Isis Isn’t Real

Perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same Imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. – Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1983)

a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross
When ISIS burned Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh alive for all of the world to see it was a simulated event. Many wondered why burn rather than behead as they have become very skilled at doing. By burning him in a cage and dumping tons of concrete and steel on him, they created a punishment that corresponded directly with an aircraft bombing a building filled with people.

Where ISIS differs from their terrorist predecessors is both their media sophistication and their cheesy Western bravado. They are like the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. He is a terrorist who turns out to be an actor masking the reality of the person who is behind the violence.

ISIS operates like a Hollywood studio with production values high enough that it is difficult to discern their violence from green screens, makeup, and set production. Our experience of violence is flattened. From Ferguson, 9/11, O.J., and the “shock and awe” of Operation Iraqi Freedom; and from Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, and Welcome to Sarajevo the line between a simulated war and war itself is erased. We no longer see the difference.

ISIS, The Killing of David Haines
Your evil alliance with America, which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction, and playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinnable war.

The Mandarin, Iron Man 3
My disciples just destroyed another cheap American knockoff: the Chinese Theatre. Mr. President, I know this must be getting frustrating, but this season of terror is drawing to a close. And don’t worry. The ‘Big One’ is coming: your graduation.

Our emotional responses are an attempt at feeling disgust and horror when the referent of what actually happens is simply not there. While we raise our fists and prayers at the terror of ISIS, we have been inoculated from the bloodbath of retaliation. We do not see the beheadings and disembowling of the enemy both before and after an ISIS film production.

ISIS delivers us films, previews, and advertising of their violence while our violence comes in identical packages from Hollywood. The brilliance of ISIS is not in their killing. Their brilliance is in understanding that the West can decode meaning only through advertising and fantasy. If we do not understand the real, we will understand its simulation.

We are a society that can no longer feel anything real. We have created simulated affect to mirror a simulated reality.

There is nothing of “shock and awe” to the privileged.

There is only apathy and cynicism.

There is only resentment.

There is only “contempt prior to examination.”

Abortion is Never Permissible at the University of Scranton

The university will no longer cover any abortion procedure in its private health insurance plan. This includes cases where pregnancy resulted from rape, incest, or if the mother’s life is at stake should she continue carrying the fetus. There is one ambiguous consideration when the life of the mother is in question. That includes what university President the Rev. Kevin P. Quinn, S.J. might call, “indirect abortion.”

The moral teaching of the church on abortion is unequivocal, and circumstances, “however serious or tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being,” Quinn wrote. University insurance would continue to cover medical procedures that are intended to preserve the life of the mother, so long as the procedures are not a direct abortion.

Here is the moral quandary: If there is no doubt that the mother will die as a result of carrying the fetus, electing to allow her death to occur does not, according to this logic, count as the “deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

It is cases like these where the life of the mother is disregarded in favor of the fetus. This is where we have to address important moral questions. These are questions that have no satisfying answer. But if we are to stand in a firm pro-life stance, we are often faced with difficult decisions. This is the most difficult of all. It is difficult because we have to, in effect, choose between two lives: the woman carrying the child and the child itself.

A rule without exception cannot apply here because the moral issue is simply too complex. The University of Scranton, according to this rule, has made the choice that the life of the fetus is of greater value than the mother. They will never say this outright, but it is nonetheless the substance of the moral reasoning.

It seems that the University of Scranton has concluded that letting someone die is permissible while killing is not. It forces a family to sacrifice one person for the sake of another. The probability of survival of the one that they are saving is irrelevant. In this way, the church is clearly making a utilitarian move which is ironic given that Catholic moral teaching rooted in “natural law” is, in general, opposed to utilitarianism.

Natural law and utilitarianism are compatible provided that a moral agent does not directly intend an evil intermediate action to achieve an end of greater utility. Compared to natural law, utilitarianism is deficient in that it considers only the result- increased pleasure or pain- of an action and not its means. Utilitarianism is therefore one form of consequentialism, defined as an ethical “theory [that] focuses on the good [gained] and gives no weight to the morality of the way [the act is achieved].”

The reasoning must be that the end, saving the fetus, justifies the means, allowing the mother to die. Pushing Catholic doctrine to answer this question garners really slippery responses. Here is how it looks:

The clearest and surest example is the ectopic pregnancy. As everyone knows, should the fetus become lodged in the oviduct or fallopian tube, its continued growth will result in the death of both child and mother. A normal and proper procedure in this case is the removal of the fallopian tube, from which the death of the unborn child inevitably follows. In this case the death of the child is not sought, nor is the mother´s life saved by the child´s dying.

This is not an abortion. Quite simply, the mother´s life is saved by the surgical removal of the oviduct, not by the death of her child.

“I don’t mean to kill you, but what I am going to do will kill you to save the life of someone else, therefore it is morally permissible.” Something unequivocal and absolute has just gotten a pass based on intention. An “indirect abortion” is one where I don’t “intend” to kill the fetus even if I know that what I am about to do will do exactly that. This is sort of like self-defense. “I don’t want to kill you, but to protect my life, I will.”

However, in either case allowing someone to die, or killing in this sort of “indirect” manner is still killing. It is still placing higher value on one life over another. Catholic doctrine is not helping the situation, but making it more difficult and perhaps placing more guilt on the shoulders of the family that has to make a horrible decision. While Pope Francis may call for forgiveness and peace to those in this situation, making the decision itself has become that more difficult for the University of Scranton community.

Torture is Never Justified

Abu Ghraib interrogation

Abu Ghraib

I lived in a place close to “the pile” and saw hundreds of pictures posted all over of missing people. I was angry and wanted to bomb the entire Middle East. But that was raw emotion.

There comes a time when law is necessary even in war. How we handled alleged terrorists in this situation follows the legacy of Truman’s internment camps which are a stain on our country that we just don’t talk about enough. So the law:

The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) 6 Article 17, paragraph 4 provides the general rule for interrogation of prisoners of war:

No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

These were not isolated incidents as we once thought, just covertly handled. It was mismanaged and the information extracted is highly suspect as to its utility.

Unless it’s acceptable for our troops to short-chained to the floor in awkward positions, forced to mimic sexual acts, have food shoved up their asses, stuffed into hot boxes, and water-boarded, then we just can’t justify the same treatment of our prisoners.

Justice, Courtesy, and Love

This is a brilliant quote to help us treat one another more decently. It is from John Watson who was a minister in the Presbyterian Church of England who later became an author who toured North America with a short tour of fame. He died in 1907 and this quote comes towards the end of his pastoral ministry in 1904.

We must not therefore assume that our kind of religion, and our traditional views, and our favorite notions, and our particular set make the whole round world. This man beside us also has a had fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which are smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self. We must feel as a brother towards the man beside us, and say to him the things that we should like to have said to us, and treat him as we desire to be treated when our hands as hanging down and our hearts are heavy. This is the very essence of courtesy. – John Watson D.D. (1903), “The Homely Virtues” Hodder & Stoughton: London. pp. 168-169.

Winning is Not the Only Thing

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” – Vince Lombardi

America is addicted to winning.

Competition is king in the United States and fear is a tool used to gain advantage over another. It is symptomatic from news broadcasts to advertising to politics to healthcare. It’s keeping up with the Joneses or a getting a better deal on a product than someone else. Sports are only the obvious venue for the relentless drive to “be the best.” If you are not the best you are a loser or a second class citizen. You are entitled or desperate for handouts. You are merely siphoning the wealth of winners rather than pulling yourself up and “getting a job” as if that is the one solution to all of society’s ills. Just shut up and compete.

The pressure to be perfect and the shame of being left on the bench or on the losing team is intense and exhausting.

One McLean elementary school recently asked for a presentation on whether its students should take the SAT or ACT, college admissions tests at least seven years away. Bowers’s husband, Bruce, almost stopped coaching girls’ soccer because of the win-at-all-costs attitude. Some other parent-coaches, he says, would spend weekends going to games to identify the top players so they could try to recruit them. “It really meant something to them to have the cream of the crop and win,” he says. “And this wasn’t travel soccer. This was when the girls were 7 or 8.”

There are always losers and the left behind because we live in a society that values the zero sum game. We don’t value the tie game or the appreciation of a good match. If there is no winner then the game isn’t worth much. But even that’s not enough.

As much as we love winners, we also like to watch others lose. If we can’t root for someone we can always root against someone. We create celebrities only to tear them down; we absorb an endless stream of negative political ads and have a sick pleasure in watching those with plenty lose it all.

There is a serious disconnect. Schools and companies require people to work in teams and to have the social skills to be effective with others. We know that cooperation guarantees a better outcome for all parties involved. A little bit of sacrifice for the good of the community and the state goes a long way towards balancing the scales of justice. But it means either not being at the top of the pecking order or at the very least delaying it.

Having less means more happiness and more time to be with each other rather than fearing someone stealing our stuff or our freedom. Cooperation requires discipline, patience, prudence, and all of the basic virtues of working hard for our own happiness and the happiness of others. Wouldn’t it be great to live not in fear but with a little more faith in humanity?

Maybe Howard Beale was right. Maybe all of us have to get mad as hell, together, and not sit by, idly accepting the toll of human life and dignity that the unfettered drive to win exacts on our society.

Do the Rich Get to Heaven? Dave Ramsey Says Yes.

“When you start putting limits on the power of the cross and limits on the power of grace that is extended to us from the Father through the son, based on someone’s wealth, then that’s Gnosticism – the worship of spirit versus materialism versus the worship orthodoxy,” Ramsey said. “So what that means is that someone just doesn’t understand the Bible.”

We might be very quick to pick out where Dave Ramsey is just wrong here. He doesn’t understand what gnosticism really is, neither is he clear about materialism or orthodoxy (big “O” or small “o” – your choice). But I’m not posting this to complain about how wrong he is.

I’m actually defending him a little. He is right. There is nothing in any of what Jesus says that tells us wealthy people can’t “go to heaven.” If we want to read about camels and rich men that way, we are as guilty as he of reading agendas into the bible. We do know that it is “hard” for the wealthy to find God.

Ramsey tries to do too much. He swings his “defense” with the bible too far and stumbles.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matt. 19:23-24

The point of the passage isn’t really wealth. Wealth is a symptom, not a cause.

When we are rich it is harder to give up all of our comforts for the purpose of resisting temptation and seeking holiness by following the commandments. Jesus’ point is always rather clear – wealth is dangerous because it can easily become an idol to pull us away from God. Living without idols is hard and when our idols give us comfort and satisfaction in the world we live right now, it is all that more difficult to wake up and let it all go. Living without that false comfort and hope is what the saints call “dispassion.”

As with so many other places in the bible, idolatry is the real problem. Material wealth is but one idol among many. Gratification in any material comfort is dangerous – delayed or instant. The good news is that Jesus also consistently presents clear behaviors to counteract idolatry vis-à-vis love. This is the kind of love that asks us to sell everything we have if we need to in order to follow Jesus (Matt. 19:21).

It’s a good test. Make a list of any material attachment you have and be honest: Are you willing to give that away in order to meet God? If not, you may just find a source or two for feeling spiritually “dry” or “inadequate.” These are spiritual wounds. When the rich young man sees his own wounds, rather than take the right medicine for healing, he responds with sadness. He wasn’t mourning his condition, but began to wallow in self-pity. These little wounds in spiritual growth are where we can put together plans of action to work with God to heal them. That’s called working out your salvation.

The real heresy with being rich is when love is not put in the very same breath as wealth.

For without love, wealth is nothing.

So my little question to Dave Ramsey is an old one: Dave are you willing to sell all of this and give to the poor?

SOURCE: http://coolsprings.com

Dave Ramsey’s Mansion in Tennessee
SOURCE: http://coolsprings.com