Cultures and Lightbulbs

But those changes came from within. Can cultural change be forced by outsiders? Yes, but usually it requires armed force or overwhelming numbers, more rarely through persuasion at least until the rise of cultural-equivalency and the idea that non-Western cultural practices must be better simply by virtue of being non-Western. Although the visiting professor from India I had drew the line at condemning the British for trying to abolish suttee. She was a widow of the Brahmin caste and apparently her in-laws still wanted her dead. So even for her, a little “cultural Imperialism” wasn’t entirely bad.

Go read the rest.


The Scratching Post: Woodrow Wilson Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

Woodrow was a racist, to be sure, but then again, most Democrats pre-1970 were, too. Old FDR refused to allow Jesse Owens to visit the White House after his heroic performance in the 1936 Olympics. FDR also put a member of the Klan on the Supreme Court and it was that dude what wrote the “separation of church and state” ruling.

Once you get started down this road, there probably aren’t many old time Democrats who are safe, it being the party of segregation and all. We’ve reached a new battlespace for the Social Justice crowd. Now not only are the progressives devouring each other, they’re devouring their past. It’s hilarious on so many levels and seemingly unstoppable.

Source: The Scratching Post: Woodrow Wilson Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

Conspiracies and Catholicism: Miracles

Back on Conspiracies & Catholicism: Saints, I said I’d do an article on Miracles at a later time because certified miracles are required to show that a Saint was in position to nag Himself in person, so to speak. So here we go.

What is a miracle?

Literally, it’s from the the Latin for “wonderful”. As we are using it, it’s close– wonder-workers, things done by supernatural power, specifically those things done by the power of God. There are several Greek terms at the link for specific meanings, but that’s a little too deep in the weeds even for me right now! Although if someone knows of a language geek and is willing to link to a labor of love they did in the comments, I’d be delighted.

Anyways. . .

A miracle is an event done by the power of God.  An event in the natural world that is not of the natural world, so to speak.

A slight misunderstanding can enter because our culture is so very different from that of…well, pretty much any other time. It’s very easy for us to mistake someone doing something using someone else’s power for someone doing a thing under their own power– most of the examples we can think of outside of a religious context are government matters, be it an on-duty police officer acting as an agent of the law or a soldier acting as an agent of the country. Things like, say, the little boy at my daughter’s Sunday school who use to have leukemia, until the morning he came down to his mother crying and caught his mother crying because they’d run out of options and he informed her that an angel had come in a dream and told him that he didn’t have it anymore. (We don’t really have a strong analog for that kind of acting-as-the-authoritative-representative type of behavior.) It was God’s doing, but it’s tempting– from what I’ve observed in our modern worldview, trying to contrast it to things I read about the past– to attribute the power to whoever you interact with; think of it like being grateful to the mailman when your grandmother sends you a lovely birthday gift.

On the flip side, there’s the temptation to go the over-attributing route– “every breath I take is a miracle.”  It works as a way to get at a deeper meaning, in some cases, but it’s not what we’re talking about.

Some things I think were miracles are kind of silly– for example, my car’s brakes failed, quite suddenly.  That sounds more like bad luck than anything good, much less a miracle, until I add that the brake light came on two blocks from the only mechanic I could possibly use, and that the next day I was starting a 300+  mile trip that was mostly mountain passes with stone wall on one side, and deadly drops on the other, and that the mechanic assured me it was impossible that I’d only felt anything odd with the brakes immediately before the light came on and I brought it in, because it was a slow leak.   However, he turned a lovely shade of white when I told him where I was going to be driving the next day, and informed me that if I really hadn’t had the light come on until just then, I still would’ve known all about it on that trip. While that may be a miracle, it’s rather hard to investigate and prove, which is a requirement for a miracle to be used for a cause of sainthood.

As C. S. Lewis said, a virgin birth is only identifiably miraculous if you know that virgins do not generally give birth.

How are miracles proven?

When the Church has sufficiently proven a miracle, it’s called being certified.  I know that there’s probably someone simmering right now, because they believe that miracles can’t be proven.  That may or may not be true, depending on what one means by “proving” and what assumptions are built in. For example, a few weeks back I rolled my eyes as I scrolled past something or other on Facebook that was supposed to be dedicated to figuring out who Jesus’ human father was.  If someone starts with the assumption that miracles can’t happen, that they’re impossible, then correct– you can’t prove a miracle.  That’s not an argument, it’s a premise, a starting assumption.  The complementary mistake is to assume that everything happens is through God’s intervention unless there’s an acceptable alternative.  The Church uses, understandably enough, the standard of there being no natural explanation.  An individual could also use a standard of there being no evidence of a natural explanation.

I’ll use the example of the kid who had leukemia, which handily enough is in the same class as most of the miracles used for saints’ causes anyway, and tag them with how they’d view “proving” a miracle.

A Proving Impossible stance would be that the years of medical history the boy had were either incorrect; perhaps he didn’t have leukemia, or they missed all the signs of a more standard remission pattern, or there’s a currently unknown but totally natural cause of over-night leukemia remission in some cases that are so obscure we simply don’t have a large enough sample to identify the cause.  This would be the stance of those who take a method of inquiry into reality as a total description of reality– usually self-identified as “scientific” or “rational” or, sometimes “skeptical.”  As is probably clear even with my writing ability, I do not think highly of this, viewing it as an assertion that a road cannot exist, because it’s not on the map.

A Proving Presumed stance would be that all remissions are miracles unless it was in predictable, direct response to a treatment.

A Proving Possible would hold that those remissions where a treatment just suddenly starts working, or works better than expected, might be a miracle.

A Proving Proof is what the Church uses. It involves bugging the heck out of all the experts, especially very skeptical ones, to try to find any other explanation.  It’s a matter of testing to try to find something that is definitely a miracle, not find stuff that could be a miracle, so that anyone who does an honest inquiry– asks the question and is willing to take yes for an answer– can believe.

Must I believe?

Alright, so it’s definitely a miracle.  Does that mean that I, as an observant, practicing Catholic, must believe in a specific miracle?

Big hint: apparitions are found “worthy of belief.”

Some miracles, we must believe in– like the Eucharistic Miracle.  Transubstantiation– if you don’t believe that this is His body, then you’ve got a rather big problem.

We also must believe that miracles are possible, and identifiable as miracles, per the first Vatican Council– no wiggle room with being able to go “oh, miracles happen, but there’s no way we could really know for sure.”  Look, if you check out that case of the girl who was born without pupils, who was– obviously– blind, but is objectively notblind after interaction with St. Padre Pio, and she still has no pupils, then you are really, really reaching, and should do some soul searching.  (Gemma Di Giorgi, although obviously she’s a lady, now, not a girl.  Yes, still alive.)

That said, these miracles are to aid for us to believe.  Unless a miracle has been explicitly taught by the justly applied power of the Church as requiring belief, you don’t have to believe it.  I can find nothing that says a Decree of a Miracle– the thing needed for a miracle to “count” for sainthood– is binding, and it’s important to note that the saint being in heaven is what is stated infallibly in the case of sainthood, and they are required so someone canbe canonized, it’s not automatic.  Keeping with the whole “two sides” theme, if you find yourself hitting someone over the head to get them to accept even an approved miracle, it’s time for some soul searching on yourself.

Just like with the saints, the purpose is to bring us to God– not to become some little god in themselves.

Comparing Syrian Refugees to Mary and Joseph is Ludicrous

Originally posted on it's only words:

Yesterday, liberals on social media thought they’d come up with the perfect talking point on the Syrian refugee issue. It was a gift from God. Literally. Straight from the Bible.

It was so perfect that it would shut conservatives (especially those hypocritical Christian conservatives) up for good.  They would bow down and pay homage to their intellectual superiors on the left. Finally.

It started with @owillis.

owillis talking point

This, in many variations, was repeated all day on Twitter.

Now what story could he possible be referencing?  Clearly, the story of Mary and Joseph being turned away at the inn in Bethlehem. It’s seasonal. They were turned away from the inn. Perfect, right?

Not really. It actually breaks down pretty quickly on every level for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the story. Mary and Joseph weren’t “seeking refuge,” just a place to stay for the night. They had traveled to Bethlehem…

View original 487 more words

Conspiracies and Catholicism: Devil’s Advocate

In some instances, “devil’s advocate” gets used as a polite form of various colloquialism for a person who likes to cause trouble. This can result in great surprise on finding out that it’s Catholic– and a good thing, to boot.

They’re part of the saint verification process, and the technical or official term is Promotor Fidei, Promoter of the Faith. This is part of the investigation prior to the recognition of sainthood, coming after ‘servant of God’ but before ‘Venerable’ or ‘Saint.’ The office is part of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, which along with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments use to be organized as the Congregation of Rites.

The vital job of the Devil’s Advocate is to test the evidence put forward to show sainthood– the thing that happened, what possible-if-unlikely natural reasons are there for it? The good deed, what less than worthy possible motive? What are the weaknesses in the argument which would go unexamined if one assumes the best possible interpretation?

Broader Principle

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
A Man for All Seasons

If you’re wondering– yes, the quote is a play on words, seeing as how Saint Thomas More was a lawyer, but the primary reason I chose it is because it illiterates a very important danger. Good intentions are not enough– just because you mean well doesn’t mean you will do well. You see an obvious evil being protected by something? Well, tear it down– except that action of destroying the protective barrier may be worse than the evil you’re trying to stop. A famous Catholic observed on a related theme that if you don’t know why a restriction was placed where it was, you shouldn’t remove it. In these times of the internet, many people have had to add to this in the tune of “and no, ‘because they’re an idiot’ isn’t a reason.”

These arguments are very rarely met with popular support. Almost by definition, when emotions run high and the danger is immediate, there’s going to be very little desire to listen to someone who pokes at a weak spot in the popular view. When something is popular, it seldom needs people to be arguing for it. On the flip side, when the danger has passed there’s likewise a very real danger that people will keep making the same strident arguments even though there isn’t the same of opposition.

Eventually, this results in arguments which are as untested as the thing they originally argued against were. This can be incredibly dangerous, because the fastest way to destroy a position is to undermine it. If a thing is only mostly right, those who have been smacked with the part that isn’t are extremely vulnerable to any argument that recognizes the reality they know. (This is known as the fallacy fallacy– that because an argument is wrong, then the conclusion is wrong; a bad argument only fails to support the position it’s supposed to be advancing. Fallacies exist because they appeal to how people think.) If there’s not a well established framework for testing ideas, and figuring out good boundaries rather than blanket-applied prudence, then everyone is the poorer for it.

It’s human to be upset when something you care about is threatened, but we’re supposed to try to be more than human– we’re supposed to try to be Christ-like in our own behavior.


Christ-like love, self-sacrificing love, wishing the best for the other– that’s charity. When someone is the Devil’s Advocate and we don’t agree, it’s natural to bristle. The proper response is to meet the arguments, though, rather than making it personal. C. S. Lewis had a wonderful section in The Screwtape Letters— I know, not narrowing it down a lot, am I?– about assuming that when someone annoys you, they’re doing it on purpose. It’s useful to try to assume they could be trying to do good. I find it very useful to check for fallacies, for questionable sources and for a misunderstanding, for example; I’ve noticed that others tend to look immediately at motives rather than what was actually said– both routes can be good or bad, depending on how they’re used. Very frequently the source of an argument between two people acting in good faith is questionable information, or ‘I don’t think that said what you think it said.’

My mom had a learn-to-think game she use to play when we were kids, called “what’s the rest of the story”– it involved reading or listening to the news, and trying to identify what information may have been left out that would account for things and yet change the conclusion that a reasonable person would draw from it. This sounds dry, but it’s fun– you can make it silly, or just build a good story out of it, but it’s fun in the same way conspiracy theories are.

An example would be two men who pushed little old ladies; one goes to jail, and the other is given a medal. The part left out is that the one in jail pushed the lady in front of a bus, and the guy with a medal pushed her out from in front of a bus. These gaps can be innocent enough, and usually show up because the source of the information was writing it down for an entirely different purpose than it ended up being used. That is probably why my mom’s side of the family also has the saying that, if you can’t argue against a thing, you don’t know enough about the situation to be arguing for it, and the other way around.

Try assuming that the other person in a discussion is also acting in good will, and answer the arguments that way. At least initially; sadly, the devil is all too willing to abuse his advocates, and you can sharpen iron on iron until both are worn to nothing.

My Strange City Pregnancy

There are so few little kids on the streets in Washington, they seem to stand out a lot more. Whenever or if ever they make noise, it seems to cause more discomfort than elsewhere. Children’s very rarity causes them to become a spectacle, and Washington’s standoffish crowd don’t seem to know how to handle a screaming baby on the Metro, except to stare in disdain or look away in obvious discomfort.

Source: My Strange City Pregnancy

The other Washington, but there’s a lot to recognize.

A former sailor's ramblings on anything from family, country and Church through general geek-ness.


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