Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Notes for Noting, Links for Thinking

* Thomas Osborne, MacIntyre, Thomism, and the Contemporary Common Good (PDF)

* Three young atheists answer the question, "Can atheists talk about theology?" I find the disparity between the headline, "Skeptics do not require theological knowledge to judge faith claims," and the answers very interesting: what all three atheists actually say is that you do need theological knowledge 'to judge faith claims' in order to provide reasonable criticisms, but that you don't need to accept the theology as a believer in order to do so. And clearly this, and not the headline, is the reasonable line for an atheist to take. (All three answers are, I think, quite sensible.)
ADDED LATER: See James Chastek's excellent discussion of the answers.

* Rev. Barry Lynn argues that churches should be discriminated against when it comes to historic site maintenance funding. Of course, he doesn't put it that way. The fact of the matter is, once funding is being given out for historic site maintenance anyway, deliberately refusing to maintain church buildings that otherwise meet the criteria is not really feasible, short of something analogous to a Blaine amendment.

* People outside of Texas generally don't have a clear idea at just how messed-up the Texas State Board of Education is; it's sometimes presented in the media as if it were a partisan issue, with conservatives on the TSBoE trying to fix liberal skew, or else as representing conservative insanity generally. This is certainly not right; very few people in Texas, right or left, seem very happy with the TSBoE at present, which is meddlesome, arbitrary, pompous, and expensive for Texans (since it controls textbook standards, and its arbitrary manipulations of them generally make textbooks much more expensive for Texas schools). It's a good sign of the dysfunctionality of partisan politics, since most people recognize the incompetence of the TSBoE, but nobody does anything about it because conservatives are afraid that the liberals will be even worse and the liberals are afraid that if they don't seize and use the same power, the conservatives will go even farther. The conservatives are in control right now, and are awful, but the liberals were just as bad when they were in power. I find it's very difficult for people outside Texas to understand this; I once lost my temper a bit over being lectured on the politics of the situation by someone in Pennsylvania. In any case, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think-tank concerned with education, has recently given Texas educational standards a failing grade (also here) and made some sharp criticisms of the new standards, such as calling it "a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge," which is exactly right. It's worth keeping in mind, incidentally, that TSBoE has only an indirect power over Texas education, by setting textbook standards and curriculum requirements; it can (and does) make things harder for good teachers, but there are many excellent Texas teachers making do.

Education is no more immune than any field to party politics; but when this extends beyond institutional administration and the like, into the actual content of the curriculum, education is no longer a means for encouraging a free citizenry, but is more and more a means for propagandizing the masses. And this perversion of education from being the material of freedom to being the advertisement of a political view is just not acceptable, regardless of who does it.

* Anyway, you can read the Institute's report on history standards for each state at its website. Just judging from the report, South Carolina seems to have the right idea.

* A group in San Francisco is gathering signatures to put a ban of infant circumcision on the ballot in the name of civil rights. Jews are not amused, since it would eliminate the Jewish form of ritual circumcision, brit milah, and while infant circumcision of some form is not a strictly required practice for Muslims and Christians, there are plenty of Muslims and Christians who are somewhat annoyed at the idea of a ban as well.

I find the argument for it interesting, since it's the claim that nobody has the right to make a decision about anyone else's body; which, if applied consistently, would also eliminate parents making decisions with regard to medical and cosmetic surgeries for their children. The proposed ban actually has a medical exception, but even this limited allowance is not consistent with any of the philosophical arguments I've seen given in support of the ban. One could just as easily start in the opposite direction: obviously arbitrary genital cutting is unreasonable, but given that it can be done for reasons of physical health, what other reasons would make reasonable exemptions in light of the goals of civil society? And then, given that nobody thinks that religious freedoms should admit of no protection at all, it's difficult to argue that religious reasons could not ground at least some such exemptions. Not, of course, that people won't try; the difficulty, however, which most people don't guard against sufficiently, is making such an argument without begging the question.

* A nice discussion by Joseph Rickaby of the traditional Catholic account of equivocation and lying.

* Bearing has a very nice post on reading Francis de Sales's Introduction to a Devout Life.

* The most awesome of all snarky anti-TSA comments threads.

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