Thursday, March 24, 2005

PVS & Eye Tracking: Schiavo, apparently, can track objects with her eyes, which suggests her diagnosis of PVS is more complicated than media accounts have suggested (recall as well Terri's husband won't let her have MRI testing done even though it can detect the brain lesions associated with PVS):

Eye tracking and Emotional responses are the most common ways of determining whether a patient is responding, and therefore no longer in a vegetative state. The first sign of a patient emerging from PVS is the localizing of the eyes on a visual stimulus. This can be observed because persons in a vegetative state are unable to track moving objects or fixate their vision on an object, and as a patient recovers they regain this ability. This type of a response if most often detected by family members or caregivers that have worked directly with the patient. Eye tracking is not necessarily enough to show that a person is recovering from PVS because patients may not show any other evidence of other meaningful response to the environment.

More difficulties with eye tracking may come into play because of the possibility of other neurological or ophthalmological damage that may prevent a patient from tracking stimuli. This means that a patient may actually have a degree of recovery that will be missed because it cannot be detected through eye tracking.
Emotional response is also difficult to determine because a response must be directly related to specific stimulus. This can be difficult because patients in PVS can scream, cry, grunt or have other actions associated with emotional responses, which are not done in response to stimuli. Therefore significant testing must be done to determine that emotional responses are not being done randomly, but are performed as responses.

A patient recovering from PVS usually recovers in a progressive manner where they move into a post vegetative state. Some patients have recovered significantly. Individuals with relatively short periods of time in PVS have been able to regain nearly normal physical and mental capabilities. There has also been documentation of individuals recovering from periods of PVS lasting over a year who have been able to regain the ability to think, communicate and recover a fair level of physical independence (move without a wheelchair, and feed themselves) (CRA 54).

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Schiavo's Brain: Here's something I hadn't read in the other news reports about Terri Schiavo's condidtion. According to Charles Krauthammer (who is a medical doctor):
The crucial issue in deciding whether one would want to intervene to keep her alive is whether there is, as one bioethicist put it to me, "anyone home." Her parents, who see her often, believe that there is. The husband maintains that there is no one home. (But then again he has another home, making his judgment somewhat suspect.) The husband has not allowed a lot of medical testing in the past few years.

I have tried to find out what her neurological condition actually is. But the evidence is sketchy, old and conflicting. The Florida court found that most of her cerebral cortex is gone. But "most" does not mean all. There may be some cortex functioning. The severely retarded or brain-damaged can have some consciousness. And we do not go around euthanizing the minimally conscious in the back wards of mental hospitals on the grounds that their lives are not worth living.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Trickle-Down Politics: A while back I wrote about my sort of apolitical approach to politics. Here's Father Neuhaus making a similar point about C.S. Lewis:
The phrase "public square" evokes images of the political arena with its partisan games and intense debates over public policy. Lewis did occasionally, very occasionally, address what are ordinarily called political issues. One thinks of his reflections on the Second World War, on pacifism and belligerency, on laws regarding obscenity, and on the nature of criminal punishment. But, for the most part, Lewis is understandably viewed as a determinedly apolitical, even private, man. Indeed, in many ways he took his stand, and encouraged others to take their stand, over against politics—especially politics as dominated by the machinations of the modern State. He was on the side of reason, myth, splendor, and virtue, in the hope that such vital elements of life might "still trickle down to irrigate the dust–bowl of modern economic Statecraft." This might be called the C. S. Lewis trickle–down theory of politics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

California Gay Marriage Decision: Here's a link to California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer's 27-page decision explaining why marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be denied to same-sex couples. The ruling is the fourth court opinion in favor of marriage equality in the last year. Meanwhile, movements to ban gay marriage by state constitutional amendment continue in Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Wisconsin, and elsewhere (for a roundup see here and here).
The Latter Days: A NY Times article about the church shootings in Wisconsin last week observes:

The church's "pre-millennial" view of history, which asserts that humankind is moving inexorably toward the "end times," when the world will go through a series of cataclysms before the second coming of Christ, is not uncommon among evangelicals. Dr. Meredith preached in a recent sermon broadcast internationally that the apocalypse was close, warning members to pay off credit-card debt and hoard savings in preparation for the United States' coming financial collapse.

Hmm. I don't know about you, but if the end is really that close, the last thing I'm going to be worrying about is my credit card debt. Then again, perhaps this explains the motivation behind the tough new bankruptcy reform bill currently making its way through Congress.

(Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost.)
Why Holy Matrimony, Part II: Last week I wrote a post explaining why I consider the church’s opposition to gay marriage to be a much more serious matter than the state’s (see here). But this raises a second question which I did not address there: why, despite my submission to the authority of the church in matters of faith and morals, I not only reject the church’s teaching on homosexuality, but feel free to act in opposition to it?

Like many theological questions, this is not the sort of question that can be answered in a few paragraphs. But in my own thinking about the issue, one thing I've found especially helpful has been the realization that doctrinal change has been a constant feature of church history from the beginning (see, e.g., the evolution in the church’s stance toward the continuing validity of Jewish law as recounted in Acts 15 and Galatians 2). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made fully explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries” (No. 66).

Of course, the mere fact that doctrine develops over time does not mean that any given proposed change is legitimate. How, then, do we know what is corruption and what is authentic?

Father Richard John Neuhaus suggests an answer to this quetion that offers both Catholics and Protestants much to ponder:

"Recall Cardinal Newman’s reflection on the development of doctrine, a reflection that has been incorporated by magisterial teaching. He suggested seven marks of authentic development: authentic development preserves the Church’s apostolic form; it reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown by the known; it demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it; it follows a logical sequence; it anticipates future developments; it conserves past developments; and, throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority.

And thus it is, said St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church’s old age that was not latent in her youth. Such was the truth discovered by Augustine, a truth ‘ever ancient, ever new.’”

This last point expresses well the task that gay and lesbian Christians must be prepared to accept as we come to the church asking it to bless our unions. In short, we must be willing to show our brothers and sisters why, despite the fact that gay marriage appears to be and indeed is a novum or new thing, it nonetheless represents an authentic development of doctrine that affirms and even underscores the church's ancient understanding of what marriage is and what it is for.

This is an issue that I have already discussed here, here, and here. But next week I will offer a third installment in this series that will attempt to bring these arguments together in a more systematic way.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Light Blogging: It's going to be a busy week in law school, so blogging will be light the next few days.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Boys Will Do Boys: At least according to a number of members. Consider this pearl of wisdom:

Since sex is between two consenting adults and everyone's standards of moral obligation are different, we do not have the right to tell someone who is HIV+ or HIV- what they are allowed to do behind closed doors. We can give information and listen to people's needs. From there an answer and lasting solution will come to this problem that has plagued our community for so many years.

Ah yes. That most venerable of heresies, gnosticism, rears its ugly head again, still claiming after all these centuries that knowledge alone is sufficient to solve every problem. The only trouble is that experience suggests a rather more complicated explanation of human behavior is in order, one that neither denies the existence of the human will (i.e., one that concedes we can change our behavior) but that also does not fall into the trap of presuming we sin out of ignorance.

Consider the AIDS epidemic among American gay men. Most of us know what HIV is, how it is transmitted, and what steps (abstinence, monogamy, use of condoms) can be taken to reduce its spread. In short, we have been given knowledge about the disease, and most of us have received it. Yet still the (largely self-inflicted) plague continues. All of which would seem to confirm the psychological--if not the soteriological--truth of St. Paul's confession to the Roman church:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Rom. 7:15).

Paul's answer to this dilemma, of course, was to turn for help to the One who created us:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you... (Rom. 8:7-9a)

But then this answer to the problem of HIV is not likely to be taken seriously by those who think knowledge or gnosis is the answer to everything. After all, Paul's approach would require people to get down on their knees for some purpose other than indulging sexual "needs." And this, in turn, would involve making a moral judgment against promiscuity, a definite no-no in this age of moral relativism--even, it would appear, when the only alternative is quite literally death.
Christian Blackmail?: Stupidity is no sin, but the Christian tradition has long held that sloth--mental as well as physical--is. The thought came to mind as I read this defense of blackmail offered by libertarian blogger Vox Popoli:

Exposing the sins of an unrepentant individual to others, far from being a wrongful act, is actually required of the church member in good standing. Since such exposure is a virtuous act under Biblical principles, it cannot and should not be viewed as something negative, much less as the basis for a crime.

Where to begin. First note that no scripture references are cited to support this rather unconventional conclusion. In fact, the New Testament denounces both the spirit of busibodiness that leads some to expose the sins of others as well as the greed that actually motivates those who engage in blackmail. This does not mean there is no time or place for "exposing the sins" of others, of course, but the underlying motive is never to be either financial gain or exposure for the sake of exposure. Consider, for instance, this passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

Notice the two main concerns of Jesus here. First, we are to focus on our own short-comings. Second, we are to turn our focus onto the sins of others only after we have first removed our own sins and then only for the purpose of helping our brother to see clearly (i.e., to help him "sin no more," as in the story of Jesus stopping the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery; see John 8 & especially v. 7: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." ).

Then there is the general framework for handling disputes among believers set forth in Matthew 18:

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Notice that disputes are to be worked out in private if at all possible. If that fails, then a small number of others may be brought in to help reach a resolution. Only if that step fails is the entire church to be brought in, and then the remedy is to cut ties with the person, not to cause scandal or financial harm through blackmail.
Spanish Muslims Take a Stand: CNN is reporting that the Islamic Commission of Spain has issued a fatwa stating that, according to the Koran, "the terrorist acts of Osama bin Laden and his organization al Qaeda ... are totally banned and must be roundly condemned as part of Islam." The clerics also accuse bin Laden of "abandoning his religion and urged others of their faith to denounce the al Qaeda leader...."
Today's New International Version: Zondervan's revised, gender-inclusive version of the best-selling NIV Bible is out now (see here for background on the controversy and here for the new text). Following are some famous verses as rendered in the KJV, RSV, NIV, and TNIV:

(1) Gen. 1:27:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.... (KJV)

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.... (RSV)

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.... (NIV)

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them.... (TNIV)

(2) Psalm 23

(a) v. 3:

"He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness..." (KJV)

"...he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness..." (RSV)

"he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness..." (NIV)

"he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths...." (TNIV)

v. 4:

"the valley of the shadow of death" (KJV)

[same] (RSV)

[same] (NIV)

"the darkest valley" (TNIV)

Note from Strong's: "from 'tsel' (6738) and 'maveth' (4194); shade of death, i.e. the grave (figuratively, calamity):--shadow of death."

(3) 1 John 2:9ff:

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (KJV)

9 He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.... (RSV)

9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.... (NIV)

9 Those who claim to be in the light but hate a fellow believer are still in the darkness. 10 Those who love their fellow believers live in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But those who hate a fellow believer are in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; they do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (TNIV)
Christian Arabs: Here's an article that gives an update about last month's slaying of the New Jersey Coptic family as well as the rise in persecution of Arab Christians in the Middle East. The jist of the U.S. murder story is that "New Jersey police say they have no proof it was religious murder and are still considering robbery among the motives, although Armanious was far from rich and family jewelry was found untouched in the house." Meanwhile, the killings apparently followed a "Koranic prescription for ritual execution."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Divide, Conquer, Abort:

A Maine legislator has introduced a bill that “would make it illegal in Maine to abort a fetus that is known to have the ‘gay gene.’ Anticipating a future day when scientists might clearly identify such a gene, Rep. Brian Duprey claims he introduced the bill to prevent women from ending pregnancies based on their fetus' projected sexual orientation.”

Duprey says he got the idea for the law one afternoon as he was listening to Rush Limbaugh. But many gays in Maine don’t exactly appreciate the help. "This bill is a feeble attempt to drive a wedge between groups and individuals who have worked together to protect and defend a woman's right to choose and eliminate bias based on sexual orientation," says Betsy Smith, the executive director of EqualityMaine.

Notice how Smith focuses on Duprey’s motives while completely sidestepping the delicate but important question of what should be done when a woman’s decision to abort her fetus is based on bias against homosexuals. Would Smith really have no problem with such a choice? Or would she not at some point have to admit that abortion, contra the implicit claims of the pro-choice lobby, is not quite the equivalent of an appendectomy?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hating the 'Sinner': "It's just a wonderful way to show the contrast between the truth of God and the abomination of sin,” says the Rev. Fred Phelps of the invitation from the Indiana Equal Rights Coalition to speak next week at a forum on gay rights being held at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Phelps, of course, is the (self-ordained) minister who runs the God Hates Fags website and made national headlines when he picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard. The purpose of the invitation, I guess, is to be nice to him and see whether in return he will stop hating us or at least leave us alone. Or perhaps the invitation is meant only to show how ignorant homophobia really is.

Whatever the purpose, Phelps says he plans to picket six area churches that he claims are tolerant of gay rights, prompting this response from one of the targeted ministers:

"One cannot hate in the name of God," said the Rev. Phil Emerson of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.

"My great heartbreak is unchurched people in Fort Wayne will read this story and will say that's what it means to be Christian or that's what it means to be godly. There's nothing of God about this group, and I'm sorry they associate themselves with any Christian names."
Antisemitism & Civilization: Blogger Eugene Volokh makes an interesting point about antisemitism:

The most powerful country in the world, America, is one of the ones that has been most open to Jews. Look at the most anti-Semitic countries in recent history: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Arab world. Right up there at the forefront of civilization and power, aren't they? Is it all the workings of The Conspiracy? Or is it just that the sorts of idiots who hate Jews do other idiotic things, too?

But there are other reasons why the most successful nations also tend to be the most open to the Jewish people in their midst. Tom Cahill does an excellent job of explaining the reasons in his book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. Here's a short excerpt that focuses on how our western understanding of history as a story with a beginning, middle, and end (or telos) is in large part a Jewish invention given to the world via the Bible:

The Jews started it all—and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and gentile, believer and atheist, tick...For better or worse, the role of the West in humanity’s history is singular. Because of this, the role of the Jews, the inventors of Western culture, is also singular: there is simply no one else remotely like them; theirs is a unique vocation. Indeed, as we shall see, the very idea of vocation, of a personal destiny, is a Jewish idea....

The assumptions that early man made about the world were, in all their essentials, little different from the assumptions that later and more sophistocated societies, like Greece and India, would make in a more elaborate manner. As Henri-Charles Puech says of Greek thought...: ‘No event is unique, nothing is enacted but once...; every event has been enacted, is enacted, and will be enacted perpetually; the same individuals have appeared, appear, and will appear at every turn of the circle.’

The Jews were the first people to break out of this circle, to find a new way of thinking and experiencing, a new way of understanding and feeling the world, so much so that it may be said with some justice that theirs is the only new idea that human beings have ever had.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

50 Ways to Leave Your Partner: Tom Chatt of UpWord writes: "For lesbians and gay men, there's a handful of ways to legalize our relationships, and then there must be 50 ways to leave them: one for each state. When Vermont civil unions first arrived on the scene, many non-residents flocked to Vermont for the chance to legally affirm their relationships. As was inevitable, some of them didn't last, and the participants then sought to have their unions terminated in the courts of their home states. The courts have been mixed in their response to requests to dissolve civil unions."

You can read the whole post here to find out what, exactly, the courts have done.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Why Holy Matrimony?: Here's an excerpt from G.K. Chesterton's excellent book Orthodoxy that came to mind the other day as I tried to explain to a friend why the church's opposition to gay marriage bothers me so much more than the state's even though the latter prevents us from obtaining tangible legal rights. The basic reason is that, to me, legal rights are a far different (and lesser) good than are the benefits of the grace which (I believe) God dispenses to us through the sacrament of holy matrimony.

But that only raises the prior question of why I should place so much faith in the church, a question which, I think, Chesterton addresses better than just about any other writer. He begins by noting that it is rather like asking someone why he prefers civilization to savagery:

"'Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.' The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible...."

Chesterton explains that the same point holds true when a person tries to "defend" his faith, and continues that, in his view, the question boils down to not just finding the gods, but rather the real chief of the gods--i.e., God. He continues:

"I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow.... Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song.

"The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before. There is one only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say 'My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.' No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day.

"And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated. Now, when society is in a rather futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile: for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women....

"For I remember with certainty this fixed psychological fact; that the very time when I was most under a woman's authority, I was most full of flame and adventure. Exactly because when my mother said that ants bit they did bite, and because snow did come in winter (as she said); therefore the whole world was to me a fairyland of wonderful fulfilments, and it was like living in some Hebraic age, when prophecy after prophecy came true. I went out as a child into the garden, and it was a terrible place to me, precisely because I had a clue to it: if I had held no clue it would not have been terrible, but tame. A mere unmeaning wilderness is not even impressive.

"But the garden of childhood was fascinating, exactly because everything had a fixed meaning which could be found out in its turn. Inch by inch I might discover what was the object of the ugly shape called a rake; or form some shadowy conjecture as to why my parents kept a cat. So, since I have accepted Christendom as a mother and not merely as a chance example, I have found Europe and the world once more like the little garden where I stared at the symbolic shapes of cat and rake; I look at everything with the old elvish ignorance and expectancy. This or that rite or doctrine may look as ugly and extraordinary as a rake; but I have found by experience that such things end somehow in grass and flowers....

"This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden.

"Theosophists for instance will preach an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king. Men of science offer us health, an obvious benefit; it is only afterwards that we discover that by health, they mean bodily slavery and spiritual tedium.

"Orthodoxy makes us jump by the sudden brink of hell; it is only afterwards that we realise that jumping was an athletic exercise highly beneficial to our health. It is only afterwards that we realise that this danger is the root of all drama and romance...."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Daily Life Update: It occurs to me that, despite the description of this blog above, I write very little about daily life. So, in case any one's interested, here goes.

The boyfriend is away this weekend visiting friends, and I'll be leaving tomorrow for North Carolina to visit my family. It should be a great time. I'm especially looking forward to seeing my long ex-girlfriend, who is now married and had her first child (a daughter) in January.

This means I won't be blogging much over the next few days. But I'll be back by the middle of next week, no doubt with plenty more to write about.
HRC To Name Abortion-Rights Advocate As Head?: If you care at all about who the next executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) will be, check out this post from Steve Miller on IndeGayForum. The rumor is that HRC may name Joe Solmonese, the current head of a group dedicated to electing abortion-rights Democratics to Congress. Sounds to me like an excellent way to conflate what are very separate issues and, in the process, further undermine our cause in the eyes of Republicans. As Miller puts it:

Selecting an abortion advocate identified exclusively with electing Democrats would ensure that, going forward, HRC continues to have zero clout lobbying the party that actually controls the presidency and Congress....

Oh well. If can't beat 'em, you can always thumb your nose at up 'em. Meanwhile, states red and blue continue the work of banning gay marriage.
Big Apple Big on Gay Marriage: According to this poll, at least, which found that a majority of NYC voters support granting same-sex couples the right to marry.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Ten Commandments--religious symbol or Hollywood plot?: Here's a good report of how the oral arguments in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky went on Wednesday. I don't have much to add, but I will note (1) that I've never really understood why the ACLU is so afraid of Moses, and (2) that most of the Ten Commandment displays that can be seen in town squares and courthouses across the country date back only to the 1950s and 60s.

This last fact is interesting because, it turns out, thousands of them--including a Texas display that is also being challenged--were put there by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which in turn received funding from the director Cecil B. DeMille, who at the time just happened to be promoting his movie "The Ten Commandments."

Only in America, as they say.
Another Gay Bashing: This time in Chapel Hill, NC, near where I used to live before I came to D.C. for law school. The attack occurred last Friday around 2 a.m.:

"Out of nowhere I just hear 'Fag' and all sorts of derogatory comments made towards me," Stockwell, 21, said. "At first I didn't realize they were yelling at me."

The six men, all about 20, chased Stockwell down, then broke his nose and knocked him out.

"They just punched me in the face," Stockwell recalled. "I did fight back. I'm not the only one hurting in town tonight."

Good for him.
The Resurrection of the Dead: A while back I criticized John Ray of Scripture Blog for lapsing into an anachronism when he claimed that Christians envision the afterlife to be “purely spiritual.” Here's what the Cambridge-trained historian E.P. Sanders of Duke University says of the resurrection in his excellent book The Historical Figure of Jesus.

After noting that Paul speaks of the resurrection in terms of the "spiritual body" and that Luke seems to suggest something similar (e.g., by reporting the resurrected Jesus as saying : "a ghost has not flesh and bones as you see that i have", 24:40), Sanders comments:

"In Paul's view [Jesus] had been transformed, changed from a 'physical' or a 'natural' body to a 'spiritual body'. Luke thought that he had flesh and could eat, but also that he had been changed. He was not obviously recognizable to people who saw him, and he could appear and disappear.

"Both authors were trying to describe--Paul at first hand, Luke at second or third hand--an experience that does not fit a known category [i.e., neither a resuscitated corpse nor a ghost or phantasm]. What they deny is much clearer than what they affirm."

As, indeed, it always is when people are attempting to explain something that has never happened before.
Lutherans Debate Homosexuality: "Seventeen scholars from 12 campuses have released a strong statement against a proposal that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially maintain its stance against same-sex ceremonies and gay clergy while tolerating dissent from that policy," the S.F. Gate reports. "The protesters say that the measure, put forward by a task force in January, threatens the church's unity and its 'historical, biblical and confessional teachings and practice.'"
The Politics of Satan, Part 2: A few years back, Father Richard John Neuhaus of FIRST THINGS had this to say of his failed bid for Congress in the early 1970s:

I've never seen anyone look incredulous, but I suspect some are, when I say that I've thanked God almost every day—well, almost every week—that I lost. Only weeks into the campaign, which was going frighteningly well, I knew that this was not where I belonged. Politics, and especially Washington politics, has for many years seemed to me oppressively dehumanizing, verging on the demonic. It's the all-pervasive corruption of self-importance.
Award-Winning Hopelessness: Thomas Hibbs has written a smart, intelligent critique of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby. Money quote:

In Million Dollar Baby, Frankie (Eastwood as the aging boxing coach) attends daily Mass and has ongoing discussions with his parish priest. He berates the priest with puzzles about the doctrines of the trinity and the Immaculate Conception. But Frankie has no genuine interest in the answers to the questions. They are, as the priest suspects, trivia questions designed to trump and frustrate him.

Frankie's faith is a husk, void of vitality. In fact, even the priest's understanding of faith is shallow, a perversion of the church as a community of sinners redeemed by divine grace into a meeting place for the hopelessly unforgiven. The priest himself articulates the distortion, when he tells Frankie that the only individuals who attend Mass as often as Frankie does are those "who can't forgive themselves." That would make priests, who celebrate Mass daily, precisely what Nietzsche thought they were, masochists consumed by self-hatred.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Gays Reading Maps: If I were the president of Harvard, I wouldn't dare link to this story about a new study which shows that gender differences affect gays and lesbians in surprising ways. But since I don't have to answer to under-sexed feminist humanities professors, here goes.

The study suggests, among other things, that gay men have "mosaic minds" which combine certain features of both men and women:

Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women - using landmarks to find their way around . . . . But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances. In contrast, gay women read maps just like straight women, reveals the study of 80 heterosexual and homosexual men and women.

Sounds about right to me. Not only do I read maps and use landmarks, but I don't mind listening to either Madonna or Eminem while I do it. All of which raises the question: Are gay men superior to their less mosaic-minded peers? It's probably too early to say conclusively one way or the other. Still, the next time you get lost, you just might want to stop and ask one of us for directions. Just don't ask me as I tend to get lost pretty easily.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)
E!'s 'Michael Jackson Trial': Here's Tom Shales of the Washington Post on E!'s new show reenacting the trial's daily proceedings: "The makeup job on the faux King of Pop is pretty good, but he really suggests the Michael Jackson of two or three noses ago."

The Politics of Satan: Before I started this blog, I debated whether or not to write about politics. It didn’t take me long to decide that I didn’t want to—or at least not very often. And the reason why is because, except for mundane things like collecting the trash and making the trains run on time, I simply don’t expect much from the government.

I know, I know: Sometimes politics does touch on issues whose importance to our everyday lives should not be underestimated. The pro-democracy demonstrations going on right now in Lebanon are a perfect example of a story that truly is newsworthy. But most of what we read about in the papers or see on television is neither new nor worthy of our attention. For instance, is the fact that life expectancy has increased under the Bush presidency—as it undoubtedly has under almost virtually every administration since George Washington’s—really the politcal "news" that some have claimed it out to be? And even if the claim is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek, isn't it suggestive of the poison of partisan politics, which encourages us to see everything in terms of us-versus-them?

I think so. I also think that, all in all, the relative unimportance of American politics to daily life is a good thing. It would be very hard to maintain the sort of vigilance that our American experiment in democracy requires if every day we had to worry about whether a fundamental change was afoot.

But there’s something else about American politics that bothers me, something that has to do with the tendency of both politicians and pundits to speak in a tone that sounds suspiciously similar to the voice of that dread spirit who tempted Christ so long ago in the wilderness:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" (Matt. 4:11)
I like to think that my own disinterest in political “news” sends a similar message to those devils who continue to promise us the world in exchange for our adulation. But, alas, this is probably hoping too much. Still, it’s a message that our political leaders could stand to hear. So let’s all do our favorite politicians a favor and write them a letter telling them just how unimportant they really are.

Who knows? Perhaps this news will give them the courage they need to reach the sort of sober-minded, well-considered compromises that our fractured country so desperately needs right now. At the very least, it might give them reason to doubt whether their latest plan to "save" us is really necessary. And that, it seems to me, would be a very good thing indeed.
Gay Marriage Watch: "I don't care what Fred Phelps, George W. Bush or Rick Santorum say about marriage being only between a man and a woman," says blogger Andy of The Last Debate, "I'm in love. I'm going to marry my iPod."
Scalia’s Sting Part 2: Here’s more from Scalia’s dissent in Roper v. Simmons (see below for background information):
As petitioner points out, the American Psychological Association (APA), which claims in this case that scientific evidence shows persons under 18 lack the ability to take moral responsibility for their decisions, has previously taken precisely the opposite position before this very Court. In its brief in Hodgson v. Minnesota, . . . the APA found a rich body of research showing that juveniles are mature enough to decide whether to obtain an abortion without parental involvement.
Ouch. That's got to hurt. Meanwhile, the LA Times has a balanced report on the decision, including this description of the case's underlying facts:
In 1993, [then 17-year-old Christopher Simmons] and two younger accomplices broke into a neighbor's home, intending to burglarize it. When the neighbor, Shirley Crook, awoke and recognized him, Simmons tied her up, put duct tape over her eyes and mouth, put her in the back of a minivan and threw her off a railroad bridge south of St. Louis. She drowned in the waters below. Simmons bragged about the crime at his high school and soon was arrested....
A Very Lutheran Serial Killer?: Reports that Dennis Rader—the suburban family man and Cub Scout leader accused of leading a double life as the BTK serial killer—was also active in his Lutheran church have already caused some Christians to express shock. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all. The idea that a Christian is simul iustus et peccator—at the same time justified by faith and a sinner—lies at the heart of Martin Luther's theology. It would also seem to be at least one way of comprehending the horrible deeds of Rader, not to mention all the (hopefully less gruesome) sins which the rest of us commit every day.
Idol Watch: "You weren't annoying in the slightest," Simon Cowell told American Idol hopeful Mikalah Gordon last night, "because you weren't talking." Ouch.

By far the best performance of the week, however, was that of 29-year-old rocker Bo Bice, whose stirring and suprisingly authentic rendition of "Whipping Post" Monday night was a welcome change from the safe, boring performances of the other contestants.

Here's my prediction of who'll get booted this week:

(1) Janay Castine (cute, but not that great of a singer, and an even worse performer);

(2) Vonzell Solomon (likable, but an "overcooked performance," as Simon put it);

(3) Constantine Maroulis (the uninspired, off-key rendition of "Hard to Handle" was even harder to listen to); and

(4) Nikko Smith (surely I couldn't have been the only one whose response to his version of "Let's Get It On" was the thought: "not unless you've got a lot of money").
Scalia's Sting: The Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roper v. Simmons yesterday, ruling 5 to 4 that it is unconstitutional to sentence anyone to death for a crime he or she committed under the age of 18.

In concluding that the death penalty for minors is "cruel and unusual punishment" within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, the court cited a "national consensus" against the practice—a claim that sent the increasingly acerbic Justice Scalia into a tizzy from which even the Amish weren't left unscathed:

Consulting States that bar the death penalty concerning the necessity of making an exception to the penalty for offenders under 18 is rather like including old-order Amishmen in a consumer-preference poll on the electric car. Of course they don’t like it, but that sheds no light whatever on the point at issue. That 12 States favor no executions says something about consensus against the death penalty, but nothing, absolutely nothing, about consensus that offenders under 18 deserve special immunity from such a penalty.

In repealing the death penalty, those 12 States considered none of the factors that the Court puts forth as determinative of the issue before us today—lower culpability of the young, inherent recklessness, lack of capacity for considered judgment, etc. What might be relevant, perhaps, is how many of those States permit 16- and 17-year old offenders to be treated as adults with respect to noncapital offenses. (They all do; indeed, some even require that juveniles as young as 14 be tried as adults if they are charged with murder.) The attempt by the Court to turn its remarkable minority consensus into a faux majority by counting Amishmen is an act of nomological desperation.

Scalia makes a fine point as a matter of constitutional law. But in articulating it he also calls attention to why, despite his deeply-held Roman Catholic faith, those who mistake him for a pawn of the Pope are simply wrong. The charge may hold water when it comes to anything that has to do with homosexuality (see, e.g., Scalia's derisive discussion of the "so-called homosexual agenda" in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas). But when it comes to capital punishment, at least, Scalia seems all-to-willing to flaunt the teachings of John Paul II, whose 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) explained:

On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society...

If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person....

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gay Bashing in Santa Fe: Here's a sad reminder of what far too many gay men in America continue to suffer for no reason other than their sexuality.
The Twilight of Atheism: The Oxford University theologian Alister McGrath notes that atheism, once hailed as new, exciting, and liberating, has lately fallen on hard times:
With time, it turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. Many have now concluded that these personality types are endemic to all human groups, rather than being the peculiar preserve of religious folks. With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively.
You can read the whole thing here.