Sunday, September 30, 2012

Voting and sin, Part 2

A long time ago a friend told me this story, which I will paraphrase, since it's been a while.
A man intends to vote for a third party candidate. One day there's a knock on his door. It is the democratic candidate campaigning. He asks "Will you vote for me?"

"No" the man replies. I intend to vote third party.

The candidate then makes a good case, explaining how, if the man doesn't vote democratic, the republican candidate will win.

The next day the republican candidate comes to the door. "Will you vote for me?"

"No, I intend to vote third party."

The republican candidate then makes the case that if the man doesn't vote republican, the democratic candidate will win.

The next day, there's a knock on the door, and it's the third party candidate. "Will you vote for me?"

"I'd like to" the man replies, "but if I vote for you, either a republican or a democrat will win."
The story has stuck with me all these years because I believe in it.  As a person who tends to lean third party it strikes a chord. Of late I have had (presumably) well meaning people tell me that voting for a third party is a sin (their actual words) because if I do it is the the same thing as voting for candidate "X". Lest you think there's some partisan agenda, I have heard this from both republicans and democrats.

So is it a sin if I don't vote for one of the two major parties? Some would make the case that it is the same as voting for the winning party. Even worse, as I noted in my earlier post (Voting and sin Part 1) as a Catholic I am morally obligated to vote. If I vote for a third party, isn't that the same as not voting? The answer is "no" even if the outcome is the same.

If you think about it, unless I am the one voter who casts the vote that puts one candidate over the other, my vote does not change the outcome anyway. So to claim that my vote somehow "causes" someone to win or lose is false on a specific basis.

But how about in general? I am morally obliged to vote for the candidate whom I feel will do the most good (or least harm). I am not obliged to see that candidate win. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.”

In my view, you don't get good government by voting for bad government. Voting for a lesser candidate simply because he's one of the big two parties is not voting for good government, it is participating in evil in order to achieve an end that is good. The ends never justify the means. In the general case, a third party candidate won't win only because enough people think he won't win. If we actually vote our (well formed) conscience, this country would be in a lot better shape than it is now.

In short, no, Virginia, it is not a sin to vote for a third party candidate.

[N.B. Part 3 can be found here.]

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Voting and sin part 1

I was in the middle of writing a blog post on voting and sin, when a friend sent me a message on Facebook:
I've been discussing,the USCCB guidelines for voting, and their synchronicity/consistency with a few of the papal encyclicals (Evangelium Vitae, for one), with a few priests and several people staunch Catholics...

So, since your FB post says "I vote pro-life first", I put it to you.... How can a Catholic vote for Romney if he is pro-choice in the case of rape/incest.
My blog post was getting too long, and rambling anyway, so I decided to answer his question as part 1 and conclude with more cases in part 2. Here is my answer to him (with a couple of minor tweaks).

OK, so here's the thing. As a Catholic is not moral to not vote, because you're abandoning your responsibility to serve society.

On the other hand, unless Jesus or Mary are running for office, you will be voting for a candidate who is involved in some kind of sin. So the question is can you vote for anybody? The answer is yes, you can and furthermore you must vote for the candidate who in your well-formed opinion will do the most good or, barring that, the least harm.

The reasoning behind that is the principle of double effect which says that you can allow some necessary evil to occur in performing an act providing 4 conditions are met.

1. The act itself must be at least morally neutral (voting is a moral good)
2. The good effect of the act must be intended, not the evil one.
3. The good effect is not produced by the evil effect.
4. The good effect is proportionally greater than the evil effect.

So if there are no pro-life candidates you vote for the one who would be the least pro-abortion. Some people would add that even if there is a pro-life candidate, if that candidate has no chance of winning, the best outcome morally is to vote for the least evil candidate who has a chance of winning. That is a prudential decision.

So it could be moral to vote for Romney even though he has exceptions in his pro-life stance if (a) there are no completely pro-life candidates on the ballot or (b) if you believe that the pro-life candidate would not win anyway, and you choose to use your vote to ensure that a worse candidate does not win.

By the way, Catholic Answers has a good Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics that covers these issues and more.

[N.B. part 2 and part 3 can be found at those links, respectively.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

to add a little beauty

To add a little beauty to your week...

Seyit UYGUR { Ebru Artist } from Oguz Uygur on Vimeo.
Thank y'all so much for the likes, comments and the follows. I am really humbled.

My parents perform this art (Ebru in Turkish, Paper Marbling in English) and the footage was shot for a promo piece I was working on back then and my dad asked me to put a video together for him. This is what came out of that.

For those who is wondering how it's done I'd recommend googling "Paper Marbling" there is plenty of info out there.

The song is "Charlotte Mittnacht" by DeVotchka

For more of my work:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting it all wrong

It was with some amusement that I read "Will Science Someday Rule Out the Possibility of God?" My amusement turned to dismay. Not because the article is right, but because it has it all wrong, and some people will actually believe what it says. Let's start with the opening premise.
Over the past few centuries, science can be said to have gradually chipped away at the traditional grounds for believing in God. Much of what once seemed mysterious — the existence of humanity, the life-bearing perfection of Earth, the workings of the universe — can now be explained by biology, astronomy, physics and other domains of science.
But of course science can't explain the existence of humanity, or even decide when humanity came into existence. Of the "life-bearing perfection of Earth", all science has to say is "it must be random" which is code for "we can't explain it" - science offers no explanations or even theories. The workings of the universe (I presume they mean cosmology) are likewise unexplained, except for some theories in want of actual facts to support them.
However, in Carroll's opinion, progress in cosmology will eventually eliminate any perceived need for a Big Bang trigger-puller.
As he explained in a recent article in the "Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity" (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), a foremost goal of modern physics is to formulate a working theory that describes the entire universe, from subatomic to astronomical scales, within a single framework. Such a theory, called "quantum gravity," will necessarily account for what happened at the moment of the Big Bang. Some versions of quantum gravity theory that have been proposed by cosmologists predict that the Big Bang, rather than being the starting point of time, was just "a transitional stage in an eternal universe," in Carroll's words. For example, one model holds that the universe acts like a balloon that inflates and deflates over and over under its own steam. If, in fact, time had no beginning, this shuts the book on Genesis.
So now these explanations are not a done deal but a goal.

I've no idea what Carroll's science chops are, but I can tell you he needs to study history and philosophy. In the early 1900s, with the discovery of quantum mechanics, along with Einstein's theory of general relativity, scientists had finally figured out everything - from atomic particles to the structure of the universe. God was no longer necessary, and the steady state theory neatly explained the origins of the universe. Matter was spontaneously being created from the vacuum, and all was neatly tied up.

Except there were these constants that couldn't be explained. One of them was the cosmological constant, a little number Einstein used to balance his equations. In 1927 Georges LemaƮtre, a priest and professor at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, wrote a paper in which he claimed that the universe had a beginning. Scientists mocked him. Cosmologist Fred Hoyle came up with a ridiculous, derogatory term for it - "Big Bang". We all know how that turned out.

Now cosmologists are theorizing, not on the basis of any actual data, but simply as an attempt to deny God, to return to a variation of the steady state. Matter is created not steadily, but in waves, either through a "multuverse" (multiple universes), a bouncing universe (the big bang becomes a big crunch, which begets a new big bang) or more exotic theories. What Carroll (and others, like Stephen Hawking) ignore (although they are well aware of the work, which was published in 2003) is the Borde, Vilenkin, Guth (BVG) theorum. This is a neat piece of reasoning that shows that any universe of system of universes that has an expansion rate greater than zero (which ours does - Edwin Hubble proved that long ago) has a beginning. Period. The only premise for this theorem is that the laws of thermodynamics are true.

But let's say that Borde Vilenkin and Guth are wrong and that there are multiple big bangs. Does this "shut the book on Genesis"? No, because Genesis does not claim that this universe is the only thing God created. Nor could any scientific understanding of the creation of the universe disprove the existence of God, as there are philosophical proofs, that don't rely on physics at all. Let's suppose that the laws of physics do spontaneously create the universe. Where did they come from? Oh, you say they were always there? Why? How?

The best answer proposed so far is that "the question is meaningless" which is also science code for "you're not allowed to ask that because we can't answer it."

The whole question of "why is there something rather than nothing" is something scientists don't "get". Hawking and Mlodminow, in their book " The Grand Design" state:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
OK, assume they are right why is there a law of gravity? Where did that particular law come from? This is the question. If you're going to posit that laws of physics begot laws of physics, you wind up with "turtles all the way down" (which is a phrase Hawking himself used to mock religious creation stories).

I've seen many otherwise intelligent people argue that well of course matter can spring from nothing, because empty space isn't empty - it is filled with virtual particles that spontaneously create matter (they usually add something like "you idiot you", but in more derogatory terms). What they fail to realize is that I do realize that empty space is not empty - and I also realize that empty space is also not nothing it is something. When I say nothing I mean nothing. Not empty space, not a singularity, not some quantum thingy or string or field or particle or law or constant - nothing.

It is this failure to realize that there exists something other than physics (like logic, for instance) that makes all of these articles so painfully stupid that they are hard to read without feeling shame for the author. If these scientists tried to write articles about, say, baseball, and didn't understand what a foul ball was, they'd be laughed out of existence. But as a society, in general we are so woefully ignorant about philosophy and logic that people actually buy these ridiculous claims hook line and sinker.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Joke

The recent screeds by Bill Nye, Gary Trudeau and others about how belief in the Biblical creation narratives is harmful to children reminded me of a joke.

Many years from now, when scientist discover how to create life, they decide science has disproved God, so they select a scientist to go up to the top of a mountain to break the news to him.

The scientist shakes his fist in the air and shouts "God, we don't need you and we don't want you. We are masters of the universe. We can create life from dirt, just as you did."

"Show me" says God, with an amused tone in his voice.

The scientist begins scarping dirt together with his hands.

"No no" says God "get your own dirt."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sitting in the sun

My wife and my youngest son are terribly allergic to incense. Too much and they spend the rest of the day in bed with nausea and headache. And so it was with dismay rather than delight that we entered the church last Sunday to the strong smell of incense.

Thinking there was going to be more at this mass (for whatever reason, there wasn't - it was used only at the previous mass), my wife asked if we could sit in the back. I hate sitting in the back, for numerous reasons. First off, I like to sing and respond, and I like to hear the people around me doing the same. The people who habitually sit in the back are often not participating as well. And that's understandable, because with the sanctuary only raised a few inches it is difficult to see what's going on. Secondly, I think being immersed in the mass helps my kids to understand it better, and not to wander off into mental tributaries.

So we started the long trek to the back of the church. I suggested we stop halfway back, near a window that could be opened, but no dice. We wound up sitting in the last row. Now, at the time we got there, the last row was pretty much empty, so we had our choice of seats. Yes, my parish has seats, not pews. My youngest picked a seat that was in the sun. I told him to move over one seat and avoid the heat of the sun. He insisted that it would be fine, and I reluctantly allowed him to sit in the seat he chose.

All the seats around us filled in, until the mass was standing room only, and mass began a minute later. By the time we got to the first reading, my son was practically sitting in my lap. "Dad, would you switch with me?" he whispered. I thought about making him sit there for the whole mass. After all, it was his choice, against my good advice, and he should live with the consequences. It would teach him a lesson. But looking at how distressed he was, I just couldn't. I loved him too much to let him suffer. I switched with him, and spent the rest of the mass in the hot seat, being miserable.

It struck me that this is what God does for us. He loves us so much that He took it upon Himself to suffer the consequences of our bad choices, our sins, so that we don't have to. He could have said "you chose to sin, now suffer the consequences of what you've done to yourself." Instead, He dies on the cross so that we might have eternal life with Him.

Just as my son had to say "Dad, would you switch with me?" we too have to repent and ask for God's forgiveness. It is freely given, but not forced upon us. If we don't want to accept what God offers us we don't have to. He respects our will.

I know it's not a perfect analogy, but hey, when you're sitting in the hot sun, a thousand miles from the altar in a packed church, you think of these things.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The next time

The next time someone argues that "God made people gay" so we should just accept it, ask them how they feel about contraception and sterilization. Odds are they have no problem with those things. "But God made people fertile." So why should homosexuality (or pedophilia or incest or beastiality or whatever sexual act is being touted) be accepted as something that shouldn't be resisted?

But hey, why stop with sex only? Ask them how they feel about aborting Down syndrome babies? "But God made them with Down syndrome." Accept them as they are.

Or how about "I was born aggressive, I should be able to bully people." Oh wait, you say bullying isn't OK? But God made me that way.

There are reasoned arguments for supporting same sex unions - not correctly reasoned, but reasoned ones. However, the "God made people gay" argument has got to be one of the more ridiculous ones.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What matters

Under Obamacare, penalty per employee per year for employers who offer NO healthcare coverage whatsoever: $2,000

Under Obamacare, penalty per employee per year for religious employers who offer excellent healthcare coverage, but omit abortion, sterilization and contraception: $36,500

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Joke

A panda walks into a diner, sits down and orders a sandwich. The waitress is quite surprised, but decides to try to treat it like any other customer. It orders a sandwich and begins to eat. After it is done, it takes out a pistol, fires a shot into the ceiling, and starts to walk out without paying. The waitress says "Hey, what do you think you're doing?"

"Look it up!" snarls the panda, and tosses an encyclopedia on the counter as it walks out.

The bewildered waitress opens the encyclopedia, finds the entry for "panda", and reads:
The panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), is a bear native to central-western and south western China. It eats shoots and leaves...

Thursday, September 13, 2012


"Celebrity chef" Jamie Oliver said, according to Yahoo News:

"We hear a lot about how we shouldn't be 'nannying' people with laws about how they live their lives, but with such a massive problem as the obesity epidemic to deal with, we are way past the point where [we] can trust people to make better choices. We have to help them make better choices."

According to a New York Times poll 60% of New Yorkers are opposed to the ban, and only 36% in favor. Yet another move of government to say it knows better than the people. Followed to its logical conclusion, the people can't be trusted to choose their representatives.

Reminded me of

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm feeling cynical today, and so I'm posting a story I've tried to stay away from for a while. As you may remember, last year American Atheists, Inc. sued the 9-11 Museum to remove some wreckage of the WTC towers from it's display. The reason? The beams formed a cross. From "Are You Kidding?"
The cross is made of two beams found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and American Atheists Inc. said last year, "The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. It's a truly ridiculous assertion. It will just be a Christian icon, in the middle of OUR museum. This will not happen without a fight."
The museum had planned to make the cross part of an exhibit called "Finding meaning at Ground Zero" but plans have been stalled due to the lawsuit. Apparently, it isn't enough that the atheists find no meaning, nobody else is allowed to find meaning either. Perhaps they should change their name to "Westboro Atheists, Inc."

Of course, they have a compromised solution - the museum could erect at 17 foot tall "A for Atheist" next to the cross. What would it mean? I suppose someone seeing it could think the "A" stood for some other word that starts with "A", but I believe the atheists would make sure that there was a plaque to explain it to the "non-brights."

Monday, September 10, 2012


Monday Joke

Two avid fishermen go on a fishing trip. They rent all the equipment: the reels, the rods, the wading suits, the rowboat, the car, and even a cabin in the woods. They spend a fortune.

The first day they go fishing, but they don't catch anything. The same thing happens on the second day, and on the third day. It goes on like this until finally, on the last day of their vacation, one of the men catches a fish.

As they're driving home they're really depressed. One guy turns to the other and says,  "Do you realize that this one lousy fish we caught cost us fifteen hundred dollars?"

The other guy says, "Wow! It's a good thing we didn't catch any more!"

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Joke

Little Mary was not paying attention on the first day of school. Her teacher became annoyed after a while, and asked what she was thinking about. "I was thinking about how the whale swallowed Jonah" was the reply.

Her teacher rebuked her, "Jonah wasn't swallowed by a whale."

Mary replied "But I read in the Bible that he was."

"Impossible! Whales can't swallow people. Science proves it."

"Well, when I get to heaven I'm going to ask Jonah how it happened."

"What if Jonah isn't in heaven?" asked the teacher craftily.

"Then you ask him."