Poop Coaches

My two-year-old son has this habit of going several days without producing a stool, meaning that when the moment comes to make a bowel movement, it's an awfully painful experience for the little guy. Well, this morning my wife had him seated in the big potty and was coaching him through the process. Push. Push. You can do it. Here it comes. Push. When I entered the bathroom to see what all thus fuss was about, my wife suggested to our son that I take over helping him. "Daddy is a good poop coach," she told him. "No," our son responded, "Daddy is a bad poop coach."

"C'mon," I responded, "I do the deed everyday, sometimes more than once, and mostly with success." I didn't persuade him to employ me. Fortunately, he succeeded a moment later with a triumphant splash followed by cheers and high-fives. Maybe the boy is right, though. Maybe I am a bad poop coach. Guess that rules out my being a good campaign manager.

Welcoming the Unborn Other

In my second post at MetroCatholic, I consider the violence of abortion from the standpoint a postmodern ethics of responsibility. Sample:
From the standpoint of this postmodern ethics of responsibility, understood in a paradigm of hospitality, the unborn other should be welcomed as a wholly other to whom we are responsible, or in Derrida’s terms, a visitor to whom we owe a response of hospitality. Thinking of the unborn other merely in so far as he fits into our categories commits an intellectual violence. The limitations of our knowledge give us reason for caution against, if not avoidance of, the use of violence. Abortion responds to the other with deathly violence.

Derrida’s emphasis of the word “visitor” as opposed to the expression “invited guest” applies very much to the situation of pregnancy. Some pregnancies are intended and expected, where the unborn other is an invited or at least a welcomed guest; other pregnancies are unexpected and unwanted, where the being within the mother is seen as an uninvited guest, or worse, an intruder. The call to hospitality and to responsibility arises regardless of whether the other is invited or not. Hospitality and responsibility always involves risk. The unexpected guest may return hospitality with kindness, or he may prove a hostile intruder, but the responsibility to the other remains regardless. It is founded on the visitation of the other.

Looking Elsewhere for a Hero

Whatever the outcome of this election, a segment of pro-lifers have found their present and future hero. Already they anticipate Governor Sarah Palin’s ascension to the presidency and the wonders for their cause that she could accomplish in that office. In my opinion, Palin is the wrong person to lead the pro-life movement.

I don’t question her convictions. I assume, reasonably I think, that she would as president make the pro-life cause a priority in her administration. How effectively she’d advance the cause remains to be seen. She would have to negotiate the political twists and turns in Washington, not to mention the narrow alleys of constitutional law and judicial history, and on the road face a very fierce opposition to her agenda. Whether she could succeed remains dubious.

More damaging to the pro-life cause, Palin operates in a way counterproductive to maintaining legal protections for the unborn. I’ve said this before, but it needs repeating: we will not see permanent legal protections for the unborn so long as we have an effective pro-choice movement in the country. That’s the way of it. Only by persuading advocates of abortion rights to embrace a pro-life legal philosophy can lasting progress be made. The alternative is that we fight these political and legal battles till doomsday, and that perpetual cultural warfare doesn’t help the unborn in the long run. Persuasion is an inescapable prerequisite for victory in our pluralistic society. Governor Palin is great at rallying the troops and motivating the base. She performs such tasks in large part by using polarizing rhetoric and simplistic and dishonest assertions about her opponents. Such methods cheerlead the cause, but do not persuade the opposition. As such, they work against the ends for which the pro-life movement operates.

The Pocket Kyle

I tried faxing my brain to our public servants in D.C., but the facsimile machine wouldn’t accept the transmission. Too much data. However, I’ve decided to clone lego-people-sized versions of myself so that each and every politician can have his or her very own “Pocket Kyle” to pull out when in need of my sage advice.

The Pocket Kyle will provide you, public servants, with prudent judgment in times of crisis and calm. He will also be capable of composing speeches, subtly whispering answers during televised debates and interviews, poking the eyes of pesky reporters, and encouraging hospitable and fruitful dialogue among your staff.

Please do not comment on Pocket Kyle’s OCD, as he will hear you and compulsively obsess about whether you’re planning to squish him in the morning. His advice on matters of fashion and dance should be ignored, but please at least pretend to take his philosophizing seriously. If your Pocket Kyle goes missing, then simply leave out a book by Paul Ricoeur or J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Pocket Kyle, if hasn’t been stepped on, should turn up in a few minutes.

Yes we can – if you have a Pocket Kyle! He’s the little maverick. And he fits right in your pocket!

The Truth Factor

Endorsing candidates for public office seems to be the order of the day, so I shall conform to the practice, in a rebellious sort of way, by offering here a rejection of both Barack Obama and John McCain. I refuse to support either candidate and their respective running mates for a reason more fundamental than issues, policies, competence, or temperament: the truth factor.

The country is not a permanent thing, and it cannot continue for long unless its structures, laws, traditions, cultures, people, and its public servants and leaders are grounded in and ordered toward the permanent things such as truth and justice. Our candidates for the presidential offices have shown a disposition to deceive in their pursuit of power. They weave misleading myths, tell dishonest tales, construct false narratives, and proclaim fact-filled-fictions about themselves and their opponents. I’ve heard it said that this practice should be expected in politics and that to withhold my vote because of it is to rage against the machine. I say no. I will not tolerate this dishonesty and deception.

To speak falsehood intentionally and as a matter of course does not give truth its proper due. As justice is the virtue whereby we give things their proper due, it is a grave injustice against truth to lie in the pursuit of power. Tolerating this disrespect for truth and justice paves the way toward tyranny. I will not participate in it.

My Son, Little Thales

My toddler son is quite taken with water. On our daily bicycle ride, I peddle past lakes, fountains, creeks, puddles, and sprinklers, all of which fascinate him tremendously and supply the topic of conversation as I peddle and he sits in the kid seat awaiting the next body of water to appear. He knows precisely where the next sight of water will be, and he lets me know of its approaching appearance with excitement and wonder.

So now I'm wondering if this a good time to introduce the little guy to the works of Shakespeare by starting with The Tempest. Sure, the boy wouldn't get past the literal meaning of the water images to their figurative significances of birth, life, healing, purification, destruction and death, but so what? Actually, he is a boy, so I think the destruction metaphor he'd get. His daily baths might also help him see the purification sense. On second thought, I do have a lot to work with even in his limited life experience.

I'll deliver all;
And promise you calm seas, auspicious gales,
And sail so expeditious that shall catch
Your royal fleet far off.

"The Great Deception" Goes Postmodern

In a post about her experience praying before an abortion facility, Jenny of The Great Deception makes an insightful observation:
I was struck by how easily people (myself included) can fall into the habit of viewing others through their ideological glasses; hardly anyone seemed really "present."
Jenny would probably not want to hear this, but her insight that viewing others through ideological glasses distances others from us to where they are no longer "present," is at the core of postmodern philosophy, particularly that of Jacques Derrida. The father of deconstruction argued that the historical-cultural categories of language mediate our perception of objects in ways that make those objects not fully present to us. Linguistic categories are signs. They stand in place of what they signify. That we perceive the world mediated by such signs distances the world from us.

Jenny makes essentially the same point. Her metaphor of ideological glasses denotes perception mediated and colored by ideology. Others are not present to us because our ideologically-shaped ideas of who they are stand in the way of their full meaning. Those ideas are one type of linguistic category. We see the other not in their unique personhood, but as a threat, an enemy, a baby-killer, an oppressor of women, or whatever categories correspond to the difference between us and the other.

Resolving the heated cultural conflicts and reconciling the people on each side requires a mutual effort to be present to the other and allow the other to be present. This isn't fully possible in this life, but we should seek in nonetheless. Derrida bid us in our relations with others to move towards responsibility in a spirit of unconditional hospitality. Of this hospitality, he wrote:
Pure and unconditional hospitality, hospitality itself, opens or is in advance open to someone who is neither expected nor invited, to whomever arrives as an absolutely foreign visitor, as a new arrival, nonidentifiable and unforeseeable, in short, wholly other. I would call this a hospitality of visitation rather than invitation.
How might we progress in finding solutions to our cultural conflicts if we approached one another not as an enemy or even as an invited guest, but as a visitor to whom I am obligated?

P.S. Welcome to postmodernist club, Jenny!

Conservatism and the Distribution of Wealth

Larison ponders the political implications of McCain's antagonism towards Obama's remark about "spreading the wealth." He asks:
Consolidation of power, concentration of wealth and centralism all stand condemned for having created the present fiasco, and there is supposed to be a political downside to talking about distributing wealth?
The just distribution of wealth is a long-standing conservative (and Catholic) principle; much of the disagreement and debate with progressives surrounds the best means of distribution. Larison cautions:
If conservatives cede distributist language to left-liberals, they are not only abandoning an important part of their intellectual and political tradition, but they are also surrendering their ability to speak on behalf of middle-class Americans and they appear to be giving up on the idea that a relatively more free market system can better distribute wealth than a welfarist system organized by the central government.
He concludes:
No one who supported the bailout can credibly fling the label socialist as an insult or use “spread the wealth” as a bludgeon. It is a clear act of the government using its power to take taxpayers’ dollars (or funds borrowed on public credit) and allocate it elsewhere. Even though the bailout provokes at least a large plurality to strong opposition, both candidates supported it, so it is not clear that the bailout or talk of redistributive policies hurts one more than the other.

On Conflating Candidates with Issues

While assessing where a candidate stands regarding the issues may be the best method of deciding the person for whom one votes, it would be a mistake to conflate a candidate with the candidate’s stance on the issues. The reason is simple. To quote Mark Helprin, “When we vote for president, we're not just voting on his political positions. Something could happen you cannot foresee to change those. The only way to judge is on the character of the man. We must know what the man is.” Voting is an act of supporting a person, not simply a set of propositions and positions. Candidates of course have plans and priorities. They have things they want to do as public servants. What they want to do is of great importance to the voter – those wants tell us something of who the candidate is – but of even more importance is the character of the candidate.

Moreover, what the candidate has the power to accomplish vis-à-vis those plans and priorities should factor into our political calculus. Plans and priorities are not set in stone, particularly during these times of terrorism and financial crisis. If in January the market crashes or bombs detonate on U.S. soil, then where a candidate stood on gay marriage or abortion during the election will probably be of little to no practical consequence. Addressing those issues will not then be a priority for whoever is in office, at least for a while. Other events less serious, such as the increased strength of an oppositional party, may arise that lead to a reordering of priorities. These possible events in no way diminish the significance or gravity of the various issues that we have a grave responsibility to address as faithful citizens, but their possibility means that candidates may not act on the issues in the way we expected them to when we pulled the lever and put them into power. Voting is an act not of certainty, but of hope.

Conflating candidates with the issues on which they campaign also helps the candidates create a narrative or myth that they are the solution to the problems at the center of those issues. Given that deception and deceit are the modus operandi for many politicians, and that the two lead candidates for the presidency and their running mates are no exception to that history of lying, we should constantly and consistently question the characterizations candidates narrate about themselves and their opponents. The myths created by politicians pose a danger in part because they are largely stories told by liars constructed to acquire and maintain power. They want us to believe them, to have faith in them, and they use our faith in them to further their personal and political objectives. Don’t believe them. Don’t trust them. Hope, but verify, would be my advice. And where verification is impossible? Well, in that case especially, if you vote, then vote prepared that what you are voting for may not come to pass. If you feel you must know who these candidates are, well, as the Dread Pirate Roberts said, get used to disappointment.


Imagine for a moment a U.S. president who gave building a culture of life the same priority that President Bush gave to building a case for war. Imagine a president and his or her staff appearing regularly before the American people to make cases for giving the unborn protection under the law, for providing for the needs of pregnant women who believe they have no other choice but to terminate the pregnancy, and for persuading the pro-choice movement to embrace the pro-life position. Imagine a president who actually made ending abortion and building a culture of life the top priorities. What would happen if pro-life voters actually demanded such a president and settled for nothing less?


I have accepted an invitation to contribute to the group blog of DFW Catholic.org, the first electronic Catholic news site launched by MetroCatholic, Inc.

No worries: I will continue to post here at Postmodern Papist with the same inconsistency I've so far managed. In my first post at the MetroCatholic blog, I contrast tolerance and hospitality as responses to our cultural antagonisms.

The Constellation of Sanctuaries

"Rome of course never ceased to be venerated as a great repository of Christian relics, but it is doubtful whether they could ever again give Rome the kind of importance which they gave her in the tenth and eleventh centuries. When the machinery of government was simple or non-existent, these tangible agents of spiritual power had an importance in public life which they lost in a more complicated age. The deficiencies of human resources were supplied by the power of the saints. They were great power-houses in the fight against evil; they filled the gaps left in the structure of human justice. The most revealing map of Europe in the centuries would be a map, not of political or commercial capitals, but of the constellation of sanctuaries, the points of material contact with the unseen world."

- R. W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages

The Saving State

Senator John McCain raises American exceptionalism to a religious dimension. He understands the State, in particular the United States of America, as having the religious function of salvation. The State exists not only to save lives, but also to defeat evil, to save us from evil. At the second presidential debate, Senator McCain called America “the greatest force for good in the history of the world.” Yes, McCain's statement is hyperbolic, but its hyperbole doesn't mean McCain doesn't believe what he's saying. His statement may not be an exaggeration of what he actually thinks. More likely: his thinking here is hyperbolic.

McCain also revealed his religiously tinted political philosophy during his discussion with Rick Warren. Warren asked McCain, “Does evil exist and if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?” McCain’s answer in full:
Defeat it.

Couple points: one, if I’m President of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do it. I will get that done. No one, no one should be allowed to take thousands of American — innocent American lives. Of course, evil must be defeated.

My friends, we are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21-century: radical Islamic extremism. Not long ago in Baghdad, al-Qaeda took two young women who were mentally disabled and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn’t evil, you have to tell me what is — and we’re going to defeat this evil.

And the central battleground, according to David Petraeus and Osama Bin Laden, is the battles — is Baghdad, Mozil and Iraq. And we are winning and we are succeeding, and our troops will come home with honor and with victory, and not in defeat. And that’s what’s happening.

We have — and we face this threat throughout the world. It’s not just in Iraq. It’s not just in Afghanistan. Our intelligence people tell us Al-Qaeda continues to try to establish cells here in the United States of America.

My friends, we must face this challenge. We can face this challenge and we must totally defeat it. And we’re in a long struggle, but when I’m around the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform, I have no doubts. None.
Some points to consider: First, McCain associates evil with at first a person and then with the ideology that person espouses. Second, he designates the role of defeating evil to the US military. Third, he establishes the end of the struggle to defeat evil (victory) as the total defeat of it. Fourth, he testifies to his complete faith (no doubts) in the US military's power to defeat evil.

Why does McCain's answer constitute a problem? Defeating evil is a task beyond the power of the State. Asked the same question, Senator Obama, to his credit, remarked that only God can defeat evil. The State can destroy evil people, but it cannot defeat evil itself. Yet McCain speaks as if it can, and goes so far as to give the problem of evil a military solution. In McCain's mind, the battle between good and evil is a political battle. The greatest force for good in the history of the world is not the the sacrifice of Christ, the working of the Holy Spirit in history, the loving witness of the saints, or the grace of God. It is not reason or persuasion or conversion. It is not the family or the church. The greatest force for good in the history of the world is America. The State. Our State.

Of Reputations and Resignations

My alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, has a solid reputation for a passionate orthodoxy and social conservatism, so it came as little surprise to read that a member of the university board had voluntarily resigned following his endorsement of Barack Obama and the controversy at the university that followed. Dr. Nicholas P. Cafardi’s endorsement prompted the university’s Office of Public Relations to issue a statement distancing itself from its board member’s advocacy of Obama. The statement concludes:
As a Catholic university, Franciscan fosters an environment through education and activities that proclaims the sanctity of life, most notably through its Human Life Studies program and Institute of Bioethics. Franciscan University students take pro-life issues to heart, fighting for the end of abortion through sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics, participation in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., countless hours of prayer, and many other activities.
Cafardi supports Obama despite the senator’s stance on the abortion issue, but the university still seemed to think it prudent to remind everyone of its pro-life credentials. Would the university have issued such a statement if Cafardi had endorsed John McCain?


My two-year-old son displayed his understanding of demonstrative pronouns a few minutes ago. We were playing with little people toys, and he started looking around for wheelbarrow. This is it, I said. That is it, he responded.

The Engaging Twelve

A promising new Catholic politics and culture blog began today: American Catholic.
We are twelve Christians who love our Catholic faith looking to engage the world through our writings to better express the teachings of Jesus for the betterment of the common good. American Catholic is the outward expression of this engagement with the world.
Check it out here.

Unquestioning Faith, Uncritical Allegiance

A commenter named Joe posted the following comment over at Pro Ecclesia:
The Catholic bishops should get together with leaders of other denominations and in the strongest terms possible, they should condemn the moral bankruptcy of the Democratic Party as the "party of death" which supports in its platform unlimited killing of human beings in the unborn stage.

The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders should then take a strong and courageous moral stand, having declared the Democratic Party to be morally bankrupt, by calling for all Christians to vote ONLY for John McCain for President and ONLY for Republican candidates for the House and Senate and for all other offices.

The Church leaders should argue that it is necessary to elect a Republican Congress and Republican President as the only possible way to pass a federal statute to stop or reduce the killing of unborn children.

Evangelical Protestant ministers this past Sunday had the courage to stand up to the IRS and risk their tax exemption by endorsing John McCain. It is time for the Catholic Church and all other pro-life denominations to do the same, because Barack Obama and the Democratic Party politician present a deadly threat to all unborn children and we must do everything that we can in the next month to defeat them to safeguard the lives of the next generation.
This is an extreme position, of course, but I post it here because it takes to the extreme a position that I have encountered during this and other elections: that the weight and urgency of the abortion issue obligates Christians to support the Republican Party despite its faults and failings. Joe goes beyond simply stating his opinion that Christians are obligated to vote for McCain in November: he calls upon the Christian church leaders to exert their religious authority in declaring that Christians are obligated to support the GOP in every high office election. That losing tax exempt status would seriously decrease the amount of ministry churches could accomplish doesn’t seem to bother him. After all, what can compare with the deaths of millions of innocent lives?

Joe is asking Christians to place unquestioning faith and uncritical allegiance in the Republican Party. No thanks. No human institution deserves that kind of faith. Given the corruptive nature of power and the fickle way that Republicans have defended the life issues, I suspect that the Republican Party would use the uncritical allegiance of the Christian churches to further its own political ends.

This call for unquestioning faith in and uncritical allegiance to a political party and its officials doesn’t come merely from Joe and those who advocate his position on the political roll of religious leaders. It is implicit in the claim that a Christian has a moral imperative to vote for a particular candidate. It is also implied in the attempts to silence or outright dismiss any and all criticisms of a pro-life candidate. Yes, abortion is a grave evil, and Christians do have an obligation to work to end the practice, but the obligation to defend innocent life doesn’t translate into an obligation to support the “pro-life” party or never to criticize the merits of a pro-life candidate to hold elected office.

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

"When Francis of Assisi kisses festering wounds and does not even kill the bugs that bite him, but leaves his body to them as a hospitable home, these acts (if seen from the outside) could be signs of perverted instincts and of perverted valuation. But that is not actually the case. It is not a lack of nausea or delight in the pus which makes St. Francis act in this way. He has overcome his nausea through a deeper feeling of life and vigor! This attitude is completely different from that of recent modern realism in art and literature, the exposure of social misery, the description of the little people, the wallowing in the morbid – a typical ressentiment phenomenon. Those people saw something bug-like in everything that lives, whereas Francis sees the holiness of "life" even in a bug."

- Max Scheler, Ressentiment, translated by Coser and Holdheim

Biden’s Just War Theory?

Methinks we got an inkling of it last night:
IFILL: Is there a line that should be drawn about when we decide to go in?
BIDEN: Absolutely. There is a line that should be drawn.
IFILL: What is it?
BIDEN: The line that should be drawn is whether we A, first of all have the capacity to do anything about it number one. And number two, certain new lines that have to be drawn internationally. When a country engages in genocide, when a country engaging in harboring terrorists and will do nothing about it, at that point that country in my view and Barack's view forfeits their right to say you have no right to intervene at all.
“To go in” is rather vague, but I got the sense that going in meant, or at least implied, going into another country militarily. Biden briefly laid out his conditions for justified intervention/war: capacity to do anything and the presence of genocide or the willful harboring of terrorists. Well, I suppose that’s two of the four conditions for a just war, with a condition in which we may ignore another country’s sovereignty thrown into the theory.

Reminder to peaceniks: Obama and Biden advocate a belligerent foreign policy. When Biden says, “I think the American public has the stomach for success,” he’s using the same victory/defeat binary in which Palin and McCain think about foreign policy conflicts. We shouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if Obama leads us into additional wars.

Understatement of the Evening

"Governor, Senator, neither of you really answered that last question about..."

- Gwen Ifill

White Flag of Surrender!

From last evening's debate:
Biden: Barack Obama offered a clear plan. Shift responsibility to Iraqis over the next 16 months. Draw down our combat troops. Ironically the same plan that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq and George Bush are now negotiating… You've got to have a time line to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis. We're spending $10 billion a month while Iraqis have an $80 billion surplus. Barack says it's time for them to spend their own money and have the 400,000 military we trained for them begin to take their own responsibility and gradually over 16 months, withdrawal. John McCain -- this is a fundamental difference between us, we'll end this war. For John McCain, there's no end in sight to end this war, fundamental difference. We will end this war.

Palin: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works. We'll know when we're finished in Iraq when the Iraqi government can govern its people and when the Iraqi security forces can secure its people. And our commanders on the ground will tell us when those conditions have been met. And Maliki and Talabani also in working with us are knowing again that we are getting closer and closer to that point, that victory that's within sight.
While both Biden and Palin spoke of ending the Iraq War, there are serious and consequential differences between their positions, neither of which is tantamount to waving the white flag of surrender. When Prime Minister Maliki speaks favorably of a timetable, is he waving the white flag of surrender? When John McCain talks of “horizons for withdrawal,” is he waving the white flag of surrender? Obama’s proposes turning over responsibility to the Iraqis and withdrawing US troops, not giving up and going home. Indeed, home isn’t his intended destination for our troops. Obama and Biden have in mind other battlefronts for their use.

The key difference between the Obama plan the McCain plan on withdrawing our military presence from Iraq is that McCain’s plan is contingent on the conditions on the ground. Asked a few months ago what he would do if Maliki wanted a timetable regardless of the conditions on the ground, McCain denied the possibility. Would he deny the possibility of Maliki’s successor wanting a fixed timetable? So far as I can tell, for McCain, the will of the Iraqi people and their leaders takes second place to the conditions on the ground. McCain wouldn’t even entertain the hypothetical, so I can’t say for sure, but notice in Palin’s answer that conditions on the ground take precedence and that Maliki’s role is relegated to “working with us” and “knowing again that we are getting closer and closer” to victory.

Post-Palin Consequences

Larison has a long post in which he explores the consequences of Governor Palin either resigning or being removed from the presidential ticket. At least two conservatives, Kathleen Parker and Conor Friedersdorf, have called for Palin's replacement with someone qualified for the job. Larison thinks there would be a significant revolt.

I agree, and I 'd add that we'd see a revolt from a politically significant group Larison doesn't specifically mention. Palin is very popular among voters who see ending abortion as the paramount political issue of 2008. I can name a number of bloggers, parishioners, friends, and family members who see in Palin a great hope for the pro-life movement, not only in 2008 but in the years to come, and who would be miffed to no end if Palin were to be shown the door. For this group, Palin, unlike McCain, is a genuine and trustworthy pro-lifer. They would interpret her departure as McCain's betrayal not only of Palin, but also of the pro-life cause.