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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Michael Voris and Catholic Answers

I have been asked my opinion on the Michael Voris-Catholic Answers dust-up.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Catholic Answers, from Kathy Schiffer (who did not mention Michael Voris) to Dave Armstrong and Fr. Dwight Longenecker (both of whom most certainly did).

In order to be fully clear about my history with both, I have during the last 20 years applied for employment to Catholic Answers and been rejected. On numerous occasions I have proposed doing business with Catholic Answers on various things and been roundly rejected in the few instances when I have not been entirely ignored, which latter was much more frequent. Truth to tell, I almost never managed to get those guys to even return a phone call or an e-mail. It was worse than trying to work with EWTN, and attaining THAT level of inscrutable weirdness is really an accomplishment.

On the other hand, I have worked with Michael Voris and found him quite easy to get along with, extremely responsive and quite open to discussion. In fact, apart from one other individual who shall remain nameless, he's the only public Catholic I've had consistently positive experiences with. This is no small statement. I've worked with a lot of the big Catholic names, I've worked with some quite closely. Most of the "public Catholics", including myself, have some kind of ego problem - that's why we're interested in being in the spotlight, after all. And that undoubtedly plays into this whole kerfuffle.

Now, that having been said, I have benefited greatly from the work of Catholic Answers in general and Karl Keating's in particular. In fact, his work inspired my own first book.

I like both organizations and I see them both as having done great work.

All that having been said, the Catholic Answers supporters seem to be beating Voris up in a way that does not comport with the reality on the ground. I don't know why they are doing this.

Catholic Answers has obviously been around a lot longer, and perhaps that is why it has gone begging for money a lot more often than Voris' operation has. Does it need more money? I don't know. Certainly it is begging for money now.

So, what is my opinion?

I think Connecticut Catholic Blogger has done a MUCH better job of addressing this situation than I could. Given the evidence laid out there, I concur with Connecticut Catholic's most excellent assessment.

Voris hasn't said what most people attribute to him.
Catholic Answers and their supporters for some reason seem to want to make him their enemy.
And St. Jerome didn't get on very well with St. Augustine.

But I guess it generates website hits.

I just noticed this passage in Fr. Longeneckar's post:
"The next problem with Voris’ attack is that his method is unscriptural. The Sacred Scriptures teach us that if you have a problem with your brother you are to go to them first in private. Did Voris sit down in a meeting with Keating, Kresta, Keck and the others? If he thought it was his business did he make an appointment and say, “Fellas, there are some criticisms about the level of your salaries, could we gather some more information?” I don’t know, maybe he did or maybe he simply got in front of the camera and started blasting away. "

Maybe? MAYBE? You mean, Father, that you DID NOT contact Michael Voris to find out?
Pot, meet kettle...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hope and Change

"Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We've got to face that. And we've got to do something about our moral standards.....We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can't keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves." 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1961, quoted in the WSJ from a 1961 Harper's Magazine profile on MLK.

" 2006, blacks were 37.5% of all state and federal prisoners, though they’re under 13% of the national population. About one in 33 black men was in prison in 2006, compared with one in 205 white men and one in 79 Hispanic men. Eleven percent of all black males between the ages of 20 and 34 are in prison or jail.
From 1976 to 2005, blacks committed more than 52% of all murders in America. In 2006, the black arrest rate for most crimes was two to nearly three times blacks’ representation in the population. Blacks constituted 39.3% of all violent-crime arrests, including 56.3% of all robbery and 34.5% of all aggravated-assault arrests, and 29.4% of all property-crime arrests."

Manhattan Institute, 2008

Monday, August 19, 2013

Modern Poverty

As little as two hundred years ago, most of the people in the world lived in grinding poverty, bone-crushing, mind-numbing, earth-shattering poverty. At least by today's standards. Yet for almost two thousand years, those same bone-crushingly poor people built some of the most beautiful buildings the world has ever seen. They were physically poor but spiritually rich.

Today, there is no such thing as a poor person, at least not by the standards of the 1800s. Every person today is richer than ANY person was in 1800 - more physically comfortable, better medical care, better food and lodging, longer life, healthier.

Today's population are physically rich, but poor in spirit. Today, we can't design a church that looks better than the average gymnasium. Don't WANT a church that looks better than a supermarket.

And the bishops, by and large, have decided that the traditional understanding of beauty is not the way to evangelize these spiritually poor people. They believe that well-stocked supermarkets and gymnasiums will work better. So, they fund social justice instead of encouraging beauty. They won't pay for beauty, you see, because it doesn't "feed the poor."

Which is kind of ironic, given that today's poor are much less likely to be hungry or naked or homeless or ill than any previous generation of poor in the history of the world.

It's a conundrum. Back when you would expect bishops to be worried about feeding the poor, they spent decades building cathedrals. Now, when feeding the poor is something the government does, and does pretty well, actually, the bishops change their tune. Now, exactly when most people don't really need the physical assistance, the bishops stop worrying about beautiful cathedrals and start worrying about feeding the poor.

It's pretty remarkable, when you think about it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Zimmerman's City of Refuge

This essay at First Things highlights a substantial and basic difference between Jewish and Christian theology. In the Torah, any man who killed another was required to flee to a city of refuge in order to avoid being killed according to the "eye for an eye" principle. But why cities of refuge? Why couldn't the family sinned against simply forgive the murderer?

In Jewish theology, only the one sinned against can forgive. If I sin against another man, God cannot forgive that sin, only the man who I sinned against can forgive it. If I murder him, there can be no complete forgiveness because (1) he is no longer here to forgive me and (2) God can't forgive it because the sin wasn't against God, or at least, it wasn't JUST against God.

Christian theology views the entire situation differently.

According to Christian theology, the cities of refuge solution was necessary because mankind was not yet endowed with the ability to love as God loves. Before Christ, we had no access to the full grace of God.

Once Christ comes, He provides for the forgiveness of sin in every situation. That's what the sacrament of confession is about: "Whose sins you retain are retained, what sins you forgive are forgiven." Christ not only insists that God can forgive ANY sin regardless of origin or object, He also insists that this divine power to forgive sins devolves upon His apostles. The divine power to forgive can be wielded by men.

As a result, in Christian society, cities of refuge are no longer necessary, or, perhaps, it is better to say that they have been transformed. Whereas before we fled to a city of refuge, now we flee to the confessional of refuge. Those who have sinned can be really and fully forgiven in every circumstance. Those sinned against are required and empowered by God to forgive. Both sides need only ask for the grace, the power, and it will be received.

Thus, from the Christian perspective, the fact that Zimmerman appears today to need a city of refuge merely demonstrates how far America has wandered from Christian ideals and perspectives.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Math of Pornography and Rape

In First Things today, Bishop James D. Conley tries to make the case that pornography is fueling a culture of rape, based in large part on an NPR article authored by someone named ANONYMOUS.

I understand his interest in doing this. Rape is a mortal sin, pornography use is a mortal sin. They both revolve around sex, so it would be pleasant if we could show a correlation, or, better yet, a causation in one or the other direction.

The problem, of course, is that the incidence of rape has fallen more than 60% since 1993. In fact, reported rapes hit a 20 year low in 2009. Meanwhile, porn addiction is INCREASING. And I don't even know why I bothered to link that last fact, since anyone familiar with the growth of the Internet over the last 20 years is also familiar with the fact that porn is a significant subset of that use, making up around 13% of Internet searches each year. In fact, male porn use is so common that one 2009 study which needed to find a control group of men in their 20s who had never seen an X-rated flick literally couldn't find any. Another group tried in 2013, and ran into exactly the same problem. Female porn stars themselves have about the same history of abuse as accountants, though they definitely use more drugs.

The bishop is assuming causality where there is, at best, only correlation, and not even much of that. This is a common logical fallacy. For instance, it is well-known that ice cream sales on the beach are correlated with increased drowning. Does eating ice cream make one more likely to drown?

Well, obviously not. Both increases are driven by a third factor - when it gets hot, there are  more people on the beach, more people in the water, and more people eating ice cream.  More people in the water means more people likely to drown.

So, even if we COULD prove a correlation between rape and porn (which we can't), how do we know that one causes the other? It could be an "ice cream/drowning" trick, where some unmentioned third factor is actually causing both.

And relying on the testimony of the near-drowning victims isn't going to help much. Some of them WOULD refer to their ice cream consumption after their near drownings. When you were growing up, didn't your parents tell you not to go swimming for an hour after you ate?

It's a common old wives' tale in the United States.
There's actually no correlation between eating and drowning.
But a lot of people THINK there is, so they blame one on the other.

The same is true with porn - a lot of people THINK there is a connection, so they'll make the connection consciously in their personal testimony, especially because it makes them feel innocent. "It wasn't may fault, it was the porn's fault." That's why we can't necessarily trust their testimony.

Given the abundant evidence to the contrary, we can certainly be concerned about the possibility that the single sociological study he refers to, like most published studies, is wrong. Some (female) sociologist wants there to be a correlation between rape and porn, so she "finds" one in her studies. Pornography is obviously a mortal sin, but there isn't much hard evidence linking it to other sexual mortal sins like rape.

As Catholics, we are supposed to witness the truth.
Bishop Conley's errors in quoting sociologists on the make are understandable, but they are errors.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Math of Martyrdom

It has been said, correctly, that the 20th century produced more Christian martyrs than any previous century, and probably more than several previous centuries combined.

It is also said that the attacks on Christians are increasing.

Both statements are undoubtedly true.

But, to be fair, let's consider the math for just a moment and consider carefully what we mean by "increasing."

There were 1 billion people in the world in 1804.
There are 7 billion people in the world today.
So, do the math.

Even if Christian persecution dropped by 50% since 1800, such persecution would STILL produce many more individual martyrs today than it had in 1800, if only because there are a lot more Christians today than there was then. In order to show that the rate of martyrdom were increasing, we would have to measure martyrdom on a per capita level, rather than simply a raw numbers level. I've never seen anyone make such a measurement.

This doesn't make the sacrifice of any individual martyr less important, nor is it any less sad that someone would see fit to kill a Christian simply because that person is a Christian.

It's just that we can't very well say, "Ah! Three hundred Christians were killed this year while only 200 Christians were killed in 1913, therefore persecution is 30% worse today than in 1913!" nor can we say with complete certainty, "Oh, Christian persecution is increasing because the number of martyrs this century is so much higher than in the previous century!"

Christians are supposed to be deeply devoted to the truth. Thus, we need to keep these facts in mind when we discuss persecution and martyrdom.