Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A burning question for athiests...

how big of a jerk should we be? (H/T Mark Shea)

Because you know, people usually convert when insulted and scorned enough.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A little tip I've learned

about commenting in a blog post is the rule of three. Basically if you are commenting on another's blog you have 3 posts to make your point. This is helpful for a number of reasons:

1. If it takes more than three, get your own blog or take the conversation to a forum.
2. You are there to (in a sense) enhance the original post. Even when disagreeing your comment is in connection to the blog post. OT comments are next to useless.
3. You are a guest on the blog in question. Multiple comments disrespect the author's contribution. It's his blog, not yours.
4. It lets you walk away from a conversation. For some reason blog comments are notorious for sucking people in. This way you force yourself away.
5. Unless the point is unusually important usually a commenter doesn't contribute past three comments.
6. Allows the author of the post the last word.

I find it disappointing to see a blog post with "200 comments" only to find the same three people hashing out their personal issues with each other (usually in the form of screaming).

Three posts. Give it a crack.

A nice primer

For what I hope to be a blog post or two in the future about history. But didn't want it to be left unmentioned.

Europe hates America

and secretly suffers from a inferiority complex.

Not sure if I buy the whole article, but the particular point about the sentiment that Europe felt toward America after 9/11 being a phantom is particularly correct.

Its only violence when

From the "It's only violence if a Tea Partier says it" file:

When Obama gets bounced I will miss Biden's continuous gaffe generation. Quite entertaining...

On Historical Perspectives

A particular topic that I have been mulling over is the concept of historical perspectives. Be they religious, secular, scientific, particular viewpoints and presuppositions have an effect on how we perceive and evaluate not only events in our lives, but in the lives of those in the past.

What got this line of thinking started was a particular comment from a friend of mine regarding the "Catholic" view of history from the "secular" view of history. The comment was not important so much as the idea of competing views of history. As if there was one view of history that was fundamentally religious in nature and another that was secular, and that these two views compete for the title of "The Truth."

To me this view was troubling (not the view of my friend but what my friend's comment seemed to suggest) for a number of reasons. Primarily it posits the idea that there is a "Catholic" narrative to history. While it is true in the overall sense in that history is the story of God's plan for salvation of mankind, this comment seemed to indicate that there is a specific viewpoint on events in history that is the "Catholic" view. The Crusades were just wars I suppose would be one example.

This is incorrect primarily because it forces a viewpoint on the Catholic faithful that leaves little room for exploration. There are Catholics that repute and abhor the Crusades, just as there are secularist historians that show sympathy to the Crusaders. It may be a surprise to the reader that a Catholic can, if the opinion is truly honest, believe that the Second World War did not happen and still be a Catholic (however delusional that opinion may be).

The comment however does indicate to me a number of things that I think illustrate the problem the modern mind has with history, and the confusion that surrounds the proper use of history and what we hope to gain by studying it. I hope to explore in future posts these issues and in doing point out what I consider to be how our current society handles history and the problems that result from it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Moral Cowardice in the Modern Age

A particularly unpleasant episode in my personal life got me reflecting on morality and moral actions in the modern world. It would appear to me that the modern mind is lacking in the ability to understand that good not only means to avoid evil, but that we are obliged to do good.

Obliged. That is a word we do not hear often these days. And yet it is just as true today that we do wrong not just by commiting evil, but by our omission to do what is right. Helping the poor, telling the truth, even a simple act such as an apology are all obligations that we owe to our neighbor, and to fail in such actions can be just as wrong as doing something wrong.

This simple idea is lost on us I think because we find it is sufficient to simply feel bad about a particular situation. If we have done something wrong as long as we sufficiently torture ourselves with guilt this fulfills our obligation. I feel bad about the poor. Therefore I am a good person. I was a jerk and I feel bad, so I am a good person.

And yet all we really prove is that our conscience isn't so far dead that we can still distinguish between right and wrong. Guilt is simply a vector for us to do good. It is our conscience motivating us to do what is right. To simply feel guilty without actually doing something to fulfill our obligations is not an indication of a moral person, but simply moral cowardice. It is the attempt to feel like a moral person with the need of doing anything right.

It is thus not surprising that the Church calls us to make an act of repentance for what we do not do as much as what we do. In the opening prayer we say, "I have sinned through my own fault, in what I have done and did not do(failed to do)." In her wisdom She calls us to repentance for when we fail to do what we owe to others. For if we do not do what we are called, we will become just as lost as those who do wrong.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ground zero mosque/prayer center/something

At the risk of resuscitating a demon thread I have slain on Facebook I had a few things to say about the controversy over the Cordoba House being built near Ground Zero. But I feel that Steven Greydanus' article covers this issue in the most balanced manner I've encountered. His followups should be read as well.

I'm heartened by the promise of Imam Rauf, who in a New York Times article writes:

There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and
women of other faiths. The center will also include a multifaith memorial
dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hardly the description of a triumphist mosque. Assuming that the promise holds up Imam Rauf seems to want to build bridges despite the controversy.

Since recent events have tied the Quran burning fisaco to the Cordoba institute I feel I can make one comment in this space. While everyone who isn't burning a Quran believes this idea is an "extra dose of stupid" one thing has nagged me since the condemnations started. People are acting like the Quran burning is going to set off a massive retaliatory slaughter by Muslims worldwide. Yet the narrative would have us believe Islam is a religion of peace. Which is it? To me it seems those who advocate that Islam is a peaceful religion really don't believe it (save for the Muslims themselves who have condemned the burning and have not killed anybody).

Frankly if I were Muslim and saw this I know I would be doubly offended. First by the burning, then by the attitude that it would send me into a murderous spree.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dumb Things?

A saw on my Facebook newsreel an article posted by a friend from Newsweek. This had the caption in the status: "This is why America is in trouble." I found a number of these "dumb" beliefs curious. I think that Newsweek does indeed show why America is in trouble, but not for the reasons they stipulate (more on that in a minute).

The first one that requires a second look is that only 39% "believe" in evolution. I find this curious as to what is meant by "evolution". If by "evolution" one means the creation of larger and more complex organisms via mutation over eons, then we might be able to discuss this. However I have found far too often that those who promote the theory of evolution wrap the theory in the dogma of "natural selection." The idea that this process is purely random and has no "guiding force" or other influence beyond purely physical influences is a metaphysical claim, not a scientific one. It is as much a belief as the belief in God. That a number of scientists often confuse the two is the cause of much confusion when answering the question.

Another of these I found curious is the matter of President Obama's religious viewpoint. That Newsweek identifies Obama as a Christian is a debate in and of itself. However I am curious if Newsweek considers one of the various strains of Muslim thought to be dumb. According to some teachers of Islam, there is no such thing as "conversion." Once a Muslim, always a Muslim. I wonder if Newsweek considers such doctrine of the Muslim world to be "dumb."

Coming back to the idea of why America is in trouble I find the tendency to label the ideas of others as "dumb." Certainly we can disagree with another's opinion to the point where we wonder how one would believe an idea. However, as pointed out the ideas mentioned as "dumb" in the article might not be considered dumb if we took the time to learn a little more of the other half of the country. This unwillingness to learn is what threatens the country far more than any particular belief. That Newsweek only perpetuates the problem is what is "Dumb."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No time to blog

So here is a roundup of what I've been reading lately:

Here is an article about what the Church owes to converts.

An excellent article on why it is simply slander to call the Tea Party movement racist.

Another on why using the news to legislate is a bad idea.

What I found interesting was how American culture hinders our intelligence gathering.

If history were more like sitcoms, it'd be more believeable. H/T Jimmy Akin

A lengthy essay on our ruling class. (H/T Mark Shea)

A more or less even take on the Shiley Sherod affair. My only addendum is that Fox News reported the story after she was sacked.

And for anyone paying attention this wasn't news, but Palin was the target of a coordinated attack by leading journalists. More fallout from the JournoList fisasco.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On Subsidiarity and Solidarity

I remember sitting in a lovely little church at Port Aransas. My wife and I were enjoying a quick getaway for our anniversary and were attending Saturday Mass. We had not been to reconciliation in a while, so we decided to stop for the sacrament and decided to stay for Mass.

In any event, Mass was about to end and the announcements for the week were given. An elderly gentleman came up to talk about the local food pantry that the local Christian churches were collaborating on. He asked for the customary donations, on the basis that the community needed to help the poor.

Before he ended his talk though, he paused and stopped for a moment. Addressing the vacationers there he said (I paraphrase from memory) that the work of the pantry was the responsibility of the local community. We were free to donate but were not to feel any obligation to do so.

I nearly fell out of the pew. Here at last was to me the perfect synthesis of solidarity - this problem is our community's problem - and subsidiarity - this problem is our community's problem.

Wonder of wonders, the two principles of Catholic Social Justice teaching can work in harmony.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Abortion in PA?

The Catholic blogsphere lit up over the announcement by the NRLC that the HHS has approved a plan that uses the new healthcare bill to fund abortions in a state plan in PA. Jill Stanek has more details as to why this is a concern.

Catholics of a more liberal persuasion accuse NRLC of dishonesty, citing an HHS statement issued about 12 hours after the story broke.

Given that the HHS, according to the PA Insurance Commissioner, approved the plan it would seem one of three things has occurred here:

a. HHS had no idea that this plan had abortion funding as broadly as specified in the PA plan. They issued a clarification that regardless of what the plan says aboriton won't be covered except for the provisions listed (rape, incest).

2. HHS tried to get the plan through and got caught. Now they are retracting.

d. The plan never had provisions for funding in the first place.

I find a. and 2. more likely (a being the front runner). It will be interesting to see if PA revises it's plan after this dustup.

Quality control

Am I the only one who thinks there needs to be more information in posts? Regardless if it is a magazine article or blog post, I find myself increasingly impatient with the lack of detail and charity when engaging with one's opponents.

Take for example Bishop Mccelroy's article regarding Iraq. In particular,

"It may seem strange that anyone would question whether the Catholic tradition
on war and peace proceeds from a moral presumption against war. But that is
precisely the case that articulate and theologically informed Catholic advocates
for the war in Iraq, most ably represented by George Weigel and Michael Novak
have been making during the past four years. They point out that the just-war
tradition was founded as a counterpoint to Christian pacifism and was designed
explicitly to show that war was at times the moral duty of the Christian

I'm famillar enough with Weigel's work to know more about this argument, that it emminates from the idea the the Early Christians saw war as an extension of legitimate force to restore order. In any event I find it difficult because I find this to be an incomplete formulation of Weigel's opinion.

Regardless of what one thinks of Weigel's opinion, I believe that the good bishop should either state the complete opinion of Weigel and/or cite his work before taking on the argument. Otherwise one risks the accusation of setting up a strawman.

Lest anyone think that I am picking on the Bishop, I find this deficiency all the out on the web. I was recently banned from one author's blog for pointing out that his accusation had no supporting evidence.

What do you think? I think it is high time that we demand proof in some posts. Especially if it involves an accusation of ideological opponents. Thoughts?

Friday, June 25, 2010

The beauty of closed doors

So there has been a recent spat between the Catholic News Service and the USCCB Media office head(see here). After reading some of the commentary I've come to two conclusions:

1. These things that CNA says were said probably were.
2. No one meant those things for publication.

Regardless of the awkwardness of the USCCB media office response, I don't think the Bishops meant for the remarks to be published. The nice thing about closed door meetings is that one can say what they really think. This is a good thing, in that open communication, however blunt, brings forth honesty.

Having said that, I find most of the comments to be an accurate description of how the healthcare "debate" panned out.

On the oil spill

I think Obama deserves as much blame for the oil spill as Bush did for the slow response to Katrina. Thoughts?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Out of the Silent Continent

Comes a story about the pro-life movement in Brussels

The light of God shines even in the darkest of places.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Right and Left

The common refrain from the left of the political aisle is that society must provide for the common good at the expense of the individual. If we must force the individual to pay his fair share then so be it. The right would have us believe that the individual is supreme, and that infringing on him by robbing him of his property through taxes is a violation of justice.

I find this curious dichotomy to miss a crucial element. It would appear to me that this view of humanity is incomplete. Society in the form of the state vs. the indiviual. I find that the social justice/redistributionists lack an understanding of how the "resources" that we need to redistribute came into being in the first place. Likewise I find that the individualists to curiously forget how it is that the environment that created the ability for the individual to create such resources comes about.

Now it is laudible that the social justice folks care much about the poor. They do indeed want to see that the basic rights of the poor are met and are appalled at the idea that the basic rights of the poor (life, food shelter) are not respected by those groups of people we call "society". However I do not know how they arrive at the conclusion how these resources come about. I assume that the social justice advocates assume that the recources are hoarded by the "uber-rich" or "selfish rich." There is no doubt that such people exist. I also believe that there are rich who wish to impart those riches on the needy. One only needs to look at Oprah or Extreme Makeover Home Edition to see rich people or corporations attempt to help the poor.

The individualist in turn respects that the individual is a person, not a "resource." That the individual, by nature of his being human, is not a resource producing cog but a man. And as such he has a certain "right" to that thing we refer to as "his." But in emphasising the the role of the individual the individualist fails to see that man is more than a "person." He participates in "community." The Sistine Chapel, or any construction of large magnitude, is not built by a man but men. Also missing is the idea that men do not reach their full potential alone but in working with others.

In short, the individualist see only trees and the social justice advocate see only the forest.

I think the basic problem stems from a lack of imagination. The social justice cannot see how to solve "societal" issues without erroding the rights of the individual, and thus sees the individual as less important. Likewise the individualist sees the individual rights as too important to infringe upon to solve more "societal" concerns.

To me neither view is correct. By pitting the two views against each other we receive an incomplete picture. Man is neither an island nor a cog in a "societal" machine. In adopting either view we sacrifice too many dimensions of man. We identify problems but not solutions.

In order to move past the obstacles that stem from these two views I believe we must abandon them and refocus our attention. We must ask ourselves "what is the smallest scope of humanity we can look at that incorporates all dimensions of a human being?" To do that we must turn to the Church's teaching on social justice. For in her wisdom she points us to that old and venerable institution, before nation states or Enlightenment individuality. I speak of the family.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Through fear we give in to evil

John 18:14 tells us of Caiaphas' philosophy. That the evil of killing an innocent man must be done to protect the people. Going against the Commandment that they were charged with teaching, the Pharisees seek to murder a man who had done nothing wrong. In the eyes of the Law he was blameless.

It was fear that motivated them. Fear of how the "King of the Jews" would appear to the local Roman authorities. That the people only a few days ago had hailed as their Savior. To save the Jews, they would break the Law. It was all for the "greater good."

It is striking to realize that we are no different today. It is the fear that says a baby is "punishment." The same temptation that argues we must enter into evil to save ourselves. The same temptation that says it is OK to slaughter the unborn in the name of health care.

The primary motivation of these sins is fear. Fear that being good isn't enough. That good cannot fix the problems. That good is not "productive." Evil offers a shortcut. A direct path through the mud that will solve the issue. Fear of our powerlessness to overcome our own sinfulness and that of society. Fear of the world and it's capacity to cause death and pain.

But just as the execution of that innocent Man 2000 years ago didn't save Jerusalem, neither will our modern evils that we have convinced ourselves are "necessary" will actually save us. For true Hope lies not in the machinations of the state or systems of economics, but in Christ. Our first and foremost thoughts must turn to Him.

Pray unceasingly. The King of Kings hears our prayers. Listen to Him.

Viva Christo Rey!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter Tuesday everyone!!!!

Yes, it's still Easter! Isn't that awesome!?!!

In the interest of fairness

since I hold no real loyalty to either political party.

The Republicans have never struck me as the "prolife" party. More like the "not so pro death" party. Although that is changing sadly to the "torture" party.

Abortion to the left of me, torture to the right, stuck in the middle with Christ.

But we must remember

It's only violence if it is the Democratic Party HQ that's the target.

Happy Easter Monday everyone!!!

Keep the celebration going!!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He Is Risen!!!

Glory and Praise to Christ!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And remember

it only incites violence if it's RNC strategists...

Scroll about halfway to see the target map.

An excellent article on the USCCB's role

in confusing the health care issue. Required reading. Test next week.

Update: Should read the USCCB, as distinct from the bishops themselves. I think the USCCB should be split into two groups, the body of bishops themselves, and the legislative efforts council or something. This was we can distinguish between the bishops acting in their authority vs. prudential judgements about upcoming legislation.


It's only violent rhetoric when Tea Party protestors do it...
WARNING... vulgarity.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On hierarchy of truths

In order to understand the bishops' resistance to the current health care bill we must understand the priority of truths. We must understand that these inherent rights that belong to us as human beings differ in their necessity and priority.

The first is the right to life. This is fundamental to the human being. Without the right to life all other rights are undermined because the very essence of their existence is threatened. Therefore any action or policy that threatens the right to life, even under the guise of advancing a good, undermines both the right to life and that good.

Consider a society where the government pays for everything. Healthcare, education, the works. The only condition is that the government could decide that you no longer "contribute to society" and therefore can kill you. Suddenly, all of the rights such as healthcare disappear, and are about as rigid as tin foil.

After the right to life come the necessities. Food, clothing and shelter fall under this category. These elements are needed for basic survival. Human beings have an immediate right to these necessities, and society should provide for them to the extent a society can.

However the right to life supersedes this. Again imagine if you were starving and offered food in exchange for killing someone. You do not have the right to kill that person to obtain the food. His life is as valuable as yours.

Finally come other rights. The right to medical treatment, education, etc. These are rights in the sense that a society again must provide to the best of their ability. But these rights are more relative, in that they are more subject to availability, societal organization, etc.

But again as the right to life supercedes the immediate rights to food, clothing and shelter; the right to things such as health care, etc are superceded by the the above rights. Consider the case of embryonic stem cell research. If such research were to result in cures for various diseases, etc. We would still be required to end such treatment, as the treatment requires the killing of human beings.

This hierarchy must guide us in matters of public policy. If we do not respect the priorities, we will only undermine the rights we are trying to advance, as well as the rights that are higher in priority.


it's only incendiary if Republicans say stuff like this:

No big deal if Democrats do it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Not really news

If it's Republicans in the crosshairs.

Not that violence on either side is justified. But this latest spat isn't the "first" spark.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On passions

Passion is often difficult to deal with. When used for good it can be harnessed into a motivational energy that can change the world. Used wrongly it can corrupt anything it touches.

I look out at the Catholic landscape and I see (among other things) two main camps. Those who are concerned for the wellbeing of the poor, who often call themselves proponents of social justice. In another main camp we have those who uphold the right to life of the unborn (and soon the elderly and the infirmed).

Now ideally both camps would work together for the wellbeing of both the poor and the unborn. That all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Both sides would operate passionate for their particular cause while recognizing the necessity of the other camp's cause. And both would work to insure that evil, regardless of the dimension, is not advanced. We would stand in solidarity with one another.

Sadly, the two camps are at war with another. Social justice folks view the prolife movement as an impediment to social justice causes. Likewise prolife folks view the social justice movement as being complict in the expansion of the culture of death. Both sides view the other not as allies, but at best an obstacle and at worst as enemies.

The problem is that both sides are right. The social justice movement, with their support of the latest health care debacle, IS complict in the expansion of the culture of death through the expansion of abortion. Likewise the prolife movement has failed to appreciate the very real problem of health care financing situation. The unborn, the poor, the infirmed. All of these are vulnerable and require our protection.

What we cannot do however is harm for the sake of good. Would that a politician would offer to end abortion if torture were to be legalized, we have an obligation to say no. We CANNOT cooperate with evil, even if good ends are sought. When we compromise with evil, only evil prevails.

We must recognize that if we are to truly fight for social justice and the common good, we cannot advance evil. We may not be passionate about torture, or abortion, or healthcare, or modern slavery. But we cannot support that which we know will bring more evil into the world. We gain nothing, and lose our souls in the process.

Both sides need to cooperate

to calm down the toxic atmosphere:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On violence, war and abortion

My friend Matthew Carlin asked me the following question (his question reproduced here with his permission):

I have one question about the entire thing, and I ask this in all openness and
all seriousness, because it's been on my mind for almost a decade:At the rate
things are changing, will it ever be worth civil war to you?

This continues a long string of conversations we've had over the years regarding the state of the country. Given the anger felt by the majority of the people during the Iraq War and now this debate over healthcare, it only makes sense to ponder such questions.
Even more so is the pertinent question regarding abortion. If abortion is truly the heinous crime that pro-life advocates insist it is, why are the pro life groups not taking up arms in defense of the unborn? Shouldn't the call to arms be issued, like the Germans should have during the Holocaust?

Catholic teaching on the matter of just war are clear on the requirements necessary for a war to be just:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous
consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous
conditions of moral legitimacy.
At one and the same time:

- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

- there must be serious prospects of success;

- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than
the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very
heavily in evaluating this condition.

It is hard to imagine circumstances that would justify the conditions for a civil war given the above. Self defense is the only circumstance I can think of, and even then the justification for taking another's life in self defense against the government creates a host of issues to work through.

Regarding abortion it is even more difficult to justify using violence considering the situation. One only needs to look at the murder of George Tiller to see the problem.
1. The intent was to murder George Tiller. Defending the unborn was not at issue.
2. The death of Tiller would not end the abortions at his clinic. Someone has stepped in to take his place. Legitimate defense is not an option under these circumstances.
3. George Tiller's life is just as valuable as those he murdered in the womb. The witness of the truth of the dignity of every human being is undermined by using violence to attempt to stop the killing.

Because abortion is the front and center moral issue facing this country (as slavery was in the past) it is often at the forefront of any debate, from judicial nominees to health care. But we must be careful to distinguish between the moral and the political, even when they overlap as in health care. Purely political reasons do not justify violence, even when policies strike at the core of a country's founding principles. And even when the issue is moral, the bar for using violence is very high. So much so that right now it is impossible for me to see how violence would be justified. Though if one thing is certain, the evil of abortion could provide inspiration.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Christ is the true King

May God have mercy on those who callously abandoned the unborn who will be slaughtered under the new health care bill. May God have mercy on us for our failure to live up to the Gospel. May God have mercy on those celebrate the funding of the murder of children. May God have mercy on us for tolerating the Holocaust for so long.

We have gone to a society that disregards the sanctitiy of life. We tolerate the treatment of human beings like refuse. A person is only a person if they can survive the womb. We have abandoned the weakest of us, in favor of funding money into a system that will only continue to exploit. We are a truly sick society, one that says either choose the sick person or the unborn child. Pick who to die. There is no hope where the basic principles of justice are abandoned. Where the sanctitiy of life is ignored or outright attacked.

We hide behind nuance and euphemism. Behind words and legality. We console ourselves by torturing our conscience. We rationalize away our sins. It is a sick joke that we have expanded the culture of death so close to the Resurrection of Our Lord.

And yet...

It is times like these that we are reminded why hope is a virtue. That we must cultivate that small spark that lies within us. Our worldly hopes are dashed in order that we look to the source of Hope. We see the evil in our midst in order to see that the true hope is in He who died for us.

Our trust lies not in the pricipalities and princes of this world. The schemes and machinations of men. The systems of death and destruction. The lies and deceit of the Devil.

The blood of the innocent cry out to God. He hears the cry of His little ones. The murders that go on every year and the legal system that keeps it so are an abomination. There is no justice, no peace when a socitey wages war against its own young.

His victory is assured. The King of Kings has already conquered death. The Enemy has no idea his days are numbered. Our Hope lies in the King eternal. He will come with power and majesty. His rule is absolute. His justice will be done. His little ones will see justice done.

God will not let injustice stand for long. Our hope lies in Him. His victory assured. The machinations of the Enemy will come to naught. The societies of death will be washed away. The blood of the victims of the holocaust will be avenged.

This is not the time to be dejected. This is not the time to count our losses. Our victory is assured. The innocent will see justice. God will prevail.

The night is darkest before the dawn. But the dawn will come. That hope must be held. We must allow that knowledge to comfort us. The abortion scourge will be washed away. Those that cling to the industry of death will be swept away like chaff. The evil in this world will be wiped from it.

Every tear will have meaning. Every valiant sacrifice will be rewarded. The King of Kings, the Lord of Hosts, the Alpha and the Omega, He is our true King. His judgement will be rendered. His mercy extended to those who wish it. Our hope lies in Him. The source of Hope.

For those who are dejected with the expansion of the death industry, be not afraid. Do not succumb to despair. This is the time to rise up. This is the time to turn to God, now more than ever. Now is the time to stand up.

God will prevail. His will is everlasting. His justice and mercy will rule to the ends of the earth. We know this. We cannot falter now. We will stand with those who do not have a voice. We must stand with those who are murdered every day, now in the name of health care. We must redouble our efforts, knowing that the victory of the King of Kings is assured.

We have work to do.

Viva Cristo Rey!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Will it be worth it?

Heading to the final vote today on the health care bill I have examined the arguments of the pro-bill side of the debate, especially from those of the progressive Catholic wing. I have wondered if they realize how many bridges they have burned in their attempt to get this bill passed. To date, I count the following:

*Thrown the USCCB under the bus for its opposition to the bill
*Called into question the USCCB's legal dept. on its ability to analyze this bill (re abortion).
*Imputed ulterior motives on the part of the pro-life movement in general (ie. it's not about abortion, it's about killing health care)
*Become so single issue minded to denigrate the concerns of a wide sector of the population's views on the bill (constitutional, moral, fiscal, etc.)

It amazes me in a sense because the bill itself falls way short of the vaunted goals of those who believe in state financed care. The public option doesn't exist, for example. Nor is the system streamlined to achieve any real benefit from getting the government involved.

More importantly, they have made it much more difficult for those on the other side to cooperate in the future. By undermining the USCCB as well as fellow Catholics in the pro-life movement they have further widened the rift between Catholics on this issue.

I do hope some good comes out of this bill if it passes. But I can't imagine what good could possibly offset the damage this bill has caused to the Catholic community, as well as the general U.S. population.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health care bill is litigation city

Another issue that the health care bill causes: A huge spike in litigation:

I didn't sign up for this!

I can't help but be amused by the occasional outburst of righteous anger from well meaning Catholics who get worked up over attacks against the Faith (author included). From the Da Vinci Code, to Piss Christ, to TV in general, it is true that attacks come from all sides. And indeed at a certain level the anger is legitimate.

But friends kindly remember three things. First that it has always been this way, if not worse. Second, as Christians we signed up for this. Finally, we have already won the fight.

As for the first thing whenever I see such attacks I try to remind myself what it must have been like for the first Christians whenever a new Emperor mounted the throne. Odds are it went something like this:

Christian 1: "We have a new emperor."
Christian 2: "Wonder if he will continue the current policy of feeding us to the lions?"
1: "Maybe he's a progressive and will simply behead us?"
Etc. It could be a lot worse than it is now. It WAS a lot worse for those who came before us.

Second, our King warned us about this. He didn't promise life would be a cakewalk after we chose to follow Him. Jesus died on the cross, and before then told us we must do the same. We should be thankful that our burden is so light.

Finally, We need to remember that we have already won. Christ conquered death, folks! Who is Dan Brown compared to the King of the Universe? Instead of being "OUTRAGED!!1!11!", we should be saying to folks like Dan Brown, "That's really the best you can do, huh." The victory of God is inevitable. Our job, first and foremost, is to preach that Good News.

USCCB and fair weather fans

One of the more interesting things about the current health care debate is the sudden realignment of the loyalties to the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). Old friends are now enemies, and vice versa.

The progressive held that since the USCCB was against the Iraq war this was the official Catholic position on the war in Iraq. Multiple appeals to documents released during the run up and initial phase of the war lent credibility to the idea the correct moral position was one of opposition.

However, since the bishops have come out against the current Senate bill the progressive Catholics have all but ignored the USCCB. Indeed some have insinuated that they are misled on abortion, they are in too deep with the NRLC (National Right to Life Coallition). Indeed, we are suddenly reminded of the fact that from a "required submission" standpoint that fidelity to the USCCB is only mandatory insofar as your local bishop agrees with it. Note: This is the correct view, it is simply the timing that bothers me.

Conversley, we have those on the right who have in the past and present criticized the USCCB for being too far to the left on political issues. From the Iraq War to immigration, these folks have referred to the USCCB as a left wing organization. Arguments abound about the right to differ with prudential matters with the USCCB. Again, the arguments are correct so far as the moral teaching of the Church is concerned, but the motivation is somewhat dubious.

Now with the USCCB coming out against the health care bill conservative Catholics now view the council as the vanguard of the Faith. Suddenly it is popular to agree with the USCCB among conservative Catholics.

It is enough to make one's head spin. One can only wonder what will happen when immigration is a hot topic again. The political shift might tilt the Earth's axis.

Single issue voters

For those of us who stand up for the rights of the unborn, we are often accused of being "single issue voters." This term is used in a derogatory fashion. It basically means that prolife folks are so focused on abortion to the exclusion of other social justice concerns.

I am therefore enamored by the extent to which the current health care bill proponents support and defend it with almost single-minded focus. Objections to the bill are dismissed as being tangential.

*Inadequate conscience rights - not important
*Funding of abortion through CHCs - irrelevant
*Constitutional concerns - pfft!
*Budget issues - poor people are dying!1!!1
*Rationing of care - "death panels.....sure"

Indeed the concerns that a variety of people have concerning the the current bill from a number of perspectives are dismissed if not denigrated as being uncaring about the poor.

As this is written proponents are undermining the validity of the "single issue voter problem" by promoting a bill that has a variety of problems, under the guise of being "too important" to be hampered by such trivialities as funding the murder of unborn children.

I guess it depends on which issue you "single out."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Suspicion for me but not for thee

As if to continue my last post it seems that taking your advice is a very difficult thing to do. Over at Vox Nova one of the regular posters writes about the Hermeneutic of Suspicion. I could not help but notice the following:

Today, the pro-life movement is automatically inclined to view any Democratic initiative in this area through the “hermeneutic of suspicion”, always assuming bad motives, and always seeking hidden traps and pitfalls.
Given that the Democratic Party platform is dedicated to the expansion of abortion "rights" as they define it I think a little suspicion is healthy. Although suspicion of politicians in general is a good idea, regardless of your fav government ideology.

What I kept thinking about was what came toward the end of this post:

It would be a grave mistake to prevent passage of such a momentous bill based on a prudential preference for the language of one bill when the differences are second order. It would be a grave mistake for the USCCB to be influenced by the likes of the NRLC in this matter – they are not trustworthy[emphasis mine].
Apparently it is okay to distrust groups that the author disagrees with.

Now in all fairness the author is correct in that there are those who want to use the abortion issue as a wedge to stall the passage of the current health care bill. Just as there are those who would use the current health care bill as a vehicle as a means for more government control over the health industry (Obama himself stated that the public option is a gateway to a single payer).

But to plead for those of us who are "suspicious" to drop our suspicion, not in order for people to approach all sides in charity, but simply to transfer the distrust from the author's view to the author's ideological opponents is a bit suspicious in and of itself.

This is not to say that the NRLC may deserve some criticism for inconsistency(the "evidence" provided for Medicare Advantage is from 2009, not sure what was passed since Medicare Advantage was first passed), or that the Democrats are trying to sneak in abortion funding. It's just that I don't think it is entirely convincing to plead for insinuation of motives to end and then to accuse your opponents of falsehood in the same post. Apparently only those of us who disagree need to "get with it."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A call for civility in debate?

Every once in a while I will read a blogger or writer calling for "civility in public debate." The hatred is too intense. The language is too coarse. We aren't communicating with each other. Etc. All of the above in a certain sense is true (though I truly wonder if it was really different in any other age or time).

What I have found interesting is a curious phenomenon where the person calling for civility is often commits the very crimes he decries. In one post the writer will lament the lick of civility and then in the next declare how his opponents are the very incarnation of evil, because he wants to lower/raise taxes or some other trivial nonsense(depends on what you read).

I read such articles and posts and while in general I agree that we could all do well with a dose of civility, I often feel that those who make the call often enough are in need of their own advice. It's almost a dye marker of sorts. If you find yourself thinking there is too much heat in the kitchen, maybe you were the one who turned up the oven.

I was thinking these thoughts as I realized that I myself was thinking that there is too little charity in the public square. But as I meditated more I realized I was just as much as a problem as anyone else. The Internet, for the good it does in terms of making information readily available, makes it difficult to connect on a human level. A person I tear apart in a combobox I might be best friends with despite our disagreements if sat down and had a beer.

I think anyone who wants more civility in discussion should take a good look in the mirror. Too often we fail to see, in specific terms, how we contribute to the problem. Whenever we accuse someone of ulterior motives, we should be the first to point out our own faults in this matter. To truly see if we are acting in charity rather than simply trying to "win" or "be right."

In this vein I would like to make an apology. There is one person named Henry Karlson, a regular contributor at a site called Vox Nova. Their politics are about as far from mine as they can get. Yet in arguing with him I have said things that were unfair. In particular, I have accused him of supporting the pro-abortion movement despite his protests to the contrary.

For clarification, I think Mr. Karlson argues too much against the pro-life movement. At best, I think his views do little to advance the rights of the unborn, and at worst undermine them. I stand by my view of this and will defend such. Indeed it was because of my view on this that I initially thought he was actually arguing for a pro-abortion position.

But my evaluation of his arguments and what he actually says and believes are different things. Everyone deserves to have his opinion represented accurately. What I think his opinion leads to is not the same as his opinion. Karlson, despite my disagreements with him, says he is pro-life, and without evidence to the contrary he deserves to be taken at his word.

And so with that I offer a heartfelt apology. I hope to rectify this mistake however I can. And will attempt in the future to discuss, debate, and argue in the spirit of charity. If we truly seek to live as Christ's disciples, then we should at least be able to discuss our political differences in the Truth of the Faith.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The coming exodus from politics?

I have been musing lately about the state of Catholics in politics. From the recent scandals surrounding the CCHD funding of pro-abortion and homosexual causes to the recent advocacy of torture by certain sectors of the Republican Party, I wonder if it would be prudent for Catholics to take a step back and reassess the current political makeup.

There was a time when a Catholic felt comfortable within the Democratic Party. The party's social justice platform on a lot of levels squared quite nicely with the Catholic social justice thought. Catholic bishops and priests marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King. The Church's history of advocacy for workers' rights during the Industrial Revolution again played into the politics of the time.

In the 60's however the Democratic Party embraced abortion as part of it's social justice framework. Rather than abandon the Party, several prominent Catholics abandoned the Faith, and several theologians and clergy aided this effort to create a rationalization for the abandonment of the right to life.

Since that time rifts opened between the social justice movement and the new and emerging pro-life movement. As the politics split on the abortion issue, so did the Catholic population. The social justice advocates abandoned their stance against abortion (or regulated it to the back burner), and the pro-life faction drifted toward the emerging conservative movement.

Over time the moral views of the factions drifted farther apart. The Catholic Left all but abandoned the sexual ethics of the Church in favor of social justice causes focused on the poor. The pro-life, pro-sexual ethics faction formed an uneasy alliance with the political conservatives. Often incorporating the small government movement with pro-life causes.

In more recent years under the Bush administration the issue of torture arose out of policies that came to light during the Iraq War. While some policies, such as retention in foreign countries that allowed for torture were nothing new, the public defense of policies such as waterboarding was a new phenomenon. The pro-life faction in large part ignored or defended the Bush Administration's policies.

Today the politics that have split the country down the middle have split the Church congregation as well. Social justice is pitted against pro-life. Solidarity vs. Subsidiarity. The right to health care vs. the right to live. Catholics are presented time and again with choosing one intrinsic evil vs. another, and trying to end one by supporting another, even indirectly.

It is time to reevaluate if the involvement in politics is worth the split that has resulted. What are the gains we've made? What have we lost? Were the gains worth it? Where do we go now? In an increasingly secular society that pushes a view of humanity that is twisted and false, the Church, clergy and laity, will need to reassess their own involvement in the realm of politics. "For what is it worth to gain the whole world, and lose your soul." There may come a point where we have to choose between our political rights and our souls. To choose to live in this world, or to choose to be faithful to God, and choose exile in the public sphere.

This is not to say to withdraw from society altogether. But that as the secular degradation progresses, we must be cautious in what we support, and vigilant in opposition to the intrinsic evils in this world. It is time I believe that the Church in America must reevaluate where we stand in regards to the current culture, and what we can do without cutting ourselves off from the Source of Life.

As it was said, "We are neither Democrats nor Republicans, we are monarchists." Remember that in all things we must surrender not to a Republic or a Despot, but our true King. He is the one we serve first.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pro-Reform, but not this reform

It is a curious tendency in today's politics to conflate opposition to a particular action or policy of the government with rejecting the principle that the policy is supposed to address outright. That the rejection of a bill in Congress to, say, reform federal welfare is to be against welfare reform in principle.

It is thus the curious tendency of those who support the current health care bill(s) in Congress to label those who oppose the bills as wanting to keep the status quo. That the current bills before the legislature are the only way to fix the current mess that is the U.S. health care financial system.

However that is not the case. In fact I think it may be one of the few things that all Americans agree on is that the financing system is in desperate need of reform. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, etc. you are under the thumb of a horribly inefficient and costly system. The quality of the care itself is second to none, yet you may go bankrupt by breaking a leg. Such a system cannot be sustained.

It is however the HOW that we are currently arguing over. What the current debate shows is a clash of political ideologies. Private market vs. state run. Centralized control vs. private ownership. Single-payer vs. private financing. Those on both sides of the fence know that with 17% of the economy on the line, who wins the debate over health care will more or less ultimately decide the course of America's political operating philosophy in this country for years to come.

As a small government conservative I have grave doubts about the ability of the U.S. government to control costs without restricting care. I also am skeptical of the ability of the national government to manage the financial system of 300 million people with the diversity that this country possesses. Other countries with far less geography and differences in culture experience great problems in state run care. This is not to say that there aren't benefits to a centralized system. But given that Western Europe's problems with state run care (France, England) with their spending of 11% of their GDP on average, state run care is far from a panacea. Thus while I acknowledge the problems we have I don't feel the current legislation is the way to go.

I am all too aware, as most of the opposition is, about the problems in the current system. But the unfortunate tendency to label those who disagree with us and stuff them in an ideological box so we can dismiss their argument is far too easy these days. If we are to solve the health care financial problems we will need to come up with a solution that we can all be comfortable with. The political left and right have the right to have a say. I am thankful that the wisdom of the founding fathers has shone through again and that sweeping changes cannot happen in this country unless both the minority and majority have a voice.

For homework today I suggest an excellent article about why our system is neither a free market or state controlled system, but a horrid hybrid of both. I welcome all comments and discussion provided that they are conducted in a spirit of charity.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Civil War really was about slavery (who knew?)

In my youth I learned that the Civil War was about slavery. That Abe Lincoln and the North fought to free the slaves from the South. It was a nice tale.

Then in my sophisticated youth (as sophisticated as a teenage boy can be anyway) I learned that the Civil War was about states' rights. That the North and South disputed the amount of sovereignty that the federal government had. Slavery was there, but on the peripheral.

I wonder how much of my sophisticated view is true though? As Catholics, we are called to see that this world is as much a struggle about good and evil as it is about practical things. Slavery was always an issue. It nearly cost us the country, and because of it this country faced the bloodiest war in American history.

As a political conservative I happen to believe in state sovereignty. The South did as well. But in its quest to hold on to a horrendous evil, the South used state sovereignty as a legal shield. They tried every means to hold on to this evil, and in the end lost everything. Their homes, their local authority, even the slavery that they fought to protect, their "pecurliar institution and cherished way of life."

I can't help but think of how the health care reform debate would have gone had not the main proponents had not insisted on the horrible evil that is abortion. The proponents of health care reform insisted on including abortion funding despite 76% of the country not wanting it. In what appears to be the end, the proponents have lost their super-majority, the debate, and even the abortion funding.

It is true that there were other factors contributing to the defeat of the health care bill, but I can't help but wonder if, just like in the Civil War with slavery, that abortion was ultimately the downfall of the bill. The Church's Social Justice teaching holds that any compromise on the right to life under the guise of "social justice" becomes a lie, and ultimately fails to further the cause of social justice. It appears to me that we have a very clear case that trying to advance "universal health care" by sacrificing the unborn has only served to undermine that goal.

This is not to say that this country doesn't need health care reform. But as the South did by using a real principle (states' rights) as a means to preserve a great evil, so too have the abortion advocates used the real need for health care financing reform as a means to advance a great evil. And in doing so accomplished neither.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The problem of morality in video games Part IV : Situational ethics

This is the fourth in a series pondering morality in video games and the problems that come with this new factor in the entertainment industry. This article contains spoilers for the following games:


If you do not wish to know more about the game in question, please refrain from reading further.


Consider the following situation: You are a superhero with powers such as super agility and the ability to scale walls at a lighting quick rate. You are facing a super-villain who has no ethical limitations. He just detonated a device that has shattered the city you live in and the government has quarantined the city. This super villain has also captured the following:

1. Your girlfriend (as in serious relationship, not like you like you relationship)
2. Five doctors who are needed to help the sick and wounded in the city

You are only able to choose one to save, either the girlfriend or the doctors. Which do you choose?

Such is the moral dilemma posed by the best seller Infamous, a game where you play the role of Cole MacGrath, an ordinary guy who finds himself with super powers relating to electricity. The game's production values are excellent (visuals, gameplay, control, sound, etc.) Yet the world is gritty, people are suffering in the city after a terrible explosion, and everyday is a fight to survive. Therefore several extreme situations and difficult moral choices are common in this game. Related to this is the "morality rating" that dictates the access of powers that you can learn later. Be the hero of the city and you gain access to powers of healing and disabling your foes. Become a villain and receive access to powers of destruction.

The above situation occurs near the end of the game and like many others before it forces your character to make a difficult moral choice. Save the love of your life at the expense of the lives saved by the doctors? Or sacrifice her to save the doctors and in turn help the people of the city? The game rates the saving the doctors as the "good" choice, identifying you as making the "good" choice. Saving the girlfriend (while futile since the villain kills her anyway) is the "evil" choice.

The problem with this view is that it assumes a utilitarian view of humanity. It is for the "greater good" that while the girlfriend is sacrificed, the doctors are saved, and therefore more people can be saved. This however is an erroneous viewpoint. If one believes that every human being is truly unique, then every life is of infinite value, and the lost of that life is an infinite loss. Thus the girlfriend's life is just as important as the doctors' lives or of those they will save. To view people through the lens of contributing to society is to put a relative value on the life of a human being.

Another problem with this situation is the assumption of motivation. It is "selfish" to save the girlfriend because, well, she's your girlfriend, and as such the player is acting out of a selfish desire. Perhaps the player thinks it is possible to save both? Perhaps she is the closest person, and therefore saving her is more of a possibility? The presumption of motivation damages the ability to evaluate the "good" or "evil" of a particular action.

Sadly, games boasting of moral choices that attach a view of "good" or "evil" often have an unstated moral viewpoint. This moral viewpoint, either wittingly or otherwise, is expressed in how the game evaluates "good" and "evil" actions. Sometimes they are clear cut (killing civilians is wrong, saving civilians is good). But other times, such as the above situation, reveal at best an incomplete or at worst an incorrect view of humanity and a consequentialist/utilitarian viewpoint of humanity.

The problem created by the situation reveals a consistent and understated problem with current video games and their inclusion of morality. The correctness and consistency of a moral viewpoint is a very important factor to any story for two reasons. First, the moral ethic is the backdrop for why the hero/villain undertakes the actions and forms the ideas of why the person is a hero/villain. A consistent moral ethic is absolutely essential in order to understand what makes a hero a hero vs. a villain. The second is that people learn about morality through stories. It is why we tell them. It is why we read to our children. One must be cognizant of the moral lessons in the stories that our children are exposed to.

At this current stage of morality in video games I will attempt to argue that far from malice on the part of developers, the inconsistent or simply wrong ideas about morality stem from simply not thinking about a consistent moral ethic in their games. In the next few posts we will look at some games and how their stories show the moral philosophy (or not) that underlines the stories in the games.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The problem of morality in video games Part III: The progression of video game moral themes

In my previous post I briefly explained how the video game industry has evolved around the same pace as the technology (computers) have. Because of this rapidly evolving industry, there are outdated ideas of video games and in a lot of cases a lack of respect or thought toward the ideas and moral ideas that games convey today. In this post we will look at early video game morality (such as it existed), and then compare to more modern games.

Early video games more or less did either fell into two categories with regard to morality: the simplistic adventure where the objective was to survive hordes of enemies to get from point A to point B. Most games were linear, objective oriented, and story and world creation served merely as backdrop to the adventure and objectives. Early games didn't encourage much moral thought about the morality of stomping on a Goomba's head, saving the princess, or killing Dracula.

Even in such primitive origins however there were exceptions. Golgo XIII, a Nintendo game based off of the popular manga series, dealt with themes that one could find in a James Bond film, complete with easily seduced informants. Even with dealing with mature themes however much was implied, not shown. Very little in the way of bloodly violence or sexuality/nudity were present (at least in the U.S.). While such games were often outside the mainstream, they were the same simplistic linear scheme, often leaving a player to simply play out a role rather than influence the moral narrative.

As gaming grew up during the '90s so did the themes. While still limited in scope, moral dimensions began to develop in games as story elements and game worlds became more immersing. However, even this development was constrained to more adventure/role playing games, where the moral path was set and players simply played out the role they were assigned. Still, the moral themes dealt with in such games (war, death, loss, life) showed a trend toward more developed story narratives.

In today's world of video games we have come even further in the development of narrative and the ability to give players choices in how the moral narrative plays out. The development of story telling has grown in leaps and bounds, creating fleshed out story lines and development of characters. Another development is the expansive worlds which allow for a diversity of moral choices that affect how the story is formed. To list but a few:

Assassin's Creed series: A sci-fi series detailing the life of Desmond Miles and how he lives the lives of his ancestors through a machine. Deals with conspiracies, religion (in a negative sense) and the lives of fictional assassins.

Fallout 3: A post apocalyptic Washington D.C. where you play a wanderer searching for his lost father. A variety of moral choices, ranging from giving water to a beggar to saving or blowing up a town with an atomic bomb.

Dragon Age: Origins: A fantasy role-playing game where you play as a Grey Warden, a character whose destiny is to save the world from darkspawn, a race of monsters bent on destroying the world. Involves religion (specific to the game world), situational ethics, sexuality and violence.

Infamous: The semi-futuristic world of Liberty City is bombed using a package delivered by your character, giving you electricity based abilities. Choose to be a hero seeking salvation for the city, or a villain and seek revenge. Deals with life and death, survival scenarios, and choosing good or evil actions/missions.

It is in the context of these games (and others) that we will examine the current state of morality in video games. From these examples and others we can get see how morality is expressed in the medium as well as the limitations that video games currently suffer from.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The problem of morality in video games Part II : The computer model

In order to understand the difficulties inherent in adding morality to video games it is important to understand how the medium has evolved over the years. Those who grew up or think of video games in the vein of the original Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. have an '80s concept of video games. Both the technology and industry have evolved over the years, and with that evolution the games themselves from presentation to content have expanded and matured (a term used very loosely).

A computer (or console, which is essentially a gaming computer) for the sake of this discussion is basically a math machine with what is called Boolean logic. To those who know computers this is an oversimplification of sorts but for this discussion it will suffice. 1's and 0's. True or false. This is the nature of Boolean logic, and a computer's natural function knows very little beyond this. We refer to this as the "digital world" as opposed to our analog world, where things become more complicated than on-off. It is this machine that we attempt to "model" the world though software. Video games are no exception. But even this realization shows how the medium (the computer) renders it difficult to model complex real world ideas such as "morality."

Video games and computers have gone hand in hand since the existence of the computer. From text-based games to one of the first visual games "Pong," the games have grown with the technology. The first video games that are familiar to the older generation reflect the state of technology at the time. Often games such as "Donkey Kong" would push computers to their limit, and represented the full potential of the computer running the game. Even the original Nintendo gaming machine, while revolutionary at the time, were still very limited in their computation power. With games such as Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and Frogger being the standard bearer for video games it is little wonder why most regarded video games as primitive and simple.

Of course computers have evolved since then, and with them the video games running on them. Gone are the restrictions of memory and processing power. The ability to render lush 3-D worlds and create complexity in video games is less limited by technology than in the past. Indeed most computers today have a specific part of the computer hardware devoted entirely to visual rendering, better known as a video card. This is not to say that technology is no longer a limiting factor, but more and more the true limits on video games comes from the imagination of the developers.

As the technology has evolved, so has the industry that creates video games. Once a small outfit on the verge of bankruptcy, Nintendo is now one of the giants in a multi-million dollar entertainment industry. With corporate giants Sony and Microsoft as direct competitors, the resources that are used to develop video games is staggering compared to only 20 years ago. For example, the development budget for the game Wing Commander 4 was 12 million dollars, a staggering number for 1995.

It is also worth noting that just as the video industry has expanded, so has the fan base. One the purview of technology enthusiasts, video games are becoming more mainstream every day. With the release of Nintendo's Wii console, using motion sensor input from a player moving the Wii remote to simulate motion such as swinging a tennis racket, the industry is pushing more and more into the mainstream market, and attempting to reach out to those who wouldn't normally buy a console. And not to be outdone, Microsoft and Sony are to release their own versions of motion sensor capturing peripherals.

As one can see the potential for video games today is staggering. With the technology to render entire virtual worlds, the resources of Hollywood, and an expanding market, the sky is the limit on what the future will bring. As the industry is still evolving and maturing, we can only wait to see if video games enter society on the level that movies do.

Now that we have the background for the discussion, in our next installment we will look at the problems of morality and the challenges of incorporating morality into video games. Afterward
we will look at how technology and morality intersect in the video game industry and the unique challenges that developers face when incorporating morality into video games.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The problem of morality in video games Part I

One topic that has come up every once in a while on gaming forums is the moral content in video games. Given the success and increasingly diverse world of video games, the moral content of video games is becoming more and more of a concern. From such games that teach lessons such as "Crime does pay" like in Grand Theft Auto, to the Da Vinci Code like atmosphere of Assassin's Creed 2, the content of video games is more of a concern of parents than ever before.

Clouding the issue even more are uninformed critics of games where the "objectionable" aspects of video games are blown out of proportion. From misconceptions of the context of a game that provides many moral choices, such as the recently released Dragon Age: Origins, comes this piece of, let's call it "incomplete journalism". The problem comes in that the article fails to acknowledge the diversity of choices in the game. This is but one path in a variety of choices that a player can encounter.

I intend to examine over the course of several posts the difficulties that morality in video games presents, from perspectives such as technical, moral and theological. I hope that by analyzing this growing form of entertainment that we are able to get a clearer picture of the evolving state of the video game industry and provide helpful analysis as to what questions to ask when evaluating the moral content of a game.

Overkill you may ask? Perhaps, but while I've seen parents who won't take their children to see a R-rated movie but will buy for their child the latest Dante's Inferno. It's this moral confusion that I hope to clear up and being to raise awareness of today's video game content, but for good and ill.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Magna Carta 2

Enter the world of Lanzheim, a beautifully rendered world from a Korean development group. Magna Carta 2 is the third in the series, and is exclusive for the XBox360.

The good: Beautiful graphics. The world is rendered lush and the characters in the story are very stylish, though the style and modeling of the characters takes a little while to get used to. Effects such as spells are quite dazzling in their own right, but it might take a few playthroughs to see all their skills. The cinematic scenes are well rendered and interesting, but not too many to take away from the game.

The music, while not stellar, is of good quality and appropriate to the mood. From the quiet nature town of Cota Mare to the battlefields of Dunan Hill, the music matches quite well and doesn't get too repetitive. The sound is also of high quality.

The game play is quite absorbing, though at times one can feel the battling getting stale. Encounters occur in real-time, so no sudden random encounter battles from other RPGS such as early Final Fantasy games. There is some challenge overall, but this has more to do with trekking across wide stages without getting to save (sometimes 45min between such). While not unusual for RPGS, it makes playing in discrete chunks more difficult.

The story overall is about as standard as one can get for an RPG. Amnesiac hero. Check. Displaced princess. Check. Overly perky sidekick. Check. In fact they could have renamed it "Basic Elements of Japanese RPGS." This isn't to say the story is bad, but it is rather predictable (although there was one twist I did not expect). On the bright side, I felt that the game had very powerful pro-life tones.

The moral: Overall I was very pleased with the story from a pro-life perspective. While it does trip at the finsh line with a reference to relativism, the games conveys a sense that all life is precious, and that the forced sacrifice of some for the benefit of all is not right. There is also touching moments where the origin of one character is from immoral circumstances (according to what is possible in the world), and this character requires both redemption and validation that the character has worth despite how the character came to be.

Some mild language, provacative costumes for some of the female characters (apparently good women don't wear much clothing), and violent imagery (though no blood or gore if memory serves).

My rating: 8.0 - Teens and up.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Assassin's Creed 2

Set in the 15th century Florence, Itay. This game follows the exploits of one Ezio Autitore. This is the sequel to the hit Assassin's Creed.

The technicals: Graphics are excellent, with some minor glitches (esp. when synchronizing on rooftop map points.) But overall the presentation is gorgeous.

Music is a right mix of soundtracks depending on action sequences or sneaking around. Voice acting is stellar for a video game. I did have some issues with balancing the music and voice volume though (which can be adjusted in the options menu).

The good:

Everything that was wrong about the first game, repetive missions, pointless overworld, pointless secondary goals like *shudder* flag collecting have been done away. There are still plenty of secondary objectives. Ezio has plenty of cool new gadgets (as well as the trusty hidden blade). The story follows Ezio, the ancestor of the series future protagonist Desmon Miles. Using the Animus, a machine that allows the user to relive the memories of one's ancestor's (convienently stored inside the user's DNA).

This game is fun. From jumping on rooftops to figuring out ways to assassinate your targets, it has never been cooler to be an assassin.

The bad: Glitchy at times (XBox 360). One odd glitch in particular when trying to assassinate a rooftop guard, only to have him replicate into about 20 guards. Needless to say, I had to leave in a hurry.

The restrictions: Sexual innuendo abound, as well as R-rated language (mostly in Italian, but subtitles. Realistice violence and blood.

From a faith perspective:

From Leonardo da Vinci's Animus profile, "Rumors abound about his homosexuality." Right then I realized I was playing a Dan Brown novel. The game itself seems to go out of its way to attack the Catholic Church. I was particularly annoyed about some of the profile entries regarding the treatment of religion. Unless you read the profiles however you may not see this aspect of the game until ***SPOILER ALERT*** you have to assassinate the Pope (not kidding), who is revealed to be the Templar leader this time around. Now granted this is Alexander VI (and who didn't want to take a swing at him). But I found it very disconcerting to say the least, since by this point the reason why the papal staff is the key to unlocking the secret of Eden under the Vatican (not kidding, seriously) doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Overall the tone of the game is anti-religion. In particular anti-Catholic.

In the future, I intend to post why the Assassin's Creed story ultimately makes no sense whatsoever. But for now suffice to say that this sequel improves on the gameplay but basically nukes the story.

But I was a little disturbed athow much fun it was to kill two guards at once with Double Hidden Blades. That didn't get old...


Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 9.0
Control: 9.0
Fun value: 9.5
Faith value: 1.0
Rated: Adults only (if that)