Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another angle on Gov. Palin

Well, the campaign has been going pretty much as one might expect. Pretty brutally. Which is a sure indication that the Obama camp is worried, which is good. The attacks made on Sen. McCain's VP pick aren't rational, or polite, or even particularly relevant; they're throwing up a whole lot of excrement and hoping some of it will stick. Only, no one ever told them that flinging poo around could leave you with more of an "image problem" than your target. And such has happened in this case.

The qualification issue is one of the funnier, more surreal aspects of this election. How many times have we seen news anchors put on their "Tough Talk" face, look at their guest with a scrutinizing expression, and ask "Is Sarah Palin qualified to become President should John McCain become incapacitated? Is she ready to assume that office on Day One if necessary?" And then in their free time, they'll extol the virtues of Barack Obama. Because, you know, he's so experienced. An idiotic move, that.

As I was musing over coffee this morning, though, there was another facet to a McCain-Palin ticket that I hadn't considered before. Usually, I'm not at all fond of the "populist" rhetoric that insists our representatives "be like us" or "be one of us". If there is an advantage to having your next-door neighbor in office, it is not that they are "like you" but rather that they have a much more direct knowledge of your interests and can represent them better in the body politic. But in American politics, in many cases, it's the person who can convince you they're more like you that gets your vote. This tends towards identity politics, but that's how these things work, sadly. Gov. Palin makes this a bit more interesting, though.

In many ways, she's got much more of a pedigree as an American woman than most of her opposite numbers on the Left side of the aisle. Yes, I know this'd get any feminist shrieking mad, but consider: Sarah Palin has 5 children. Soccer mom, right? Or even just a mom, whichever you prefer. It could be convincingly argued that her duties as a mother would or should prevent her from wielding executive power. But at the same time, if you're going for the ticket that looks "more like you", McCain/Palin comes out on top. Same for the gun-toting part. Most Americans enjoy firearms, and use them in some way or other. How many times has the "Hunting Trip Photo Op" became standard campaign fare? But under these circumstances, it's not something that needs to be fabricated or choreographed. By the time you as a campaign strategist have said, "OK, Mrs. Palin, we're going to have you go on a hunt toda-" she's come back, already having bagged a grizzly bear, three deer, a covey of quail, and an obnoxious MSM anchor who crossed her, cleaned them, and fixed 'em up nice for supper. So even for a died-in-the-wool elitist Ciceronian snob like me, this is kind of a hoot. And I suppose on some level, it doesn't even need to stem from a misguided faux-populism; really, it's simply refreshing to see a figure in American electoral politics who is genuine, who has some identity other than what expediency and polls dictate.

In other news, the Blood of St. Ianuarius has liquefied. It's an interesting event, and one of evidently considerable civic importance. to Naples. From what I've been told by friends who have visited the city, it could use a miracle at the moment. Drug usage is pretty widespread, and there was a whole huge debacle with public sanitation and trash. Neapolis sounded more like it might end up Necropolis. This does raise some important questions about miracles, popular piety, superstition, and other such topics, but that's for another day.

Another interesting topic is the issue of the Church and Darwin. John Allen of NCR has a good article up here. One of the things I cringed at was this: "I want to affirm, as an a priori, the compatibility of the theory of evolution with the message of the Bible and the church's theology." I'd be very reticent to categorize such a thing as a priori. That they can both speak well to their respective audiences I will grant, but this does not make them compatible. And while that case might have been easier to make if we were just dealing with Darwin (who was after all, trained as a theologian, and therefore wouldn't be so woefully inept at speaking our lingo), as far as the modern presentation of evolution is concerned, this seems a little bit like embracing a porcupine to say you're cool with nature.

The Church should interact with scientific knowledge, sure. At many times in history, we've been at its vanguard. But the position with respect to evolution needs to be an intelligent one. As it stands at the moment, the modern advocates of evolution hold to the theory with near-religious conviction. As a consequence, a series of other dogmatic "truths" have accreted to evolutionary theory, producing an ideology which is usually bought and sold wholesale. While it is lovely that we as a Church always strive to find "both/and" solutions to "either/or" problems, it would be a tactical mistake to think that everyone on the other side of the fence is doing the same. Too often, it is presented by scientists as a zero-sum game. We need to take this into account when formulating our position. Does biological evolution occur? That we can debate. Does it disprove God, Genesis, et al.? Absolutely not. And we can't hem and haw over it, either. We have to be firm on it. Too many times, people of faith are bullied into accepting a given proposition by accusations of a "hostility to science, a medieval mindset, an Inquisitorial streak, a primitive understanding" etc. It's time to stop getting shoved around. I'd also point out that for all its evident truth and usefulness as a scientific theory, evolution will remain only that. Its undeniability and predictive power are held up as proof positive that it might as well be a fact. I disagree. The same thing was thought of Euclidean geometry not too long ago, or Newtonian physics. Advances in the scientific tools of observation always bring about advancements or developments in scientific processes and thinking, and there's no reason to think that evolution will not find that it needs to be seriously qualified at some point in the future to remain tenable. That's how real science works. So let's not get too tied to the conventional wisdom regarding "scientific theories" as near-factual, doctrinal statements. They told Schliemann he was an idiot to look for Troy at Hissarlik, too.

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