Monday, December 22, 2003

Lagniappe: I Wish You A Merry Christmas, and Hope You'll Wish Me A Merry Something Back. - What does one say to a stranger during holiday times when paths cross and a greeting is appropriate? Is Merry Christmas during Christmas season enough? Or is wishing someone a Merry Day the proper, politically correct, liberal thing to do? Well, I have an interesting take on what the liberal's greeting should be? You'll probably be surprised!

Though I don't get overly agitated at the PC tendency to remove the meaning from holiday celebrations, I do think this growing practice is an unwelcome tendency in our society. In fact, I don't think it is even a liberal tendency. Rather, from my point of view, a true liberal holiday greeting would be the opposite. Let me explain. ...

I don't care if you're Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or Pagan; if you are celebrating something, let me know what it is. I might not celebrate it with you, but at least I know you're not just commemorating a day for the day's sake! Think about it, if someone tells a Christian: "Happy Hannukah" or "Happy Ramadan" of "Happy Solstice", isn't that much more meaningful than a happy "holiday"? So, I never refrain from wishing people a Merry Christmas. It's who I am and I have a right to wish this to people. It's not horrible, you know.

Now, if I know someone is not Christian, then I will make every effort to add "Happy Hannukah" or "Happy Kwanza" after my "Merry Christmas" - but I can only wish people the joy that I experience on days special to me, and if they get offended by that joy because I don't know what is special to them ... well, that is their problem. Does this make me conservative? No, not at all. In fact, I think the multicultural diversity of liberalism should encourage the many blessing that come from all festivals, faiths, and days of celebration. Amen!

And ... Merry Christmas!

Lagniappe: What Does God Know? - What prompts this post is a discussion/friendly debate that I had last night with my brother, who is visiting from Berkeley where he is studying towards his Master's Degree in Theology. (By the way, my brother is a member of the Society of Jesus, a catholic religious order more commonly know as the "Jesuits." My brother is not a priest, but rather a religious brother.) In any event, the discussion we had last night centered around the question: What Does God Know? This is a question that has been discussed around the dinner table at my home many evenings. So much so that my 5-yr-old daughter has memorized my pat answer to the question. Before I give you my answer, I should let you know that both my brother and my wife (not to mention my daughter, who is inclined to side with them) do not agree with me on this issue. So, what is my answer to that interesting question? Well ... I say: "God knows that which is knowable." Seems fairly inoccuous; but its implications are critical, because it implies that there are certain things which God simply cannot know.

I don't believe God knows the future of human behavior. I don't believe God knows from the moment of our birth what our life actions will be and whether we are destined for heaven or hell or purgatory or whatever. I believe that God is omnisicient, but only in term of what is knowable in the context of my faith in the notion of free choice. If God knows our destiny, how is it that we have any choice or freedom at all? Now, my wife and brother say that we cannot understand the mystery of God omnisicience coupled with the existence of true free choice because we think as humans do, and not God; but I argue that even this position is the product of a human thought process that leads one to the notion of mystery and faith. My belief is that we can only know and understand things through the prism of our humanity and our human faculties, and so we must rely on our best efforts to lead us to understanding. For me, this means that we must rely on our faith informed by our reason. And my reason informs my faith that God knows the infinite possibilities of our choices, but he does not know (and does not compromise free will by thus knowing) what it is that we will choose in those moments of our life.

Because, if you buy into the notion that God knows our choices, and where we will be, the possibility of redemption through an act of free choice is not possible. We either have the ability to turn from evil and repent from sin at any point in the eternal existence of our soul (even after death), or we have no choice in the matter. If God knows that from the moment of our creation that we are destined for heaven or hell, then how is it that we are free to choose either the path to heaven or to hell. In a sense, it is already chosen for us because it is predetermined.

My brother argues that God is always with us in the context of our choices, and I don't disagree; but being with us and being in full knowledge of the infinite possibilities of choice does not mean that God knows which of those possibilities we will choose.

Let's move to some examples. We humans may not know if life exists on other planets in other galaxies; but if such is true, then God certainly knows it, since he is the creator. God knows all things that can be known. He knows what will happen to the arctic penguin when the leaf falls from the tree in the tropical rain forest. God knows how the bird's chirp in Louisiana affects the sleeping patterns of the Prime Minister of Japan. All of this, I believe, is "knowable" because it doesn't affect human free choice and will. However, if I get drunk at a New Year's Eve Party and make the mistake of driving home afterwards in bad weather, does God know that 10 minutes later drive into a tree and break my back? If I have free will and free choice, He can't. Why? Because it presupposes that within those 10 minutes, my ability to exercise free choice is no longer operational. I can't believe this. Why is it not possible for me to get into the car, drive for five minutes, realize that what I am doing is dangerous, and pull off into a parking lot to call for a cab or to sleep off the drunkenness. Of course, it IS possible for me to choose this.

Now, my brother would say that God is with me at every instant and every fraction of an instant and so is knowledgable of my choice as I make it. In other words he knows what I am going to do when I do it. But this still begs the question: who makes the choice? Something must come first. Is the choice and God's knowledge of it at the moment of choosing one and the same? It can't be, because then it is not fully free. I must make the choice distinct from God's knowledge in order for it to be fully my own free choice.

So I always end with the compromise: God is omniscient. He knows all that which is knowable. I don't pretend to define that which is knowable; but I do believe that God cannot know the unknowable. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Kingfishery & Kingcakery - We fans of the New Orleans Saints are truly patient sufferers with loads of blind faith in God. We've been praying for almost 40 years now to get to Football's promised land, and we are still waiting patiently for God to deliver us. Well, we're not at 40 years yet, so I guess we can't expect deliverance for another couple of years. Let's hope that we receive our just rewards for 40 years of faithfulness like the Israelites did during their Exodus from Egypt and their long 40 year march towards the promised land. How bizarre can it get ... the Saints are delivered a miracle that scores a touchdown to bring us one point from tying the Jaguars and heading into overtime, only to see Carney miss the chip shot extra point. The Saints lose another heartbreaker and season-breaker, 20-19.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Lagniappe: PETA terrorism - I'm all for the promotion of kindness to animals. And I'm even sympathetic to some of the work that PETA does on behalf of animals; but this tactic by PETA is simply intolerable. This is nothing more than psychological terrorism, and is no different than the anti-abortion terrorists who parade around with six-foot pictures of aborted fetuses at family events where children are traumatized. Funny, that! Protect the unborn children by traumatizing the already born kids. [Hat-tip to Conservative Blogger, John Hawkins for bringing this to my attention first.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Kingfishery & Kingcakery: New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes on Gay Marriage - In deference to a a request from one of my very few regular readers, affectionately known as "Pops," and as a member of good-standing in the Catholic faith, I have agreed to blog my reactions on the following editorial written by Roman Catholic Archbishop Hughes in the Clarion Herald, the local Archdiocesan Offical Newspaper. In this editorial, Archbishop Hughes writes:

When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided this past week that marriage is any committed relationship between two people of any sex, these judges, whatever their motivation, turned away from the truth and took a step that contributes to a terrible moral darkness.
I just don't see how these judges turned away from the truth. The "truth" of the matter is that a man and a woman can marry for whatever reason - be it convenience, money, love, etc. Even convicted mass murderers are allowed to marry from their prison cells, bestowing all the legal rights, privileges, and blessings on the couple which come from the act of marriage. The other "truth"of the matter is that people are born gay. Gay people are also loving people who may very well be incomplete creations of God without the fulfillment that comes from an intimate relationship afforded by the institution marriage - and not only the legal benefits of marriage, but also the grace that the sacrament of marriage confers upon the partnership. What is morally "dark" in my mind is to arbitrarily deny the grace of the sacrament of marriage to two people of any sex involved in a committed relationship, for that, ultimately, is what marriage celebrates and sanctions. All the other arguments given to exclude gay couples from the institution of marriage are straw man arguments, which I will address at a later point in my reflections on the rest of the Archbishop's editorial. Archbishop Hughes continues:
What does the Church say marriage is? "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament." This teaching is taken directly from the Second Vatican Council, the Code of Canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It reflects God's revealed word in Scripture, handed down in our tradition. Please note that according to this truth, marriage is rooted in nature and, therefore, not a mere social construct. It involves a man and a woman and, therefore, is heterosexual. It has as its purpose both spousal happiness and procreation and education of children. This natural reality is raised for the baptized to a sacrament as a sign of Christ's spousal relationship to his Church.
Here, Archbishop Hughes narrowly interprets the Church teaching he cites. Of course the matrimonial covenant is something "by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life." But nowhere in this teaching is this covenant exclusive of gay couples. I must assume that the Church, which makes exception for infertile heterosexual couples, doesn't interpret this "covenant" as narrowly as Hughes suggests. Marriage IS rooted in nature. So is homosexuality. So, given this, what is so unnatural about homosexual marriage, especially to homosexuals? In fact, for gays, desiring marriage to their same-sex partner, is about as "natural" as can be. It is only "unnatural" to heterosexuals. Also, if marriage has as its purpose both "spousal happiness" and "procreation and education of children," then the only possible disqualifier here is the inability of gay couples to procreate. Gay marriage certainly can contribute to spousal happiness, and gay people are certainly able to education children well. And even the procreation argument has its flaws. Gay people CAN procreate, though perhaps not with their gay partners. They certainly can mother or father children. And so the procreative power exists, in ways not that much different, for instance, from a woman who cannot give birth herself because of some genetic deformity, but who can procreate through the use of a surrogate carrier. And even if we assume that the procreative power doesn't exist, why then can infertile couples marry? The fact is that there is no argument that can be made within the context of current Church law that proscribes marriage for gay couples that should not also proscribe marriage for certain heterosexual couples. Likewise, there is no good argument that justifies marriage for certain heterosexual couples, that cannot also be used to justify marriage for a homosexual couple. Hughes continues:
Some, of course, will raise the issue of tolerance. We tolerate people, not half-truths or lies. Christ calls us to include all in our lives, to love others with whom we disagree, even our enemies. But he enjoins us to resist untruth that comes from wolves in sheep's clothing. A half-truth is the more deceptive. We are to be wise of serpents, gentle as doves. We are to proclaim the truth in love.

When life and love, even efforts to promote justice and peace, are divorced from truth, then the foundation of our human society crumbles. Guigo, the saintly founder of the Comaldolese, once wrote: "The truth does not need us to defend it. We need the truth. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life." Christ's kingdom is one of truth. Let us pray whole-heartedly: "Thy kingdom come!"
Think about the patronizing tone of Hughes's "tolerance" argument. When Hughes says that we tolerate people, not half-truths or lies, he implies two things: first, there is something about the nature of God's creation of gay people that is somehow perverse, and requires tolerance like we tolerate pesky mosquitoes or the oppressive heat during the summertime; second, he implies that homosexuality in itself is a half-truth and a lie. How is this? Some people are homosexual and they are born that way. That is not half-true, it is completely true. And homosexuality is not a lie. Does God create, sustain, and love a lie? And with regard to Hughes's first implication about "tolerance," I'd just like to say that gay people do not need to be "tolerated," they need to be embraced and loved for the creation that they are, made in God's image. Hughes is treading on shaky ground. He is basically arguing that good Catholics need to reject the essential reality of the human condition and the requirements of intimacy and loving relationships for significant part of God's human creation. Furthermore, Hughes is arguing that God's grace as manifested through the sacrament of marriage is exclusive to people for no other reason than sexual orientation. I honestly don't believe Jesus would deny such grace to loving, monogamous, gay couples.

Well, that's my reflection on Archbishop Hughes's opinion. I know it goes against the thinking of "Pops" who solicited my impressions; but I've got to be honest to my conscience and take issue with Hughes on what I think is his wrong position on this subject. I welcome your thoughts and comments, too.

Lagniappe: On the Capture of Saddam - Let me go on record as saying unequivocally that this is a great accomplishment - for Bush, for his administration, for the Iraqis, and for the world. No ifs, ands, or buts. The U.S. military has managed this whole capture with the honor, dignity, and respectfulness that our soldiers represent and stand for. My hat is off to George Bush and to his team for the way they relentlessly pursued this evil man. I admired George Bush’s statement that Saddam will now receive the very justice he denied his own people for so long. The fact that Bush speaks of justice and not retribution is so impressive and consumately statesmanlike. George Bush deserves all the credit that this accomplishment will bring to him.

Any liberal that tries to minimize the importance and success of this capture - and all subsequent efforts to bring this evil man to justice - just because it redounds well on Bush, is not a friend of good and a foe of evil. An evil has been conquered, and that is a good thing. Period.

Has this changed my moral and political beliefs? No. I still personally don’t think the killing that comes with war is moral. And I still believe in liberalism as the most correct political and ideological orientation. And I am not planning to vote for Bush in the next election. But, Bush is the man of the hour. Good for him, good for America, good for the world.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Lagniappe: Collective Bargaining, U.S. Style - So, the Iraqi's have figured out one of the great lessons of democracy and capitalism. If the pay isn't worth the risk, you walk. Then, when the situation for the capitalist gets dire, you collective bargain. And Iraqi's stand to get a nice pay raise for going AWOL. My, they're learning fast!!

Lagniappe: Why keeping the French, Russians, and Germans out of the largesse loop regarding Iraqi reconstruction is self-defeating - First, to those who say it's US taxpayer money, so why not parcel it out exclusively to our "friends." Well, it's not really American Taxpayer money going over there. It's the U.S. Treasury Bondholders who agreed, by their bond purchases, to finance the amount we borrowed for Iraqi reconstruction, whose money is going to Iraq. The American Taxpayer won't pay out on this debt for many, many years. And, Surprise! ... These bondholders are not just Americans, but, I would guess, also French, Japanese, German, Russian, Canadian, Mexican, etc., investors. So, without our erstwhile anti-allies, we wouldn't have been able to float the loans to line the pockets of Halliburton. Also, politically speaking, the US needs Russia, France, Germany, etc., to help with Iraqi reconstruction by debt forgiveness. You cut these folks out of the money loop, you just shoot yourself in the foot and prolong the real expense of the Iraqi occupation (i.e. loss of American lives.) I tend to agree with those who say that this posturing by Bush is primarily election-year politics. He's throwing a bit of political red meat for his base in an election year. When one looks at this whole scenario dispassionately and with the ultimate goal of a peaceful, democratic Iraq in miind, the Bush exclusionary policy regarding contracting for Iraqi reconstruction makes absolutely no sense in terms of the goal of efficient, cost-effective, and speedy Iraqi reconstruction efforts - and not only in restoring the Iraqi economy, but also in facilitating the essential consolidation of Iraqi democracy. I just don't see how cutting the non-coalition world out of Iraqi reconstruction largesse is the way to "win the peace in Iraq" -- as much as it might be the way to "win some votes at home." Call me a cynic, but that's how I see this petty gamesmanship by Bush.

Lagniappe: It's Craptastic - It's Craptastic, one of the League of Liberals' ex-members and currently a member of the Liberal Coalition has posted a nice little piece on the need to get our troops home from Iraq. Let's hope this sensible little piece wins the New Blog Showcase this week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Lagniappe: Sugar Bowl - College Football Championship in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl: LSU Tigers vs. Oklahoma Sooners. Should be LSU Tigers vs. USC Trojans. The BCS sucks. I don't care how good Oklahoma is. The intangible called "HEART" sets champions apart, and laying down and losing your last game of the season, well ... it just ain't championship material. LSU and USC clawed their way back from mid-season stumbles and delivered when it counted most. Oklahoma sold the farm. I'll tell ya ... an LSU victory over Oklahoma won't be as sweet as an LSU victory over USC would have been. 'Nuf Said.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Why We Won't Homeschool Our Children

School Board: Why we won't home school our children - My wife and I seriously considered home schooling for our children. Ultimately, we decided against it; but for a reason that is a bit different than what one normally hears from home schooling critics, though the reasons most often listed by this group (social skill development concerns, etc.) certainly helped to inform our decision as well. But, I also agree with those who say that the social skills argument against home schooling is not a very convincing argument on its own. In my experience, home-schooled kids are perfectly capable and pleasant social beings, they just socialize in a way that we don't usually associate with conventional child social behavior. The problem my wife and I ultimately had with home-schooling can be gleaned in this comment by a home school advocate and practitioner, which I find to be fairly typical for homeschoolers:

There are so MANY options out there now for kids outside of school for this involvement in some form of greater supervision. A variety of sports, boy/girl scouts, karate, drama and dance, church involvement..and normal hanging out with other kids (again, homeschool families network like crazy and go out of their way to plan "get togethers.")
In my mind the two cautionary elements in this comment have to do specifically with the phrases "greater supervision" and "to plan 'get togethers.'" Both detract from a child's ability to have his or her "own" learning/life experience. All aspects of such a child's life are planned, supervised, and guarded. And all activities that such children do are tinged with parental sanction and approval. Not that this is bad, necessarily, but it certainly is a "conditioned" experience. And in my mind, this leaves little room for children to learn to deal on their own with self-control, moral behavior, and difficult problem-solving - minus the watchful, protective, sheltering gaze of the protective parent (or parental figure).

I think it is true that the most important teaching about social interaction and even the process of learning comes in the context of the home and in the way parents raise their children to think and behave ... BUT, children need an opportunity to put their discerning abilities to the test WITHOUT the umbrella of the parental and "home" cocoon. And the classroom of a good, respectable school (whether private or public) is, in my opinion, the best place for kids to come into their own.

In the end, my wife and I sent our child to a public, foreign language immersion, state charter school. It's worked great for our child so far.

Lagniappe: Geaux, LSU Tigers! - LSU over Georgia at halftime, 17-3. Sugar Bowl and National Championship, here come the Tigers! Even though I'm a Tulane Green Wave fan and will cheer on Tulane every time the two go head-to-head, as a Louisianian, it's still good to see LSU doing so well this year. Geaux, Tigers!

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Cuaderno Latinoamericano: Surprise! Pinochet is not Insane! - His supporters called the interview a "public relations gaffe," his detractors called it evidence that he has always been mentally fit to stand trial. It appears that the need to bring Pinochet to justice is in the news again. I've always hoped the General would be held to account for the human rights atrocities committed under his knowing regime, but at 88 yrs old, it's almost worthless to pursue the cause. Almost. I still want the Chileans to do the right thing and make him accountable for his crimes.

Kingfishery and Kingcakery:The Recent Louisiana Governor's 'Race' - The indomitable and often abrasive James Gill has a post mortem on the Louisiana gubernatorial election in which he discusses the issue of race as a deciding factor in dark-skinned Indian-American Bobby Jindal's loss to white Cajun Kathleen Blanco. In short, he doesn't buy the race argument as an explanation of Jindal's loss. The clincher ending paragraphs say it all:

But if racism was a factor, it was hardly the only one. It was not uncommon during the campaign, for instance, to hear voters, with no qualms about Jindal's race, wondering whether he was ready for the big time. In the end, he did pretty well for a candidate making his first run for public office at the relatively tender age of 32.

And there is always the outlandish theory that 52 percent of the voters might actually have thought Blanco was better qualified to be governor.
Food for thought.