“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

June 30, 2009

I'll be on the "Catholic Answers Live" Show Tonight at 7:00 p.m. ET

I'll be doing Q&A on the "Catholic Answers Live" radio show in about 20 mins. (at 7:00 pm ET). If you don't have Catholic Radio in your area, never fear. You can tune in here:

If you experience difficulty with that link, here's another: http://ewtn.com/radio/index.asp.

Theology According to Student Bloopers

Here's an interesting and entertaining look by Tom Beaudoin at what professors often find when grading college papers. Not only are there plenty of yuk-yuk funny bits of bad grammar and tortured prose, some of the "theological" assertions here move beyond merely erroneous, beyond amusing, and deep into that happy-clappy land of the ludicrously ridiculous. The first paragraph on Scripture, for example, is a highly instructive example of suchlike.

Before coming to Fordham to teach graduate students full-time, I taught many undergraduate courses over seven years at Boston College and Santa Clara University. During that time, I collected a list of “student bloopers” gathered from their assignments. I did so inspired by the years of laughter provided by the memory of an article I read in the early 1990s by Richard Lederer, then at St. Paul’s School, titled “The World According to Student Bloopers.” (That pre-Web article can now be found everywhere on the Internet.) Early on in my trundle through thousands of undergraduate papers and exams, I realized that student bloopers were not only entertaining, and often wickedly so, but occasionally generative of a pleasantly orthogonal angle on theology that stayed with me long after.

By the way, my collection and presentation of student bloopers does not, of course, mean that I myself am not given to error. I am, and constantly—in both “style” and “substance.” But somehow those just aren’t as funny. (Or at least no one has yet collected mine.) So here, with the most minimal of editing, is what I have after my first seven years of teaching theology.

On Faith and Relationships

My girlfriend is my most coveted possession. Our love is similar to that shared by Adam and Eve during the reading of the creation story. I believe that God gave sex for humans to use in the pretext of marriage.

On God

The question of whether a higher being exists has plagued man since the beginning of civilized society. The question “Who is God?” is one that has been bounced continuously back and forth. Many ask why God acts the way He does, while others ask the question why doesn’t God act the way He does. The dessert ascetics believed in the ascendance of God. I think God’s ways are mysterious, and the meaning is not going to jump out and bite us in the ass. God is a different person to everybody, and to some he may not have a corpulent form at all. Theocratically, God is so far more advanced than mankind. And while there is nothing you can do to impress God enough to give you internal life, universal salvation is a huge turn on

On Catholicism

Certain aspects of Catholic belief are founded on realty. The Catholic religion remains strict on their teachings in order to withhold tradition. However, through Vatican II, Christians are now not the only good people in the world. Doris Day started the Catholic Worker.

On Scripture

The closest written text to the period of the Big Bang is the Bible, which is the underlying scripture of the Christian tradition, and one of the earliest and most influential texts available for theologians. In the Bible, God is loving, forgiving, powerful, and a creationist. In the Book of Genius, God created all the living and nonliving, proclaiming his intention ‘good.’ For tempting Adam and Eve, God scalds the serpent. With regard to Adam and Eve, I am so tired of being told that because of two fictitious people I am not dancing around naked with Brittany Spheres. God promised never to erase mankind again but there is no mention that He won’t screw with us. God led the Israelites out of Egypt to the land of cannon, so they could make scarifeces in the woods. God wreaks havoc on the Egyptians in a fairy tale manor. I really like interrupting the scriptures in class.

Luke’s gospel tells of shepherds who come to worship a babe. In the Greek language of the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as the “haggis” or Word of God. Mary Magdalene was the first to see the woman Christ. Women were whitenesses of the death of Jesus. Jesus always tells people that he is the sun of God. Jesus amazed people, starting with his emasculate conception. The passion of Christ is a dramatic, griping story. The New Testament ends with the reformation, and allows the writers to see into heaven. The Bible should not be rewritten because it is apart of the Christian Tradition.

On Sin

Learning about the true capabilities of humans is heart retching. But by following the teachings of Jesus Christ, ultimately a person can lead a life of sinfulness. I believe that Christ died for our sins and even today we are atoning for that.

On Protestantism

Luther was famous for writing the 95 Indulgences. After reading Martin Luther, I am thinking of becoming protest. Protestant theology teaches “faith alone,” also known as “sola fillet” or “sola feta.” It also teaches “grace alone,” or “sola gracias.” Martin Luther challenged the ideas of the church, starting the Protestant movement, and inadvertently the ideas of Origen. The antibaptists did not believe in baptizing their babies.

On Theologians

After St. Augustus’ conversation at Milan, he wanted to seek a wife. He was a theological model and also a Hindu. St. Ignatius believes people are created to praise, reverse, and serve God. He taught that the three stages of the mystical journey are purgative, illuminative, and cognitive. The Spiritual Exercises were written for leaders to use on retreatants. There is also Bultmann’s demythologizing retaliation of the New Testament. Juan Luis Segundo writes theology for Latin America, where it will have the most levity. Segundo argues that we must find Jesus’ deeper, perjuring truth.

On Theological Anthropology

The true nature of the human is to be sociable. Human beings are God’s masterpiece which he wanted to survive. Like God and man, the relationship of parent and child expels a love that bears no restraints.

Tom Beaudoin, New York City

June 29, 2009

I Don't Like Cats

Are You Catholic? There's an App for That

Richard Dawkins Launches Summer Camp to Groom Kids for Atheism

GIVE Richard Dawkins a child for a week’s summer camp and he will try to give you an atheist for life.

The author of The God Delusion is helping to launch Britain’s first summer retreat for non-believers, where children will have lessons in evolution and sing along to John Lennon’s Imagine.

The five-day camp in Somerset (motto: “It’s beyond belief”) is for children aged eight to 17 and will rival traditional faith-based breaks run by the Scouts and church groups.

Budding atheists will be given lessons to arm themselves in the ways of rational scepticism. There will be sessions in moral philosophy and evolutionary biology along with more conventional pursuits such as trekking and tug-of-war. There will also be a £10 prize for the child who can disprove the existence of the mythical unicorn.

Instead of singing Kumbiya and other campfire favourites, they will sit around the embers belting out “Imagine there’s no heaven . . . and no religion too”.

Dawkins, who is subsidising the camp, said it was designed to “encourage children to think for themselves, sceptically and rationally”. All 24 places at the retreat, which runs from July 27-31, have been taken. . . . (continue reading).

June 25, 2009

You Got a Fever? Here's the Prescription

Is the Ark of the Covenant About to Be Unveiled?

An intriguing blog post about this longstanding mystery has been posted at the Sancte Pater blog. Here's a snippet to give you a flavor:

The patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia says he will announce to the world Friday the unveiling of the Ark of the Covenant, perhaps the world's most prized archaeological and spiritual artifact, which he says has been hidden away in a church in his country for millennia, according to the Italian news agency Adnkronos.

Abuna Pauolos, in Italy for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI this week, told the news agency, "Soon the world will be able to admire the Ark of the Covenant described in the Bible as the container of the tablets of the law that God delivered to Moses and the center of searches and studies for centuries."

The announcement is expected to be made at 2 p.m. Italian time from the Hotel Aldrovandi in Rome. Pauolos will reportedly be accompanied by Prince Aklile Berhan Makonnen Haile Sellassie and Duke Amedeo D'Acosta.

"The Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia for many centuries," said Pauolos. "As a patriarch I have seen it with my own eyes and only few highly qualified persons could do the same, until now."

According to Pauolos, the actual Ark has been kept in one church, but to defend the treasure, a copy was placed in every single church in Ethiopia. . . . (continue reading)

Medjugorje Apparition Claims Are Divisive, Bishop Warns

Jul. 4, 2006 (CWNews.com) -

The Catholic bishop whose diocese includes the town of Medjugorje has warned that "something similar to a schism" has arisen at the parish church where apparitions of the Virgin Mary are alleged to take place.

In a homily delivered in Medjugorje on the feast of Corpus Christi, Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said that both he and his predecessor have expressed severe misgivings about the reported apparitions. He added that both Pope John Paul II (bio - news) and Pope Benedict XVI (bio -news) backed the judgments of the local bishops.

In his homily Bishop Peric explained that-- "while recognizing the Holy Father's right to give a final decision" on the validity of the reported apparitions-- he doubted their validity. He recalled that when he discussed the reports from Medjugorje with Vatican officials, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they shared his incredulity.

"They particularly do not seem to be authentic," the bishop observed, "when it is known before that these so-called 'apparitions' will occur." Bishop Peric cited the schedule that the Medjugorje seers have provided, listing the times and places at which they claim the next visits by the Mother of God will occur. Thousands of messages from Mary are now claimed, and the bishop observed that "the flood of so-called apparitions, messages, secrets, and signs do not strengthen the faith, but rather further convince us that in all of this there is nothing neither authentic nor established as truthful."

The first reported appearances of the Virgin at Medjugorje occurred just over 25 years ago. During the 1980s, thousands of Catholic flocked to the little town, with many reporting profound spiritual experiences. These pilgrimages were eventually slowed by the violent bloodshed that tore through the region in the 1990s and by the increasingly public skepticism of the hierarchy.

Bishop Peric reminded his people of the restrictions that he has imposed on activities in Medjugorje. The parish church is not formally a "shrine," he said, and should not be characterized as such. Pilgrimages to the church are discouraged. Priests there are "not authorized to express their private views contrary to the official position of the Church on the so-called 'apparitions' and 'messages,' during celebrations of the sacraments, nor during other common acts of piety, nor in the Catholic media."

The bishops urged the "seers" of Medjugorje to "demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish."

Some of the Franciscan priests assigned to the Medjugorje parish, he said, have been expelled from their order because of their refusal to accept Church authority. "They have not only been illegally active in these parishes, but they have also administered the sacraments profanely, while others invalidly," he said. As Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, he said, he felt obliged to warn the faithful "who invalidly confess their sins to these priests and participate in sacrilegious liturgies." (source)

June 22, 2009

Would You Like to Learn How to Evangelize Atheists?

Download the conference schedule.

Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, Call Your Office

Atheists are out in force these days, and they've thrown down the gauntlet repeatedly, demanding that Catholics and other Christians defend their belief in God.

They demand answers to their arguments against the existence of God based on science, philosophy and logic, the problem of evil, etc., and by golly, the atheists are going to get those answers in a unique forum of Catholic intellectuals and leaders who will respond, point by point, to the standard atheists arguments making the rounds today.

Join us, if you can, for this summer's Envoy Institute Summer Leadership Conference on answering atheism and the culture of doubt. Check out the lineup of speakers here. You can download the conference program here, and you can register here. I hope to see you there this summer!

Watch this brief video in which I give a quick overview of what we're up to with this conference.

June 12, 2009

Don't Worry. I Won't Quit My Day Job.

Alright, this may be kind of weird, but here goes. Those of you who know me (you know who you are) know that I was a wannabe rock star in my youth. That's demented, I know. But it's the honest truth about what I thought was important back then. Those of you who don't know me can read about this, shall we say, “colorful” time of my life in my chapter, “Conclusions of a Guilty Bystander,” in my book Surprised by Truth 2.

Among the various bands I played bass for during the late 70s (and virtually all of them were just plain old garage bands), the tightest, most creative, and most successful (which, truth be told, was a very, very modest success, to be sure) was Geneva Brown — a four-man team featuring drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass.

In addition to two or three hours worth of eclectic but cool Top-40 and other songs that we played covers of, we also had about a dozen tasty original tunes written by our talented guitarist/vocalist Jim. At our peak, I can honestly say we were good and had a devoted, if small, local following.

But in those days, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of other bands, just like ours, who were scrapping for opportunities and schlepping their gear around Southern California, just like we were, in vans and station wagons, looking for that BIG break that never winds up materializing, except for those very few, very talented bands who happen to be at the right place at the right time. While it's true that a tremendous amount of the success of the bands who make it is due to their genuine musical prowess, it's also true that plain old “good luck” has a role in it, too.

As for us, we played a bunch of parties, any number of Elks lodges, parish festivals, honkie-tonks, some bar & grill-type gigs during happy hour, more than a few fiascos, and we even won first place in a Southern California battle of the bands, held in Temecula on halloween night of 1980. Something like 70 or 80 bands from around the Southland entered the contest, we were told, by sending in demo tapes, just like we did. Of those entrants, maybe 15 or so were selected to perform live that night, including Geneva Brown.

And we won. No big whoop.

Honestly, I'll bet that few if any of the 1000 or so kids who were there that night even remember it now. But I do. We performed 4 or 5 songs in our 15-minute set, and we brought the house down (or so it seemed to us) with our final number, Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”

I married my lovely wife Nancy on February 7th, 1981, and our first child, Jonathon, came along in utero about 2 weeks later. So . . . my grandiose fantasies of becoming the next Paul McCartney soon went out the window. (I had seriously contemplated going to NYC to audition for the role of Paul in Beatlemania, but when a good friend sensibly pointed out that I just didn't have anywhere near the necessary vocal chops to pull off that monster role, I came to my senses).

My time playing with Geneva Brown came to an end within a year or so of my getting married, and I remember the bittersweet feeling I had then, having to unplug my guitar for good and get used to the idea that I would never be commercially successful in music. But I knew that a far better, far more worthwhile, and far more fulfilling career as a husband and father was what God wanted me to pursue.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the few years I had to mak show with the guys in Geneva Brown. It was great fun. I recently came across a pretty beat up cassette tape of some of our original songs (none of them written or sung by me).

These two songs here (click the picture to play them) were some early originals called “Nothin’ Wrong, Nothin’ Right” and “Simple Man.” What you'll hear is the four of us playing and Jim, our guitarist, singing in a rough recording we made during a practice session in late 1979 or early 1980 (as best I can remember). We were slamming away with what I recall was just a single microphone in the middle of the room capturing the sound. Nothing was mixed, nothing was miked, just a wall of sound.

The poor quality of the recording and the resulting audio anomalies you'll hear were compounded by the bad condition of the 30-year old, dime-store cheap cassette tape that this music was stored on. The tech guy who transferred it to digital cleaned it up as best he could, but there are some gaps, here and there, because of breaks in the tape. Give it a listen and you'll hear what I mean.

Some of you might well find this kind of music unlistenable (my kids do), and that's okay. For me, it brings back good memories of a fun time in my life, even though I wince a little at some of those memories, not to mention wincing when I think about what my hair looked like back then.

Click the pic to listen! (MP3 file)

June 11, 2009

A Persistent Question: Was Terrorism Behind the Air France Crash?

Aviation specialist Annie Jacobson writes:

On Wednesday morning, news emerged out of Paris that two Muslim men aboard Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, were Islamic radicals listed on France’s terrorist watch list.

French foreign intelligence agents from the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure) released this information to the Paris weeklyL’Express. Immediately, the story became headline news around the globe. And then, just hours later, those same French terrorism investigators recanted.

“No Terrorists in AF447,” read the second L’Express headline posted on Wednesday evening at 5:35 p.m. local time. Translated from the French, the flip-flop was explained as follows:

Failing to have the date of birth of passengers, it was impossible [for DGSE agents] to know if they were real terrorists or homonyms. Refining their “screening,” the investigators said, raised doubts. The theory of the accident, which killed 228 people, remains privileged.

Why did DGSE agents release potentially “doubtful” information ten days into an investigation when they could have waited only a few more hours to verify facts? Before this information was released, terrorism as a cause for the crash was at the bottom of most experts’ guess lists. Investigators had been focusing on mechanical failure, namely faulty speed sensors, as well as lighting strikes. Satellite photographs suggest that the aircraft flew into a violent storm. At first there was no crash site, which only enhanced the mystery. Then the site was found. Headway was being made. Why bring terrorism into the mix so late in the game, only to say excusez-moi, our mistake?

It is implausible to think that French investigators would release theoretical information before they checked the birth dates, unless they wanted that information in the public domain. The exclusive story was generated by agents from the DGSE, not by the French press. By raising inside suspicions of terrorism, French investigators have gained collaborative possibilities from agents abroad. If critical passenger information was not being shared with international agents before, that certainly is no longer the case. Now terrorism investigators from around the globe — from Interpol to DHS — are decoding the backstory of every passenger on that list with new eyes. French investigators wanted to make the story headline news. And they did.

Philippines Airlines Flight 434, a Boeing 747 which nearly crashed into the sea back in 1994, comes to mind. En route from Manila to Tokyo, a small explosion on board the aircraft ripped a hole in the side, killing a 24-year-old engineering student named Haruki Ikegami and nearly causing the airplane to crash. Luckily, there was an island with an emergency landing strip nearby. As author Simon Reeve explains in The New Jackals, it was the quick thinking captain and his “brute force” that was responsible for saving the lives of the passengers on board. As for how the mystery was solved, that involved international collaboration.

Japanese investigators initially believed the cause of the crash was firecrackers snuck onboard. The rationale behind that thin theory was that it was Christmastime and firecrackers are notoriously popular in Asia during that time of year. But a few days later, the Associated Press in Manila got an anonymous call from a man saying the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf was responsible for the blast. Investigators around the globe were put on notice.

Months later, police investigators in Manila responding to an apartment fire unexpectedly discovered detailed drawings of what looked like a bomb’s timing device. Mindful of the unsolved Philippines Airlines crash, they faxed the drawings to the Japanese explosives expert assigned to the case. The drawings were the necessary missing piece of the puzzle, which in turn solved the crime. The apartment belonged to Ramzi Yousef, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists and the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center terrorist attack.

On the Philippine Airlines passenger list, Yousef had used the pseudonym Armaldo Forlani; he didn’t use a “homonym” or even his real name. But he had personally carried the bomb on the airplane, armed it, and hid it under a seat. He wasn’t on the plane when it almost crashed; he’d deplaned on a scheduled stopover in Cebu. Had Japanese investigators neglected to seek international help in solving the case, the truth may never have emerged.

For now, the reason for the crash of Air France Flight 447 remains unsolved. But terrorism as a cause is no longer relegated to the bottom of the theoretical pile. In going on record with L’Express, agents from DGSE tipped the hand of the international community. Were terrorists on board? Time will tell. In the meantime, the French submarine Emeraude, with its state-of-the-art sonar equipment, is searching the bottom of the ocean floor for clues. So are others around the globe. Was Terrorism Behind Air France Crash?

June 10, 2009

What Happened to Air France Flight 447?

UPDATE (06-10-09): Terror Names Linked To Doomed Flight AF 447  Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on the Air France flight which crashed with the loss of 228 lives, it has emerged.

Since, at this point, we still do not know specifically what happened to the Air France passenger jet that simply disappeared over the Atlantic today, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, I will venture a few thoughts about what could have happened. 

First, having flown as a commercial airline passenger over a million-and-a-half miles in the last 20 years (probably closer to 2 million miles, when you add it all up), I can vouch for the fact that turbulence and lightning, however it bad either might get — and (very rarely, thank the Lord) I have experienced some truly hair-raising, white-knuckle incidents of both while flying — are not likely to, in themselves, sufficiently damage a modern passenger jet enough to make it crash. That scenario is possible, of course, but things I have read today seem to support my opinion that modern aircraft, such as the doomed Air France Airbus, are sufficiently resilient to survive passing through severe weather, all things being equal.

This is why I question the likelihood of a lightning strike or turbulence being the cause of bringing down that 4-year old Airbus — equipped, as it was, with the very latest in avionics and bad-weather avoidance technology. While that's certainly a possible scenario — I do not deny it — at this point it seems less likely.

Second, all the reports I have read thus far about this disaster, especially those  in the French-language press, lead me to assume that this accident (or whatever it was) must have occurred at cruising altitude which, for this plane on this route, would have been about 35,000 feet (+/-).  Keep in mind that Air France Flight 447 was already four hours into its transit from Rio to Paris.

News reports thus far have emphasized that the crew "did not have any time" to transmit a mayday signal as the plane was going down. Apparently, whatever happened on that plane happened so quickly that there was no time for any emergency message from the crew. 

Third, if there had been some kind of electrical malfunction or catastrophic systems failure at around 35,000 feet, the crew would certainly have had ample time to transmit some kind of mayday communication, however brief.  But the news reports I've read thus far indicate that the catastrophe happened too fast for them to broadcast any emergency messages.

So I ask myself, how could that be? What could have happened so suddenly at that altitude that would preclude any chance of the crew sounding an alarm?

Two grim possibilities come to mind.

1) Some kind of sudden structural failure crippled the jet at high altitude, leading to an immediate, explosive decompression and disintegration of the airframe.  While rare, this kind of freak accident has happened before, more than once

2) Terrorists on the flight itself detonated a bomb that brought the plane down.

Le Monde has reported that up to five middle-eastern passengers (three Moroccans and two Lebanese) were on board.

It may well be that severe weather or some type of freak structural failure brought that plane down, killing everyone.

Or, maybe it was . . . something else.

I hope we find the black boxes.

(NB: This entry was originally posted on June 1, 2009; updates were added subsequently.)

Related: Communiqué d'Air France suite à la disparition du vol Rio-Paris (current as of 9:00 p.m. ET, June 1, 2009).