is a fundamental principle of honest debate that when you present your opponent's ideas or positions, you should do so in a way that your opponent would agree is accurate. Real debate requires hospitality, an open, welcoming, and genuine attempt to understand the other and his or her ideas. If we can't state the ideas we're debating accurately, then we are locked into ourselves and our ideas, hindered from talking with each other and enslaved into talking past each other. Such failures to communicate don't help ourselves or our "opponents" reach a closer encounter with truth.

The internet, television, talk radio, and the printed press really offer us opportunities to have a fruitful exchanges of ideas. I think it's safe to say that we're not taking advantage of those opportunities. We prefer to structure our media into organized camps separated by ideology and political allegiance. Debates between opposing sides are seldom more than theatrics designed to boost ratings. Our side is all good; the other, all bad. And of course we know exactly what our intellectual opponents are all about. I get irritated when examples are not put forth to support assertions, so, in order to avoid self-irritation, some examples: here , here, and here.

The media personalities are intelligent and articulate people, but their talents are wasted when their discussions of ideas are reduced to profit-driven entertainment. Is there a remedy for all this? I think so, but it requires changing our whole culture to where we value a shared pursuit of truth. Currently we value others so far as they are fodder for our intellectual wars. We have to drop the hermeneutic of war and adopt a hermeneutic of hospitality. Such an exchange is a prerequisite if we want our ideas to bear fruit beyond merely ourselves.

Goldsmith's Hospitality

Mon nez est très encombré, et je ne peux pas souffle bien par lui.

Sayings sounds so much lovelier en français. Translation: I'm getting over a cold, yet remain quite congested and unable to smell even the diced garlic I've just swallowed to boost my immune system. I think I may have done something to irritate my boss, whose boss's boss's boss is God. It's not wise to annoy people who have connections.

I find the congestion clears but for a moment if I'm energetically moving around or exercising, and so, upon my arrival home, I opted to walk to the apartment mailbox to gather the mail. Nothing too exciting, but I did get bargain books catalogue from Hamilton Bookseller. I think I may have bought a philosophy book from them once. This edition featured in its politics section books titled The I Hate Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity...Reader: The Hideous Truth About America's Ugliest Conservatives; How to Talk to a Liberal If You Must; How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help--and the Rest of Us; and Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. Hatred sells similarly to way sex sells, doesn't it? Really, are these books about the common good, justice, and political truth, or are they sold for the purposes of fruitless self-gratification?

On a less nauseous note, I got around to reading Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency, which is not a tale of how President Bush terrorizes, which in our political climate is what I momentarily wondered, but a first-hand narrative and hospitable critique of certain actions, ideologies, and policies of public servants in the Bush administration. The terror president is simply the president in the time of terror. Goldsmith is a former Assistant Attorney General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel, whose job it was to determine whether or not the president's plans or actions are legal. Not a neutral job, that.

What impressed me most about Goldsmith's book is that he worked very hard to criticize within the existing contexts. He shows us what daily pressures men like Alberto Gonzales and David Addington were under, both from daily reports of dreadful threats from terrorists and the hyper-legalized culture in which our public servants operated. Goldsmith doesn't shy away from stating when and where he thinks the president or members of the administration were wrong or even crazy (Goldsmith was the one who withdrew the now infamous "torture memo" crafted by John Yoo), but he criticizes knowing that he's talking about real people; he doesn't reduce Yoo or Addington down to evil caricatures that play villains in his narrative. He sees them as people passionate about preventing another terror attack, but driven by what he sees as a dangerous idea of executive power.

Goldsmith's book raises some issues worth more reflection (over 10,000 lawyers, not including reservists, work in the Defense Department), but such reflection will need to wait until my sinuses are clear and I can write with something passing for intelligence and insight.

Listen to Your Parents

Don't walk in the street barefoot, don't bite your fingernails, and for goodness sake, don't eat your hair!

Quote of the Day

"I've learned that just because the French oppose something, it doesn't automatically mean it's a good idea." - Andrew Sullivan
I was always disgusted by the anti-French sentiment that pervaded our society following France's refusal to obey our will on foreign policy, a disgust which was due not in the least to my love for French philosophers, French wine, and French women--well, one French lady in particular.

Adding to the Problem

Are babies destructive enemies of the environment? Do parents selfishly preserve their genetic line at the expense of the planet? These couples think so.

A Thought for the Feast of Christ the King

"This is what determines the ontological position of hope--absolute hope, which is inseparable from a faith which is likewise absolute, transcending all laying down of conditions, and for this very reason every kind of representation whatever it might be. The only possible source from which this absolute hope springs must once more be stressed. It appears as a response of the creature to the infinite Being to whom it is conscious of owing everything that it has and upon whom it cannot impose any condition whatsoever without scandal. From the moment that I abase myself in some sense before the absolute Thou who in his infinite condescension has brought me forth out of nothingness, it seems as though I forbid myself ever again to despair, or, more exactly, that I implicitly accept the possibility of despair as an indication of treason, so that I could not give way to it without pronouncing my own condemnation. Indeed, seen in this perspective, what is the meaning of despair if not a declaration that God has withdrawn himself from me? In addition to the fact that such an accusation is incompatible with the nature of the absolute Thou, it is to be observed that in advancing it I am unwarrantably attributing to myself a distinct reality which I do not possess."

- Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope

Be Careful of What You Buy at Yard Sales

Exploits of the Monarch's henchman, Number 21, at Dr. Venture's supervillain-assembling yard sale.

Enemy Behind the Lines

Against my better judgment, the sage advice of friends, the loving pleas of my wife, and the risk I take of corrupting my son, I continue to listen to talk radio. Gallagher, Prager, Medved, Hannity, Levin, and Limbaugh--yes, even the master of excellence in broadcasting who wields talent on loan from God. (If God ever gave me talent, I think he'd ask for it back immediately). I listen to progressives as well, Thom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes in particular. I can't explain or defend this vice, other than I am fascinated with what and how people think--you know, the whole hermeneutics thing--and talk radio does feature lots of different, er, thinking.

The talk radio personalities are smart and articulate people, especially within their controlled environments and talking points. I don't have the quick-thinking capacity to dare call up and debate with any of them, and I'm far too proud to test that theory in real time. So I merely listen to the pundits, their great admirers, and the inarticulate dissenters who make it past the screeners.

I digress. In listening to talk radio, I've noticed a heartfelt and agonizing concern among the hosts and the guests that Hollywood, the mainstream media, and the Democrats are beholden to the enemy, that their actions put us in harm's way and risk increasing the chance of a terrorist act. A filmmaker produces a film that puts America in a bad light and could become propaganda for terrorists. The New York Times publishes an article revealing secret programs to the public and to the enemy. A Democratic leader claims that the war has failed, diminishing our morale and boosting the resolve of the Jihadists.

Of course, in our technologically advanced age with instant worldwide communication a norm, any public criticism of the U.S. in the war on terrorism will undoubtedly be heard, and probably used, by the terrorists. So what do we do, never make movies that suggest Americans sin from time to time? Never allow our press the freedom to question government policy? Never admit our fallibility and that our best intentions can lead or have lead to failure?

Unless we are willing to forsake the freedom to openly criticize, we will have to accept and live with the possibility than such criticisms can be used against us by enemies. That is a price of living is a free society at war. Having international law poses similar risks: Al Qaeda members may claim to have been tortured, or that the U.S. violated international law in its war against them. The law may be used against us, but for that should we abandon the idea of international law and global respect for human rights?

The perpetuity of these pressing concerns and questions brought to my mind a 1991 reflection on war by Umberto Eco, in which he wrote:

Even when the media are gagged, the new technologies of communication permit an unstoppable flow of information--and not even a dictator can prevent this, because such technologies make use of fundamental infrastructures that he cannot do without either. This flow of information assumes the role played in traditional wars by the secret services: it neutralizes every surprise action--and you cannot have a war in which it is impossible to surprise the enemy. War produces a general exchange of intelligence with the enemy. But information does more: it continually allows the enemy to speak (while the aim of all wartime policy is to block enemy propaganda), and demoralizes the citizens of the contending parties with regard to their own government (while Calusewitz points out that a condition for victory is the moral cohesion of the combatant). Every war in the past was based on the principle that the citizens, believing it to be a just war, were anxious to destroy the enemy. Now information not only shakes the faith of the citizens, it also leaves them vulnerable when faced with the death of the enemy--no longer a distant and vague event but instead unbearable visual evidence.
In our modern wars, Eco says, "everyone has the enemy behind the lines." While our policies and even secret programs are being revealed the world over, bin Laden enters our living rooms to propagate his cause against us. Eco thought, even before the Internet advanced in scope and power, that this unstoppable flow of information makes war impossible, a waste, and he implored us to seek an alternative.

Is Eco right? Perhaps, perhaps not. If he is correct, it is a bit ironic that Sean Hannity and friends are the among those complaining loudest about our media's emboldening the enemy.


This film looks promising and intelligently funny.

Waterboarding in Texas

Joseph L. Galloway reminds us what was then:
When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, the state investigated, indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for 10 years a county sheriff who, with his deputies, had waterboarded a criminal suspect. That sheriff got no pardon from Gov. Bush.
Just for the record.

My Treasure Seeking Son

Not content with his wide selection of cardboard books, my son, since he mastered mobility, has taken a liking to the books belonging to his mommy and daddy. He seems to have favorites, which he, as often as opportunity is offered, will pull off the shelves and on to the floor, and often embrace with as much affection as he gives to his stuffed animals or to me.

Among his favorite titles to grab are Mark Helprin's masterful novel, A Soldier of the Great War, Fr. Laux's Church History published by Tan, Wheelock's Latin, a book on John Adams and the American Revolution, The Screwtape Letters, and Very Good Jeeves.

This morning he was eying Simone de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity and J.L. Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, a fascination of his which, I do not hesitate to say, worries me.

A Grossly Incomplete Thanksgiving List

Altogether overdone alliteration

Friends and family, especially my wife and our son

Heartbreaking tales of tenacious hope

Holy Mother Church

People willing to ask painfully piercing questions in the pursuit of truth

Soul-caressing beauty

Stella Artois, Spaten, Bushmills, Midleton Very Rare, and Pino Noir

The gift and Giver of life, love, and laughter

Those remarkable men and women who devotedly give their lives in service and sacrifice for others whom they do not know

Twentieth Century French Phenomenology

Wonderful forgiveness and those who forgive

Concise Philosophy

Epistemology is mostly a matter of what prepositions we place between truth and mind.

A Moment of Merriment

If the holiday stresses have got you down, or the hypocrisy of politicians has roused your despair, if the impending madness of shopping has made you cynical, then, if you are able, pause and take a moment of merriment to sing and dance, for at the beginning and the end of the day, there is love.

Relating to Truth

"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate asked Jesus.

It wasn't a bad question to ask. Pilate's problem, one of them anyway, was that he wasn't looking for an answer, and he wasn't prepared to radically transform his life if he heard one. He didn't care what truth was. Particularly bad timing for him to be a man without a chest, for truth was standing before him, made manifest before his eyes; he could touch him.

Pilate was in a physical position to relate to truth in an intimate and life-fulfilling way, but he had other relations and relationships that weighed heavily on his heart and mind. He couldn't be bothered with the truth, even when it was literally within his reach. Instead, he sent truth away, washed his hands of it, and allowed truth to be destroyed because the Truth who is a Person didn't correspond to men's ideas of what truth is.

Pilate couldn't hear a profound answer to his question because his indifference to the truth put him in a poor relationship to truth, blinding him to the loving face of truth before him. He could not hear and could not see because he had false relationship to truth. We cannot know truth or what truth is unless we have a real relationship with truth.

How do we know what relationship we have to truth?

The language we use, and particularly the metaphors with which we play, give us some indication. Metaphors of sight and touch are perhaps the most common in my experience. We speak of seeing the truth and touching the truth. Wondering whether another understands our meaning, we ask, "Do you see what I mean?" or "Do you grasp my meaning?" Words for having knowledge of the truth use the metaphors of sight and light: enlightenment and illumination. The philosophers Gabriel Marcel and Paul Ricoeur, mindful of the majesty of truth, spoke of hope that they bathed in the light of truth. Hegel believed his hands were busy at truth's delivery. Even the word understanding is a metaphor: to stand under, to get at the roots of, to see the foundation. The word understanding implies digging and close examination of what's below the surface, and so makes use of both metaphors of sight and touch.

We can delve deeper into these metaphors and what they reveal about our relationship to truth. The metaphor of sight indicates a relationship of some distance from the truth, but where we can see more of the whole. Touch implies a closeness and intimacy with truth, but a blindness to what is outside our touch and close vision. These metaphors, as all metaphors do, conceal what they reveal.

Even when we touch the truth or see the truth, though, our relationship to truth can be false and dangerous. We can fool ourselves into thinking that our vision captures the totality of infinite truth. We can take hold of truth and jealously guard it as a possession or wield it as a weapon against those who to our minds do not have the truth.

Saying that we have the truth isn't necessarily wrong or bad, so long as we realize that it is not something we entirely understand or possess in our finite little minds. We have truth so that we may share truth, and truth is bigger than we are. I believe our relationship with truth ought to be one of love, humility, and hospitality. The truth isn't meant to be hated, manhandled, or hidden away.

When we touch upon the truth, is our touch an embrace of friends or family, a caress of a lover, or a handshake of hospitality? Is our touch that of a child hugging and kissing her parents? Or do we grab the truth and pull it to ourselves and to ourselves alone? Do we try to hide it from those we deem unworthy to hold it? Do we take truth in hands and swing it about like a scythe, reaping others away to weep and gnash their teeth? Do we think that truth is purely the product of our hands? Do we wave or push it aside like Pilate?

The metaphors we use to speak and think about truth shape and reveal our relationship to truth. They determine in part whether that relationship will be real and sustaining or false and fleeting. Metaphors can be a matter of life and death.

Around Town

I have not read the works of John Duns Scotus, which I take to be a defect in myself and one I hope soon to remedy. For those who have read him, there is a relatively new blog called The Smithy devoted to his life, times, and thought.

Looks like I'm not the only one hitting the hospitality theme of late:

Neil McKenty asks, "Do you like voice-mail?" Neil's blog has become one of my regular reads. I admire his posting style of setting up and asking a question. A recent post asks if God exists; another asks readers to write their epitaph. Neil gives his opinions, but usually in the comment boxes. His blog is a refreshing change of pace from pontificating blogs like mine.

Nancy Brown reflects on what Catholic homeschoolers are ready to fight about, realizing it's not always about eternal matters of life and death. She writes,
Instead, it's about taste. Personal preference. Personal opinions taken to the nth degree. The Theological Degree. The Faith and Morals degree. The Magesterial Teaching of the Church degree. The "What the Pope really meant when he said..." degree.
She then wonders,
How do we bring unity out of differences over personal preference? How do we have a real argument without it degrading to a fist fight? How can we expect peace in the world, when we can't even have peace in our own small homeschooling group?
The questions Mrs. Brown raises and the sage advice she gives applies to any close-knit group, not just Catholic homeschoolers. A worthy read.

Shakespeare's Cobbler states, "It seems strange to me that Charismatics and Traditionalists should ever be divided." He explains why, arguing for an explanation that impresses Mark Shea.

Speaking of hospitality, my heartfelt thanks to Kevin, Rodak, and Zippy for their recent posts linking to Postmodern Papist!

Prayers for those of you traveling for Thanksgiving. The Cupp clan will be sticking around town, which means you can expect regular posts.


Dork Alert!

These guys are dorks, but having grown up (?) in the era of videogames, I can appreciate these dorks.

The Love of Wisdom and We Foolish Philosophers

I love philosophy, its methods and concepts, its love of wisdom and hopeful caressing of truth, and even its explorations of esoteric realms into which most normal folk know better than to venture. I'm saddened but accepting of the expected eye-rolling that ensues when matters of Thomistic metaphysics or Ricoeurian hermeneutics are brought up at my work. I can't blame those who switch to selective-hearing mode at the first hearing of the word ontology.

Among intellectuals, philosophers can be particularly pretentious. If memory serves, the German Idealist Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was 25 when he wrote to a 20-year-old F. W. J. Schelling, "The Kingdom of God is coming, and our hands are busy at its delivery.” The minds of many philosophers are up in the clouds, mainly because their heads are full of hot air and their egos are puffed up from us incessantly praising admirers who grab hold of their ideas like Winnie the Pooh gripping the rising blue balloon, hoping for something sweet. We philosophers can be silly old bears, but I love us foolish wisdom-seekers anyway.

When divorced from life, ideas can become bloodless abstractions, and at times an excuse for the spilling of much blood. Beware of intellectuals, historian Paul Johnson warned. Counseling Kevin recently related his reading and hearing of two discussions, the first a gaseous blog debate by pretentious law professors, and the second a serious but completely unpretentious conversation between two people about the proper ways to pour a beer. I have little doubt that Kevin is right in noting that the latter conversation was much more real and vital, not because gassy debates about law are entirely unimportant, but because discussions about ritual and good beer have more to do with human happiness and virtue.

To prevent us ostentatious philosophers from abandoning our own body, blood, and humanity, may I suggest that discussions pertaining to philosophy (law included) be engaged in with each participant enjoying a glass of wine, a mug of beer, or a shot of whiskey (I prefer Bushmills). It is to be hoped that good imbibing will remind us of our embodiment as our heads soar into the clouds, and that we are engaged in a discussion with people also enjoying the delights of life, who are each more important than the sum of all theories, systems, disciplines, and philosophical projects.

The Need for Hospitality

Underlying the complexities of our many pressing issues--immigration, consumerism, and war, to name a few--is a failure of hospitality. Hospitality means welcoming others as they truly are, and not reducing them to our ideas or projects and responding to them as such. It is a modern vice of ours to treat others as mere things or in ways that are intellectually violent and demeaning. Rather than seeing and treating others as incommunicable persons, we see and treat them in accordance with an incomplete interpretation of who they are. We alienate the immigrant as an aggressor. We treat the person who pours our coffee as a mere means to our staying awake in the early morning. We classify the foreigner in terms of how he fits into our foreign policy, oftentimes reducing him to the enemy, as if the whole of his being were about us and our destruction. Talk about self-centeredness! Yet we are self-centered people, thinking about others in terms of ourselves, seldom taking a break to contemplate the mystery of who others are. If we were hospitable, we would realize that others are always more than what we interpret them to be. We would see in their faces the face of the divine, the infinite. We would recognize others as brothers and sisters in God.

A Country without Hospitality...

...Is a country invaded by fear, hatred, and despondency.

And so we are told to alienate the stranger, for he is our enemy. Thank Tancredo we have a savior!

Do We Honor the Sacrifice?

In her Veteran's Day post, the Queen of Dysfunction wonders whether we are worth the sacrifice made by our military and implores us to make sure that we are.

A Hope in the Impossible

"Everyone who shares our human nature shares our vocation as children of God. Thus it is wrong to say that our neighbors mean nothing to us: they are our brothers and sisters in God. All mankind is one big family in God. Thus, between ourselves and God, and between all men on earth, there must be a relationship of perfect trust and love. There is no more reassuring or splendid concept than the good news that God is our Father."

- Rev. Matthias Premm

Idols and Interpretations

In his book On Religion, John D. Caputo writes:
"No one foresaw that Nietzsche's theory of fictions would converge with the biblical critique of idols, of mistaking our own graven images for the divinity. In this way of looking at things, the Enlightenment and its idea of Pure Reason are on the side of Aaron and the golden calf, while Nietzsche, God forbid, he who philosophizes with a hammer, stands on the side of Moses as a smasher of idols, and stands right beside Paul giving the Corinthians holy hell about the idols of the philosophers."
It is our common practice to ignore, alienate, or destroy those whose interpretations of the world vary from our own or call our interpretations in to question. We want the world to conform to our binary categorizations, where we possess the right interpretations and all others are to varying degrees wrong. We needn't be open, we needn't make room in our minds for opposing views, for we have nothing to learn from them. After all, we have the truth, it is ours, its fits so nicely in our formulas.

If we are honest, however, we will admit that we do not have a monopoly on truth, for truth is something bigger than ourselves, something that won't fit into our finite formulations without violently shattering those formulations. Nor do we have the sole key that will unlock the mystery and reduce the mystery to our perfect language and our mystery-containing minds.

If we are honest, we will recognize that we may learn a thing or two from those we are inclined to label enemies. The pro-life advocate may gain something of what it means to respect life from the pro-choice person. The defender of the right to choose may take to heart something about the nature of freedom from the one he or she calls anti-choice. The conservative may grasp from the liberal how to cherish and to honor past institutions and customs, and the liberal may gather from the conservative how best to build a better future. The theist may teach the atheist ramifications of unbelief, while the atheist may instruct the theist on how he can serve the least among us.

This is not to say that we should forsake our ideas and beliefs, for if we do that, then we have nothing to offer the other in hospitable exchange. Nor should we pretend that the exchange of ideas is not dangerous, that it does not pose risks, that it does not protect us from confusing falsehood for truth. We dialogue not because there is no truth, but rather because the other, even our enemy, may have something to say to which we would benefit from listening.

Thoughts on Evil, Hope, and Defeat

"Put on the whole armor of God," wrote St. Paul to the Ephesians. "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

There are forces of evil at work in this world, ceaselessly and tirelessly spewing their vicious wickedness and hatred for the holy into hearts and minds throughout creation. These hellish creatures are beyond any redemption, beyond any hope for salvation, incurable of their moral maladies. They cannot be reasoned with or negotiated with; appeals to mercy, goodness, or truth will not soften their hearts or open their minds. They are wholly and utterly slaves to evil, good only in so far as God made them, traitors to the majesty for which they were wrought. Indifference to their existence or pitiful attempts to persuade them to embrace virtue are of no avail: None of them are human.

Evil is not the exclusive domain of demons. There are also evil human persons at work for villainy in this world: those who are slaves to hatred or to murderous anger, those who have only love for themselves, those who are willing to die in revelry of death and destruction, those who like Hamlet plot to cause the most injury in their aggressions. There are those who complacently ignore their own need for salvation, those who experience no empathy for others, those who enjoy violating the rights of their brothers, sisters, neighbors, and enemies. Yet no matter how dark the deeds of men and women, no matter how corrupt and disposed to sin they are, no matter how habitual has become their evil, they are not beyond salvation. Their souls remains in reach of the cross. Until the moment of death, when all is decided, there is yet hope, even where all we can see is hopelessness.

Christian tradition has often described evil as a lack of a good that ought to be there, an absence, a sickness, stain, or deformity. Postmodern criticisms of metaphysics have opened conceptions of evil as something more than an absence of good, but due to this we are no less aware of evil in our midst, though we are prone at times to reduce real evil to a psychological illness or something else terrible, but less grave than evil itself.

Since 9/11 , the language of good and evil has pervaded our political discourse. At first I welcomed it, for I saw it as a positive and progressive development away from the language of moral relativism that infected our popular moral thinking. Unfortunately, what politics touches tends to be corrupted, and so it has been with the terms of good and evil. Evil is commonly spoken of today by public servants and pundits as something distant, contained in easily recognizable shapes and sizes, something that must be fought over there lest we have to fight it over here.

I do not question that 9/11 was an act of abhorrent evil; indeed the spiritual tragedy of the event is that fifteen men gave their lives in an act of murder and probably died in a state of mortal sin. Who knows the state of souls of those who perished that day? The full tragedy cannot be known this side of eternity. Neither do I question that the ideology of terrorism or jihadism are evil to the core and must be confronted.

What I do question is the proposition that the evil that plagues the hearts and minds of these fallen human persons can be properly defeated with human instruments. These ideologies must be confronted with the whole armor of God. Certainly evildoers can be defeated, their lives vanquished, their deeds ended. From the standpoint of Christianity, however, the proper response to their evil is not their destruction, but rather their salvation. Destroying the evildoer compounds the tragedy of his villainy: he loses his soul, and the righteous lose a potential brother or sister in Christ.

This is not to say that we are never justified in taking the life of an evildoer, but such taking of life, even if warranted, even if we are forced into it for the protection of life, remains a defeat, a failure. Pope John Paul II called war a failure for humanity, for when we must destroy one consumed by evil, we have failed to guide him from darkness to light, and his failure to find the light of truth means his failure is forever.

The devil hates to be mocked, but I suspect he is amused at that hubris of our self-knighted defenders of the good and true, modern-day Diomedes challenging powers mightier than man, promising that their methods and instruments can ultimately conquer tyranny and terror or even bring an end to evil. Can Democracy defeat the devil? Can war save the sinner? The means of humanity have their power, but they are insufficient to healing the spiritual ailments that separate us from God and from each other. Only the power of God, the saving power of Christ, which we call grace, has the capacity to save souls and truly conquer evil and death.

Victory is not found in the death of the enemy, triumph is not found when hell-bent souls cross the river Styx, peace is not found after we slay our brothers and sisters on the battlefield. Victory, triumph, and peace are the fruits of grace and our participation in God's plan of salvation. The victory, triumph, and peace born of war and other instruments of man are poor imitations, consoling only for a time, and burdened by the weight of tragedy and human frailty.

The real defeatists are not those who see hope beyond war in the saving powers of grace, but those who deny the healing powers of God and hope only in the destructive powers of man.

Hope for NRO

I am very glad to see that not everyone at National Review thinks we should be proud of and increasing our use of waterboarding. Ramesh Ponnuru seems disappointed in his colleague's view, as well he should be. Murdock's position is perverse.

My Unsolicited Advice to our Public Servants

Don't follow hand in hand the unrighteous ways and rousing words of Shakespeare's King Richard III:

Go, gentlemen, every man unto his charge.
Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls.
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
March on. Join bravely. Let us to it pell mell,
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.

Must Be Due to My Intelligent Commenters...

...Or the obscurity of postmodern blog post diction.

cash advance

Quote for Today

"America has prospered and flourished because God has put a hedge of protection around us. This has been a special country to Him. It's been a land of His choosing. And we need as a people to turn from the way we're going and to acknowledge His sovereignty and to humbly beseech Him for protection from what may be coming from those who are our enemies and those who wish to destroy us. And then by God's grace and by the united action of all of us, this great country is going to overcome whatever terrorism is coming against it. We may have some hits in various places that will be very painful. But we are not going to succumb to terror. We're not going to knuckle under to terror. We are going to win the battle against terror, and we'll come out of this together and stronger. And I hope and pray that out of some difficult days that may be ahead of us we can once again say, as we do in our pledge of allegiance, we are part of 'one nation under God.'"

- Pat Robertson

A Conservative Mind on Sin and Power

"The conservative knows the proclivity of human nature toward sin; and he knows that the form of sin to which the stronger natures are prone is the lust after power."

"I am afraid that we must confess, now, that Americans have no peculiar exemption from Sin, as a people, and that pure power, in our hands, is as dreadful as pure power in the hands of any other nation."

- Russell Kirk

Saving Lives by Sacrificing the Soul

I never want to be President of the United States. Too much power; I'd be corrupted. I wouldn't wish the power of the presidency on anyone. I wouldn't want any high office in the State either. The means and ends people in those positions have to weigh on a day by day basis is staggering and exhausting simply to ponder. Plato and Burke were right: prudence is the chief virtue of the statesman.

Speaking of prudence, our recourse to methods such as waterboarding in order to keep us safe strikes me as morally flawed and deeply imprudent. I've written quite a bit about what I see as a torture policy of our government. Justifications for such cruelties in the name of security abound, especially among conservatives, who are supposed to be defenders of the permanent things--like justice, human dignity, and the souls of men and women. I've linked before to the brainy Charles Krauthammer's Machiavellian defence of torture (yes, under that dreaded name) in the pages of The Weekly Standard. The Wall Street Journal has argued for the dangers of defining torture down. Rudy Giuliani implies waterboarding doesn't qualify as torture as long as we do it for good reasons.

Now we get this from National Review:
...Congress should either give us an honest debate about what interrogation tactics should be proscribed or, better still, drop the subject. Waterboarding should not be part of the regular interrogation menu, and there is no reason to believe it is. But unless we’re prepared to say it should never be on the menu, no matter how dire the threat, we should stop talking about it.
Drop the subject, huh? At least Krauthammer says we should be honest about doing terrible things. Fellow neoconservative John Podhoretz blogs on Commentary Magazine:
As universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force. It is the negation, the reverse image, of medical care. The monstrous intent of torture is, literally, to cause physical injury. That injury need not be permanently scarring or even temporarily bruising to be torture, as in the disgusting use of electric current, but it must be an actual injury in any case.

Punishment techniques like waterboarding were invented precisely not to be acts of torture as commonly understood, but rather to simulate acts of torture.
By this definition, were brain scientists able to manipulate a person's mind to make him believe he is experiencing the most excruciating, horrible pain imaginable, that wouldn't be torture. Okay. Mental or emotional cruelty can never be torture. Good to know. Deroy Murdock, writing in National Review Online (also posted on Human Events), offers his consequentialist defence of waterboarding by saying:
While the White House must beware not to inform our enemies what to expect if captured, today’s clueless anti-waterboarding rhetoric merits this tactic’s vigorous defense. Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud. Waterboarding makes tight-lipped terrorists talk.
Let's be clear. This technique is what conservative Deroy Murdock says we should be proud of:
[Waterboarding] is used to describe several interrogation techniques. The victim may be immersed in water, have water forced into the nose and mouth, or have water poured onto material placed over the face so that the liquid is inhaled or swallowed. The media usually characterize the practice as "simulated drowning." That's incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.

The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government -- whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community -- has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.
Following World War II, we convicted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. We used to consider it a crime, but you know, 9/11 changed everything--morality included, it seems. At least conservative Andrew Sullivan understands that threat of our use of torture:
This is not some technical issue with respect to interrogation techniques. In my view, it is much more fundamental than that. Many seem to think that because these techniques are only used on terrorists, they are no threat to American liberty. What this complacent view doesn't grapple with is that these torture techniques can be used against any terror suspect; that such suspects are not subject to due process under president Bush's understanding of his powers; that such suspects can be captured within the United States; that they can be citizens; and that the war that justifies this extraordinary power is defined as permanent. That is why combining the power to detain without charge with the power to torture is an effective suspension of the rule of law and the Constitution. And such a suspension is astonishingly broad and open-ended.

That is why this has become a fight for the West's values against the moral relativists, legalistic parsers, and advocates of total executive power. The point is not a subjective judgment about the intentions of the torturers. It is not about whether Cheney and Bush can be trusted. It is about whether any individual can be trusted with such power. In a republic based on the rule of law, the intentions of the torturers - whether good or bad - are utterly irrelevant. In the West, we assume that the intentions of our rulers are likely to be evil. That's what distinguishes the Anglo-American tradition from those who trust individuals to govern them, rather than those who trust the law to allow us to govern ourselves. The point is that no person in the United States should ever have the power to detain and torture another person without due process. Once you make an exception for one man, the rule of law is over. The Decider may decide out of his own benevolence not to torture again. But he can still torture. And the knowledge that he can, and the knowledge that he was never stopped, and the knowledge that he was able to distort the plain meaning of the law to mean whatever he wants it to mean is a precedent that is staggeringly dangerous.
Whether or not we want to consider waterboarding as torture, just cruelty, or something to be proud of, waterboarding causes harm, particularly spiritual harm, upon the its practitioners. Its use may save lives; its use will harm souls. It is a shame that conservatives today should be so forgetful of how the violence we perpetuate inflicts violence upon our souls, our consciences, and our virtue. We close ourselves off to that truth to our peril and moral ruin.

I close with the words of a conservative who got it:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiations of the Convention [Against Torture]. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

- President Ronald Reagan

Language, Pain, and Humble Love

Will the pain we experience be cause for unity or division?

Flannery O'Connor wrote that reading fiction was a way to have an experience. The same is true, I find, from watching movies. As movie experiences go, watching Babel is a painful one. I tend to be someone of hardness of heart, often indifferent to the sufferings of others, and I don't know if I'd be up to experiencing Babel again.

The film weaves four interconnected stories from around the globe of people experiencing unexpected and intolerable pain within the darkness of uncertainty about what will happen next. The title of the film signifies the barriers of language (and therefore culture) that separate human beings from one another, and in this story, add to the agony and prolong the passion of those who suffer. We are very much a divided people: our differences in language and other just as terrifying inabilities to communicate, our national borders, our foreign policies, our stupidities that shut others away, our egos and selfishness that close us off to the joys and sufferings of others.

And yet we are united as a people, for we all experience passionate pain. We all suffer. While our responses to suffering vary, we are all capable of generosity, self-giving, hope and love. Babel is a painful experience, but not a sadistic one. The pain is not meaningless; it is a path to division or unity, alienation or reconciliation, despair or redemption, escape or love, despondency or hope, selfishness or grace.

After seeing the movie last evening I, who find it so difficult to empathize, felt emotionally exhausted, in a need of a hug from my wife and (in the morning) my son, yet strangely rejuvenated, hopeful, more alive, and perhaps more human. I'm not sure that I can say that I'd recommend Babel, for that would seems to translate into my recommending a painful experience, and this is a rare film whose power cut through the hardness of my heart.

Christopher Hitchens may take the pain explored in this movie as evidence against the existence of God. My response would be that of Ilia Delio:

Too often we want a God who will hear our cries, who will be strong enough to push our experiences away. It is not that God is deaf to the cry of the poor. It is rather that God himself weeps. God himself is poor. The poor one cries out to the poor God and the poor God answers, "I am here!"

*The review from the USCCB can be read here.

Another Criticism of Deconstruction

This one from me.

In his book On Religion for the Thinking in Action series, philosopher of deconstruction John D. Caputo expresses his wish to keep us unhinged and away from fundamentalism, his passion to keep the question of what I love when I love my God open as a question, and his close association of religion with the love of God. All very well so far.

He stresses that the best way to think of truth (in religion or otherwise) is to think of it as the best interpretation anyone has come up with yet, while acknowledging that no one knows what is coming next. He wants us to live the love of God without mistaking our religion or ourselves with God. He declares that religion is our doing, and not God's doing.

Caputo has been said to have a passion for the impossible, and he passionately wants to keep undecidability in man's doings of religion. He doesn't want the love of God to be sacrificed on the altar of someone's philosophical system, somebody's theology, or some bishop's proclamation of what qualifies as right teaching or right religion. There can be many true religions, says Caputo.

However, does Caputo's undecidability of religious truth or true religion deny the possibility of there being one true religion? Does it overlook the possibility that there is a God who has revealed himself to us, who has instructed certain people in right teaching about himself and his creation, and who has commanded those to whom the revelation has been given to spread the good news and given them power to teach on fundamental matters free from error? I don't see that it eliminates such possibilities; it does raise the very serious question of how we can know what the right religion is, if there is just one.

Contrary to what Caputo says, I believe religion is our doing, but it is also God's doing. Religion is our response to a God who reveals. From this standpoint, right religion means that our response corresponds to the revelation of God. If there is no way of our really knowing that God has revealed and what specifically he has revealed, if there is no way to discern what is the right response to the God who reveals, what would be the point of revelation in the first place? Revealing one true faith to people who have no hope of knowing that they have been given the one true faith would render revelation silent and invisible. If revelation is real, then there would seem to be a way through the darkness of undecidability.

As a Catholic, I believe that God does exists, created the universe, and has throughout history revealed himself to us, especially and ultimately in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus founded the Catholic Church. I believe that God guides his Church in teaching what God wants us to know about himself and about his creation, what we need to know to give birth to Christ in the world and become members of Christ's body. What the Catholic Church does not proclaim and what I do not believe is that there is any perfect human language that all truth can be reduced to and expressed entirely with no meaning remaining outside its signification. Human language is limited, historically and culturally, and by its power to create meaning. Human language is not purely objective, so any "objective truth" that we know and understand we do so objectively and subjectively. That includes God's revelation.

As I've argued before, we don't understand things as they are in themselves; we understand them in so far as they are expressed and even creatively shaped by our language. So I would say we can understand things, we can have true knowledge, but our understanding is always imperfect, historically and culturally conditioned. We understand by means of imperfect constructs, hence the need for deconstruction. I know that I do not know, said Socrates.

That said, I have not answered the question: How do I know that my understanding of reality (and God's revelation) actually corresponds to anything beyond what I seem to experience, perceive, and interpret through language? How, within the darkness of undecidability, do I know that mine is the true faith? I have indicated there may be an answer, but an answer I have not yet given.

Any ideas?

Hermeneutics, Deconstruction, and the Pitfalls of Relativism -UPDATED-

With all the nutty and outlandish things deconstruction gets blamed for, it's refreshing to read thoughtful criticism of the philosophies of Jacques Derrida and John D. Caputo. The author, Brian Treanor, analyzes what he sees is the incommensurability between Ricoeur's and Kearney's diacritical hermeneutics and Derrida's and Caputo's deconstruction.

Treanor argues that while both hermeneutics and deconstruction deny our capacity to reduce all truth to master-narratives, hermeneutics avoids the pitfalls of relativism and nihilism, whereas deconstruction, while claiming not to be relativistic or nihilistic, flirts with both, for it cannot give a real reason for one action over another. Caputo disagrees that deconstruction is a form of relativism or an anything-goes nihilism; indeed, that's been his philosophical vocation for some time. That, and bringing our the religious implications of Derrida's thought. (His next book is What Would Jesus Deconstruct).

As Treanor points out, the relativism of deconstruction is a matter for debate. I think it isn't necessarily relativistic, but that's a post for another time. (Rest assured, it's coming). What I find intriguing at this point is that so many postmodern philosophers deny the charges against them of relativism and nihilism. Truly, many postmodernists see relativism and nihilism as bad philosophies.

In any case, Treanor's paper is a fascinating read for you philosophers.

An Audacious Peacemaker -Updated-

Representative Dennis Kucinich said this in the latest presidential debate:
With all due respect to our friends from the media here, the media itself has to be careful how you frame these questions. We don't want to be put in a position where we are taking this country to the threshold of war. The media did play a role in taking us into war in Iraq, and I'm urging the members of the media to urge restraint upon you and our president, whose rhetoric is out of control.

I would go to Iran and I would urge Iran not just to not have nuclear weapons; I would urge them to give up nuclear power because nuclear power is the most expensive type of power there is. It is not a sustainable type of power because of the cost of it. It -- it is unsafe. I would urge Iran to give up nuclear power.

But I would also do -- do something further. It is time that the United States government enforced and -- and participated in fully the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

We must lead the way and we must have a president who understands the danger of these nuclear weapons, and have America lead the way among all nations towards nuclear abolition. When we do that, we will have the credibility to go to an Iran, and any other nation that may have desire for a nuclear power, to say, look, we want to take it in a different direction; we are not going to stand by and watch our country lost because we are ratcheting up the rhetoric towards war against Iran.

We have to stop this, Tim. We have to stop ratcheting up the rhetoric for war. We really need to stop it.
Despite his low polling and repeated ridicule in the media, Kucinich refuses to play the deceptive and hypocritical games that are required to advance to the front of political races, and this frees him to speak his mind and, even better, speak critically of the ideas and actions of those who shape our cultural and political thinking. This also means he'll never be president.

Here and elsewhere he admonishes the media for uncritically advancing the language of the politicians in power. I'm sure they'll respond kindly. Kucinich also holds the U.S. to the same standard he holds the other nations of the world, a virtue that won't win him support from those who shudder at the thought that the U.S. should ever be blamed first for anything.

I'm not a supporter of his campaign and some of his ideas, but I admire his fortitude and willingness to speak in politically "inexpedient" terms, his sincere desire to help his neighbor, and his audacious endeavors to establish peace.

Facere Figuram

My wife has begun an art portfolio blog, Facere Figuram, featuring her lovely work in sculpture, oil painting, portraits, charcoal drawings, and other mediums. Check it out here. And, of course, expect frequent updates from me.