Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Second Look at "First Things"

That is the title of my recent entry over at The Catholic Thing. It is adapted from a portion of a paper I delivered on May 17, 2011 at Princeton University as part of panel celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publication of Hadley Arkes’ First Things: An Inquiry Into the First Principles of Morals and Justice (PrincetonUniversity Press, 1986). Here's how it begins:
Most books and articles in political and legal philosophy are dry. One rarely finds in them humorous anecdotes, memorable characters, or philosophical insights extracted from figures and events in popular culture. In First Things, however, Hadley Arkes elegantly weaves together all three in order to illustrate and illuminate his sophisticated and compelling arguments.

In discussing Mr. Justice McReynolds opinions in Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) and Pierce v. the Society of Sisters (1925)—two cases in which the Supreme Court affirmed a fundamental right of parents to educate their children—Arkes argues that the right is conditioned upon advancing the children’s good, which means that the right is ultimately tethered to a moral understanding of the proper relationship between parents and their offspring. Writes Arkes: “What [McReynolds] seemed to affirm in Meyer and Pierce was that parents had a residual, presumptive authority for the education of their children. But nothing in his opinion would have obliged the state to hold back if the parents sought to enroll their children in Mr. Fagin’s School of Pickpocketry or in a vocational academy cultivating the trade of prostitution.” (346).

>>>Continue Reading

(photo: Me, Hadley Arkes, and Michael Novak a few minutes before a talk I gave at the American Enterprise Institute in September 2005. That talk developed into a paper that I published the following year in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly [33.2 & 3], "The Court of Disbelief: The Constitution's Article VI Religious Test Prohibition and the Judiciary's Religious Motive Analysis. You can download a pdf of it here)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happy 81st Birthday to my Dad!

Today, May 25, 2011, my father, Harold J. Beckwith, turns 81!  To the right is a picture of my Dad, me, and my brother Jim in front of our Mercedes Benz with Caesar's Palace in the background.  We were at Caesar's having lunch following my First Holy Communion in May 1968. At the bottom left is a picture of me, my wife, Frankie, and my parents last November in Las Vegas. 

Here is what I say about my father in Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic:
We lived pretty standard American Catholic lives for the era, with Vegas and its culture being incidental to our home life and our relationship with our parents.  However, my parents were, and are, instinctively charitable people, revealing something from the Church and its teachings that had been placed deeply in their hearts.   For example, whenever one of the Casellas [our cousins] needed a place to stay, my parents took them in, oftentimes for a few days, sometimes for months and even years! My parents treated my cousins as if they were their own sons, and none of us ever felt deprived for that. In fact, I’m confident that my parents’ spirit of generosity enhanced, rather than diminished, the love we had for one another.  For this reason, some in the family would on occasion jokingly refer to our home as “Boys’ Town.”

We always seemed to have guests over for Sunday dinner, which consisted of my Sicilian mother’s pasta and meatballs. These dinner guests ranged from friends and relatives to the friends and acquaintances of friends and relatives. Guests were entertained by (or forced to hear, depending on one’s sense of humor) my father and his many jokes and stories. A Korean War Veteran, my father had done some emceeing and stand-up comedy while serving in the U. S. Army.  Whatever comedic skills he acquired while working for Uncle Sam, they were not missing in action when he returned to the states. It made our home a wonderful place in which to grow up....

Although I was too young to remember the presidency of John F. Kennedy, my father made sure we listened to the late president’s 1961 inaugural address, one of the great political speeches in American history. On several occasions, my father played the recording of Kennedy’s speech on our old family turntable. As in other matters, my father also had a sense of humor about politics. When I was eight years old I asked him to explain to me the difference between communism and capitalism. He answered, “Well, son, in America, a capitalist country, some people own Cadillacs and some people don’t. But in communist countries like the Soviet Union, everyone is treated equally, and no one owns a Cadillac”....

As I grew older and began to develop my own political opinions, my parents exhibited a level of tolerance and openness that was exemplary. While my father and I became more conservative in our views over the years, my mother remained a moderate Democrat (as she is today). However, my conservatism, ironically, developed out of my liberalism. I was taught by my parents that one of the roles of government was to protect the “little guy” and to make sure that those not well off should be given a chance to succeed and make a decent living. But in my early twenties I began to notice that self-described liberals had no interest in protecting the littlest guy of all, the unborn, and that they often advanced policies that inhibited economic growth, and thus harmed those who most needed the wealth produced by free markets, the poor and the underprivileged. So, for me, true liberalism is conservative, for it strives to protect and nurture, indeed conserve, those people, institutions, and practices that advance the common good and thus provide a framework for human flourishing.

I have so many fond memories of growing up. One in particular left an indelible mark. In the summer of 1972 I played the position of catcher on a Little League baseball team.  Although I was a pretty good defensive player, I was a terrible hitter.  My parents knew this, since they attended my games and heard me complain about my numerous strikeouts.  In order to remedy this, my parents went into action. My mother—a vivacious reader—bought me a book on hitting authored by the great Boston Red Sox player, Ted Williams.  My father sat me down and told me that we would both read the book and then after completing it, spend two hours every night for a week at the local batting cages, putting Williams’ lessons into action.  We read the book and went to the cages. My father meticulously went over Williams’ lessons, and he did so with great patience, for I was given to emotional outbursts if I did not succeed the first time I faced the mechanical pitcher.  In the face of such tantrums, my father employed his disarming sense of humor while he remained encouraging and yet determined.  By the end of the week, I was easily hitting 60-mile per hour fastballs. I was ready.

At the next Little League game, I had my chance. The bases were loaded. We were down by two runs, and it was the bottom of the last inning. At my turn to bat, I swung and hit a line drive that was bounding over the third baseman’s head. He jumped as high as he could, and with perfect timing caught the ball at the tip of his glove. The game ended, and we lost. Although I was disappointed in losing, for the first time that season I actually hit the ball hard and with confidence, and, in this case, nearly won the game for my team.  For the rest of the season my batting average hovered around .400, and I had become a legitimate offensive threat.  The next season I had the second highest batting average on the team. What I learned from my parents was the importance of doing things well and to do so patiently and carefully with deliberate determination....

Baylor’s Class of 2011 includes one of Texas’ smallest surviving preemies

From the Baylor website:
Another 2,000 graduates joined the ever-growing family of Baylor alumni over the weekend, as the Class of 2011 received their diplomas during commencement ceremonies at the Ferrell Center. (Click here for a slideshow of the weekend.)

Among the graduates was Allyson Ray, a name that just might ring a bell way back in the memory of some Central Texans. Ray made headlines back in 1989 when she became the smallest baby in Texas ever to survive; born at just 14 ounces and only 10 inches long, Ray wasn’t expected to survive. Instead, she thrived, testing at above average levels by age two, reading on a seventh grade level by second grade, and skipping third grade entirely. (See stories from KCEN ... and KWTX.)

Ray took the SAT in eighth grade and earned state recognition for her score. After excelling in her high school’s international baccalaureate program, she graduated from Greer High School in Greer, S.C., as salutatorian. Four years later, she earned her University Scholar degree from Baylor with a focus in biochemistry; when printed, her 82-page honors thesis on polymerase chain reaction actually weighed more than Ray herself did at birth. She plans to move on to graduate school to earn an advanced degree in forensic science.

Of course, that’s just one of the many stories behind the faces who walked the stage Friday and Saturday, Each of Baylor’s newest alumni has their own story of accomplishment along the road that led to Baylor; we’ll just have to wait to see the stories they write as alumni.

Sic ’em, Allyson and the Baylor class of 2011!

Monday, May 23, 2011

My top 20 Bob Dylan songs. Today: 4 through 1 - (Dylan turns 70)

On May 24, 2011, Bob Dylan turns 70. Between May 20 and today, May 24, I am posting my top 20 songs composed by Dylan. Here are the previous installments: 20 through 17 (May 20)16 through 13 (May 21), 12 through 9 (May 22) and 8 through 5 (May 23)

By limiting myself to only 20 Dylan songs, I have, of course, left off many classics including "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Just Like a Woman," "The Lonesome Death of Poor Hattie Carroll," "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Masters of War," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," "She Belongs to Me," "I Shall Be Released," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "I Believe in You," "Political World," "Hurricane," "Lay Lady Lay," "Changing of the Guards," "Song to Woody," "Tombstone Blues," "Talkin' John Birch Society Paranoid Blues," "Things Have Changed," "Ring Them Bells," "Oxford Town," "Shooting Star," "I Want You," "Girl From the North Country," "Ballad of a Thin Man," "Knocking on Heaven's Door," "With God On Our Side," "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," "All I Really Want to Do," "Dignity," "All Along the Watchtower," "If Not for You," "Pawn In the Game," "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Shelter From the Storm," "Dark Eyes," "Tomorrow is a Long Time," "Silvio," "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35," "Highway 61," "Queen Jane Approximately," "Forever Young," and "Simple Twist of Fate," to name a just a few songs that have no doubt appeared on other peoples' top 20 lists. In fact, I suspect that two weeks from now, and in a different mood, 10 of my top 20 would include some of these others. Bob Dylan's sheer volume of musical creativity boggles the mind.

Now, without further ado, here are my top 4 songs composed by Dylan:

4. Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
3. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again (1966)
2. My Back Pages (1964)
1. Like a Rolling Stone (1965)

What follows is a video of each as well as lyrics….

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My top 20 Bob Dylan songs. Today: 8 through 5 - (Dylan turns 70)

On May 24, 2011, Bob Dylan turns 70. Between May 20 and May 24, I am posting my top 20 songs composed by Dylan. Here are the previous installments:20-17 (May 20)16-13 (May 21), and 12-9 (May 22). For today, May 23, I present 8 through 5

8. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (1965)
7. Precious Angel (1979)
6. Idiot Wind (1975)
5. Visions of Johanna (1966)

What follows is a video of each as well as lyrics....

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bob Dylan at 70- My top 20 Dylan songs. Today: 12 through 9

On May 24, 2011, Bob Dylan turns 70. Between May 20 and May 24, I am posting my top 20 songs composed by Dylan. Here are the previous installments: 20-17 (May 20) and 16-13 (May 21). For today, May 22, I present 12 through 9:

12. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1963)
11. Tangled Up in Blue (1974)
10. Desolation Row (1965)
9. Blowin’ in the Wind (1963)

What follows is a video of each as well as lyrics....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bob Dylan at 70- My top 20 Dylan songs. Today: 16-13

On May 24, 2011, Bob Dylan turns 70. Between May 20 and May 24, I will post my top 20 songs composed by Dylan. Yesterday, I posted 20-17. Today, it's 16-13:

16. Jokerman (1983)
15. Pressing On (1980)
14. Chimes of Freedom (1964)
13. Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)

What follows is a video of each as well as lyrics....

Bob Dylan at 70- My top 20 Dylan songs. Today: 20-17

On May 24, 2011, Bob Dylan turns 70. Over the next 5 days, I will post my top 20 songs composed by Dylan, starting today with 20, 19, 18, and 17:

20. Every Grain of Sand (1981)
19. It Aint Me, Babe (1964)
18. Gates of Eden (1965)
17. Mississippi (2001)

What follows is a video of each as well as lyrics....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Roger Olson has moved to Patheos

A hearty Patheos welcome to my Baylor colleague, Roger Olson. Roger is a professor of theology in Baylor's Truett Theological Seminary. You can find his new Patheos blog here. His blog is called: Roger Olson, My evangelical Arminian theological musings.

Friday, May 13, 2011

From tomorrow's New York Times: Intelligent Design Debate Ensnares the Journal "Synthese"

That is the title of an article that will be published in tomorrow's New York Times (14 March 2011). Authored by Mark Oppenheimer, here's how it begins:
According to one cynical view, academic disputes are so vicious only because the stakes are so low. Yet as the editors of Synthese, a leading philosophy journal, can tell you, what they publish matters: in debates over Christianity, the teaching of evolution, and American politics. This story began in March 2009, when a special issue of Synthese was published online, titled “Evolution and Its Rivals.”

It was guest-edited by Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, and James H. Fetzer, a former editor of the journal. They included an essay by Barbara Forrest, of Southeastern Louisiana University, condemning the work of the philosopher Francis J. Beckwith, who believes it is constitutionally permissible, although not advisable, to teach intelligent design in public schools.

But Dr. Beckwith says he is no ally of the intelligent design movement, whose mainly Christian proponents argue that certain features of the universe are best explained by a “designer,” perhaps a god or deity, rather than by natural selection or other scientific theories.

Continue reading>>>

Here are previous Return to Rome posts that touch on my Synthese article as well as attendant issues.

Res ipsa loquitur

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Analogies and the death of Bin Laden

That's the title of my latest column over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
N. T. Wright, former Anglican Bishop of Durham, is one of the foremost theologians and biblical scholars in the world. Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews, his work on the doctrine of justification, controversial among Evangelical Protestants, is in many ways remarkably close to the Catholic view. For this reason, Professor Wright’s work, much to his chagrin, has been instrumental in leading some former Anglicans to the Catholic Church. I have long been an admirer of the former bishop, and have learned much from his impressive and compelling scholarship.

Last week, however, Professor Wright ventured from the confines of his expertise and into the field of international relations, arguing that the United States had acted unjustly in its successful finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden on May 1 in Pakistan. To make his case, Wright offers this analogy:

Continue reading>>>

Law, Liberty and Virtue - a Conference at Princeton University - 16-17 May 2011

Next week I will be at Princeton University participating in what promises to be an outstanding conference: Law, Liberty and Virtue (May 16-17, 2011). I will present a paper as part of the panel on Tuesday afternoon (May 17), "Revisiting Hadley Arkes’s First Things on its 25th Anniversary." The other panel members include Hadley P. Arkes (Amherst College), Diana J. Schaub (Loyola University Maryland), Michael Uhlmann (Claremont Graduate University) and Robert P. George (Princeton University).

If you are in the area, please come join us. It is open to the public. You can find the entire conference program here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

And that the ladder of the law has no top and no bottom: Bob Dylan's lyrics find their way into many judicial opinions

(HT: Bill Glennen)

From the LA Times:
On summer nights in the mid-1960s, while black-and-white television crackled elsewhere in his Staten Island home with news of Southern violence and Vietnam, Bobby Lasnik would stretch out in his bedroom to let the righteous soundtrack of the civil rights movement waft into his impressionable teenage soul.

Tuned in to WBAI-FM, coming across the water from Manhattan, he heard baleful laments about injustice that he would carry with him for a lifetime.

"Suddenly there was someone speaking a certain kind of truth to you. You'd say, 'Wow! That's something I'm not used to hearing on the radio, something that moved me,'" Lasnik said of the first time he heard the lyrics of Bob Dylan. "I don't even remember which song it was, but I loved the imagery, the words you wouldn't think about putting together and the concepts that would emerge in your mind when you heard them."

Now the imagery flows in the other direction. U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik — Your Honor, not Bobby — has been known to invoke the voice of the vagabond poet in rulings from the federal bench in Seattle. He has recited lines from "Chimes of Freedom" in a case weighing the legality of indefinite detention and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," the battle cry of the civil rights movement, in a landmark ruling that excluding contraceptives from an employer's prescription drug plan constitutes sex discrimination.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When conspiracy theories coalesce: the truther-birther-deather.

Consider the rare political conspiracy theorist known as the truther-birther. He not only believes the wrong guy, bin Laden, was killed, but that the wrong guy, President Obama, ordered the killing. And now we can add to this conspiracy theory stew the newly-minted, "deather," who doesn't believe bin Laden was really killed. Thus, you can in theory have someone who believes that the wrong guy issued an order to kill a guy that didn't die for a crime he did not commit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Al Mohler: Killing of bin Laden was just, but not an act of justice. Is this possible?

Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, makes this statement in a recent blog post on the killing of Osama Bin Laden: "The death of bin Laden was fully justified as an act of war, but not as an act of justice. The removal of a credible threat to human life — a clear and present danger to human safety — is fully justified, especially after such an individual has demonstrated not only the will, but the means to effect murder on a massive scale."

I'm not sure what to make of this. Here's why. If an act is justified, then it is just, and Mohler seems to believe this. On the other hand, he wants to say that the killing of bin Laden was not an act of justice, even though it was "fully justified as an act [in a just] war."  But if a just act in a just war is fully justified, why wouldn't it be an act of justice? What more do you need? He seems to be suggesting (elsewhere in his blog post) that true justice can only take place in a court or before a tribunal. But that doesn't seem right. For example, if I were to repay my neighbor after damaging his driveway (assuming this was all done privately without any recourse to the public authorities), would not that be an act of justice?

What Mohler seems to be saying is that the killing of Osama has robbed us of complete justice, in the sense that his victims will never achieve full recompense for their loss and we will never witness the detailed and devastating case for his guilt as a mass-murderer that one can only see in a court of law. That's true. But the absence of complete justice is not the same as the absence of all justice. So, killing bin Laden can be an act of justice without being an act of ultimate justice.

Is there something I am missing here?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Defending Abortion Philosophically: A Review of David Boonin's A Defense of Abortion

That is the title of a 2006 article I published in the Journal of Medicine & Philosophy (31: 177-203).  Here's the abstract, as it appears on the article's first page:
This article is a critical review of David Boonin’s book, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press, 2002), a significant contribution to the literature on this subject and arguably the most important monograph on abortion published in the past twenty years. Boonin’s defense of abortion consists almost exclusively of sophisticated critiques of a wide variety of pro-life arguments, including ones that are rarely defended by pro-life advocates. This article offers a brief presentation of the book’s contents with extended assessments of those arguments of Boonin’s that are his unique contributions to the abortion debate and with which the author disagrees: (1) Boonin’s critique of the conception criterion and his defense of organized cortical brain activity as the acquired property that imparts to the fetus a right to life: (2) Boonin’s defense of J. J. Thomson’s violinist argument and his distinction between responsibility for existence and responsibility for neediness and its application to pregnancy.

Here's how the article begins (notes omitted):
It is difficult to believe that another book on the abortion controversy could contribute anything new to what appears to be an intractable dispute whose resolution is not imminent. David Boonin proves this notion wrong in his book, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Although I am an abortion opponent, and thus I come to much different conclusions than does Professor Boonin, I found myself admiring his careful and rigorous method and his philosophical creativity, and learning much in the process. I will limit this review-article to a brief presentation of the book’s contents with extended assessments of those arguments of Boonin’s that are his unique contributions to the abortion debate and with which I find myself in disagreement.

You can read the entire article here.

Although David and I hold different views on the issue of abortion, I really like him as a philosopher. He is just the sort of critic and interlocutor that is a credit to the discipline. He sticks to the arguments, and rigorously so.  Young philosophers, who may find themselves with a paucity of role models, can learn from his example.

Deatherism: Donald Trump's ticket to the White House

2 May 2011

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

It is time to grab the moment, Donald. Recent events have provided you with a wonderful gift that only someone with your abilities and talents can take proper advantage. Now that birtherism is dead (thanks to you, of course), and trutherism is relegated to a few kooky academics, this is the moment of truth for the birth of deatherism, whose working slogan should be, "Where is the death certificate?"  They say Osama Bin Laden is dead. But do we really know for sure? Yes, of course, we've already heard from the apologists of conspiratorial deception: they offer us eyewitnesses, film, photos, the first-hand testimonies of hundreds of military personal, and DNA, to name just a few bits of what so-called "experts" call "evidence." But without a death certificate, how can anyone really be certain that the mastermind of 9/11 is truly dead? Was the "body" of Osama taken to the Abbottabad morgue, and a full-form death certificate signed and issued by the coroner's office? Apparently not. What do they have to hide?

Given its place in your political chronology, I had first thought of naming this new conspiracy, "after-birtherism," but it may raise far too many questions of your conveniently new-found commitment to the prolife cause. So, I've settled on "deatherism."

So, Donald, "deatherism," both in name and theory, is your ticket to the White House. Admittedly, "birtherism" didn't work out so well for you (sort of like your first two wives). But I am confident that your success in reality television has proved to be an invaluable venue in which to hone the skill set required to be the leader of the free world (as your contemporary Bruce Jenner has learned so well).

Francis J. Beckwith
Woodway, Texas

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Taking Theology Seriously: The Status of the Religious Beliefs of Judicial Nominees for the Federal Bench

That's the title of an article I published in 2006 in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy (vol. 20, pp. 455-471).  Here's how it begins (notes omitted):
Nominees to the federal bench, like all citizens, have beliefs.  These beliefs include everything from what they were taught in law school to what they know about history or mathematics or what they may have learned in church or synagogue.  And yet, it is the latter beliefs that are singled out for special scrutiny by the United States Senators who have the constitutional duty of advice and consent in the appointment of federal judges.

I believe there are three reasons for this.  First, the issues that are often associated with what have come to be known as the culture wars—abortion, human sexuality, and origins—have been elevated by the federal courts to questions that are implicitly covered by the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  Second, these same questions are addressed by a number of religious traditions that provide contrary answers to the ones given by the federal judiciary.  Third, it seems to me that most of the U.S. Senators who appear concerned about a nominee’s religious beliefs—or what are sometimes called “personal” or “deeply-held beliefs”—do not believe that these religious beliefs could ever be items of real knowledge and thus are not legitimate points of view that fall under the umbrella of what many political philosophers call “public reason.” Hence, what some U.S. Senators fear is that a federal judge or Supreme Court justice confirmed under their watch may employ the deliverances of her theological tradition and provide in her judicial opinions contrary answers to the questions that these senators believe have already been correctly settled by public reason.  Given this conclusion, I will suggest a solution that treats theology with epistemological respect while at the same time allaying some, though I suspect not all, the fears expressed by some U.S. Senators.

>>>continue reading

Now we know why Donald Trump has so much hair...

He needs it to protect his thin skin.

Fr. Robert Barron on Bob Dylan in China

(HT: Dennis Dixon)


For more on Dowd and Dylan, see my blog entry here. On Dylan's biblical vision, see my chapter in Bob Dylan & Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking) (Open Court, 2006), "Busy Being Born Again: Bob Dylan's Christian Philosophy"