Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

So much to think about. So little thought.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 18, 2011

The lack of clear and deep thinking in public discourse, particularly in the media, astonishes me. Phil Lawler often pulls things out of the New York Times almost at random, which show either total ignorance or an incapacity for logic. I try to keep up on what my betters are saying by glancing through The Week, a magazine that summarizes what different editors and columnists have to say about ongoing issues, generally trying to hit several points of view on each question.

You can sometimes guess where The Week’s editors stand by considering who gets the last word in the survey of opinions. But what strikes me is how shaky are the cited opinions when it comes to things like mental consistency, logic, depth of understanding, or even common sense. This is especially true when covering our social sacred cows, like homosexuality and abortion. Here are two examples from a single issue, that of February 18th:

In its review of international columns, The Week teases in a headline that “The West inspired Africa’s violent homophobia”, and by the end of the piece the survey of opinions is quoting Semthorun Raj, writing in Australia’s National Times, to the effect that the West too is hopelessly backward in sexual matters:

But it’s worth recalling that Africa’s first sodomy laws were passed by colonial rulers, and that gays in many Western countries are still subjected to legal harassment and told that their desire to marry is “unnatural.” The world, not just Africa, has a long way to go to root out homophobia.

This leaves quite a mess on the table, doesn’t it? For example, the very use of the term “homophobia” implies that all opposition to homosexual acts is rooted in fear (and presumably in bigotry and misunderstanding), which is an absurd supposition for a reasoned discussion of the morality of any human behavior. Moreover, it is nothing short of a conjuring trick for Raj’s to equate the execution and imprisonment of active African gays (the reason for the article) with the conviction that the gay desire to marry is unnatural.

Then there is the survey of opinion on “Abortion: The fight over federal dollars”. It begins with the question “Why do Republicans think they can treat ‘a woman’s pelvis as public property?’” raised by Dianne Williamson in the Worcester, Mass., Telegram. One wonders how the Republican desire to eliminate public funding of abortion can be portrayed as an exercise in making the female pelvis public. And the piece ends with an apparent attempt at wisdom by Leah Anthony Libresco, writing on

People who have a principled opposition to abortion have every right to work to see it outlawed. But trying to restrict it out of existence puts congressmen in the role of doctors—and women’s lives in jeopardy.

All this statement says is that Libresco doesn't believe her opponents can make abortion illegal, but she does believe they can defund it. In other words, it is perfectly all right to oppose abortion as long as one does not oppose it effectively.

Sometimes issues are more complex, and so sometimes the lame comments are not so much wrong as totally inadequate. Hence I was also amused by by the coverage of whether Supreme Court justices are now too “Blatantly Partisan”. The furor, as you might expect, revolves around the outspokenness of Justice Antonin Scalia. Jonathan Turley, writing in the Washington Post, expresses his horror at Scalia’s public statement that the Constitution does not guarantee women equal rights. Turley seems not to know that this says nothing about Scalia’s view of the rights of women; it is a simple statement of Constitutional fact.

Some other columnists fairly pointed out that leftist justices like Ruth Ginsburg frequently made their views known in public forums without criticism, but Adam Liptak, writing in The New York Times, says that the whole partisanship problem is different now, because we get fewer unanimous or strong majority decisions. Instead, the Court too often splits 5-4 along partisan lines. That undermines the Courth’s credibility, because it suggests that coherent judicial principles are not operative.

Liptak is right, I think, about the plethora of 5-4 decisions, but it is possible that the Court was just as partisan when there were more unanimous decisions, except that the partisanship was mostly on one side. If that is not the case, then Liptak should be examining deeper issues of which he seems blissfully unaware. For example, even a moment's reflection reveals that the rise of secular liberalism spawns jurists who are incapable of deciding anything on principle. Rejecting the Divine law, the natural law and the letter of the Constitution as guides, such judges have no recourse but to rule according to their own personal visions.

This is the ultimate partisanship. It is a national epidemic. Thus, those who champion the reigning fashions are principled. Those who oppose them are partisan.

So much to think about. So little thought.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2011 8:23 AM ET USA

    You're right, Dr. Mirus, about the low level of much of our public discourse these days, but in many cases what you cite is not reasoned discourse at all, but simply a partisan's attempt to "rally the troops", i.e., to stir similarly affected persons to a high emotional pitch. Like cheerleaders at a football game, they just want people excited, screaming themselves hoarse - discourse be damned.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 19, 2011 11:09 AM ET USA

    Along with the lack of intellectual engagement, there is the disordered excessive emotional "dynamic" in how many "think" (feel) today. Utilitarian "values" are the norm rendering many "incapable of deciding anything on principles." The current national debt is a prime example. While facing the mathematical impossibility of sustaining current govt. spending habits, people are rallying to continue to increase public "benefits." To quote from a slightly more vibrant intellectual era- "Whatever!"

  • Posted by: pdhow5802 - Feb. 18, 2011 7:13 PM ET USA

    "the very use of the term “homophobia” implies that all opposition to homosexual acts is rooted in fear (and presumably in bigotry and misunderstanding)," Whereas the support of the unnatural acts, roundly condemned by Cicero and other pagans, is really, without any reasonable basis for support, HOMOMANIA.