Yes, Brooke Baldwin, pornography is worse than assault weapons

Image result for brooke baldwin caldwell

The hysterical and unhinged Brooke Baldwin, purportedly a CNN “news” anchor, probably represents the views of a good many Americans in this segment. Nevermind that she crudely mischaracterizes the facts, let’s just focus on her misplaced outrage. How is it possible, she asks incredulously, for anyone to think that pornography is a greater public health crisis than assault weapons?

It’s very simple: pornography destroys more lives, with far more collateral damage, than assault weapons ever could. Pornography fuels a host of criminal activity from sex crimes to serial homicide. Pornography is strongly linked to political violence and radical ideologies, from Nazism to Islamism. Pornography destroys marriages and families and nurtures a culture of promiscuity, resulting in a tidal wave of abortion, post-abortion emotional trauma, mental illness, abuse of women and children, and millions of fatherless young men whose numerous pathologies include higher rates of suicide, drug abuse, and criminal violence (such as, for example, shooting up schools with assault weapons). Most tragically, and quite unlike assault weapons, pornography unfailingly extinguishes charity in the souls and dulls the consciences of its consumers.

Whatever one thinks about gun violence as a political issue, pornography is by far the more dangerous and urgent public health threat. And unlike the ownership of firearms, there is no moral or constitutional justification for allowing the production and use of pornography on any level. Nothing much will change when it comes to gun violence until we figure this out.

 

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The discipline of understanding

TACClassroom

My oldest son is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, a “great books” school that rejects textbooks and lectures. Students read only the great books themselves, and the classroom utilizes the discussion method. The professors, who are called “tutors”, are present only to facilitate the discussion and keep it on track. Furthermore – and this surprised me at first – the college discourages reading outside sources as class preparation. The idea is that one is supposed to grapple with the text itself, not someone else’s interpretation of the text. Students are trained to ask “what does the text say?” and “what does the author mean?” without prejudice.

When I first attended one of their junior classes as a parent-guest, I found myself extremely impatient with the discussion. I had the answers, or so I thought, and wondered why the students would spend so much time on a single sentence when the meaning was obvious to me.

I have since been humbled. The meaning was only “obvious” to me because of the prejudices in my head derived from other sources and my own rash judgments. These students, by their junior year, were mastering the discipline of putting all of that aside for the sake of authentic understanding. What does the text say? What doesn’t it say? What can we learn from the context? What is the author’s perspective? How do we really know? Furthermore they were forced to listen to each other, to be challenged and corrected, and sometimes embarrassed by their own mistakes. By their junior year these young scholars were thinking clearly and methodically, choosing their words very carefully, and best of all, in true Thomistic fashion, interpreting each other’s words in the most reasonable sense possible. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Bandits and beggars

“The Church … considers the action of this world and the action of the soul simply incommensurate, viewed in their respective spheres; she would rather save the soul of one single wild bandit of Calabria, or a whining beggar of Palermo, than draw a hundred lines of railroad through the length and breadth of Italy, or carry out a sanitary reform, in its fullest details, in every city of Sicily, except so far as these great national works tended to some spiritual good beyond them.” – Blessed John Henry Newman

(Excerpted from “The Kingship of Christ and the Anti-Kingdom of Modernity” by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski)

Critical thinking, observation, and virtue

In a recent conversation about the components of critical thinking, it was noted that the first necessary skill is observation, even prior to that of logic, and that one’s powers of observation are largely dependent upon virtue. I thought it a remarkable insight: critical thought – defined as the ability to get at the truth of things –  ultimately depends upon the virtue of the thinker. The powers of human reason are necessary but not sufficient, however well trained they might be.

How might this play out? Let’s take the following logical syllogism:

The Church teaches that deliberately taking a human life is, by definition, the sin of murder;
Capital punishment is the deliberate taking of a human life; 
Therefore, capital punishment is murder.

The syllogism itself works just fine, does it not? The logic is sound. The conclusion follows perfectly from the premises. And yet, the conclusion is false because the major premise is false. The major premise is not something derived from logical reasoning, but through simple observation. The Church does not, in fact, teach that deliberately taking a human life is murder in every case. The person making the argument was incorrect in his primary observation.

Now, it is certainly possible to be innocently wrong in one’s observations. We should never assume that getting an observation wrong automatically means a lack of virtue. But here’s where a lack of virtue might compromise one’s observations: confirmation bias. We fallen creatures tend to see what we want to see, what we expect to see, what works to our advantage somehow, and what makes sense of our preconceived ideas. Without virtue we’re not all that concerned about the facts. In the case of the syllogism concerning capital punishment:

  • Pride could lead to misinterpreting Church teaching – whether consciously or unconsciously – due to one’s personal beliefs or ideological commitments.
  • Irreverence could lead to treating the Church as a merely human institution whose moral teachings are malleable and in constant need of updating.
  • Rash judgment could lead to regurgitating something one has heard or read without due diligence.
  • Human respect could lead to distorting Church teaching in order to win an argument.
  • Un-repented sin could lead to minimizing the gravity of capital offenses as deserving of capital punishment.
  • Lack of charity could lead to blindly opposing the views of others merely because of who happens to hold them.

Every argument depends upon one or more premises that are essentially unprovable by means of argument. They are simply assumed to be true by observation or the claims of authority.  In order for these premises to be reliable, they must be approached with humility, integrity, discernment, and self-knowledge.

Te Deum Laudamus

The remedy for sorrow is the praise of God. 

We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.

All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
The Father of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death
    thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants
    whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting.

O Lord, save thy people, and bless thine heritage.
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.

 

Donald Trump, vaccines, and the “lesser of evils”

Clinton-Trump

It often happens that my children will challenge me to clarify my thinking. Although I sometimes respond with undue frustration, if they are patient they can get through to me. Such was the case this evening in our somewhat contentious family discussion of voting and the principle of double effect (PDE).

There is tremendous controversy among Republicans today about the party’s front runner and presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, and whether it is permissible or even obligatory to vote for a man who is so fundamentally lacking in experience, temperament, personal integrity and plain moral decency. Never before have we seen such a radically unqualified candidate for president get so far. Never before have we witnessed a candidate so shamelessly dishonest that he can barely speak for 60 seconds without telling the most outlandish lies. Never before have we a seen a candidate so casual in disseminating the most outrageous personal calumnies. Never have we seen a candidate so appallingly ignorant of the issues and indifferent to the rule of law. Your blog host holds that a vote for Trump would, if advertised or recommended to others, be utterly scandalous and harmful to the body politic – even if it could be demonstrated that Trump is the “lesser of evils” by virtue of not being Hillary Clinton, which is doubtful.

The first point I wanted to make to my children is that choosing “the lesser of evils” is an unfortunate way of putting things. A Catholic cannot choose evil for its own sake, strictly speaking – he must always choose the good. It seems important to think in these terms, because it compels one to identify and evaluate the positive good in the choices one has available. Now, in choosing the greater good there may be an unintended evil effect. Depending on the proportionate magnitude of the good in question with respect to the harm caused by the evil effect, the decision to choose this particular good may be legitimate, despite the evil consequences. That is how I understand the principle of double effect (PDE) in Catholic moral theology. I realize that a more rigorous position is in circulation, but this seems to be the most widely accepted.

A good example of this is the Catholic instruction with respect to vaccines that are derived from aborted fetal tissue. Is it morally permissible to use these vaccines? The principles employed in answering this question can be applied to voting and any other moral calculus. In 2005 the Vatican issued a lengthy statement on the subject with the following conclusion:

Therefore, doctors and fathers of families have a duty to take recourse to alternative vaccines13 (if they exist), putting pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available. They should take recourse, if necessary, to the use of conscientious objection14 with regard to the use of vaccines produced by means of cell lines of aborted human foetal origin. Equally, they should oppose by all means (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human foetus, and requesting rigorous legal control of the pharmaceutical industry producers.

As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience. Moreover, we find, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles15.

In any case, there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically. However, the burden of this important battle cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of the population – especially with regard to pregnant women.

To summarize, it must be confirmed that:

  • there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;

  • as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;

  • the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);

  • such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.

In other words, such vaccines may be used – it is not obligatory – provided that: 1) no alternatives are available; 2) there is a proportional reason to use them, such as saving lives; 3) scandal is avoided so that using these vaccines is not misunderstood as approval of their production; 4) a conscientious objection must be made known; 5) every lawful means is employed in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.

How, then, might we apply this analogy to the presidential election? Is it permissible to vote for Donald Trump? Such a vote may be permissible provided that: 1) there is no other candidate for whom one’s vote might result in a better outcome; 2) there is a proportional reason to vote for Trump, some unambiguous good that will result; 3) scandal is avoided in that one’s vote for Trump is not misunderstood as approval of the evil he will bring about, thereby leading others to choose Trump for immoral reasons; 4) one makes known his conscientious objection to the unjust alternatives presented to him; 5) every lawful means is employed to prevent a candidate like Donald Trump from gaining the party’s nomination in the future.

Now, let’s break this down.

1) Is there no other candidate for whom one’s vote might result in a better outcome? Any third party candidate might result in a better outcome, first because that candidate may win the election, but even if he doesn’t, a strong third party candidate may prevent an Electoral College majority, thereby throwing the election to the U.S. Congress, which is unlikely to choose either Trump or Clinton.

2) Is there a proportional reason to vote for Trump, some unambiguous good that outweighs the bad? No. With Donald Trump there is only a remote possibility of good, due to his instability and unpredictability, but there is guarantee of serious harm for all of the reasons stated earlier.

3) Does a vote for Trump avoid scandal? Possibly, but only if no one knows who you’re voting for, and if you don’t try to convince others.

4) Can one vote for Trump while making known his conscientious objections? If there were no third party option, that would be more credible. But there is the option of voting for a third party candidate, and just about any candidate has the potential to deny Trump a majority in the Electoral College. If there were not the option of voting third party, then voting for Trump while loudly objecting to the “necessity” seems self-defeating.

5) Similarly, voting for Donald Trump while working to ensure that candidates like him are prevented from gaining the nomination in the future is possible, but that will entail saying the kinds of things that will inevitably dissuade others from voting for him today.

The way I see it, voting for Donald Trump fails even the least rigorous interpretation of Catholic moral theology employing the principle of double effect.

 

 

The drownings at Nantes

NantesDrowningFrenchRev

The terror attacks in Paris have turned the thoughts of many to France and the sordid history of the French republic. I am always a little shocked when I read detailed accounts of the French revolution.  The atrocities are so recent (just 200+ years) – and so obviously motivated by secular ideas still widely held – that it all hits very close to home.

I don’t usually think of the present French regime as being unapologetically in continuity with Robespierre and Jacobinism, but maybe I’m wrong about that. In any case, it probably wouldn’t take much for our most “progressive” leaders to excuse or even condone these atrocities. Just a manufactured “crisis” that renders the “intolerant” intolerable.

Yesterday, November 16, commemorated the first mass drowning of 90 Catholic priests in the Loire River in 1793. The total number of priests, nuns, and other “royalist sympathizers” cruelly executed by drowning in subsequent weeks is unknown, but scholarly estimates range from 1800 to 9000. Read the Wiki article for details.

Terror in Paris

This is an important video. The Remnant gently reminds us that our modern struggle with Islam is rooted in the spiritual crisis of the West and the auto-implosion of the Catholic Church. In that analysis, Michael Matt is spot-on.

It doesn’t seem to me that he is taking a pacifist stance, but he does seem to suggest that if the West’s response to Islamism isn’t overtly and militantly Catholic, then it’s more or less a waste of time. I’m not quite on board with that, but I will say that any country whose military is institutionally hostile to Christ and which is, moreover, riddled with women and homosexuals, is going to have a hard time winning God’s favor and protection.

More than the angels?

New Sherwood

“And in God’s eyes we are the greatest, the most beautiful, the best things about Creation…’But father,
the Angels?’ No, the Angels are beneath us! We are more than the Angels! We heard it in the Book
of the Psalms! God really loves us! We have to thank him for this!”
– Pope Francis, today’s General Audience

“What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast
made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast
set him over the works of thy hands.” – Psalm 8:5-7

“So, therefore, God’s mercy is great in the comparison of man to God; but this follows from man in the comparison to the angels, who man comes into proximity to. Thou hast made him a little less. The image
of God is…

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On the pre-eminence of France

FrenchFlags

In the wake of yesterday’s Islamist attack on Paris, some people are saying “Yes, that’s bad, but why all this media attention for France? There are recent Islamist strikes in Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, etc. Isn’t the focus on France at best Eurocentric, or at worst racist?”

I’m not a big fan of the American mainstream media, but I will say that the MSM isn’t wrong to give this story prominence and maximum coverage. In the first place, it’s impossible to report everything equally. Choices have to be made, priorities assigned. The Parisian attacks are objectively more important for the world – and for the United States – than similar events in other countries. Why?

France is the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”, an important progenitor of western civilization. There is no escaping the ubiquity of French influence on the civilization we have inherited.

What’s happening in France, a nation with an historically Christian identity, is uniquely instructive for every nation in the West.

France is central to Catholic prophecy, some of which can be reasonably understood to incorporate events like this.

Catholic France was an important ally in the founding of the American Republic.

France once ruled what is now American territory.

The French were some of the earliest American settlers and have had enormous influence on regional cultures in the United States.

Over 9 million Americans claim French ancestry, which is even more than the Scotch-Irish.

France is part of the NATO alliance with the United States.

It isn’t racism or Eurocentrism to make a French catastrophe like this one a media priority. Choices have to be made, priorities assigned. I may not have a drop of French blood, but that doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that France is more important to us – as Catholics, as citizens of the West, and as Americans – than are most countries in the world.