Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ask Tony: Forgiveness and Sincerity—UPDATED

Hypothetical situation: A friend, loved one, coworker, or acquaintance has a certain behavioral trait, one that is objectively sinful and hurtful. At times, you are the one s/he hurts. Every time s/he hurts you, s/he apologizes. After n apologies and n +1 times being hurt, though, don’t you have a right to feel his/her apologies are insincere? Shouldn’t the behavior have been corrected by then if s/he really meant it? In sum, aren’t you justified in refusing to forgive, or making your forgiveness contingent upon some material act?

Seventy Times Seven

There are only two passages in the New Testament where a finite number is connected with forgiveness. The first occurs in Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus then follows this injunction with the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (vv. 23-35). The “seventy times seven”, of course, is hyperbole meaning that we forgive as often as asked: “... and if [your brother] sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:4). However, you don’t have to wait to be asked forgiveness in order to grant it.

As for sincerity — nope. Don’t find it connected to forgiveness of others anywhere in the NT. It’s not a condition. Nor do you find any passage that allows you to make forgiveness conditional. Catholics have done penitential acts over the centuries. However, those acts were reparative; that is, they were ordered towards repairing the relationship between the person and God, and not as a condition of His forgiveness. Making your forgiveness contingent upon fulfilling a material condition as “proof” of sincerity is spiritual extortion.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Euthyphro the Burglar; or, A Criminal Dilemma

One night, as I arrived home from my Knights of Columbus council meeting, I noticed that my front door was ajar, and that there was a shadow moving past the curtains on the living room window. A burglary, I thought, more angry than scared. So I called 911, retrieved my Sig Sauer from my glove box, got out of my car as quietly as possible, and crept inside.[*]

As I tiptoed into the living room, the burglar was bending over to pick up the television set from the entertainment center. “Stop!” I commanded, pointing the Sig at him. “Put it down slowly, then stand up with your hands in the air. The cops are coming; you’re going to go to jail for burglary.”

The burglar did as I told him. To my surprise, though, he asked, “Is burglary wrong because the law says so, or does the law say so because burglary is wrong?”

Puzzled, I asked, “What does it matter?”

“Well,” he responded, “if Texas law says so because burglary is wrong, then the State of Texas doesn’t really define burglary.”

I shrugged. “That’s a trivial objection, because Texas enacted the definition in its laws, and you’re still subject to Texas law. But what if I say burglary is wrong because Texas law says so?”

The burglar smirked — or, at least, I think he smirked; it was difficult to tell through his pantyhose mask in the dim light. “In the first place, if it’s wrong only because the law says so, then ‘wrong things are against the law’ is merely a tautology, and says nothing significant about wrongness.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Babylonian Puppet Shows and Thought-Terminating Clichés

Have you ever wondered if people who create memes are in some kind of competition to produce thought-terminating clichés? I recently saw a someecard written by a petulant unbeliever: “I don’t need your Babylonian puppet show to tell me to share with others. I learned that from Sesame Street™.”

Okay, smartass. Where did the writers and creators of Sesame Street learn it from?

What’s the Right Question?

If Christ was and is who we Catholics believe him to be, it shouldn’t be surprising that the natural order or that evolution would produce in us a moral need to be nice to each other.[*] It shouldn’t be surprising that some idea of justice, mercy, benevolence, and every other common moral imperative should manifest in other cultures. Jesus didn’t come primarily to be an ethical philosopher; God is the ultimate Source of all natural ethoi.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that you could learn from Sesame Street what the Church has taught for a couple of millennia, and the Jews taught for centuries before us. Nor should it be surprising that the Church teaches some moral principles other religions teach. In that much, it shouldn’t surprise us that some things Jesus taught weren’t “original” … save in that the Logos is the Origin. It surprises me that some would find his “unoriginality” significant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ask Tony: A feast for Mary Magdalene?

Blavatskaya, Mary Magdalene.
(Image source DeviantArt.net)
On June 10, the Congregation for Divine Worship released a document raising the liturgical observance of St. Mary Magdalene’s traditional day from a memorial to a feast. Released along with it is an accompanying letter, Apostle to the Apostles, over the signature of the secretary of the congregation, Abp. Arthur Roche. Now would be a good time to explain who she is in the Catholic tradition, and why the Holy See has taken such an extraordinary step.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

“Mary” (Heb. Miriam, Aram. Maryam, Gr./L. Maria) was a common name among the Judeans, and due to the influence of both the Blessed Mother and the Magdalene would be common in Christian lands for the next twenty centuries. (Maryam is also frequent among Moslems, among whom the Blessed Virgin Mother is honored.) So in the New Testament there is a surfeit of women named Mary, not always kept distinct from each other.

There are two locations named “Magdala” in Talmud: one in the east on the River Yarmouk near the modern town of Umm Qais, the other on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, abandoned just prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, near the town of Migdal. Given the number of Galileans among Jesus’ disciples, Mary most likely came from the latter.

We know very little about Mary’s story. According to Luke, Mary joined Jesus’ ministry early. He tells us that “seven demons had gone out from” her, indirectly attributing it to Jesus, and that she was one of several women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles, “[providing] for them out of their means” (Luke 2:1-3) After the Easter narratives, Mary of Magdala drops out of the scriptural record.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Catholic Stand: Men and the Rape Conversation

Recent events in the story of convicted rapist Brock Turner force the conversation about rape into a deeper understand of this complicated subject. It is a multifarious conversation, touching upon sex, consent, sexual differentiation, women’s equality, and college campus culture, among other things. But in many respects, it is the wrong conversation, full of false assumptions and askew stereotypes. It is also a conversation from which, as I hope to make clear, men cannot and should not be excluded.

Men as Victims of Rape

Rape is commonly presented in the conversation as a “women’s problem”; that is, as a crime only women suffer and only men commit. Sixteen percent of women, according to statistics gathered last March, experience attempted or completed rape, as opposed to only 3% of men — at least as far as the sources know. An estimated 95% of rapes on campus, and 60% of rapes overall, are never reported. Whenever we discuss rape, we almost take it for granted that men are only raped in prison.

This trope is false and misleading. As Hanna Rosin reported in Slate a couple of years ago, sexual assault against men is vastly under-reported. Men are almost as often victims of sexual assault as are women, and women are very often the perpetrators. The 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey found that 38% of the incidents reported were against men. Because the U.S. military is predominantly male, it should be no surprise that more than half of military sexual-assault victims are men. Last year, Huffington Post ran an article detailing male experiences of sexual assault on campus; one advocate estimated that as many as 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Precisely because all forms of sexual assault are under-reported, it is impossible to say for certain whether proportionally fewer male victims than female victims report being raped. At least part of the under-reporting problem for men, though, is the cultural emphasis on alpha-male machismo: men are discouraged from “whining”, and expected — by both men and women — to shut up, “put on their big-boy britches,” and get over any problems they may have. Also, our culture takes it for granted that men are irresponsible about when, where, and with whom they have sex. We find it especially difficult to believe that a woman could force a man to have sex against his will, due to the assumption that rape must involve penetration of the victim by the assailant.

Under-reporting also diminishes our knowledge of the incidence of same-sex rape. According to Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN), being assaulted by another female, especially a partner, can be more traumatic for women “because of the levels of trust, attraction, and love involved.” Gay males have greater difficulty finding help because of “attitudes that gay men are promiscuous or that rape is something that only happens to women”. And a study done by the CDC in 2010 revealed that women tend to be more physically aggressive and controlling than men in intimate partnerships. In sum, women are not the only ones affected by rape in our society.

Read more at Catholic Stand!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Crazy He Calls Me 2 — The Liberals’ Turn

Back in November 2011, I reported on a paper by University of Tampa professor Marcus Arvan which, in the words of Allahpundit at HotAir, purported to find “‘significant’ correlations between key antisocial traits and bedrock conservative views, like opposition to gay marriage and support for capital punishment.” As I said at the time, “It’s a sad sign when progressivist advocates stoop to jury-rigging ‘scientific’ studies in order to write off the opposition as Machiavellian psychopaths.”

Four and a half years later — just as I was getting ready to believe it — comes Retraction Watch: “Researchers have fixed a number of papers after mistakenly reporting that people who hold conservative political beliefs are more likely to exhibit traits associated with psychoticism, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness.” (Arvan’s paper was not among them.) Now it appears that liberal political beliefs are linked with psychoticism, while neuroticism and “social desirability (falsely claiming that you have socially desirable qualities)” are linked to conservatives. It’s beginning to sound like a fourth-graders’ argument: “You’re a psycho!” “No, you’re the psycho!” And so on, ad nauseam.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re not clear how much the corrections should inform our thinking about politics and personality traits, however, because it’s not clear from the paper how strongly those two are linked. The authors claim that the strength of the links are not important, as they do not affect the main conclusions of the papers — although some personality traits appear to correlate with political beliefs, one doesn’t cause the other, nor vice versa. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Barbarians and Footballs and North Koreans (Oh My!)

Air Force officer with nuclear “football”.
(Image source: BusinessInsider.com.)

Football On My Mind

Yesterday, a Catholic Stand colleague posted on her Facebook status a cri de coeur over the general state of affairs. Early on, she wondered why so much activity was being devoted to arguments over the morality of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings when North Korea had just tested-fired a ballistic missile.

I must confess the answer should have been obvious to me right away. However, I’d had no sleep the night before. So it didn’t occur to me until I was on my way home from running an errand, half an hour later.

Think about who’s defending the bombings. Then think about the person to whom they want to give access to the “football” — the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes that an Air Force officer always carries near the Commander in Chief — come next January. That’s why the argument is relevant today. That’s why you should be scared.

Those of us who came to our majority in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s ought to remember that we grew up in the shadow of “brinksmanship” and “mutual assured destruction” (the acronym, “MAD”, perfectly described the situation). We were fortunate to have civilian leaders who feared the possibility of having to give the “go” for launch, and who kept a communications line open between us and Moscow so that our President and the Soviet General Secretary could talk each other down from the ledge. We were fortunate that most of our leaders realized a victory in such a war could only be Pyrrhic; whatever would be left would not likely survive the following “nuclear winter”.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taking Exception to an Experienced Writer’s Rules

A version of this post was originally published in January 2012.

The road to bad writing is paved with Experienced Writers’ rules. Developing a literary style is a long process with no real proven method to it; it takes guesswork, constructive criticism, and a bit of an ear for poetry. Suggestions from established writers are generally helpful. However, every now and again, an Experienced Writer will try to impose on others a set of rules that are almost guaranteed to generate bland, undistinguished prose.

For example: About three years ago, Grammarly.com published a meme titled, “How to Write Good”, by Frank L. Visco, listing 23 rules that Visco said he’d learned in “several years in the word game”. Let’s go through them, shall we?

  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always: If you’re going to alliterate that badly, by all means, refrain. Starting three successive words with the same letter is bad alliteration. However, Anglo-Saxon poetry was highly alliterative, and Shakespeare was a master of distributing alliterative sounds. Trust your ear.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with: This is the sort of absolute rule up with which no one should put.
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.): Okay, I’ll give him this one.
  4. Employ the vernacular: I think he means that polysyllabic words are pretentious and obfuscatory. Alas, unless he’s truly concerned that people might write essays in Latin, Cherokee, or Hindi for publication in English-language media, his choice of vernacular is singularly unfortunate (see No. 21 below).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bolton’s Hiroshima Defense Worst Kind of Patriotism

Pres. Barack Obama embraces survivor of Hiroshima bomb.
(Source: AP/Toledo Blade.)
The bromide tells us that “hindsight is always 20/20.” Well, perhaps individual humans can objectively recognize mistakes they made in  their pasts as individuals. But when it comes to history, hindsight is often just as myopic as foresight, as public discussion over Pres. Barack Obama’s apologetic non-apology at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park so tellingly demonstrates.

The President’s Highest Duty

Example: In the New York Post this last Thursday, former UN ambassador John Bolton (who, I am shocked to discover, is an executive with the American Enterprise Institute) defended the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “An American president’s highest moral, constitutional and political duty is protecting his fellow citizens from foreign threats,” Bolton declaims with a patriotic consequentialism verging on moral imbecility. “Presidents should adhere to our values and the Constitution, and not treat America’s enemies as morally equivalent to us. If they do, they need not apologize to anyone.”

Pearl Harbor was “a date which will live in infamy,” in Roosevelt’s words. Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) came after four years of brutal war and a desperate race against Nazi and Japanese efforts to develop atomic weapons. We won the race, and Truman acted decisively and properly to end the war.

Truman understood that not using the atom bombs would have condemned millions of service members to death or debilitating injury. Japanese resistance grew significantly as US forces neared Japan, and, expecting fanatical Japanese resistance, American military planners repeatedly increased projected US casualties. The calculus could not have been clearer.

This isn’t the first time Bolton has publicly defended the bombings. In 2001, while an Undersecretary of State, he published an essay in Duke Law School’s Law and Contemporary Problems arguing that the US should not be a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, arguing that a “straightforward reading” of the statutes’ language would leave the US open to charges of war crimes for its bombing campaign of Germany and Japan. “A fortiori, these provisions seem to imply that the United States would have been guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is intolerable and unacceptable.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interlude: The Shepherd and the Stranger

Image source: raykliu.wordpress.com.
Now there was in that same country a shepherd abiding in the fields, keeping watch over his flock one day. Suddenly a stranger appeared unto him, driving up the road toward him in a brand-new BMW. The stranger stopped his car and stepped out of it carrying an iPad, which he began to play with.

The shepherd approached and said, “Say, that’s a nice car. And a nice gadget.”

The stranger replied, “Yep. And I’m a whiz with this iPad, my friend. In fact, I’ll make a bet with you. If I can tell you how many sheep you have on this hillside, will you give me one of them?”

A little bemused, the shepherd said, “Okay, I guess.”