Thursday, July 25, 2002

POPULATION CONTROL IS UNDEMOCRATIC AND ILLIBERAL. De Feo's YFP cover article is online, a fact I had not known before.
BEGINNING: Four views of fetal development: excerpts from Lennart Nilsson's A Child Is Born (here and here); a walk-through starting at conception; and lots of pictures of the Carnegie Stages.

I note that if memory serves, I've counseled clients at the pregnancy center who were considering abortion anywhere from one week after conception to about here. And that's not even touching what the law allows.
HELLO, I LIED. So I've gotta motor--no posts on history, at least not until I reach England. Keep the contest entries coming--and the end-of-an-era/shark-jump emails. I'm not sure when I'll next be posting, but I should have lots of goodies for you then. And I'll be back to regular posting Monday, August 5.

In the meantime, you should read The Rat on marriage. I think she's overemphasizing the insanity of the marriage vow--putting too much emphasis on the suffering and struggle inherent in marriage may make it harder, not easier, for people to make good marriages. De Rougemont does a fantastic dissection of our willingness to seek out and even fetishize suffering; and people are generally much more willing to work hard to be happy in their marriages if they think change from bad to good is possible. I think de R. errs slightly in the other direction--making marriage sound like a passion-free, practical alliance. Maggie Gallagher summarized my view of things when she described marriage as "the Song of Songs--and the Crucifixion." But anyway, the Rat makes a lot of great points, and you should go read her. I know I've been promising a lot of posts lately and not actually posting them, but I will try to post something on the kinds of questions the marriage movement is and should be asking; I'll post either from England, or when I get back.
THEN WHY DON'T THEY?: "The American economy, our economy, is built on confidence. ...That confidence is well-placed. After all, American technology is the most advanced in the world. Our universities attract the talent of the world. Our workers and ranchers and farmers can compete with anybody in the world."
--President George W. Bush, July 9

Fun with torts. (No, really, this is hilarious. Click!) Link via Stuart Buck, I think.

And this won't surprise you if you read this Register expose of Peru's population-control programs.
A READER WRITES: "I thought the middle ages started with the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope on Christmas Day, 800 AD."

See, this is why the questions below (see post re Dante as the Fonz) are so fascinating. Which event you fix on as the beginning of the Middle Ages says a lot about whether you think they were simply a plunge into darkness, an intermission between the ancient and modern worlds, or whether they had a positive and vivid identity in their own right; whether the conflicts and collusions of Church and state are the biggest story of the era; etc. Different possible starting- and stopping-points shed light on different aspects of the time. The point is not so much to pick one, as to show how different emphases yield different beginnings and endings--and how our "sense" of when things began or ended reveals our assumptions, or perhaps reveals insights about the period that we haven't yet articulated.

So send 'em in!
HISTORY: Looks like today's gonna be History Day on the blog, since I just finished reading this awesome essay and I have a lot to say about it. While we're on the subject of history, are you wondering how to get into my archives? Wonder no more! If you click on the one, lone archive link on this page, you'll be taken to a blank page (why???) with all my real archives linked along the side.
STARRING DANTE ALIGHIERI AS THE FONZ: So this post from Sasha Volokh reminded me of some questions I'd been meaning to pose on my site. Volokh, in a fun and quick survey of movies set in the Middle Ages, gives a hint of the somewhat arbitrary but nevertheless fascinating disputes about when the Middle Ages really ended. He settles on the English Middle Ages ending in 1485, with the death of Richard III (last king of England to die leading troops in battle, by the way), and the French M.A.s ending in 1483.

So I ask you a couple different things. First, if you've got an opinion on when some historical era (the Middle Ages in various countries; the Renaissance; the modern era; the Roman Republic) actually ended, send it in. You can send in beginnings too if you want. Points for insight, creativity, controversy, etc. (I mean, the Sack of Rome is generally, as far as I can tell, considered the beginning of the early Middle Ages, so unless you want to dispute that, I don't know that there's much fun to be had with that question.)

Second--when did these eras jump the shark? To quote the website: "Q. What is jumping the shark?

"A. It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now's all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it 'Jumping the Shark.' From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same."

I'll put in one vote for the Gracchi as Roman Republic shark-jumpers. Send your thoughts to Win no prizes, etc. Employees of are not eligible. I will post the real contest results... uh, sometime.
"Women are all alike!"
"For Pete's sake, what difference does that make? You've got to have them, they're standard equipment."

–Allan Mowbray and Allyn Joslyn, "I Wake Up Screaming"

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

You can hold me all my life but paradise can take me twice
And when I go to my greater reward it's a blog I'll watch on my own...

(For some reason that song popped into my head recently, after years of neglect. I wonder if it's the most obscure blogwatch song so far? Points to anyone who recognizes it.)

The Agitator: Vouchers galore--a great letter (and reply from Balko) on vouchers vs. tax credits and "how poor POOR really is"; vouchers, accountability, Texas, and McNuggets. But for some reason he hasn't yet posted the FoxNews column about vouchers that prompted all this nifty reader mail. Maybe he can't post it to his own site yet. Oh, and he links to this call for a monument to rebel slaves.

Ted Barlow: Links to this page--the workday diary of a woman who clerks at a video store with a big porno stock. Pretty fascinating read. (Caveat lector; there's gross and explicit descriptions of porno and its customers, as you might expect.)

Amy Welborn: Provocative discussion of "why bother?"--why should Christians bother evangelizing, and why should non-Christians bother listening? Just start at the top of the page and scroll down, reading the comments; the thread might be especially interesting to non-Christians who want a sense of the basic Christian mental framework. Not that there's only one.

Charles Murtaugh reminded me to blog about the discovery of a new giant squid!!!! This totally rocks. I love the giant squid. Click here for more--maybe you too will join the cult of Architeuthis. Giant squid are among the coolest beasties ever.

And I'm looking forward to reading this 1998 article by Christopher Hitchens, "Goodbye to all that: why Americans are not taught history." Link via Natalie Solent. I was at Solent's page because of this phenomenal quote, brought to me by Moira Breen: "Getting back to Hugo Young, he describes the European Human Rights Act as "driven forward by the inescapable demands of history." Mistah Young he one foolish old Marxist. Don't he know that is mighty bad juju! The personifications of concepts such as History and Society really prefer to sleep unmolested on the Albert Memorial. The last time incautious mortals awoke the personification of History, she demonstrated that she had room in her capacious dustbin for them."
DON'T BELIEVE IN MODERN LOVE: Finished Love in the Western World last night. Awesome, awesome book. Discerns the root of the Western cult of passionate love (suffering for its own sake; "in love with love"; love against marriage) in the troubadours and heretics of the 11th-12th centuries. Unpredictable; clearly inspired by personal experience; honest; sharp; attuned to the sublime; free of the special pleading that mars too many books on morals, religion, or history; anticipates and responds to objections really well (esp. if you read all the way to the end). Some of the whirlwind "tour of the entire history of Western lit" chapters are way too rushed (hence the comments about Romeo and Juliet here), but for the most part, the book is fantastic. (Also, if you want a great companion to LITWW on the subject of the dialectic of passion and marriage, the chapter "The Meaning of Marriage" in Maggie Gallagher's Abolition of Marriage is a terrific read, deepening de Rougemont's insights and, in my view, correcting some of his slight excesses.) I'm still chewing the book over and will be for quite some time to come.

Only real omission (and it's a glaring one): There's virtually no discussion of children. Seems to me that if you write a book about marriage, adultery, love, the body, and different forms of union between two people... somewhere in there you should note that making love can mean making babies.

Anyway, go read it! It rocks.
WHY I AM A DESTINY. WHY I WRITE SUCH LAME POSTS. So looking over the whole voucher dispute, I see that although I think I have answered UP (albeit much more obliquely than I intended), I also misrepresented his position--he's saying that moral education should not be a primary purpose of schooling, not that there should be a wall of separation between ethics and school. Now, how I missed this I don't know, since he up and said it in so many words. I'm still not clear on how moral education should, in his view, work as a subordinate goal of education (meaning that morality is only dragged in where absolutely necessary, e.g. to answer the kid who wants to know why he can't dunk Susie's braids in the inkwell*?) But I think if you read over my posts below you'll be able to mix-and-match my rather sloppy reading of UP's position and end up with an actual reply. Sorry about that. Like I said, more in the voucher series soon.

*Yes, folks, in my mind all elementary schools are either just like mine, or a combination of The Great Brain and John Bellairs...
"If you hear a peculiar noise, it's my skin creeping."
–Susan Hayward, "Deadline at Dawn"

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

MORE ON VOUCHERS from Uncertain Principles. My response: I disagree that vouchers are a cop-out, a way for parents to slough the hard work of raising children off onto others. UP at times sounds like he considers all non-homeschooling (or, more likely, all non-homeschooling that involves any discussion or teaching of ethics) as a cop-out or abdication of parental responsibility. Beyond that, though, vouchers help parents but don't take the responsibility for child-rearing away from them--in fact, vouchers give parents more choices, and thus more responsibility in directing their children's education.

On the practical level, vouchers often don't cover the entire price of a private education at the school of the parents' choice--so while vouchers make it possible for kids to attend schools their families couldn't afford on their own, there typically is still some work to be done, pennies to be pinched, sacrifices to be made and so forth. Vouchers aren't a guarantee that the perfect school will open up, take your kid (although fears that private voucher-taking schools will "skim the cream"--taking the good kids but leaving the problem children in the struggling public schools--are very much exaggerated--that'll be the subject of a later post), and train him up in the way that he should go, with no work on your part. They just make the educational choices of the poor more like those of the rich.

What vouchers do offer is the ability (and therefore the responsibility) to make a choice. Parents who are content with the public schools can choose to keep sending their kids there; many will. But the fact that they can choose to a) use their voucher money to attend a cheap private school for free, or b) use the voucher money, plus savings of their own, to attend a less cheap private school they couldn't afford before, means that parents will be able to be more involved in directing their children's education, not less. Yes, that education will still take place outside the home. But I really have no problem with that. And I just think it's unrealistic to think that parents who had previously been valiantly teaching their kid morals in the home will stop doing that because now the kid's teachers will share their beliefs. That definitely didn't happen in my family, when we switched from public school to lefty secular private school (thus reinforcing the family's beliefs); and I don't know of anyone it did happen to.

(And I note that the way the family makes choices about education--for example, sending the kid to a Jewish school because Judaism is central to the family's life--is a good way to teach kids what the family values and honors. Sometimes that honor will be more in the breach than in the observance, as when a not-terribly-religious Protestant family sends the kids to the local Catholic school because it's cheap and has "good morals." But even that decision tells you something about the good things the parents want for their children, even if the parents themselves aren't acting as perfect models. But that's really just a side note on the uses of hypocrisy.)

If the claim is more that "the lament about the lack of moral guidance provided in public schools" is a cynical cover for people who don't want public schools to succeed anyway, all I can say is that it's precisely that lack of moral guidance that has led many parents (not just conservative Christians, by the way...) to pull their kids from public schools. This is a grassroots concern, not a RNC talking point.

I may or may not get around to dealing with the question of how much vouchers (or different versions of voucher plans) will cost as vs. current costs of public schooling. I will get into questions of whether this is just an I've-got-mine-Jack call to abandon public schools instead of doing the hard work of fixing them. (For the moment I will note only that building strong private schools, and strong private-school+parent relationships, etc., is also hard work, though it's a lot easier than working around many public school bureaucracies! I think the hours-frustration-drama-effort/payoff ratio is often though by no means always better with private schools--you may be spending less time working to "fix" your school, but that's because it's less broken.) I may get into whether and how public schools will benefit from voucher systems, and whether any good effects will be lasting; and I'll definitely blog about the argument that we shouldn't have vouchers because the most dedicated parents will pull their kids out of public schools, leaving only the least-involved parents. But the main thing I'd like to say in response to UP's posts is that he seems to be concerned that vouchers will make parents less involved in their children's education, especially their children's moral education, and I just don't see how that's true.
THIS SITE is pretty cute and all, but this--now this is what cats are all about.

I miss my beast. He lives with my parents. I will note, though, that people who say stuff like, "My cats are my children!" are creepy.

Monday, July 22, 2002

HEY RUSSO: Amy Welborn is dissin' "Sex in the City." What with my slams on Picard and crew, it's been a rough week for the Republic's viewing habits. Maybe when you recover from your conference (at which the Russinator rocked the house, btw), you can lay the smack down to all of us "Cheers"-watching freaks.
On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of blogwatches
Rising up through the air...

Not much blogging today--maybe more tomorrow--but I figure I dumped a whole bucketload of blog on here Saturday, so hey. For now, here's a blogwatch.

Agenda Bender: If you didn't click on the InstaPundit link, maybe you'll click now. AB is a funny, rambly blog about "Pomosexuality, Homotextuality, Slomoleftbanality, and Drear Theory (aka Career Theory) [aka Gay4Pay]." Lurches from subject to subject and from witty dismissal to quickie rebuttal. Much fun. Kind of reminds me of the character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (movie; haven't read book)--"You know what's gonna happen to you? I am gonna march you over to the zoo and feed you to the yak..."

Cacciaguida: Courtly love. He's right that de Rougemont's take on Romeo and Juliet (in an otherwise very awesome book, at least so far) is simplistic. De R. doesn't really do anything with the fact that R&J get hitched, which would seem to invalidate the point he's trying to make; but the real omission, of course, is that De R. ignores the coolest character in the play, Mercutio. What's up with that? Mercutio is one in a line of Shakespearean characters that, you could argue, ultimately bifurcates into Hamlet and Falstaff. (Others in this sequence would be Faulconbridge the Bastard, maybe Thersites, Macbeth's Porter, and possibly Lear's Fool--although he should probably be considered an alternative end-point to H. and F. I wrote a paper on this forever ago called "The Tragic Sidekick." Maybe I'll dig it up tonight and see if it still makes any sense.)

Uncertain Principles: Responds to my post on vouchers. I see where he's coming from (and no, I wasn't pushing for "God in the public schools" [although how're you planning to keep Him out?--sorry, lame omnipresence joke]), but I don't think his "strict separation of school and ethics" really makes that much sense. A Jewish respondent said one of the things I wanted to say, in UP's comments section--lots of religions (and ethical systems, for that matter) have so much content that you really do need to be formally taught or you won't get it. (There's a great scene in Brideshead Revisited contrasting different takes on Catholicism within the Marchmain family; I can't remember the whole thing, but one stance was characterized as, "You don't know what you believe, but you believe it anyway." With a religion as complex and all-pervasive as Catholicism, that's a real danger. I also note that if you don't know what you believe you can't do the kind of engaging with other beliefs that UP recommends.)

But also, I'm just not sure how UP would work this separation of "values" and schooling, for a number of reasons. One is the basic practical reason that you've gotta corral the kids somehow; you've gotta keep them from biting one another, lying, carping, etc. In order to teach math, you've got to start by building a rough-and-ready, low-level ethical platform, just so they'll listen to the math stuff. This is similar to Alasdair MacIntyre's point about the virtues required by certain practices--chess requires virtues like honesty, for example (you can cheat at chess, but that ignores the point of playing the game).

Then there's the cognitive dissonance produced in kids when behaviors are moral/immoral in the eyes of one set of teachers (parents) but neutral, or reversed in ethical valuation, in the eyes of their schoolteachers.

Then there's the kid's natural tendency to play Socrates, forever asking, "Why?" A schoolteacher forbidden from discussing the ethical, and ultimately religious, underpinnings of the classroom rules will generally be forced back on the super-unsatisfying (and false, since this isn't usually the real reason), "Because I said so."

And finally, I simply disagree with UP's judgment that virtues and moral rules are not part of "a basic grounding in the knowledge [children] will need to function as productive members of society." I'd say the virtues are a lot more important than, say, algebra, or (even) US geography. Similarly, any account of American history will necessarily be imbued with moral judgments, and so it should be, since knowing what we value is more important than knowing the events that led up to the War of 1812. (I also dispute the identification of "productivity" as the goal of an education. That strikes me as way too functionalist and market-value-oriented. But that's something of a side point.)

A couple quick final points: UP writes, "Now we want to pay to shuffle the kids off into religious schools, to free parents from the hassle of providing moral and religious instruction as well? Are parents not supposed to play any role beyond paying for clothes and video games?" Wait now hey now. How does this follow? If I send my children to a school that will reinforce the beliefs I'm trying to inculcate in and model to my children, why does that relegate me to a parental ATM? Thus far, I have not found anything remotely resembling a correlation between sending your kids to religious schools and hands-off or amoral parenting--in fact, unsurprisingly, parents who send kids to religious schools, in my experience, are also more likely to teach religious beliefs at home.

And: "But then, I've never entirely understood the motivation behind sending kids to religious schools in the first place, particularly when the goal seems to be the kind of moral indoctrination mentioned above. If you really and truly believe in the truth of your faith, and instruct your children in the faith, shouldn't that faith be strong enough to withstand contact with the real world? ...Religious instruction that's never challenged is simply brainwashing." Again, I think this is a false dichotomy. Why can't I both give my kids a good grounding in (say) the Catholic faith, and send them out into the world prepared to take counter-claims seriously? In fact, I submit that a good grounding in one's own beliefs (the kind of well-thought-out grounding that requires study) is a lot more likely to lead to genuine engagement with other beliefs. If you don't really understand your own tradition, you either won't be able to discuss it at all, and will just retreat into, "Well, you have your opinion and I have mine," or you'll let your family's teachings be knocked down by lame arguments that misconstrue your faith. (For example, Catholics who leave the faith because they don't want to worship Mary anymore. What?? You never should have been worshipping her!) Neither of these responses are productive of actual religious questioning and deepening. Also, as I'm sure Amy Welborn or Anthony Marquis will tell UP, religion teachers in religious schools get challenged and questioned all the time. Kids, fortunately, are challenging critters. Religious schools, at least most of 'em, aren't like Camazotz in A Wrinkle in Time, where all the children bounce their balls in unison. (Oh!--and why is religious indoctrination more objectionable--if it is--than the kind of non-religious indoctrination into safe sex, or the Seven Kwanzaa Principles, practiced at many public and secular private schools? UP probably dislikes both, which is fair; it's not like religious indoctrination [i.e. teaching...] is somehow scarier or more conformity-making than any other kind of indoctrination.)

Obviously, homeschooling is a nifty way to resolve these problems, but I don't think that strategy will ever be best for all children or all parents.

Anyway, sorry to go on so long about that. UP's post is well-written and definitely worth a read.

Unqualified Offerings: Civil liberties right and left; why no one can complain about social-welfare programs; spontaneous order in NYC; and something that, in my opinion, pretty much defines foreign-policy craptitude. Arrrrggghhh.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

MAILBAG DELUXE: Rich and poor; pacifism; sex; all of love is a quotation. As always, I am in plain text and my readers are in bold. I'll post surrogate-motherhood mail later, since I want to write a separate post replying to some very good questions I got about that.

From Barbara H. Ryland, in re this post: As the saying goes, when the rich get a cold, the poor get pneumonia. That is, the rich have the means to buy the medicines that keep them, if not healthy, then from knocking on death's door, at least not at the same rate. You might have also said that, while we have unequal means we have democratic expectations -- for true love, for freedom, Nike shoes, etc. For an interesting read of something truly culturally prescient, read The Children by Edith Wharton, about a wealthy, much divorced family. For being written around 1920, mom and dad voice sentiments that sound shockingly modern, except that now the moms and dads voicing those sentiments go all the way down the social strata. It made me realize how "modernism" did not spring fully formed during the 1950s.

From Stephen Mewborn on the same subject: Almost everyone can do good by their soul by making it a point to say "There but for the Grace go I..." when they see people whose life is in disarray, even it it's in disarray by their own hand.

However I think there's a difference between emphasizing personal responsibility in trying to solve social problems and blaming the vicitm. Part of the point of emphasizing personal responsibility (and the cornerstone of "compassionate conservatism," rightly understood) is the recognition that people closest to problems have the best chance of solving them.

Take an inner city woman who keeps having babies out of wedlock. It may be wrong for me to think of myself as her moral better because my life is more stable and prosperous than hers, since after all I had a pretty stable childhood in a loving home that emphasized working hard and getting an education, and she presumably didn't. But I can still in good conscience advocate for public policies that put the onus on her for lifting herself up out of poverty and misery, because I might well believe that the chance of her succeeding in so doing is much greater than the chance of a third party helping her. I'm not blaming her for the wreck of her life, just saying that she's in a better position to un-wreck it than anyone else.

From Peter Nixon, re sex and men: You posed a great question at the end of last week. Of course, after ten years of marriage, my answer is somewhat obvious. But I'll try to project myself back to my high-school and college years, which are probably more applicable.

I think men are a lot more conflicted about the sexual libertinism of our culture than is generally recognized. You wouldn't get this impression reading Maxim or Details of course, but I think it's true. Particularly in the high-school and college years, men are under enormous pressure to conform to a particular image of masculinity. While women may feel the most pressure to have sex from their boyfriends, I think men feel it from other men and from the culture around them.

I remember a friend of mine from high-school who dated the same girl for almost the entire four years. Later I learned that they had been having sex on a reasonably regular basis for the last two years of high school. About a month after they graduated, he told her he was gay. That's an extreme example, of course, but it demonstrates the length that some men will go to conform to a cultural stereotype of masculinity.

In my own sophmore year, I dated a women who wanted to move much faster than I did sexually. This eventually broke up the relationship. I just wasn't ready. But for years, I wondered whether I did what I did because I thought it was the right thing to do, or merely because I was a coward. No man likes to feel that way about himself, and my failure to resolve that internal debate probably contributed to some bad decisions I made later.

My point is that we shouldn't fall for the old line that "men give love to get sex" and "women give sex to get love." It's too simplistic. It's certainly the image that most men want to project, but our true feelings are often a lot more complicated. Our culture doesn't give men a lot of space to share those feelings. A lot of women say they want men to do that, but a lot of them are pretty uncomfortable when it actually happens. A lot of women don't want their men to be vulnerable. They want their men to be the "rock" that they lean on and, to be fair, that's what a lot of men--myself included--want to be. But it's a time bomb that blows up a lot of marriages.

Well, it's getting late and I need to hit the hay, so I can't keep developing my point for several more paragraphs like I'd like to. But I hope you get the general point I'm trying to make. Men are a few more steps removed from our primate ancestors than a lot of people seem to believe.

From the Talking Dog, also re sex: I think one might suggest that, although I don't disagree with the premise that, anecdotally, many women may feel trapped by pressures of relationships (both their boyfriend-relationship and their familial relationship), I daresay a great many more women, probably for the first time ever in historical terms, can now, finally, just have sex because (by divine design) IT'S DARNED FUN AND ENJOYABLE.

Further, thanks in large part to "safe sex" and liberal mores (with accent on e), WOMEN can now define sex in contexts of their own chosing for the first time ever. This is one of the reasons we profess superiority over the Taliban: women in the Arab world exist solely in context; if a woman were to express sexual desires, longings or likings of her own, she would almost certainly be stoned to death. We've moved on from the days when Edmund Burke once said "God has given women so much power that our laws have very wisely given them very little".

Obviously, anything can be made dysfunctional, and we are coming off an eternity of sex-as-property-rights, which we are still shaking off (and are far from in large parts of the world). And by definition sex (other than in the Joycelyn Elders-prescribed methods) is always in the context of a "relationship" (even if the relationship lasts no longer than the sex). But in the realm of the sexual revolution and its benefit to women, I give you the classic Objectivist Advice: please check your premises.

Similarly from Avram Grumer: My first thought on reading your paragraph about the sexual revolution is that you and your friends must be really screwed up. I know a few people who are having sex for the reasons you describe, but more who aren't.

And the people who are having sex for bad reasons? A hundred years ago they'd have been getting married for those same bad reasons, and stuck with the consequences for the rest of their lives. That doesn't strike me as an improvement.

OK. Let me try to clear up a few things here: 1) No kidding, sex rocks. If I came off as suggesting that sex is not fun, that's certainly not what I intended; my post was coming from a basic stance that sex can be very cool (...duh) but that there are all kinds of ways that humans find to mess it up, leach the pleasure out of it, or combine the pleasure with a huge helping of self-contempt, anger, despair, or pain. And that sucks, because that's not how sex should be.

2) I think it's possible to point out the lousy effects of the sexual revolution without saying we should "go back" (which is impossible anyway) to some idealized pre-sex. rev. period. The Victorian Era was hellacious for women in a lot of respects. (Let's start with marital rape and continue on through deaths in childbed, rampant prostitution, and tight restrictions on owning property.) I have no desire to return to the 1950s, or whatever. But I do think that the ideology of the sexual revolution has led to really harmful consequences, and I don't believe that in order to sustain women's property rights, right not to be raped, non-Taliban status, etc., we have to defend the beliefs about sex and love that, in my view, deeply harm women, men, and children. I made the analogy to the Reformation here: You can get totally righteous about how awful many pre-Reformation bishops and even popes were, without thinking the Reformation was the right solution to Catholics' problems.

3) My claims about why many women have sex weren't based on my random friends. My friends may be screwed up, but actually, by this point in their lives most of 'em have their heads on straight when it comes to sex. My claims were based on a slew of other sources--the women I counsel at the pregnancy center, women who post on a big feminist discussion board I frequent, surveys of high school students that have found (for example) that girls list "how to say no without hurting his feelings" as the piece of sex-ed info they need most and that teens say "the best age to start having sex" is older than when they themselves started, past histories of friends, friends of friends, my experiences in high school, etc. etc. etc.--in other words, all the different places where I would be able to hear women talking about their personal lives. I make no claim that all women having sex outside marriage do it for the reasons I listed--that would be idiotic. But I think it's much more prevalent than Grumer implies.

4) Finally, I'm not sure why Grumer thinks people would have sex for exactly the same reasons if they had to get married first. That's just weird, in my opinion. There's not some fixed amount of sex in the world. People make different decisions under different circumstances; thus when the consequences for casual sex are high, it's less likely. When there's a lot of pressure to have sex outside marriage (as in many high schools today), people will be more likely to have sex outside marriage. When you have to either get married or go through a lot of furtive rigmarole before you can have sex, people will be (and are) choosier about who they shtup. Now, just telling people "get married first!" is in no way enough. People need a culture that helps them be chaste, make good marriage decisions, and develop habits of loyalty, love, courage, and self-knowledge. Pushing marriage is not my idea of a cure-all; I'm trying to change a lot of things in how we view love and sex. But even if all that changed was much-less-sex-before-marriage, that in itself would change people's behavior.

5) I truly think that if you put in a lot of time, and listen to women about their experiences (especially their experiences before they hit, say, 25), you'll agree that many, many women are having sex for reasons that are seriously screwed up. So then the question becomes: What can be done about that? How can we help women gain a sense of self, a sense of identity, responsibility, and worth? My point is that the sex. rev. promised to give women that sense of self, and that really hasn't materialized, so let's try something else.

From Jendi Reiter, re pacifism: I became a Christian last year, and was baptized in the Episcopal Church because its understanding of church authority and structure makes more sense to me than the Catholic one. But I do wish that my church was a stronger witness on issues of marriage, abstinence, etc. Sometimes I wish Christians could just agree to disagree on homosexuality and stop talking about it so much, as I think it can be decoupled from other questions of sexual morality. This is just to say that although I may never become Catholic, I am to some extent a fellow-traveler and feel very comforted by the vibrant Catholic blogging community.

Your dialogue with Telford Work on Christian pacifism is very thought-provoking. My biggest problem with his claim that Christians cannot be soldiers is that it requires the presence of a large number of non-Christians in any society in order to safeguard the Christian members' moral purity. Call it the "Sabbath goy" approach --- getting a non-Jew to turn on your lights, carry your packages or open your door because you are Orthodox and not allowed to do work on that day. To me, this attitude appears both elitist and contrary to the Great Commission. Don't we want everyone to come to Christ? If Christians must leave the use of force to others, a Christian society would be completely helpless, confirming our opponents' criticism that Christianity is a religion for losers and
doormats. (I say this as a former Ayn Rand/Nietzsche disciple who believed such criticisms.)

Original sin is a tricky thing to argue from. We have to make compromises in a fallen world, but that notion can tempt us to make too many compromises. On the other hand, refusal to take on the burden of possibly sinful violence when others' safety is at stake is also an egoistic temptation. There's no rule that will make you righteous. (Realizing this was another reason I became a Christian!)

If you're not already sick of the pacifism topic, the First Things website has a good article by Darrell Coles, from a few months ago. It's
about war as a heroic calling rather than just a necessary evil.

From Dakin, also on pacifism: The subject of war, like that of, say, homosexuality, is something that Jesus never really addressed directly in his ministry. Therefore, any conclusions on the subject based on scripture will be highly speculative and ultimately based not on the teachings of Jesus, but on the opinions of his subsequent "followers". I think therefore that in discussing this question, it would be more profitable to come at it from a different direction, taking into account the larger context of the meaning of human existence as a whole.

It is hard for me to find in the teachings of Jesus any motive for going to war. Jesus taught that the purpose of human life was to prepare oneself to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This was accomplished by striving to be perfect, as the Father is perfect. The rich young man was advised to sell all he owned and give the proceeds to the poor so that he could follow Jesus (i.e. imitate Him by undertaking the task of becoming worthy of the Kingdom). We are not to lay up stores in the earth and thereby enter into an endless and futile struggle against the robber and the moth: we are to be like the lilies of the field. We are not to be distracted from our purpose, which is union with the Eternal, by becoming involved in what we today call "the rat race."

Wars of defense are normally fought to protect property, or political freedom. If we go to war to protect a weak neighbor from a strong one, we are only protecting the property of the weak neighbor. Is this true charity? By allowing our weak neighbor to hold onto that property which is a stumbling block on his road to sainthood, are we fighting for the Lord, or for the Prince of this World?

Did Jesus value political freedom? It is possible that Jesus was betrayed precisely because of His refusal to provide leadership for any campaign to free the Jews from the yoke of Rome. His Kingdom was, explicitly, not of this world. Therefore, go to war for what purpose? How could waging war possibly makes us more worthy of Sainthood?

Here it might be profitable to contemplate the career of St. Francis, himself a failed warrior, and possibly the most perfect imitator of Christ known to history.

In short, I care little what your church, or my church teaches. We have a perfect teacher and He made His teachings perfectly clear, and simple enough to be understood by little children. Both your church and mine have a lot of property to hold onto, don't they?
What do you think?

From Lauren Coats, still on pacifism: In discussions of this topic, by people undoubted my betters, it seems to me that two issues tend to be conflated - namely pacifism and the concept of a just war.

The question "May a Christian be a soldier?" is a superset of the question "May a Christian be a soldier in this war?". However, many seem unable to clearly separate them.

From Tom Harmon, ditto: You're dead on about war and charity. Aquinas addresses just war in the section of his reflections on Charity. You're also dead on about it being a benefit to the unjust soldier to be stopped, as he is being stopped from committing evil, sin, and bein g cut off from sanctifying grace. By doing physical violence to the unjust soldier, we are preventing him from doing
spiritual violence to his immortal soul. One finds this throughout Catholic tradition.

You're off-base about what kind of eschatalogical sign the celibate provides, though. In fact, there is most definitely marriage in
heaven: the marriage of the person to God. One of the most frequent images of heaven in Scripture is the Eternal Wedding feast. All people are called to live out their sexuality on earth and in heaven. We are material beings and our sexuality is an essential part of our nature. The proper context for human sexuality is within marriage. The person on earth marries, in the case of the non-celibate, another person; in the case of a celibate, that person skips earthly marriage (which is a sign and signifier, a sacrament, of the Eternal Wedding Feast) and goes straight for the Eternal. Both vocations, calibate and "married" are, in fact, living out marriage, just in
different senses. Both are signifiers of the eternal Wedding Feast. Both are, therefore, eschatalogical. Both will be completed in the beatific vision. The celibate life is of a higher order because of the very fact that it does skip the earthly and heads straight for the eternal. Rather than there being no marriage in heaven, instead heaven consists of the ultimate marriage: God as bridegroom and the Church (us) as bride.

Also, does Prof. Work show any indication of having dealt with St. Augustine's very explicit response to the question of whether a
Christian can fight, especially of Augustine's treatment of the "turn the other cheek" argument?

Also, it is my impression that the Christian soldier does not need to worry about questions of whether the war he fights in is just. His duty is to follow the orders of legitimate authority. If the war is unjust, the authority that orders it is culpable, not the Christian soldier who is following orders. The Christian soldier is not a legitimate authority and therefore is not competent to act on his own judgments about whether the war is just or not.

That last bit seems extraordinarily sketch to me--I thought the relevant catechism passages referred to those who have a responsibility for the common good, which would definitely mean the citizens of a democracy, but would in my view mean all adults.

And from The Rat, re this post: La Rochefoucauld--I haven't got the exact words but paraphrases to, How many would ever have fallen in love if they had never heard of love?

And this site looks really cool, and has good posts on pacifism and the sexual revolution stuff--I hope that I answered her sex-rev comments above.
RANDOM LINKS AND A QUESTION.Will Wilkinson: The Fly Bottle is back!

A very cool page--don't be scared off by the URL. Link via The Rat.

Comics-type people: Should I read V for Vendetta? A casual glance-through at the comics shop led me to think it could be either a) really, really cool, or b) really, really stupid.
THE POLITICS OF DANCING III: Third installment of my rambling ruminations on pop lyrics. Click here for exegeses of the Cramps' "Eyeball in My Martini" and Cat Power's "Say." This time we'll look at Queen, "Princes of the Universe."

Looking at the actual lyrics, I see that they don't tend to support the point I'd like to make, which is fine--TPOD is really not about accurately reflecting the intent of the lyricists. The one line I knew from the song was, of course, "We were born to be princes of the universe..."--and I think that line, in isolation from the rest of the song's weirdness, is a pretty powerful statement of what it is like to be a Fallen human.

I was thinking about this recently because of a debate between many friends of mine on the subject of beauty. For the purposes of this post, there's no need to distinguish between the beautiful and the sublime--I'll be talking about experiences of beauty that necessarily also include, to a greater or lesser degree, aspects of the fear that signals the presence of the sublime.

I'd like to draw a distinction between the beauty of inanimate objects and the beauty of human beings or human acts. Any encounter with beauty is sharply and deeply sensual. I believe that inanimate objects are pretty much all inherently beautiful because of their physicality. A vacant, weed-covered, rat-infested yard has beauty in it. If you don't believe this, check out the movies; film noir, especially, gets a lot of its harsh beauty from shots of grit and ruin. Or just walk down a beat-up city street and really look at it--really be present to it. Or read this poem by T.S. Eliot. The thing-ness of things, when you actually pay attention to it, is startling and beautiful.

But while an experience of beauty in inanimate objects is a radical encounter with the present tense, an experience of beauty in human beings or human acts is more often a radical encounter with the subjunctive tense--the might-have-been. Human beauty is always "almost," always more poignant and more sublime because of the great disjunction between what we are and what we feel we should have been. The most beautiful young woman is stepping closer to death even as you admire her; even as you watch the young man's muscles move "like snakes in milk," age is stripping him of his power. We were born to be princes of the universe--but we aren't.

Human beauty, to my mind, is a clue that man is not inherently good (since our beauty always comes with this downward pull toward decay; and since we are even able to pervert beauty and submerge it in lust or hate), nor inherently bad (since it would not be nearly as painful--as sublime--to see a bad thing just being its ordinary bad self), but fallen--a good creature that cannot, in this life, be what he was supposed to be.
MADRASSA VOUCHERS: Second in a series. Some voucher opponents ask whether Christian voucher supporters would still favor vouchers if large numbers of parents began using them to send their children to radical Islamist madrassas. My response is basically, again, rich parents can already do this! If you're OK with madrassas for the rich--if you think they're wrong but you won't outlaw them, say--then saying poor parents can't use vouchers at madrassas is pretty weird. The basic claim here is that parents can direct their children's education in almost all cases. (There are obvious exceptions for child abuse; there are also restrictions such as testing that all children must pass, or school-certification requirements; but there aren't religious litmus tests.) If you deny that claim, you should oppose private schooling in general. If you accept that claim, you may have other reasons for opposing vouchers, but "some parents might make bad choices!" can't be one of them.

Also, let's look at the reasons parents might choose madrassas. Isn't the larger problem, if lots of parents begin preferring madrassas, the fact that lots of adults buy into radical Islamism?

Finally, I think it might have been Eugene Volokh who pointed out that vouchers might make Islamic schools less dependent on rich (often Saudi) financial backers; and that added independence might make Islamic schools less radical. That's pretty speculative; but, hello, the whole "fear of madrassas" anti-voucher argument is pretty speculative in itself.
WILL VOUCHERS BALKANIZE AMERICA?: First in a brief series of replies to anti-school-voucher arguments.

The basic claim here is that public schools transform atomized individuals, or alienated minorities/immigrants, into civic-minded American citizens. Public schooling means that Americans come to hold basic values in common, and so public schooling holds our country together, forging unity from our diversity.

Problems with this claim: 1) Uh, this isn't what actually happens in lots and lots of public schools. My public elementary school was pretty awesome despite its Afrocentrism--Afrocentrism was mostly used as a pathway into American history and common values, not an alternative to those values. The key American heroes were Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Charles Drew. But it's not hard to find public schools which focus on emphasizing and maintaining divergent cultures. Multiculturalism may well be at its strongest in the inner-city public schools whose students' parents are most likely to receive and use vouchers. Even my basically solid elementary school also emphasized the "Seven Kwanzaa Principles," which ranged from the near-contentless (creativity, faith, purpose) to the vaguely socialistic (collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics). And certainly a school that can't teach reading or math is unlikely to teach a robust and helpful civic education.

2) "Balkanization" has already occurred, for the rich and for anyone who can move to a new area. We have segregation by school district. We have private schools. If it's OK for the rich to "Balkanize" their children, why is it wrong for the poor to do the same? (I can see the claim that poor children are more likely to need institutions that integrate them into American life--but I don't think that claim overcomes the patronizing and anti-parents aspect of this argument.) Are poor parents who scrimp and save to send their kids to Catholic school selling out? Are they abandoning the American dream--or fulfilling it, through their acceptance of responsibility, self-government, and religious pluralism?

3) Public schools, a.k.a. government schools, can't teach the religious beliefs that many Americans consider to be the bedrock of all other values. In the absence of religious faith, public schools teach--at best!--a "civic religion" in which the claims of state and community trump the claims of God, since state and community are the only objects of loyalty that a public school can acknowledge. It is difficult to forge a civic order out of people who adhere to different faiths and believe that their God is more important than their country--on that point, the anti-voucher claim is correct. But this difficulty is intrinsic to a society that is a) mostly religious, b) diverse, and c) most importantly, free. You can't get around the difficulty by shunting poor kids into schools that extol loyalty to Caesar while being forbidden to mention loyalty to God. (As I said above, I don't think public schools actually do extol loyalty to Caesar all that often, but my point here is that civic loyalty is not the ultimate value, and I don't see why we should act as if it trumps religious loyalty or parents' responsibility to direct their children's moral education.)

If parents believe that their public school is, in fact, educating their children in civic values that are not antithetical to the parents' own beliefs, and if the school is doing a good job of that, vouchers in no way force parents to move the kids out of public school. Polls have shown time and again that suburban parents, for example, are quite satisfied with their local public schools. Vouchers are pretty much irrelevant for them. But if parents do believe that public schools are inculcating false values in their children, again, why do voucher opponents accept that rich people can avoid public schools while poor people can't?
ROMANTIC DIVORCE: THE EARLY YEARS: "We declare and affirm, by the tenour of these presents, that love cannot extend its rights over two married persons. For indeed lovers grant one another all things mutually and freely, without being impelled by any motive of necessity, whereas husband and wife are held by their duty to submit their wills to each other and to refuse each other nothing.

"May this judgement, which we have delivered with extreme caution, and after consulting with a great number of other ladies, be for you a constant and unassailable truth, Delivered in this year 1174, on the third day before the Kalends of May, Proclamation VII."
--Judgment of a "court of love" in the house of the Countess of Champagne, quoted in Denis de Rougemont's awesome book Love in the Western World, which I'm about 2/3 of the way through.
CONFIDENTIAL TO THE BOSTON PHOENIX: If you write an article about how the Catholic Church is totally out of touch with the desires and beliefs of the laity, try not to choose Padre Pio's canonization as your main example. You know, the guy whose canonization ceremony drew huge, enthusiastic crowds; the guy who was often in the doghouse with the Vatican but was loved by the layfolk.

There were many other problems with the article, but that was the weirdest....
POETRY WEDNESDAY: Wednesday on Saturday--like Christmas in July, only not as exciting. Here, have an Anglo-Saxon riddle:
Ic þa wiht geseah on weg feran;
heo wæs wrætlice wundrum gegierwed.
Wundor wearð on wege; wæter wearð to bane.

I saw a creature wandering the way:
She was devastating-beautifully adorned.
On the wave a miracle: water turned to bone.

Click here for the solution.
THE YALE HERALD FRESHMAN ISSUE is online. Most telling headline: "Practicing religion at Yale need not be difficult." Wow, such enthusiasm!

The article itself is more or less accurate about the state of religious life at Yale. I was lucky enough to get ensconced in a small, vibrant Catholic subculture centered around the fat and funny Dominicans of St. Mary's. I can't really complain about the "Catholicism makes life easy!" flavor of the comments praising the college chapel's 5 PM Mass, since my alarm went off at 4:45 many a Sunday afternoon, as I tried to haul my sorry self to Mass before the Gospel reading began. Yale's worldliness verges on the pornographic (oh right, click here for my basic take on Yale), but the intellectual atmosphere can be great for believers who welcome a challenge.

Religious life was pretty much the last thing I cared about when I applied. (The chaplain's office sends each incoming freshman a little card asking you to describe your "relationship with God"; I wrote, "Fraught." Can't remember if I was snarky enough to actually mail it in though.) Little did I know how much my stay at Yale would change me for life, at least.

In case any Yale freshmen read this blog (I'm having delusions of adequacy again...), I note that the Herald is generally much, much more accurate and fun than The Yale Daily News Regrets The Error. The YDN took on a strange and heartening moderate-rightward tilt toward the end of my time in sunny New Haven, but it'll never compare to Yale's Finest Publication of course. If you want a real freshmeat--I mean, freshman--issue, click here.
"When I first came to this town I was gonna be -- oh, there were a lot of things I was gonna do. Become famous. But Chicago's the big melting pot, and I got melted, but good."
–Mala Powers, "City That Never Sleeps"

Friday, July 19, 2002

THIS IS REALLY FUNNY. For media junkies, that is.
DAVID MORRISON, AUTHOR OF BEYOND GAY, has a blog. Link via Mike Hardy, who has moved. (I liked his old URL better.)
WHERE'S THE SOUTH? RIGHT WHERE YOU LEFT IT...: I got back last night from an exhausting gust of traveling, and didn't have the energy to read any of the big fat articles in the new First Things. But I was able to get through James Nuechterlein's quick and easy "Dixie, USA." (Sorry, not online yet.) Nuechterlein offers a brief description of his journey through the Deep South, in which he tried to find the South of his imagination and discovered that it had vanished.

Sort of. Because you see, Nuechterlein doesn't give any evidence that he looked particularly hard for "the South of the Lost Cause." I mean, I could find more Tara-nostalgia in Takoma Park, Maryland than he seems to have found in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, the Florida panhandle, and Georgia all put together. He says that the highways looked just like all the other highways of our vast country; he says the cities of the South are much like cities elsewhere, only friendlier and more likely to contain grits and okra.

This is a newsflash? Nuechterlein writes, "Except for one overnight stay in Evergreen, Ala., and a few minor excursions, we spent our non-driving time in cities: Nashville, Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Mobile, Atlanta. (My wife, raised as a country girl, has had her fill of what she wryly calls 'rural enchantment.') As a friend who knows the region reminded me, the Deep South I was looking for is not to be found in metropolitan centers." So why did he look for it there?

I take Nuechterlein's basic point (the South is basically over that whole Civil War thing; one can admire the various virtues of Robert E. Lee without signing on to the cause for which he fought [although Nuechterlein is weirdly soft on Lee's very typical "I'm against slavery in a personal sense" attitude--would he be as admiring of someone who was "personally opposed" to abortion but wouldn't actually, you know, do anything about it?]). But the FT article feels phoned-in. It's anthropological and distanced--c'mon, guy, Southerners are your fellow Americans! Get out of the car and talk to some people, I promise they won't bite! It gives off a distasteful air of, "I secretly wanted the South to stay the way it is in Faulkner novels--let them sink themselves in guilt and nostalgia, that makes it so romantic for visitors!" Sorry--white Southerners are not the bearers of American white guilt; they are not players in a racial kabuki drama; they are not exotic insects to be scrutinized with a magnifying glass. And you can't tell that much about them from inside an air-conditioned car.

The larger point I'm trying to make, I think, is that any reporting--or any personal interactions--in which one side takes an "anthropological" attitude toward another will cause resentment and alienation on the part of the person or culture being examined. That's something that I have to keep in mind as much as anyone else does.

[Doh, edited to add that there are some intriguing things in the article, like his visit to New Orleans's decaying Confederate Museum.]
BLACK AND WHITE AND WED ALL OVER: Verrrry interesting article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Black female/white male intermarriage, after remaining at the same low level for decades, recently has begun to rise.

Mickey Kaus, of course, suggests that welfare reform may be part of the cause. (Black women now realize that they need husbands, and there just aren't enough marriageable--employed, non-jailed, etc.--black men to go around, plus black men don't have many incentives to treat black women well unless they genuinely think black women will start dating non-black men.) This theory assumes, though, that the intermarriage increase is occurring in poorer populations, where welfare reform would be likely to affect women's needs and cultural expectations. In general, the ghetto isn't where a lot of deep black-white interpersonal ties are forged, you know?

I wonder to what extent immigration (is this black women from Atlanta dating white men from Atlanta, or is this Jamaican women dating Croatian men?) and general getting-beyond-race-obsessions play a role. The former is fantastic insofar as it shifts our focus from "race" (an incredibly crude pseudo-scientific category) to culture and ethnicity. That shift offers a lot more hope for American race relations--staying stuck in the old "black, white, and other" mindset keeps us forever tangled in the past, mining statistics looking for confirmations of our own resentment, and also causes us to make a hundred unjustified assumptions about people we've just met. (Whereas awareness of ethnicity and culture only causes about fifteen unjustified assumptions per person!)

Anyway, so, if this is about how pretty Halle Berry is, maybe she did deserve that Oscar...!
"I never knew a crooked road could look so straight."
–Robert Taylor, "The Bribe"

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

TAKE #4: NO, BUT TAKE #5: POSTING SUCCESS AT LAST!!! I don't think this is permanent though...!

Anyway, events have taken a turn for the annoying, and so I will not be posting substantive stuff until tomorrow or possibly Friday. However, I have a bunch of fun stuff saved up for you (everything from vouchers to beauty), and I've also got a big, fat mailbag full of emails to which I will reply.

For now: Blogadder on his experiences stamping and/or losing visas; Ted Barlow is badgering away at the Harken mess which I won't even pretend to understand; Amy Welborn on how the laity might (and might not) help the Church, and a great, multi-blog discussion of suffering that starts here , and her response to Rod Dreher's "granola conservatives" thing is just awesome. And read the comments for all of those (for both Barlow and Welborn).

OK, gotta run, more later.

Friday, July 12, 2002

If I write a random post, like this one, and publish it, do you think Blogger will let me publish the more exciting and fun post below it? Let's find out!

Take #1: Nope!

Take #2: Nope!

Take #3: Nyet!
That's great, it starts with a wedding cake, birds and bees and birthrates. Baudelaire is still clichéd. I want a hydroplane, listen to the Adverts, Roark serves his own needs but doesn't know his own needs. Welcome back to Oxblog, grunt, no, strength, China starts to shatter with fear fight down spite. Patsy Cline's on fire, is the government for hire, in a downed website--where's my archives? Coming in a hurry with the furies blogging down my neck. NYT reporters baffled when the food drops, look at that low plane. Fine, then. Uh, oh, overthrow, Overman is coming through but it'll do. Sara talks, Dogan heeds, world serves its own needs, listen to the heartbeat, dumb lyrics in "Rapture" and the Reverend isn't right, right. Monty Python semaphoric Wuthering Heights, "Bright Lights," feeling pretty psyched.

It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it and I feel fine.

Eight o'clock TV hour. Visas let in hostile powers. Sing the blues, hard truths, listen to the bad news. Locking in, uniforming, book learnin', "Bloodletting." Moe Szyslak, Kaczmarek, Daleks and Les Volokh. Light a candle, light a votive. Step down, step down, watch your hare crush Fudd... uh-oh, Pope says no fear, cavalier, Renegade steer here. Eternal love, eternal life, or tournament of lies. Cause and solution, offerings unqualified and rodent minds.

It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it and I feel fine.

My thoughts are all a case of knives, subcontinental drift divide. Nietzsche in a conga line, nihilist sunshine. Allan Bloom is Ravelstein, Lenny Bruce and Chester Himes. What's a star? thus spake Zarathustra, boom! You disaffected, patriotic, punk rock girl, right? Right.

It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it.
It's the blog of the world as we watch it and I feel fine.

Now I've finally got a phone…
Timon of Athens is alone
I love it 'cause it's my home…
I will write a giant tome…
Spires are nice, but so are domes
Where'd they put that garden gnome…

OK, that was deeply satisfying to me. Compare with lyrics here. And now I'm gone 'til Thursday. Meanwhile, enjoy the links to your left.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. So there's a vast, several-posts-long thing about pacifism right below this post. But I also want to ask a non-pacifism-related question: The "sexual revolution" is often justified on the grounds that now we can have sex for fun. I make no claims about male sexuality or psyche, but as far as women are concerned, this doesn't seem to be how things have worked out. I think it's a useful exercise for everyone, male or female, to think about why you or people you know are having sex, and why your partner is having sex with you. I think you'll find that women in sexual relationships outside of marriage are more often having sex to prove something to themselves ("I'm a big girl!"); to get back at their parents; to prove something to their peers ("I'm not a prude!"); because they feel like they have to; to keep their boyfriends from leaving; because they can't figure out how to say "no" in a way their partners will respect ("safe sex" having removed the old excuses of fear of pregnancy and disease); because it seems inevitable; to get away from home; and many, many more reasons that have more to do with emotional upheavals and dependencies than with "fun" or "liberation." Or "love."

In the sexual revolution, it's not clear to me that sex won.
IN LOVE AND WAR: The sequel to this post. First, some caveats: 1) Professor Work is, as his title might indicate, a professor (and a rigorous, discerning, and thoughtful writer). I'm a journalist (at best). He's probably forgotten more about this stuff than I'll ever know.

2) I misspoke in that previous post. Pacifism and celibacy, although I do think the parallel between the two is illuminating in a lot of ways, don't "actually hold strikingly similar positions in the New Testament." There are some parallels in the New Testament, but the more striking similarities are in Christian history, thought, and community.

3) As should be blindingly obvious, I'm Catholic and Work is not. Work thinks (I think) that Scripture issues an unequivocal call for all Christians to be pacifists. I disagree, for reasons explained below. Because I don't think citing Scripture ends the discussion, I will look to history and sacred tradition, including but not restricted to specific Catholic teachings. I think both Work and I are relying on the traditions of our Christian communities, but I will necessarily be placing a heavier emphasis on those traditions because a) I think the Catholic tradition shows unity of the faith from its earliest days, b) I think Catholics generally tend to view Scripture, saints' lives, and Church teachings as more intertwined than Protestants do (though of course that's a broad generalization), c) I don't think Scripture can be read outside of an interpretive tradition, and I have other reasons for going with the Catholic tradition unless I find some irresolvable conflict within it, and d) most importantly, like I said, I don't think Scripture alone answers this question. However, because I'll be talking about aspects of Christian faith and history that many Protestants either don't share or don't emphasize, there's necessarily going to be a sectarian turn here. I know next to nothing about Work's own tradition, and so instead of trying to engage it (which I don't think I'd do very well), I'm just going to present the world as I see it. A collision from the side rather than head-on, you might say.

4) I'm only going to address one point right now--the possible analogy between pacifism and celibacy. I may blog a bit later about the way Work reads history, and I'll definitely blog about a) whether/why/how Christian soldiers compromise Christian missionary activity and what our response should be when missionary activity is compromised, and b) the specific types of Christian witness that a cop, a prison guard, or a soldier can make (and have made in the recent past--this isn't just a hypothetical possibility). But both of those questions are subordinate to, and dependent on, the answer to the simple question of whether Jesus calls us to be pacifists, so I'm doing this first.

5) This will be long and rambly. Forewarned is forearmed. So to speak.
SCRIPTURE: I think there are (at least!) four aspects of Scriptural teaching on violence, resistance, and war that have come up so far in the discussion. First, there's the way in which a Christian is supposed to respond to personal insults and attacks. Second, there are various passages that can be interpreted as either allowing violence as a last resort or rejecting it. Third, there is the fact that the "fruits of the Spirit" must be manifested by all Christians. And fourth, there's the response of Christ and his disciples to actual soldier-converts in the New Testament.

As for the first, there is of course the famous "turn the other cheek" passage, as well as many other injunctions to love one's enemies and return good for evil. You can read a quick discussion of whether turning the other cheek is actually a form of defiance, and if so, what the Christian's next step would be, by clicking here and then here. But honestly, I don't think these passages are either conclusive or necessarily relevant to pacifism vs. war, which is a question about not self-defense but defense of others.
Second--these are doubtless not all the passages that could be cited, but I think they make a representative sample:
Matt. 26:51-2, "And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
Luke 22:36-8, "Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough." [You can find Prof. Work's discussion of this passage, which rings true to me, here.]
John 18:10-11, "Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"
Rom. 12:18, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
Rom. 13:4, "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."
Rev. 13:10, "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."

OK. I am absolutely not a scholar of Scripture, so I'm going to speculate and throw out questions rather than pronouncing here. So: Those who take the sword will die by the sword. This is said twice, once by Jesus Himself and once in Revelations. But there are a lot of possible things that could be going on here. The context of the Revelations verse strongly implies that the one who "leads into captivity" and "kills with the sword" is, if he is to be identified with any earthly power at all, then certainly an earthly power in league with the beast, who in the preceding verses has it "given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations." However, there is no explicit connection--the verse about captivity and the sword may serve as a divider between two passages about beasts, rather than a connective statement. Professor Work glancingly refers to Revelations as "a pacifist text," but doesn't expand on that, which may mean that he is (in my view appropriately) leery of drawing political/ethical conclusions too quickly or directly from an extraordinarily wild and woolly prophetic book.

Jesus's statement, it seems to me, may mean any of the following (or more than one, of course): 1) He did not come to start a violent uprising but to die on the Cross; to incite a riot would lead to the deaths of His followers and would stand as a rejection of the Crucifixion, in which many prophecies were fulfilled. This is the most "limited" reading, placing this statement in the context of Christ's mission on earth and the fulfillment of particular prophecies, as with the passage in which He calls the disciples to get a sword. In this reading, and possibly in the Revelations passage as well, "those who take up the sword die by the sword" is descriptive rather than prescriptive–it tells what does or will happen when violence is used at certain crucial historical junctures. 2) Those who mete out only justice, rather than mercy, to their fellow men will receive only justice rather than mercy from their Father. Theologically this seems to separate God's justice and His mercy in a way that is incoherent and wrong. Moreover, it's not clear (see below) that warmaking actually does require meting out only justice rather than mercy. 3) It's possible there is no parallel construction in the statement--the first "sword" could be the literal sword of battle whereas the second "sword" is condemnation from God. This is the best pacifist reading, but I don't think it's required by the text.

A smaller question: Why all the qualifying phrases in Rom. 12:18? This actually does sound rather like "It is better to marry than to burn," of which more presently. To my mind, this sounds like pacifism as a vocation for some rather than for all. Why am I wrong?

Basically, I believe that very little in Scripture is transparent. Sola Scriptura is simply impossible (more on this presently!). Different passages require different degrees and kinds of interpretive infrastructure. There are passages like the one in which Christ tells His followers to get a sword, in which Jesus pretty much says, "Hey! Interpret this in light of prophecy!" There are passages like John 6:53, "Unless ye eat the flesh…", in which the whole surrounding context (Christ repeats this, emphasizes it, loses followers over it, etc.) screams, "Take me seriously! This is a huge deal, and it probably means something enormous and robust!" (That context, more than the simple citation of Jesus's words, makes me believe that the Real Presence in the Eucharist is not just philosophically and symbolically justified–it's also hammered on in Scripture.) However, most of the Gospels' text does not come with this kind of built-in interpretive framework; we need to look to theology, and to the interpretive traditions of Christian faith and practice that should shape and correct that theology, in order to figure out what's going on.

On a personal note, I have this strong sense of reliance on tradition and its handmaid theology because I first read the Bible before I became Christian. The Bible alone, shorn of explicit traditional frameworks (though every Bible has an implicit framework, simply because some books are included and others excluded), is a confusing jumble. Readers are likely to interpret it in one of three ways, or some combination: "The Bible says what I want to be true," "The Bible says what my culture tells me it says," or, "Every word of the Bible must be taken absolutely literally in the strictest fundamentalist sense." The "fundamentalist" interpretive method produces as many rejecters of God as fundamentalists, since the transition from the latter to the former is swift and clear. The weirdest example of that transition: An atheist friend of a friend claimed he had "converted" a Christian to atheism by pointing out that "the mustard-seed isn't the smallest seed!" Similarly, there are sites all over the Web that claim to "debunk" the Bible, generally by refusing to allow any subtlety or interpretation on the part of believers. This is why "fundamentalism," in my view, is basically a modern movement, sprung as much from Enlightenment atheists as from Bible-thumpers. (And "fundamentalism," of the Christian or atheist variety, represents a sharp break from the Jewish traditions of Biblical understanding.)

I don't think Professor Work disagrees with any of that, actually. He's stated, "I still trust the Church that wrote, received, trusted, and canonized Matthew and Luke" more than he trusts some hypothetical Ur-Gospel and more than he trusts the non-canonical books of Thomas, etc. I'm saying all this about Biblical interpretation in order to put in perspective my reliance on the tradition of the Church. I also very much agree with Peter Nixon's comment, "In the end, it is precisely because of the complicated nature of this dispute that I am drawn back to my faith as a Catholic in the Tradition of the Church." I think that the Catholic-style "just war" interpretive tradition is stronger than a pacifist tradition for three basic reasons: a) I'm Catholic for other reasons–this is the unhelpful reason!, b) I think the supporting theology is good, of which slightly more presently, and c) most relevantly, I disagree with Professor Work that there's a sharp break at the advent of Constantine, after which the Christian tradition fractures or becomes corrupted when it comes to the use of force. I'll explain my reason for c) below, under the heading, LIVES OF THE SAINTS. C) is the place where I think dialogue might most fruitfully proceed.
Now, back to Scripture. Professor Work cites Gal. 5:22-3, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." He says, "While I have heard many Christians defend Christian violence, I do not remember hearing anyone explain how the specific spiritual gifts distributed in the Church are being properly used when Christians take up the sword of civil authority."

I note with interest that justice is not named among the fruits of the spirit. But then, neither is hope, nor mercy, so that particular "argument from silence"–like most such arguments–doesn't really go anywhere.

I do think Prof. Work is wrong that just-war theology has not relied on the categories Paul names. I'm not going to rehash the claims of Augustine, Aquinas and the rest, since Prof. Work has read 'em and you should read them directly rather than getting cheap knockoff versions from me. But if memory serves, the Catholic just war tradition (and like I said, I know virtually nothing about other traditions on this question) sees war (/policing) as an obligation of charity and (I think) a means toward peacemaking. (This is why "possibility of victory" is one of the criteria for a just war.) The charity is directed primarily toward the victims of unjust aggressors, but I think a case can also be made that justice serves the aggressing soldiers themselves as well. If I were in an unjustly aggressive army, it would be to my benefit, I think, that I be stopped before I can do as much harm as I might want to do. That's a pretty speculative claim and I need to think more about it, but it's equivalent to the claim that if I had done some particularly awful thing I would feel that I deserved punishment, even capital punishment. (There might still be all kinds of reasons not to mete out that punishment in particular situations.) Just as I don't think Prof. Work would argue that forgiveness toward thieves, murderers, or rapists means we can't lock 'em up, so forgiveness and mercy toward hostile powers might mean, for example, always making some kind of declaration of hostilities (rather than a sneak attack; the purpose here is to allow people to reconcile themselves with God before death if they choose to do so), offering repeated opportunities for change rather than attacking at the first unjust act, and seeking to minimize harm to the population and restore a more just order. But my main point here is simply that the just-war tradition can and does discuss the fruits of the spirit–it disagrees on what those fruits entail, and it is reluctant to separate a discourse of love from a discourse of justice.
Finally, there's the fact that both Christ and his disciples have the opportunity to tell Roman soldiers who believe in Christ to leave their positions. Neither the centurion in Matt. 8, nor the one in Acts 10, are told, as far as we know, that their soldiering is incompatible with Christian life. Nobody brings it up. This is pretty different from what happens with the woman taken in adultery ("Go and sin no more") or the rich young man who is told to leave his wealth behind. This is, of course, another argument from silence, and so I don't want to put too much weight on it; but it's striking nonetheless, and becomes more striking when you look at some of the stuff I'll discuss below under the heading LIVES OF THE SAINTS.

Professor Work's take on these matters: "During his ministry, Jesus doesn't seem overly concerned about discipling Gentiles. (John the Baptist's request in Luke 3:10-14 for centurions not to be corrupt belongs to an even earlier stage of eschatological pre-fulfillment, so it is no use either.)

"Now Cornelius the centurion might be another matter (Acts 10). However, we never learn what becomes of him after the Holy Spirit falls on him and he turns into a Pentecostal (Acts 10:44-48). He drops off the radar. We'll have to wait to see whether he became a Mennonite or a Constantinian. With Pentecostals, you never can tell."
"EUNUCHS FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN": I thought of the parallel between pacifism and celibacy for a number of reasons. First, they are somewhat parallel within the Catholic tradition. Aquinas discusses his reasons for believing that the clergy should not bear arms. Second, both pacifism and celibacy are extraordinary ways of giving oneself solely to God, and serving as an eschatological sign of the eternal life in which there is no marriage or giving in marriage, and (pace Milton!) no violence.

And third, I think it is too easy for contemporary Christians to forget how much earlier Christians struggled with the Church's teaching on marriage and sexual love. We are so used to strong Christian theological and cultural defenses of marriage, against an anti-marriage culture, that we forget how much marriage looked like a snare and a "sloppy seconds" option to many Christians. Marriage–like all intense personal loyalties–was seen as an obstacle to love of God. Two fantastic books on this: C.S. Lewis's Allegory of Love and Etienne Gilson's Heloise and Abelard.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS: So in order to understand how Christians should approach the use of force, as I said, I think theology and tradition must be relied on since Scripture is not transparent. And in looking at tradition, one of the absolute best places to go is the lives of the saints, which are like a treasury of more wisdom and truth than a hundred libraries of theological treatises.

I don't know what the role of saints and martyrs is in Prof. Work's tradition; I assume there isn't the same degree of certainty about who's canonized and who isn't, and I also assume there's less emphasis on saints and martyrs in general. However, even outside more saint-focused traditions, I think there's a place for examining the lives and witness of deeply holy and revered people.

And there are saints who took up arms. I'm not talking Joan of Arc here, or St. George, etc. I'm talking Sts. Julius and Hesychius (and their companions), and St. Sebastian–there are probably others I'm not remembering or couldn't find, but those three are startling enough in themselves. Click on the links for their stories. Not only were these men Christian martyrs who apparently saw no contradiction between their faith and their occupation (and St. Sebastian was said to have chosen to become a soldier in order to aid those who suffer). Perhaps more importantly for our understanding of Christian tradition, these men were revered as martyrs and heroes of faith by the Christian community. And all this happened before Constantine's conversion to Christianity. It seems to me that a line can be drawn from the convert-centurions of the New Testament to these three soldier-martyrs of the third century.

Some might say, "Well, these guys were martyred–that shows that their profession and their faith were incompatible!" I disagree. I agree with Prof. Work's statement, "Since the American military does not allow recruits to participate conditionally in military actions or to be discharged when war takes an unjust turn, this pretty clearly precludes faithful Christians from American military service, unless they serve willing to face courts martial and dishonorable discharges when the time comes to withdraw." Given that fact, there could easily be Christian soldier-martyrs in our own time, people court-martialed or executed for refusing to obey an unjust order. The soldier-martyrs, and the communities that praised them, did not believe that their faith was in conflict with soldiering, even though there might be scores of unjust acts (like, say, being required to deny Christ!) that they would face martyrdom to avoid.

So. That's my (admittedly very rambly) take on the matter. I'll revisit what seem to me to be subordinate questions of practicality and how to be a Christian soldier/cop/prison guard later.

Finally, I should say that if Prof. Work's presentation of R. Neibuhr's thought is on target, I'm not a Neibuhrian–it's entirely possible to accept Christian soldiering without relying on weird "Everyone sins, at least I sin for justice!" stuff.

And I should call attention again to Work's calm, faithful, and challenging witness–I think it's awesome, even though I still disagree, and his site should be of interest to all of my Christian readers (and perhaps non-Christians interested in ethical questions of peace, war, and religious believers' relationship to the state). I'll try to print out several of his essays on pacifism (I tried one earlier and it crashed my computer!) and read them while I'm away, so perhaps I will be able to comment further then. ("Is that a promise or a threat?") Anyway, go take a look at him.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

SO TODAY KIND OF GOT AWAY FROM ME, and after tomorrow at 5 p.m. I will not be posting ANYTHING until next Thursday. But I do have some cool stuff stored up for tomorrow--pacifism and celibacy (this time I mean it...), Shakespeare and rock'n'roll conservatism, sex and/or fun, and something I think you'll really, really like, but that is a secret for now. And I will do the whole vast-camel-of-blogging thing while traveling (New Haven then New York then Boston then New York again), so when I return you all will get lots of good stuff. I hope. But ignore this site Saturday through Wednesday.
"You're not very tall are you?"
"Well, I, uh, I try to be."

–Martha Vickers and Humphrey Bogart, "The Big Sleep"

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

RUSSO will get on my case for this, but the other night I caught a snippet of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and it reminded me yet again that the only real Star Trek is the one with Kirk & crew.

The moment that summed up the boring, Eurocrat-ness of it all? This fiery exchange (they're talking about whether they should release a weird, genetically-altered 12-year-old from cryonic suspension, not that it matters; Picard is anti-thawing, the lady doctor is pro-thawing; this was by far the most heated exchange I saw):

CAPTAIN PICARD: But the risk is--

Those are the real lines. Patrick Stewart, and whoever the chick was, had to wring emotion and drama out of those lines. I assume they're great actors, but this is simply impossible. At least when The Original Series was embarrassing, it was campy....
STRAIGHT SURVIVORS ARE PROTESTING JULY 18. Link via The Agitator; click here to learn what a "Straight survivor" is, if you haven't been following this.
I NOTE that although I said (or strongly implied) that I did not write "a long post about [surrogate motherhood], with much quoting of Maggie Gallagher and such," in fact I did write a long (long, long, long post a-winding) post about etc.

Apologies. The Rat will know which dead famous dude (Pascal??) apologized for writing such a long letter, saying that he had not had time to make it shorter.

Meanwhile, why not enter my contests?