Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dossier Pulls Off Stunning Upset!
Defeats Catholic and Enjoying It in 2006 Catholic Blog Awards!

BLOGOSPHERE, FEB. 23, 2006 ( - SecretAgentMan's Dossier outpaced Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It blog for the first time in the history of the Catholic Blog Awards.

The Dossier received 152 votes to CAEI's 140 votes for third place in the Most Creative Blog category.

"I'm delighted to have come out ahead," said SecretAgentman, the Dossier's author, speaking at a press conference convened at the Dossier's offices in Boca Raton, Florida. SecretAgentMan spoke to the conference via telephone signals bounced off nine satellites to protect his anonymity. "Mark ran a good campaign, and we're looking forward to next year's awards."

Both the Dossier and Shea's blog were passed by Jimmy, a blog maintained by noted Catholic apologist, author, and cowboy-hat model James Akin of Texas, and Jeff Miller's The Curt Jester, which offers "punditry, parody, polemics, politics, [and] puns from a papist perspective."

"Blogs," as they are called in America, are individually-maintained journals and websites expressing their authors' thoughts or otherwise on matters of interest. "In my case, it's definitely ‘otherwise,'" explained SecretAgentMan. "People get lots of good perspectives and information from other websites. I try and offer a break from all that." This is the third year for the awards, which are determined by popular vote.

When the official vote was tallied, Akin's blog outpaced the Dossier for second place in the "Most Creative" category by 22 votes. Asked about rumors that he'd demanded a recount, SecretAgentMan dismissed them. "Look," he said, "Miller kicked everybody's . . . [interference interrupted the transmission at this point] . . . 58.39133% percent of the total. No way I'm asking for a recount. You think I want to fall to fifth place?"

Shea's blog won the award for "Best Social Commentary," and came in a close second for awards for "Best Blog by a Man," and "Best Political Blog." Akin won awards for "Best Apologetics Blog," "Best Blog by a Man," and "Most Informative Blog." Miller's blog won awards for "Most Humorous," "Most Bizarre," "Most Bizarre Blog Post," and "Most Creative" The Dossier was not nominated in any other category.

Questioned as to whether computing other bloggers' vote tallies to the fifth decimal place, and holding the press conference when all the awards had been won by other bloggers, indicated he was a bit self-involved, SecretAgentMan declined to comment.

A full list of nominees and winners can be found on the contest's website,


Seriously, folks, congratulations to all the winners, nominees, and voters. I was honored to be nominated, but Jeff Miller really is the most creative blogger in the Catholic blogosphere.
Chris Johnson Responds

As noted previously, Chris Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal responded to my post on "Conservative Confusion" below. I had promised to print his response in full and without comment, which I did. Unfortunately, Blogger then ate it. My apologies to the commenters whose insights were lost as a result. Here is Mr. Johnson's letter:
Very interesting, thought-provoking post. Thanks very much for the heads-up.

I agree that Ms. Coulter's comments were deplorable. The problem I had with the NCC statement was this: it seemed, at least to me, to automatically concede that the Muslims were right. The Muslims claimed to be offended, therefore the Muslims were right to be offended and that therefore we should all sit down and talk things over and agree to be civil to one another from here on.

Leaving aside the fact that I have little or nothing to say to people who make and display signs which read "Exterminate Those Who Insult Islam" and similar sentiments, it is not dialogue if I must accept your argument right away and agree to whatever you want me to agree to. And one important aspect of Western civilization is the right to say anything you want about anybody you want. If that's got to go so Muslims won't get mad, that is a conversation that I'd rather not start in the first place.

And I dispute the idea that any process can be deliberately set in motion to "civilize" anybody, Muslim or not. We can spread aspects and products of our culture(Coca-Cola, rock music, etc) but any deliberate effort to get "them" to see things "our" way will be fiercely resisted. Our values will spread when people see that they work and that they produce happier societies, not because we all sat down and hammered out a bunch of rules. Ultimately, people and societies have to "civilize" themselves.

You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks again,


Christopher S. Johnson
Midwest Conservative Journal
Webster Groves, Missouri

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Conservative Confusion

Oh, but Ms. Coulter was simply exercising her Western rights to free speech. As such remarks go, hers was merely banal and boring -- not the kind of thing that's really offensive. Besides, once a couple of imams publish a pamphlet juxtaposing Coulter's remarks with manufactured quotes about ‘sand n*ggers' and ‘goat b*ggerers," the blame will be on them for any outrage among Muslims. The important thing is to resist the craven tide of dhimmitude that's washing over that font of moral cowardice, The American Spectator, and the dhimmis at CPAC -- all of whom are, at present, falling over themselves in their anti-American haste to placate the Jihadis and hasten the suicide of the West.

The point being that, to appropriate Goldwater, "barbaric vulgarity in the pursuit of virtue is a vice." Hat tip to Kathy Schaidle, whose blog also quotes Midwest Conservative Journal's opinion that people who want to inculcate "‘new rules of civic behavior respectful of other cultures and religions'" among Muslims are "‘Idiots.'"[**]

Which is it? Is Ann Coulter's "quip" to be despised, or is Western civilization wasted on rag-heads? The Left doesn't care. They're happy enough just hating the West and using whatever knife is handy. The conservatives don't know. On one side of their mouths they wax lyrical about the value of Western civilization and the moral necessity of its victory over Islam, and on the other side of their mouths they talk about "rag-heads" and write off the prospect of inculcating Western civilization among Muslims as something for "idiots." Sometimes it seems to me that the only conservative debate about the Islamic world is whether we're too good for them or they're too depraved for us.

Giving conservatives the benefit of the doubt, I think it's worthwhile to remind them that they're supposed to be championing a civilization and not merely defending the approved membership of an elite social club from hooligans and gate-crashers. Or, to quote someone who must have been a conservative, the best defense is a good offense.

Suppose, just for a minute, that you're a "rag-head." All your life you've heard nothing about God except what's been filtered through a man-made religion that combines some of the worst aspects of pharisaism with a moral code culled from crib notes about the Bible and some 7th-century folk wisdom. You've also been taught that Westerners are liars who hate you, and that the reason Westerners hate you is that they hate God. At about the same time, the biggest, baddest, most powerful Western nation starts kicking ass and taking names in your country (or next door) on behalf of a civilization whose literati call you a "rag-head" and are pretty frank about how stupid and barbaric you are. What do you do?

You do what any ordinarily-reasonable person would do -- change the channel to Al-Jazeera. This will, of course, be seized upon by said Westerners as "proof" that you're an ignorant "rag-head." But why should you care? You've caught them in a lie about their own civilization -- they say it's for everyone, but they mean only to vaunt themselves over the Prophet and his Dar al Islam. Just like the Imam said they would. And so the ignorant armies take another step toward their darkling plain.

Folks, a billion people aren't going to go away and leave us alone just because we call them names and drop bombs on some of their countries. And just as I admit that many of them are pretty scary folks, and that they have more than their fair share of ignorant, malevolent, and/or lying sons-of-bitches, I believe that we can do better than this. A good place to start would be to figure out whether they're "rag-heads" or victims of one of history's greatest tragedies, and whether doing anything about it is something that should only interest "idiots."

[**] Which is not the same thing as saying that people who commend or attempt to conduct said dialogue can't actually be idiots. I can think of plenty of people (like the first ten patrons who show up for happy hour at Hooter's) who could do it better than the National Council of Churches, the "Parliament of the World's Religions," or the United Nations. But that wasn't MCJ's point, either; MCJ's sneering at the goal, not only the boobs who are, at present, the only ones interested in pursuing it. That's another problem with the confused conservatives; they're letting the Booberati steal a march on them in this area.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Note to Joe

This is a continuation, of sorts, of the dialogue in connection with my previous post about the "cartoon incident." Joe D'Hippolito made a lot of comments. Here are my notes in response to two of them.

In the blog post, I had written, "Islam cannot be mocked, as it is now being mocked, without striking at the heart of the Christian message." Joe replied: "That would only be true if those messages are the same. But they're not."

I'd accept that point, Joe, if Christianity were "the ideology of Christians." In that case, since Christianity would be just one "position" or "lifestyle" among many, Christians could live in a credal/dogmatic world that isn't ineluctably connected to anything or anyone outside itself. But Christianity is truth revealed by God about all things and, as such, it applies to all things, not just things which visibly and distinguishably pertain to Christians. So, if Christianity teaches that man's need for holiness may not be made into an object of derision, then it is wrong for anyone to do so -- whether he's a Christian mocking Islam, a Muslim mocking Christianity, or a secular materialist who mocks the other two.

Did the Jyllands-Posten cartoons do that? Of course they did. They're no different than cartoons depicting the Apostles as collar-wearing, child-molesting priests. Oh, the people who would make such cartoons would talk a lot of fine talk about freedom of the press and about how they only intended to cunningly allude to some problem or issue about Christian life. We Christians have heard all that talk, and we know it's just a bunch of excuses made by people who like to see crucifixes plunged into urine, and the image of the blessed Virgin covered in dung. It satisfies their need to be rid of competition for the job of Supreme Being.

Not all critics of religion think that way or act from those motives. I don't have problems with Besancon or Ibn Warraq writing about Islam's falsehoods and their deleterious effect on mankind. I don't have problems with Hitchens or Gibbon trying to expose what they believe to be Christianity's flaws. I don't have problems with intelligent fiction like Elmer Gantry or The Satanic Verses trying to explore religion's involvement with the darker impulses in man, even if they do tend to suggest that religion is merely symptomatic of those impulses.

One can, without much charity, consider all those things part of a vast inter-generational, intercultural conversation about the human question and man's place in the universe. They, too, are part of the search for holiness which Dignitatis Humanae commends to our special respect:
The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it, never-be it understood-having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, the charity of Christ urges him to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith. All is to be taken into account-the Christian duty to Christ, the life-giving word which must be proclaimed, the rights of the human person, and the measure of grace granted by God through Christ to men who are invited freely to accept and profess the faith.
-- Dignitatis Humanae, # 14 (1965)
These cartoons weren't part of that dialogue. They said nothing intelligent about Islam's falsehoods or the shortcomings of religion as a whole; they simply mocked Islam with the same crude tactics mockers of Christianity use when they run out of (or have never acquired) intelligent comments to make about religion.

The cartoons weren't produced or published in the spirit of dialogue, but in the spirit which regards the idea of "holiness" as a joke played by charlatans upon the credulous. That strikes at the heart of the Christian worldview whether or not the immediate targets are Mormons, Buddhists, or Muslims.

Mormonism, Buddhism and Islam are false, but the desire for holiness which animates their adherents is real. It is real because God made it, and planted it in human nature: "Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." The restless ages of man have wandered through the deserts of falsehood, finding Islam here, Daoism there and, men being men, finding refuge in the truly-sordid escapades men use to hide their emptiness from themselves.

If I saw a man wandering through the desert, crazed and dying from thirst, I would tell him not to drink kerosene because it would be kindness to remind him of what he truly seeks. But I would not mock his search, or tell him that only fools fail to realize that "water" is a lie. The necrotic arrangement which now passes itself off as "Western Civilization" has been doing that with increasing ferocity for the better part of two centuries. That is why the West is dying, and why the terrorists have come: Maggots attack corpses, not living beings. The West's secular disdain for religion has not protected us from Islam. Why should anyone want to trust that it will protect us in future?

I had also written, "It is not enough to scourge Islam from the minds and hearts of men." Joe replied, "Perhaps not. That was also true concerning the Nazis and Communists. But it must be so scourged, or Western Civilization (despite the secularist elements you abhor) will die. That was also true concering the Nazis and Communists."

I would not say "perhaps," unless I intended to imply that there really was nothing worth fighting for except another false idea. But I might have put my point more clearly by appealing to Sun Tzu, who wrote that the highest form of generalship is to win a battle without fighting. Instead, I only wrote, "[w]e don't want a world in which Islam has been scourged out of existence. We want a world in which a billion Muslims quietly walk away from what they realize has been a myth." There are people who are resigned, even eager, to forego that goal in favor of a military-political "clash of civilizations."

In some ways that's a natural response; it's difficult to imagine holding a productive dialogue with someone who wants to kill you. But it's interesting to note that a lot of Islamic anger at the United States comes from a sense (however wrongly, on occasion, held) that the United States is not living up to its moral responsibilities. Muslims who believe that Islam was created for one purpose, namely to destroy the Satan United States, are not yet typical:
As our surveys underscore, the U.S. continues to face enormous challenges regarding its public image in Arab and Muslim countries. Anti-Americanism in the region is driven largely by aversion to U.S. policies, such as the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and U.S. support for Israel, in addition to the general perception that the U.S. fails to consider the interests of countries in the region when it acts in the international arena. At the same time, however, our findings highlight areas of improvement. U.S. favorability ratings have increased in some countries, and there are signs that support for terrorism is waning. Moreover, there is strong evidence suggesting that Arab and Muslim publics overwhelmingly desire democracy for their countries.
-- Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center, Testimony U.S. House International Relations Committee. You can find the testimony here.
* * *

Concerns over Islamic extremism, extensive in the West even before this month's terrorist attacks in London, are shared to a considerable degree by the publics in several predominantly Muslim nations surveyed. Nearly three-quarters of Moroccans and roughly half of those in Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia see Islamic extremism as a threat to their countries. At the same time, most Muslim publics are expressing less support for terrorism than in the past. Confidence in Osama bin Laden has declined markedly in some countries and fewer believe suicide bombings that target civilians are justified in the defense of Islam. . . .

The polling also finds that in most majority-Muslim countries surveyed, support for suicide bombings and other acts of violence in defense of Islam has declined significantly. In Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia, 15% or fewer now say such actions are justifiable. In Pakistan, only one-in-four now take that view (25%), a sharp drop from 41% in March 2004. In Lebanon, 39% now regard acts of terrorism as often or sometimes justified, again a sharp drop from the 73% who shared that view in 2002. A notable exception to this trend is Jordan, where a majority (57%) now says suicide bombings and other violent actions are justifiable in defense of Islam. . . .

When it comes to suicide bombings in Iraq, however, Muslims in the surveyed countries are divided. Nearly half of Muslims in Lebanon and Jordan, and 56% in Morocco, say suicide bombings against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. However, substantial majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia take the opposite view.
-- Pew Research Center, "Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics." You can find the entire report here.
One's first reaction to such studies is to wonder, if these results constitute "improvement" in Muslim thinking, whether it might not be better to conquer these countries now, while we can. Consider, however, the number of Muslims indicated who do not want a world whose only choice is between Osama Bin Laden or the Third Infantry Division. There's little point in hysterical reactions to those numbers; the only sane response is to recognize that they can increase, or decrease, and inquire how our actions can achieve one or the other result.

Besides, we can't "conquer" them all, or most of them, or even a few of them. We can defeat them militarily, so long as we can attack them in detail (one of my worst nightmares, thankfully fanciful, involved a simultaneous advance on U.S. units in Iraq by Iranian, Syrian, and Turkish forces). But we can't conquer them in any useful sense by force of arms. You see, ultimately the problem isn't that Muslim extremists are trying to kill us. Ultimately, the problem is why they're trying to kill us -- conquer that and we'll have made a bolder stroke for good than B-52s could ever make.

The Pew results indicate, at least to me, that there remains a window of dialogue between the West and Islam which, if properly exploited, can (I do not say "shall") produce two things. First, it can produce an Islamic self-story that accepts the existence of powerful, independent non-Muslim countries as a good (or at least benign) part of Allah's plan for humanity. Second, it can produce an increasing recognition among Muslims that Christianity and its civilizations are congruent with divine truth and, more gradually, a realization that Christianity is the true fulfillment of the hope which brings men to Islam in the first place.

That's the only solution which can protect the West. It can't occur in an atmosphere of warfare, coercion and revulsion, which is all the "clash of civilizations" perspective really has to offer. Is that kind of victory practicable over Islam? I think it's a certainty that too few among us are interested in the question.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Self-Justifying Rationale #221

"OK, if I'm so selfish, then why am I so miserable?"

Friday, February 03, 2006

What is it with the Cartoons?

In answer to some readers' questions, I'm writing a follow-up to my earlier post on the cartoons about Muhammad being published in Europe. I don't want to have any illusions about the motives of the Europeans who are publishing these cartoons. While I can, coincidentally, agree with the principles about freedom of the press being used, my congruence with their beliefs mostly ends at that point. I don't equate "religious fundamentalism" with the simple act of taking one's faith seriously and damn that simple act as subversive of the common good. That is the legacy of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and it has largely become the chosen patrimony of the West, particularly in Europe. These newspapers, and the people who enjoy what they're publishing, largely harbor same hatred of religion that banished Christianity from the European Constitution. They hate Islam for the same reasons they hate Christianity and my sympathy for their position is, for that reason, temporary and restrained.

There are other motives for enjoying or furthering this controversy. There are people who are lucky enough to have recognized Islam as a dangerous, man-made religion, and yet foolish enough to think that we can save ourselves from it by a process of violent extermination. Of these, some actually believe we should exterminate Islam through actual, physical, warfare. Others believe that this warfare should be conducted by intellectual/ideological means, by using the tools of Western secularism to "erase" Islam from society. For such people, these attacks on Muslim sensibilities are just what the doctor ordered: It's time to teach Muslims a lesson about how foolish and ridiculous their beliefs are, and to show pro-Western solidarity by publicly holding them in contempt. These folks, if they are Christians, are suicidally misguided. Islam cannot be mocked, as it is now being mocked, without striking at the heart of the Christian message

And, speaking solely for myself, but I suspect for many more Christians, there is some cathartic element of schadenfreude in all this. Western culture has been mocking and humiliating Christianity for over 200 years. If European Muslims are upset about the cartoons, wait until Western governments start extorting their taxes to pay for the production of "Piss Muhammad." If there isn't a newspaper in Europe that won't mock the Prophet, there isn't a film studio in the West that hasn't mocked Christ. We get told, over and over again, that we're responsible for this because, if we had the faith of Muslims, we would have stood up to all that. There's something that wants to say, "See? Do you now understand what we're living with?"

So much for unworthy motives to support the European press. As to worthy motives, I suggest that this controversy is happening because Jesus Christ gave the world a radical vision of human goodness. It is not enough to create a society in which such controversies are forbidden. It is not enough to scourge Islam from the minds and hearts of men:
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
-- Matthew 12:43-45 (KJV)
A negative definition of freedom is not enough. It is not enough to be free from an addiction. It is not enough to refrain from harm. A man, or a society, which limits itself to these goals will become a clean-swept house. Sub specie aeternitatis, making laws dictating what people must mock or revere isn't worth a penny.

I believe that Jesus Christ doesn't just want men to abandon falsehood; He wants men to abandon falsehood for the truth. He doesn't just want men to forsake addiction, lust, Communism, and Islam, He wants men to forsake them for something better. Here, St. Paul says, is the Unknown God to whom you should pay your allegiance, not because He is stronger among the gods, not because He has a more effective five-year plan, but because He is the summit and perfection of all that is truly good; He is what you have, when at your best, been trying to find all these years. We don't want a world in which Islam has been scourged out of existence. We want a world in which a billion Muslims quietly walk away from what they realize has been a myth. That is the lasting victory Christ wants, and it's why cultures who have been influenced by Christianity value -- however distortedly, however forgetfully -- the freedom of human thought.

The reason Islam succeeds is the same reason all other man-made faiths succeed: They resemble, in some way, Christianity. This is why you'll find Christians being so easily seduced by man-made faiths, blurring the lines between Nazism, Communism, and all the others until the worldly imposture becomes subjectively indistinguishable from the heavenly fact. Christians are doing it today with Islam, using all the old stupidities and heresies which have served in the past -- appeasement, syncretism, etc. [1] Nobody can help that, or put a stop to it. These Christians are also victims to a myth, and we also want them to walk away from it voluntarily.
It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will. This doctrine is contained in the word of God and it was constantly proclaimed by the Fathers of the Church. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act. Man, redeemed by Christ the Savior and through Christ Jesus called to be God's adopted son, cannot give his adherence to God revealing Himself unless, under the drawing of the Father, he offers to God the reasonable and free submission of faith. It is therefore completely in accord with the nature of faith that in matters religious every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded. In consequence, the principle of religious freedom makes no small contribution to the creation of an environment in which men can without hindrance be invited to the Christian faith, embrace it of their own free will, and profess it effectively in their whole manner of life.
-- Dignitatis Humanae, # 10 (1965)[2]
The screams uttering from Islam are not just protestations of pious hearts, although they are partly that. They are also screams of terror at the prospect of a world in which it's an open question whether Muhammad is the Prophet, and that Islam is a reiteration of the same story that produced Baal, Zeus, Communism, and American Messianism.

I detest the vulgarity of those cartoons, not least because I know that within the brave talk about freedom is a hidden loathing of truth that has eaten so deeply into the minds of Western men that they have come to detest the prospect of a world in which it is possible to think that any religion is good. I detest the vulgarity of Islamic responses that involve talk of laws, police, and gunfire, not least because I know that within the self-righteous demands for respect is a hidden loathing of human dignity that runs just as deep. The ignorant armies are taking one more step toward their darkling plain. The only hope of escape is a world where men may speak as they like, because that's a world where Christ is free to stand on the Temple's steps and talk with pharisees. We don't have to enjoy that world, but we should all want to live in it, for our own safety's sake.

Update: Mark Shea weighs in.

[1] See Bat Ye Or, "Dhimmitude and Marcionism." Commentary, No. 91. The PDF version of the article is available here.

[2]The entire document is available here.