More Sin

by Jon Mandle on March 11, 2008

In yet more sin news, according to Bloomberg (and others), the Vatican has updated its list of mortal sins to include “seven social sins”:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control
2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

The Times Online observes that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that ‘immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell.’” And while acknowledging that “there is no definitive list of mortal sins,” they provide a list of:

The original offences and their punishments

Pride – Broken on the wheel
Envy – Put in freezing water
Gluttony – Forced to eat rats, toads, and snakes
Lust – Smothered in fire and brimstone
Anger – Dismembered alive
Greed – Put in cauldrons of boiling oil
Sloth – Thrown in snake pits

Interesting, in a that-wacky-Pope kind of way. But their source is a little peculiar: The Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft, by Ernst and Johanna Lehner. They neglect to mention the subtitle: “244 Illustrations for Artists and Craftspeople.”

And the new list seems to suffer from some … um … padding: 5, 6, and 7 are not the same, but if you avoid excessive wealth and don’t create poverty, it seems you’ve got a pretty good jump on not “contributing to widening divide between rich and poor.” Not to mention that number 2. threatens circularity, while “Drug abuse” seems kind of vague to me. Perhaps not the best thought-out list.

But upon further investigation, it’s not clear that the Vatican intended to produce a new list in the first place. According to the AP: “Vatican officials, however, stressed that Girotti’s comments broke no new ground on what constitutes sin.” As far as I can tell, in an interview Bishop Gianfranco Girotti commented: “If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a weight, a resonance, that’s especially social, rather than individual.” And he gave some examples (although I admit to being a little unclear about how they are social in a new way). But it doesn’t seem that he gave seven examples. And, frankly, I can’t even tell if he intended his examples to be of mortal sins. My advice: avoid anything that is “morally dubious” until the situation is clarified.

No. Nothing to do with Spitzer. I’ve been reading some of the works of 18th Century right-wing blogger German counter-Enlightenment intellectual Justus Möser. (Wikipedia.) [click to continue…]

Respecting Religious Believers

by Harry on March 11, 2008

Via Lindsey, I read this paper by Simon Blackburn (pdf) which appears, again, in Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life edited by Louise Antony, and containing essays by 20 or so atheist philosophers. The collection is well worth reading. Its not as though it can have been difficult to find atheist philosophers who are willing to talk about their views, but netween them the contributors display a nice range of attitudes toward religion, including deep respect, envy, and outright hostility.

Blackburn’s chapter is, for the most part, an argument against versions of respect for religion that hinge on interpreting the claims of religious believers as not being the kinds of claim that can be true or false, and he makes that argument rather well. The point in dispute, though, is whether we can truly respect people who have what we regard to be false beliefs. He thinks not:

We can respect, in the minimal sense of tolerating, those who hold false beliefs. We can pass by on the other side. We need not be concerned to change them, and in a liberal society we do not seek to suppress them or silence them. But once we are convinced that a belief is false, or even just that it is irrational, we cannot respect in any thicker sense those who hold it—not on account of their holding it. We may respect them for all sorts of other qualities, but not that one. We would prefer them to change their minds.

[click to continue…]

Marriage by proxy

by Harry on March 11, 2008

Apparently, in Montana two people can marry, and presumbly live out an entire marriage, without ever meeting (as long as they are not incarcerated). They can just, like, text each other or something. Facebook should get in on this.

Rebecca Solnit on culture wars and environmentalism

by Chris Bertram on March 11, 2008

Rebecca Solnit has “an interesting piece”: in Orion Magazine on Elvis, country music, environmentalism, racism, “rednecks”, stereotyping, and one or two other matters.

For those of you who keep track of Satoshi Kanazawa — evolutionary psychologist, co-author of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, and the Fenimore Cooper of Sociobiology — is now blogging at Psychology Today Magazine. Let’s turn the mike over to him:

Both World War I and World War II lasted for four years. We fought vast empires with organized armies and navies with tanks, airplanes, and submarines, yet it took us only four years to defeat them. … World War III, which began on September 11, 2001, has been going on for nearly seven years now, but there is no end in sight. There are no clear signs that we are winning the war, or even leading in the game. … Why isn’t this a slam dunk? It seems to me that there is one resource that our enemies have in abundance but we don’t: hate. We don’t hate our enemies nearly as much as they hate us. They are consumed in pure and intense hatred of us, while we appear to have PC’ed hatred out of our lexicon and emotional repertoire. We are not even allowed to call our enemies for who they are, and must instead use euphemisms like “terrorists.” … Hatred of enemies has always been a proximate emotional motive for war throughout human evolutionary history. Until now.

Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.

And there you have it.

Spitzer’s End

by Jon Mandle on March 11, 2008

A year-and-a-half ago, I wrote in anticipation of Eliot Spitzer’s election as governor of New York that I was eager to see how he handled the responsibilities of the position. In the last year, his approval rating tumbled fast, and it appeared that he hadn’t mastered the art of compromise – something that wasn’t as important when he was Attorney General.

Still, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Last week, I drafted (but didn’t post) an argument that perhaps his feud with Senate leader Joe Bruno was part of a deliberate high-stakes strategy to claim the state Senate for the Democrats. And as of last week, it looked like he might win. Bruno would become just another Senator from upstate, and Spitzer might have a much easier time with the reforms he has championed, even with a lower approval rating. Just two days ago, the NY Times editorialized that one-party state rule, while risky, might allow passage of campaign finance reform, independent redistricting, not to mention other badly needed reforms such as a new lobbying law. Alas, it turns out Spitzer was just irresponsible.

It’s still possible that the Democrats will pick up the Senate seat they need. But if Spitzer resigns, Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over and the Lieutenant Governor position will remain unfilled until the election in 2010. Next in line … Joe Bruno (who is himself under federal investigation).

Timber, Bookshelves, World Domination, Etc.

by Scott McLemee on March 11, 2008

It seems that everyone else around here is just too quietly dignified to mention that Crooked Timber has been listed as one of the world’s fifty most powerful blogs by The Guardian.

But not me. So: Woo hoo!

It seems appropriate, then, to follow up Henry’s recent post about bookshelves with a notice that Matt Christie is offering wooden shelves to the public at a reasonable price. (They are much more attractive than some I’ve seen lately.) Matt also turns out chopping blocks.

These item are all made by hand from actual crooked timber. Contact him via pas au-delà for rates.

Anybody who combines woodworking with Blanchot deserves a plug on the 33rd most powerful blog in the world. The precise metrics used to determine that ranking are probably among the Guardian‘s trade secrets, of course.