instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Irish Franciscan?

St Francis:
Laudato si, mi signore, per sora nostra morte corporale,
da laquale nullu homo vivente po skappare.

(All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.)
P.J. O'Rourke:
Thus, the next time I glimpse death ... well, I'm not going over and introducing myself. I'm not giving the grim reaper fist daps. But I'll remind myself to try, at least, to thank God for death. And then I'll thank God, with all my heart, for whiskey.
Pray, too, perhaps, for those who today face more than a one in twenty chance of dying from cancer.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Low-down rhetoric

In the early years of the final decade of the last millennium, I was taught a valuable lesson by someone on a mailing list. (See? It can happen.)

Most of the circumstances are now lost to me, but the fellow had written something pretty low-handed, and I'd replied, more in sorrow and anger, that such a comment was beneath him.

His reply to that amounted to this: "You're wrong. Such a comment is right at my level."

Of course, I had been trying to shame him. But he showed me that you can't shame someone for doing what he feels no shame in doing.

He also taught me the overall worthlessness of the "that's beneath you" gambit. Manifestly, what someone does is not beneath them. What it really means is "that's beneath my image of you," or possibly, "that should be beneath you," but these are both variations on "you have disappointed me," and the rhetorical value of that depends entirely on how much my disappointment matters to the one who disappointed me. Which is little, more often than not.


Judging judgment

In a comment below, Br. Robert makes a distinction:
A judgment is a rational estimation about something unknown (or uncertain) based on principles and facts that are known. An opinion is a thought about some matter which is not based on reason at all.
There's a line to be drawn, but I don't think up against "a thought not based on reason at all" is the right place to put it.

For one thing, it's pretty hard to have a thought not based on reason at all. The claim that gin is a foul and detestable drink would generally be regarded as an opinion, and yet I have a good reason to make that claim (viz, the taste of gin is foul and detestable).

Even if we amend the definition of opinion to something like "a thought not derived from discursive reasoning," we still have the problem that much of human reasoning isn't discursive. If you ask a wise person for advice, you're more likely to get wise advice than wise advice plus the derivation of the advice from principles and facts.

The art expert and the art ignoramus can both give snap opinions, based on their immediate impressions, as to which of two artworks is a forgery, but their opinions should not be treated as of equal value. To complicate matters further, the expert's snap opinion may well be better than his reasoned judgment at arriving at the truth.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can we say "both/and/and"?

In arguing that "the position that it is fine to vote for the Republican candidate as a means to limiting the potential harm of the Democratic candidate" is not established merely by Catholic moral principles, Zippy writes, first:
Whether or not there is a proportionate reason is a question of both principles and facts.
Then, a couple of paragraphs later:
Whether or not there is a proportionate reason to vote for a certain candidate is not ultimately a matter of opinion. It is ultimately a matter of fact. Opinions do have dignity, particularly in the face of ambiguous facts and complexity. But their dignity arises ultimately from the truth.
Zippy's primary concern, I think, is to get acknowledgement that facts have anything to do with evaluating proportionate reasons, that a person's reason isn't proportionate merely because the person genuinely considers it proportionate. But I'd say he overstates the case when he says the proportion is not ultimately a matter of opinion. It is a matter of both facts and opinions -- and principles, too, of course.

It's a matter of facts because things aren't the way we say they are merely because we say they are. If it is a fact that a candidate supports a policy of murdering the innocent, then the candidate supports a policy of murdering the innocent no matter how much I might want to obscure or downplay or deny it.

But proportion also depends on opinion, and not merely in the face of ambiguity or complexity.

Suppose I judge that a certain act of remote material cooperation with evil will produce a good that is proportionate to my level of cooperation. Then, since that's exactly what a proportionate reason is, in my judgment I have a proportionate reason.

Now, my judgment needs to be well-founded, but (except for trivial cases) it cannot be entirely founded on facts and principles. Something entirely founded on facts and principles isn't a matter of opinion, but knowledge, and a proposition about future contingent things cannot be a matter of knowledge (for humans at least).

As I wrote before, if I want to justify my claim that I have proportionate reasons to cooperate with evil, it's not enough to merely give the reasons; I need to be able to argue that my reasons really are proportionate. Like any argument, mine may be valid (meaning that if the facts are as I understand them then my reason really is proportionate) or sound (meaning that it's valid and the facts actually are as I understand them).

But even a sound argument for proportion will [almost always] need to rely on opinion about uncertain things, where the uncertainty comes not just because I don't know some things, but because some things don't yet and may never exist.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An accommodating parable

Here's a thought: Jesus says that, in the parable of the sower, the seed is the word of God and the different soils are different types of people who hear the word. We could also think of each seed as an individual word (i.e., statement) of God, and the whole ground with all its different soils as a single human heart. Then we have a warning (not necessarily intended by Jesus, but I trust He won't mind this reuse of His broadcast sowing image) against accepting only some of what God says, while other commandments are not fruitfully received.

If we recognize that the word of God is in fact indivisible, that you can't say, "I'll love God, but not my neighbor" (or, perhaps more commonly, "I'll love this neighbor but not that one," or, "I'll love my neighbor this far but no farther"), then we'll see how foolish it is to count on the hundredfold return from our good soil while neglecting our weeds, our stones, and our hardened paths.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A fruitful source of perplexity

"Proportionate reasons" is the in-phrase this season. (Remember when it was "prudential judgment"?)

Each of us has reasons for everything we choose to do, even if it's just, "The coin came up heads." To justify a claim of proportionate reasons, then, it's not enough to merely give the reasons. The question rests entirely on whether the reasons are proportionate.

Which in turn raises the question, proportionate to what?

The old Catholic Encyclopedia, following Genicot, speaks of
whether the reason alleged for a case of material cooperation [in a crime] bears due proportion to
  • the grievousness of the sin committed by the principal, and
  • the intimacy of the association with him
This uses the term "proportion" in a somewhat different way than St. Thomas does when talking about double effect:
Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental as explained above... And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end.
This passage, written in arguing that killing in self-defense is not necessarily murder, is considered the foundation of double effect reasoning -- of which remote material cooperation with evil can be considered a special case.

Here, though, St. Thomas isn't concerned with the proportion between the good effect and the bad effect, which is the crux of the remote material cooperation problem. That proportionality comes for free when you've got a human life on both sides of the equation (or inequality (not strict)).

Instead, he's concerned with the proportion between act and intention -- to generalize, between means and end. We don't usually speak of that in terms of "proportion," which seems to suggest weighing two commensurate things (like two effects), but we can talk of proportion between cause and effect when an increase in one (such as force used in self-defense) leads to an increase (or decrease) in the other (such as incapacitation of an attacker). And once we get that foot in the door, we can speak analogously of proportionality between all acts and intentions.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shaky exegesis

Consider the story of the storm at sea in Matthew 8:
He got into a boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"

He said to them, "Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?" Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.
In St. Matthew's Earthquake, Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., proposes that Matthew intentionally writes this story so that the early Church would recognize themselves as the disciples in the boat with Jesus. In Mark, the disciples call Jesus "Teacher" (Διδασκαλ&epsilon), and Luke "Master" (Επιστατα); in both, they merely tell Him "we are perishing!" Only in Matthew do they call Him "Lord" (Κυριε, Kyrie) and ask Him to save them.

Why is this mentioned in a book called St. Matthew's Earthquake? Well, as the NAB notes, the word they translate as "storm" (σεισμος, seismos)
literally, "earthquake," a word commonly used in apocalyptic literature for the shaking of the old world when God brings in his kingdom.
When does this seaquake happen? Looking back a few verses:
A scribe approached and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."
Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."
Another of his disciples said to him, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father."
But Jesus answered him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead."
He got into a boat and his disciples followed him.
(I don't have to say "emphasis added" when I'm quoting the Bible, right?)

People are asking Jesus what is involved in following him (and notice the scribe calls him, not Κυριε, but Διδασκαλ&epsilon). Jesus tells them His followers can expect no earthly home, but they will find life.

Then the disciples who do follow him find themselves in a violent, even eschatological, storm. But they also find themselves with Jesus, Who after all has promised, "I am with you always, until the end of the age."

When Jesus says, "Follow me," He isn't saying, "Trail along behind Me, watch what I do, cry for Me in My sorrow, and cheer Me in My triumph." He's saying, "Do what I do, love as I love, drink from the cup I drink from." We don't merely follow Him to the foot of the Cross, we follow Him onto the Cross, and into the tomb; only them will we rise with Him.


Friday, September 19, 2008

A not altogether as brief reflection

Seven is a good number of demons to have driven out, since it signifies completion, and coincidentally or not matches the number of capital vices. Some of the Fathers understood the reference to Mary Magdalene to mean that Jesus healed her of all vices, which would be a pretty good way to prepare her to be the Apostle to the Apostles.

But it's often easier to understand the significance of Biblical numbers than to imagine them literally. Did somebody count the number of devils Jesus cast out of Mary? Did they leave in a group after saying, "My name is Septimus, for we are seven"? Or was seven just the number settled on by later tradition, as being probably about right for someone as messed up as Mary was back then?

Whatever the case may be, we can see several things in just that brief Gospel phrase: People really can be badly messed up. Even badly messed up people can be fully healed by Jesus. Jesus will and does fully heal badly messed up people. And He goes on loving them. And they Him.


A brief theological reflection on Luke 8:2b

Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out

Seven? That's a lot!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

What is more exasperating

Two quick points about the common complaints regarding "certain bishops, whose criticism of politicians sometimes seems designed to be exploited for partisan purposes."

First, the complainers are always more upset that the Republicans can exploit the bishops' statements than that the Democrats are so easily condemned. (Of course, it used to be the other way around.) When Catholic teaching amounts to criticism of a particular political party, should Catholics condemn the criticism or the political party?

Second, the complainers seem to want the bishops' words to be completely ineffective -- what effect could they have, after all, that wouldn't be partisan?

But why should what a bishop says have no effect?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Include me out

Happy Catholic informs us that the Catholic Company is expanding its Catholic Product Reviewer Program.

Free books? Sign me up!

Or not. I received the following email from their Director of E-Commerce:
Dear Mr. Kreitzberg,

I apologize, but the program requires that "The content (of your blog) must not contain anything contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church." Since your website contains references to the Catholic Church as the whore of Babylon, I do not think that this site meets this guideline.
Which is pretty funny, and even funnier when you notice that the only post in the nearly six-and-a-half years I've been blogging that contains the phrase "whore of Babylon" is this one.

The punchline: Turns out I typed "blogpsot" instead of "blogspot" when I was filling in the "Your URL" field!


Call and response

If I were asked what the people of Jesus' generation were like, I doubt my answer would come close to Jesus':
They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, "We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep."
This seems an odd simile, although Jesus goes on to explain it:
For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, "He is possessed by a demon."
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, "Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners."
Now, this explanation could stand an explanation, because what I thought was the most natural explanation is the exact opposite of what the Fathers thought.

I'd have said that the children who called out were the unbelieving and unsatisfiable critics of Jesus and John, while John would not dance and Jesus would not weep. The children, after all, are what that generation was like, and we know how Jesus complained about that generation. Also, isn't a child sitting in the marketplace calling out an image of questionable dignity for the Son of Man? Finally, this way the parallel is maintained between simile and explanation of who is speaking of whom in what order.

The Fathers, though, understood Jesus to be the one who played the flute, John the one who sang a dirge, and their unbelieving and unsatisfiable critics the ones who would neither dance nor weep. As Jerome put it:
If fasting then pleases you, why were you not satisfied with John! If fullness, why not with the Son of man?
And on reflection, that makes far more sense than my interpretation.

This generation -- whether Jesus' or our own -- has initiated nothing. Everything, everything we do is in response to what God has already done, even if we think we're acting first. Yes, sometimes we pray to God to do something, then wait to see if He dances or weeps as we've directed Him. But it is an illusion to think our prayer is the first movement, that it creates the relationship -- and just as well to see it as an illusion, since the terms on which we create such a relationship will sooner or later lead to ruin.

It is, rather, God, always, Who calls to us. The Son came [action verb] to reveal [action verb] the Father. The story of salvation is the story of God's action and our response (or, as in this simile, our lack of response). The Way may be narrow, but there are many places to step onto it, and God invites us at each place.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How to be the most popular priest in the province

Don't bother with figuring how many Persons there are in God. (Two? Five? What's the point of guessing?)

You just need to like sleeping in on Sundays at a time when canon law forbids priests from so much as drinking a glass of water in the morning before saying Mass.

For the tale of a priest from the Golden Age of American Catholicism, listen to the interview with Fr. William Bonniwell, O.P., here.


Friday, September 12, 2008

What's in the eye of the beholder

Today's Gospel reading includes the familiar beam and mote splinter parable:
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?

You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye."
The word that stands out for me today is "hypocrite." If, as Jesus says, I do not even notice my wooden beam, then how is it that I'm being hypocritical? Isn't hypocrisy intentionally acting like you're morally better than you are?

Pseudo-Chrysostom explains it this way:
“"How sayest thou to thy brother;" that is, with what purpose?

From charity, that you may save your neighbour? Surely not, for you would first save yourself.

You desire therefore not to heal others, but by good doctrine to cover bad life, and to gain praise of learning from men, not the reward of edifying from God, and you are a hypocrite; as it follows, "Thou hypocrite, cast first the beam out of thine own eye."
Now, you might answer, "But I don't desire to gain praise of learning by men, I just want to help my brother!"

But if you love your brother enough to worry about his motes, then you must also love yourself enough to worry about your own motes; in which case, you'd look for your own motes; in which case, you could hardly overlook your own beam.

If you don't perceive your beam, that can only mean you didn't look in yourself for what you see in your brother. It isn't that you're acting like you're morally better than you are before your brother, you're acting like you're morally better than you are before yourself.


The casserole of death

Suppose you go over to a friend's house for dinner, and they serve you Greek-style moussaka, and you've just never cared for the taste or texture of eggplant. Should you eat your friend's moussaka?

NO!!! Are you crazy??!? That thing's teeming with E. coli due to contamination at the meatpacking plant. Eat it and the best case scenario is you're sick as a dog for a week; worst case, you're sick for two weeks, then die.

But of course you have no way of knowing that, as you sit there at the dinner table wanly smiling at the plate in front of you. And since kindness and good manners dictate it, yes, you should eat the moussaka that will poison you.

Our lives are full of choices like this -- not life-and-death choices, for the most part, but choices where the very best we can do by reasoning about what we know is to choose something that, if we knew everything and reasoned impeccably, we would not choose.

Everybody knows* that you have to follow your conscience, even when your conscience leads you to do something that is objectively wrong. The Catechism puts it this way:
A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed. [CCC 1790]
Usually this is discussed in the context of choosing to do something that the Church teaches is immoral. But it's also true in cases like the Moussaka Mortis, where there aren't and can't be any sound arguments from revelation, human reason, and known facts that you should choose to do something your conscience tells you not to do.

Suppose, by the way, that at your friend's house you had said, "I'm not eating this," and later found out (while visiting your friend in the hospital, say) that the moussaka was contaminated. You couldn't then say, "Well, it looks like I did the right thing after all."

In what sense could it be said to have been the "right" thing to do? Only in the sense that it was not eating poison, and not only would you not have been refusing the moussaka as a species of not eating poison, it was literally impossible for you to know that it even was a species of not eating poison. The object of your act was in no morally significant sense "not eating poison." You don't get moral credit for accidents.

* Everybody knows "everybody knows" doesn't mean everybody knows.


Prayer Request

Marion is a friend, fellow Lay Dominican, and frequent commenter at Disputations when time and tide permit (often signing as "Marion (Mael Muire)").

Marion's mother Sally died peacefully on Wednesday. Prayers would be welcome for Sally, for Marion, and for their family.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Redeeming tokens

Following up on the previous post,

If there are Catholics who view [at least some] Catholic doctrines as having no intrinsic meaning, as just tokens of membership Catholics pass around, then it's on us Catholics who don't share that view to correct our brothers and sisters.

And let me suggest that the best way to correct them is to follow the old writing guideline, "Show, not tell."

If we can show others, by the people we are and the things we do, that Catholic doctrines actually mean something to us, that they affect our lives, those people are likely to come to believe that the doctrines should mean something to them, too.

The one statement from Spe Salvi that remains in my mind almost a year after reading it is this:
The one who has hope lives differently....
If there's no difference between how I live and how my neighbor lives, then there's no difference between what I believe and what he believes, whatever difference there might be between what we say we believe.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Token Catholic

Note to lay Catholics appearing on Sunday morning political talk shows: Do not try to explain Catholic doctrine.

If you do, do not mangle it.

Because if you do, Archbishop Wuerl will open a can of apostolic teaching on your hide.

The odd thing in the Biden case is that it's a matter of what's not a matter of faith:
Modern science has demonstrated beyond any doubt that this innocent human life begins at conception. Defense of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but an act of justice.
The intellectual shoddiness of Biden's position -- "I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously-based view" -- is well established, but I wonder if it says something important about his (and, presumably, others') view on "religiously-based views."

Let me overgeneralize: It suggests to me a view that [at least some] Catholic doctrines have no intrinsic meaning, that they're just tokens of membership Catholics pass around. Catholics say things like, "Abortion is gravely evil," or, "Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven," because ... well, because that's what Catholics say. The words indicate you belong, but they don't have too much more meaning in themselves than the secret handshake of a men's club.


Felix typo alert

Via five feet of fury, James Lileks writes:
"Cleverist" is a matter of opinion, but I'd suggest that when Mark Steyn gets a haircut, the shorn pieces fall to the floor and form, at random, cleverer observations in the form of Chinese characters.
A cleverist, I'd guess, is someone who thinks cleverness is a virtue.



Monday, September 08, 2008

The enemy of the perfect

In a comment below, Pauli makes an interesting inference:
I think it is sad that "doing the lesser evil" has become euphemistic for choosing the better candidate or the best candidate. It reveals to me that when people say they are holding out for a good candidate, what they really want is a perfect candidate.
That may well be true in some cases.

As for me, I think it's sad that "choosing the lesser evil" has become euphemistic for choosing the better candidate because it makes it sound like choosing evil can be the right thing to do.

My guess, though, is that most people don't mean evil when they say they'll choose the lesser evil, they mean something like "badly flawed" or "lacking regnative prudence" (okay, so they wouldn't know they meant that). More concretely, they mean there's something they strongly dislike about each candidate, something that prevents them from voting for that candidate with enthusiasm (or at all).

I'd say there's a lot of room between a candidate like that and a perfect candidate.



Friday, September 05, 2008

From small things

A common complaint among Catholics in the U.S. is that there are no good candidates to vote for. I don't think complaining about that is going to make any party go off and select a candidate Catholics do think is good, at least not as long as the vast majority of Catholics go ahead and pull the Least Bad lever.

But one thing I'll point out about the Sarah Palin nomination is that her first elected office was on a city council. Not an exalted office, outside a handful of the largest U.S. cities, but since when are Catholics called to worry only about exalted positions?

"Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" says:
In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.
American Catholics aren't citizens of the United States alone; we are also citizens of our respective states (or district), counties, and local communities. Attention to local political life is also in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity.

And who knows? We might even be able to grow some good candidates for national office.



Rank clericalism

Archbishop Niederauer's response to Nancy Pelosi was worth the wait, I think (although the fact that I had to doublecheck the spelling of his last name suggests that what I think about the Archbishop isn't terribly well informed).

But I will publicly distance myself from this statement:
Speaker Pelosi's remarks called forth many responses, from Catholics in the pews as well as from bishops.
It may be that "Catholics in the pews" responded to Speaker Pelosi's remarks, but I think Archbishop Niederauer used that term to mean lay Catholics.

The appropriate responses from Catholics in the pews can be found in the Order of Mass. Usually in bold.

Responses to Speaker Pelosi's remarks ought to come from Catholics after they leave their pews, while they're engaging the society around them.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Can't... maintain... interest...

Whispers in the Loggia reports on the current state of the translation process for the... um, the...

... for the...


Say, I was just reading that Aristotle wrote that "the habit that observes the mean in anger is unnamed." Maybe in Attic Greek, but doesn't "even-tempered" do the job in English? Which makes sense, since St. Thomas treats meekness -- the virtue which "restrains the onslaught of anger" -- as a part of temperance. And maybe our having the word "even-tempered" is part of the reason the word "meekness" now means something like "spinelessness," since we don't need to reserve "meekness" to refer to the virtue.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A valuable reference

From the Dominican Province of St. Joseph's vocations blog comes word of a new Catholic Bioethics Channel at Catholic Exchange.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

That's no lye

I'm informed that it is not a creamery the Summit Dominicans dream of, but a soap factory.

Hey, you try to keep white habits clean!


From the Greek poli ("many") + tics ("blood sucking parasites")

What I really hate about politics is the campaigning. What I really hate about campaigning is the partisanship. What I really hate about partisanship is the devaluation of the truth.

I'm not referring to the mercenaries and opportunists who are perfectly willing to use calumny and other lies to further their end. I'm referring to partisans who in their hearts consider themselves fair and truthful, and who may well be so on other topics.

I'd say such truth-devaluing partisanship has two phases:
  1. First, the partisan reaches a conclusion -- on whom to vote for, say, or on whether to support a certain bill.
    • It doesn't matter how the partisan reaches the conclusion. It could be a coin flip, yellow-dog party loyalty, or game theory optimization based on Catholic Social Teaching. What matters is that the conclusion is reached.
    • It doesn't even matter if the conclusion is true, if the common good really would be best served by electing the chosen candidate or enacting the chosen legislation. What matters is that the conclusion is reached.
  2. The conclusion having been reached, the truth-devaluing partisan moves forward in the public arena to construct arguments that support the conclusion and destroy arguments that deny the conclusion.
    • The weights to be given various factors -- including factors not considered when the partisan first reached the conclusion -- are chosen such that the conclusion follows. These weights are effectively treated as self-evident.
    • Counterarguments are for the most part regarded as the product of ignorance, foolishness, or wickedness. While reasonable people might disagree, no one who disagrees is being reasonable.
The key point is that, once the partisan enters Phase 2, he is in a state of judging arguments by the quality of their conclusions, instead of the other way around.

This devalues truth both internally and externally.

External devaluation is pretty straightforward. The interest of the partisan is not answering the question, "What is best?" The partisan has already answered that question. A real dialogue or disputatio is not possible with him. He feels no need in walking together with you to the truth. He's already there. His interest is in calling you to join him, or if that proves impossible in ensuring that you don't manage to call anyone to join you.

Truth is devalued externally because it is treated as a means to an end. Any truth that does not lead to the proper end must be discounted -- as unimportant, perhaps, or irrelevant, or buried under a mountain of rhetoric.

This sort of external devaluation is harmful, certainly, and frustrating for those who want to have a dialog with the partisan. (It's frustrating for counter-partisans, too, of course, whose interest is in ensuring that the partisan doesn't manage to call anyone to join him.)

But the internal devaluation may be worse. The internal devaluation is the inability for the partisan, in reviewing his own behavior, to see how he is devaluing the truth in his debates.

The partisan doesn't say, "How can I twist or distort this inconvenient fact so that it does no harm to, or even supports, my conclusion?" He doesn't even perceive the fact as inconvenient; to do so would require going back to Phase 1 and reevaluating his conclusion. The inconvenient fact is perceived by him pre-twisted, pre-distorted by his commitment to the conclusion.

If we're deliberating on a jury, and I say, "I don't really see what the defendant's bloody knife had to do with the man being stabbed to death," you can draw me out on the point (as it were). But if I say, "What bloody knife? That was a flashlight!," then we're at something of a conversational impasse. And if I perceive a flashlight when I'm looking at a knife, I'm not likely to cede the point any time soon.

Note, by the way, that though I'm writing in the context of political partisanship, most of the above holds for partisanship in any matter, including religion.


Monday, September 01, 2008

A future full of hope

Let's face it: it's quite likely that some day you will be dead.

In fact, there's a good chance you will be dead for many, many days, before the Last Day.

And people have found that, if they have to be dead, they can't do much better than to have Dominican nuns praying for them.

Here's your chance to have Dominican nuns pray for you when you're dead.

The Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey, are looking to raise -- well, seven million dollars would build them the monastery of their dreams (which, though they don't mention it, probably includes a creamery so they can make fresh ice cream on those days they're permitted to have fun).

But you don't go to heaven with the monastery you want, you go to heaven with the monastery you have, and the monastery the Summit Dominicans have is in need of about $500,000 in renovations. An additional million dollars would let them establish an endowment to pay for the daily upkeep.

Now, far be it from me to promise that, if you send a few dollars their way, you'll whisk through purgatory so fast your ears will ring. (Dominicans have learned the hard way about promises like that.)

But hope is a virtue, is all I'm saying.


The Purity of the Church Turf, cont.

"I tell you, Reeves, I handled it masterfully!"

"A most gratifying sensation, your Excellency."

"Once old Cardinal Henley blanched at the mention of St. Leonides -- and I must say, I wouldn't have thought a chap with a face that red could blanch -- Berggo would give no better than even money on a head to head with Ginger's pile."

I finished my brandy, and shook my head as Reeves stepped forward to refill the glass. The Sub-Committee would be reconvening at eleven the next morning, so I had to make an early night of it.

"I bided my time," I continued, "until I could get Poleslip alone, then talked my way round to his giving three to two against the field as a side bet."

"A not altogether reckless bet on Bishop Pulverhampton's part, your Excellency."

"Absolutely, Reeves. I didn't want to press him too hard, or he might suspect that I'll be bringing a ringer to the contest."

"A ringer, your Excellency?"

"A dead cert. And you're the one who put me onto it."

"Are you referring to the refurbished Lady's Chapel of the Cathedral of St. Glaphyra, your Excellency?"

"Got it in one, Reeves. Your niece, was it, who sent you some snaps of the grand unveiling?"

"Yes, your Excellency. My second eldest sister's daughter Amelia. She has an understanding with the young architect Bishop Legendre hired for the renovation, and wished to know my unbiased opinion regarding his work."

The brow rose. "That must have taken some tact."

"Indeed, your Excellency. I was at some pains striking the right balance between aesthetic criticism and concern for my niece's feelings."

"I should jolly well think so, Reeves! How was it you described it to me? The absolute nadir of something, wasn't it?"

"'The absolute end of unthinking anti-incarnationalism' was one form I gave to my thoughts, your Excellency. Another was 'embracing the nadir of iconoclastic nihilism.'"

"A bit industrial strength for tender hearted youth, what? No girl wants to hear her sweet baa lamb called an anti-incarnational nihilist."

"She has never referred to the gentleman as her 'sweet baa lamb' in my hearing, your Excellency, but I share your opinion of the inadvisability of presuming her willingness to discuss the topic in a purely objective manner."

"Sentiment aside, Reeves, would you say that the Lady's Chapel of the Cathedral of St. Glaphyra is, pound for pound, the ugliest thing to be found within consecrated walls from sea to shining sea?"

"In my aesthetic judgment, your Excellency, yes."

"Then, as your aesthetic judgment is known to be flawless, I have but to convince old Pimples Legendre to enter it in the contest, and Poleslip's covering three USCCB meetings for me is as certain as things get in this vale of tears."

There was the briefest of hesitations, no longer than the time an Aberdeen terrier spends deciding on the perfect spot on your leg to sink his teeth into, before Reeves said, "So it would seem, your Excellency."

I've worked with Reeves long enough to know that a hesitation like that is fraught.