Archive for January, 2013

On Praying for Evil Men


“The man who cries out against evil men but does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.”

-St Silouan the Athonite, icon by Janet Jaime

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The Field Trip

I accompanied my 7 year old Cub Scout, Michael, on a field trip the other night. I usually work too late to attend his Scout meetings, but it was my day off. Not that I am eager for the awkward moment when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance. We stand in the back, silently trying to avoid attention.

The field trip was to the local police station. Two friendly officers greeted us, and after an introduction showed us around. They took us to the holding cell, telling the children “Don’t touch anything. Really bad people stay here and they are dirty.” I heard the one cop tell a woman that he had worked for a while in a county jail, and that “Those are not human beings. Those are animals.”

My heart sunk at this, and I was glad my son didn’t hear it. This did not erode my belief that even the incarcerated are in fact human, but it did raise doubts about the humanity of certain police officers.

After the initial tour we were taken outside, where a cruiser was parked. The scouts were allowed to operate the radar gun, taking the speeds of passing cars, and to use the siren, which scared a couple of motorists into pulling over. They also used the loudspeaker. When it was Michael’s turn, he said “THIS IS A VIOLATION!” which got a good laugh.

Then we returned to the station, where the children tried on bulletproof vests and then were shown the gun room. I was a little stunned to learn that my local police have a rack of fully automatic weapons; probably twenty or so. I knew the military had such things, but had no idea that local cops did. I wonder what, short of a zombie apocalypse, they are anticipating.

Surely this should sober our militant gun enthusiasts, who respond to any attempt to limit assault weapons with the declaration that the Second Amendment exists so that citizens can resist a tyrannical government.

Good luck with that. Bringing your semiautomatic, with a 30 round clip to a conflict with these guys is like the bringing the proverbial knife to a gun fight.

And that is not even considering taking on the feds, with their even deadlier weapons and drones.

Good old Tom Tomorrow on the latest gun control bru ha ha:

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With the Pentagon’s announcement that it is lifting the ban on women in combat you are now so equal that you, too, can kill some poor farmer uprooted from his village by the local draft board. You, too, can bomb “social infrastructure”, ie, cities and their inhabitants. You, too, can be brought back in a body bag. You, too, can kill and be killed in the name of the State, or of Freedom or of whatever other lie you are told.

Remember the promise of feminism, the idea that it would be a humanizing force on an over-testosteroned society?

Me neither.

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Sunday evening I drove to the local video kiosk to rent a movie for the children. As I pulled up I saw that there was a woman perusing the selections, and I thought I would wait in the car, as it was very cold.

There was a pickup parked next to me, and the man in it was also waiting. He assumed that I was going to get out of my car and cut in front of him. He opened the door to get out, giving me a surly look. As he emerged I saw that he was wearing a large handgun in a holster on his hip.

I sat there stunned for a moment, and decided to drive to another kiosk.

While I realize that what the man was doing is legal in Ohio, I had never seen anyone packing a gun in public like that, aside from photos from gun rallies.

I found it profoundly troubling. And creepy.

If you have been reading what I write here you know that I recently purchased a shotgun when my family felt threatened (we awoke to an intruder in the house in the middle of the night). I am a longtime peacenik, but have always said, abstractly, that I was not an absolute pacifist and would defend my family, or any innocent, from an aggressor, with force if necessary. The silhouette of a stranger in my bedroom doorway was no abstraction, nor was the fear on my childrens’ faces.

A cleric friend, an advocate of gospel nonviolence, told me, when I related this story, that he himself would only try to disarm an attacker nonviolently, would consider it a martyrdom if he was killed, and likewise consider those who were victimized after his death -the ones he was ineffectively trying to protect- as fellow martyrs. He said that while the Church says that it is not murder to kill in self defense, Christ’s words demanded absolute nonviolence. He also said that he neither condemned nor commended me, admitting that as he is childless he could not grasp the visceral reaction of a father. But he was clear on what he thought right, however gently he delivered the message. He said he would lay down his life in imitation of Christ.

This is a man whom I hold in high esteem, and the next day I considered his words; maybe I was simply too unspiritual to understand.

But I concluded that his choice of nonviolent -ie, ineffective- resistance would be wrong. While it may be laudable and holy to die rather than resist violence toward oneself, the equation changes when one is called to defend a child or other innocent. To not effectively do all one can to stop the aggressor is to subject the child to the trauma of being a witness to your murder -in my case, her daddy’s murder- as well as to whatever evil the attacker will do to her after you have been dispatched. Nor are you imitating Christ: His sacrifice actually saved the world; yours is saving no one. In fact, it seems to me that you have sinned against the child that it is your duty – duty – to protect. And it is a sin against the God who gave her into your hands to care for and to defend.

The Church would seem to agree with this assessment; here is Blessed John Paul:  “…legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State. Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about…” (from Evangelium Vitae).

Indeed, it occurred to me that this discussion mirrored the very first thing I ever wrote for publication, an essay that appeared in the journal Fidelity, some twenty years before its editor drove it off the deep end of anti-Semitism. I wrote of pacifism as a sort of charism, like the evangelical counsels, a good and holy thing, but limited to celibates by the nature of the vocation of parenthood (and even celibates vowed to nonresistance would be obliged to protect an innocent).

I write this as someone who has experience in the turn the other cheek department; practical experience, not merely abstract.

Not that I am a particularly irenic person; indeed I am fierce by nature and fought a lot as a kid, not least because I was small for my age. But when I was fifteen or so I became enamoured of the hippie counterculture and became involved in the local antiwar movement in Flint. I read Thoreau and became committed to nonviolence and civil disobedience. My friends and I were outspoken in our opposition to the Vietnam War.

In my little town in 1968 this did not go over well. Knowing that we had renounced violence, a couple of times other kids put us to the test.

“So, I hear that you are against the war.’

“That’s right.”

“And you don’t believe in fighting?”


There followed cursing and a punch in the face. I raised my fingers in the peace sign: “Peace, man.”

Another punch ensued.

Again, “Peace, man.”

At this my tormentor started looking awkward, like he felt pretty stupid. I forget what he said, but he walked away.

No one ever hit me a third time.

And the guy, ironically a former good friend in the Catholic school we had attended through eight grade, was even smaller than me, so he didn’t do much damage.

But one time we got a scare.

We were in the park behind the community center when a few minor punks walked up to us.

“Hey. Kenny wants to see you.”

Kenny was the baddest guy in town, a large kid, a couple of years older than us, who could whip anyone in town. We walked over to the picnic table where he was enthroned, a bunch of eager toadies surrounding him.

“”So”, he said to me as he lit a cigarette, “I hear you guys are against the war.”

“That’s right”, I replied, wondering if I was about to die.

“And you don’t fight, even if someone hits you?”

Gulp. “Uh huh.”

He took a deep drag on his cigarette.

“I think you guys have a lot of guts.”

That was it, and no one ever hit us again.

Of course it didn’t occur to me back then what I would do if I was a father and my family was threatened; that situation did not enter my life for very many years.

And when it did, ironically, it was right before the Sandy Hook atrocity, which launched a new movement for gun control.

There are a lot of myths and oversimplification, and downright paranoia, on both sides of that debate. For example, I was relating my experience at the kiosk to a friend who is very right-wing.

“Have you ever been to Texas?” he asked.

I told him that my only time in Texas was sitting in a plane in a stopover on my way to New Mexico.

“Everyone in Texas wears a gun on his hip” he said. “And there is no crime.”

I expressed doubt about this. I later checked it and found that in fact Texas had the fifteenth highest rate of violent crime in the nation.

This is the myth of the right, that a well armed society actually is less violent. The myth of the left is that strict gun control, like in Europe, means fewer gun deaths, as though there were not extreme cultural differences at work as well.

America is, in fact, uniquely gun-oriented. In our mythology it is the lone guy with the gun who solves problems with a firestorm of vengeance.

Even Canada, a neighbor and another land of immigrants, has such a different historical experience- their settlement was much more orderly and lawful- that gun deaths there are miniscule in numbers compared to the US.

So the problem is much deeper than lack of gun regulations, which does not mean, say, that it should be easier to purchase an assault rifle and a thousand rounds of ammo than it is to get a driver’s license of a green card.

I obviously do not object to owning a weapon for self-defense. I am not a vegetarian, but my shotgun is not for hunting; I have no desire to kill anything, let alone gut it. My shotgun was purchased to defend my family, if I must. But I bought a shotgun, a pump-action one, because the universal language of a shotgun being pumped – “cha-chink”- generally means that the intruder will flee and you will not have to use the weapon. It didn’t occur to me to buy anything else.

No one needs a semiautomatic weapon with a thirty round clip to defend his family or shoot a deer; such a thing is good for one thing only, to kill a lot of people quickly.

No, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But a person with a semiautomatic rifle can kill a lot more people than someone armed with a baseball bat, or even a shotgun, in a lot less time.

Cars don’t kill people either, people driving cars do, but I don’t know anyone who thinks that we should do away with traffic laws or drunk driving prohibitions.

Surely there must be some common sense middle ground, without the illusion that any particular regulation will stop violence or the illusion that a world of gunslingers, eyeing one another over their place in line at the kiosk, is a civilized place to live.

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Not so long ago, they would have called him a Mad Scientist:

From The Independent:

Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School is one of the world’s leading geneticists and believes his Neanderthal bone-sample analysis is now complete enough to reconstruct their DNA.

Although the 58-year-old is not certain his plan would work, he says he is now ready to put theory into practice.

Speaking to the German magazine Der Spiegel, Professor Church said: “Now I need an adventurous female human…It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done.”

Professor Church’s plan is to create artificial Neanderthal DNA based on the genetic code found in bone samples, then put this DNA into stem cells.

These cells would then be injected into a human embryo in the early stages of life, and would be strong enough to steer the embryo’s development along Neanderthal lines rather than Sapien.

After a few days growing in a laboratory the ‘neo-Neanderthal’ embryo would be implanted into the womb of the surrogate mother.

Professor Church is one of the scientists who helped initiate the Human Genome Project that successfully mapped human DNA, and believes that bringing Neanderthals back to life would have major benefits for mankind.

Rather than the primitive brutes they are often stereotyped as, Professor Church believes Neanderthals were highly intelligent, perhaps even more intelligent than humans.

Although they became extinct 33,000 years ago, Neanderthals were already using basic tools and it is believed their brains were roughly the same size as ours.

Professor Church told Der Spiegel: “Neanderthals might think differently than we do. They could even be more intelligent than us.”

He added: “When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet, it’s conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial.”

Human cloning is illegal in many countries, but as Professor Church is theoretically dealing with a Neanderthal, not a Homo Sapien, existing laws may not apply.

As well as the ethical concerns of creating a neo-Neanderthal, scientists believe the resultant baby could lack immunity to modern diseases, and may not survive.

There are further concerns that the process might lead to deformities, and there are also obvious risks to the surrogate mother.

Bioethicist Bernard Rollin of Colorado State University has voiced his uncertainty over how a Neanderthal would fit into the modern world.

He said: “I don’t think it’s fair to put people… into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared.”

And Philippa Taylor of the Christian Medical Fellowship said: “It is hard to know where to begin with the ethical and safety concerns.”


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Andrew Bacevich

…if Andrew Bacevich got to define the term. In an article in the latest  American Conservative, “Counterculture Conservatism“, he outlines a humane sort of political philosophy, one that values smallness, is hostile to militarism and empire, sees economic disparity as a huge problem, and believes in stewardship of the environment. (The magazine seems to have adopted an online format that no longer makes it possible to download articles or cut and paste from them, alas. Unless I can figure it out, you will have to take my word for it).

The only problem with this is I suspect few who call themselves conservative would claim these views as their own. Heck, even the issue of  TAC that featured Mr Bacevich’s article also featured a full page color ad for Glenn Beck’s latest TV venture (!), as well as a tribute, from Pat Buchanan, to Richard Nixon, and another to the late Joe Sobran.

So I guess I will remain politically homeless…

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Apart from Love


St Simeon the New Theologian

However great your zeal and many the efforts of your asceticism, they are all in vain and without useful result unless they attain to love in a broken spirit.

—St. Symeon the New Theologian

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