Congrats to some USU philosophy students!

I am pleased to note that three USU philosophy students made the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Leadership Class of 2017: Millie Tullis, Jonathon Toronto, and David Bradley Zynda.  To have 3 USU students in the class of 150 national student leaders is pretty impressive, especially when one sees the list of students and institutions (a great number of them are from Ivies, Stanford, U Chicago, and top flight private liberal arts colleges).

  For those unfamiliar with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI):  Two years ago we founded an ISI  society here at USU (the CS Lewis Society).  ISI is an outfit committed to developing principled and intellectually serious leadership.  Its primary focus is engaging students in the great books tradition along with providing them leadership training.  It has a conservative bent, but is non-partisan.  There are many notable alumni in law, politics, journalism, academia, and business, including Justices Scalia, Alito, and Gorsuch, Peter Thiel (founder of paypal), Ross Douthat (NYTimes columnist), Harvey Mansfield (well known Harvard professor), etc etc etc.
  We get funding each year to support student book clubs.  For those who struggle at USU to find intellectual life, this is just the ticket – fun, social, but intellectually serious conversations over very good books and free food.  In addition, ISI students can apply to attend regional and national conferences, which are filled with reading, lectures, and great conversation (ISI pays for everything, from flight and hotel to food and expenses, and these are typically held at pretty tony establishments).  Aside from being interesting, these conferences give students a chance to network with academic, political, and business leaders from around the country.
  If you are interested in learning more about ISI, please contact Professor Kleiner at
Posted in Philosophy | 1 Comment

Philosophy Club Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion: Are students snowflakes?

Erica Holberg, Charlie Huenemann, and Harrison Kleiner will be presenting. The basic question has to do with the tension between the value we place on free speech on college campuses and how that value can sometimes collide with the interest of students and others to not be exposed to ideas they find offensive.

Thursday, 11/30, 4 p.m., HH 322

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Monastery closing

The sun has set on an important place in the Catholic world for Utahns.  Holy Trinity Monastery in Huntsville UT has seen the last of her monks leave.  The writing has been on the wall for some time, but it remains very sad.  I enjoyed the priests and brothers there, having spent dozens of nights at the monastery over the last decade or so at retreats.  It was (and will remain, for some period of time) a place to pray the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the “Latin Mass”). And they had a wonderful bookstore.  But most importantly it was a place of prayer, of quiet, of holy men dedicating their whole selves to contemplation of God, to work, and to the self-discipline and edification that follows from living by the Rule of St Benedict.  My life was greatly enriched by spending time there.

God speed to all of the men who lived and served at the Holy Trinity Monastery.  You, and your place, will be greatly missed.

Click here to see a touching video about the monetary and its closure.

Posted in Catholic thought/religion/culture, USU Catholic Newman Center | Leave a comment

On unwritten rules

For Tour de France lovers, I wanted to chime in on the debate over Aru attacking Froome on the mechanical.  For those who have no idea what I am talking about, here is a brief summary of the situation:

There is an unwritten rule in professional cycling to never attack a rival on bad luck (like a mechanical failure on a bike).  But the other day Fabio Aru attacked Tour leader Chris Froome on a mechanical, though up the road he held up after other riders – especially Dan Martin and Richie Porte – told him to wait for Froome to catch up.  This reignited a long simmering debate about the validity of these unwritten “gentleman’s” rules.

This tweet went somewhat viral on cycling sites:

— Tour de France 1913: “Oooh, don’t attack Eugène Christophe while he’s in the blacksmiths!” —

If you don’t know the history, in the old days of the Tour riders were not allowed any outside help.  Christophe was leading the Tour when his fork broke.  He had to walk miles to the nearest town, then had to find a blacksmith shop where he could fix his own bike.  No one waited at the blacksmith shop for him to finish his work, and he ended up losing hours on the day and lost the Tour.

The point of this side of the debate is that the old unwritten rules that say you should never attack a rival on bad luck (a mechanical, a no fault crash) should be ignored because they are not evenly applied.  After all, on the descent after Froome’s mechanical, Froome did not hold up to wait for Dan Martin on the crash.  And commentator Bob Roll argued that it is racing so all bets are off anyway. Cyclists are there to win, so teams should take every chance they can to make time on rivals.  All is fair in love and war, as they say.

Others note that these unwritten rules can be abused.  Team Sky abused the unwritten rules last year.  A Sky rider had a mechanical just before Mount Ventoux.  As he pulled back to the team car, Froome (in yellow) told the peloton he needed a “nature break”.  The peloton held up for Froome, and it allowed his Sky teammate to catch back up.  All of this ambiguity suggest to folks like Bob Roll that we should simply forget the gentleman’s rules.

I grant that the unwritten customs are imperfect, so I cede all of those points to Bob Roll and others on his side of this debate.  But for all that, I still think Aru was wrong to attack and I still support the unwritten rules. I note the abuses, and frankly think Team Sky did abuse the rules last year.  But to that I say that the peloton should punish them.  And arguably Froome and the leaders should have waited for Dan Martin to catch up after a crash on the descent, just as Lance Armstrong waited for rival Jan Ullrich on a crash (a gracious gesture which Ullrich returned when Lance crashed a few years later).  Froome’s failure to do so ought to result in the peloton doing him no favors in the race.

And there is an interesting philosophical point to be made in all of this.  Imperfect rules are better than no rules at all.  Those unwritten rules are part of what make civilization possible, not only in the peloton but in society.  Most of our customs are handed down and if you poke at them enough, you will see they are not entirely rational and not entirely fair.  But they are better than nothing, better than an “anything goes” attitude.

The political theorist Edmund Burke makes just this argument about the importance of tradition.  He uses it to distinguish between the French and American revolutions.  The French Revolution was more radical.  It destroyed everything of the old regime and tried to create something entirely new.  The American Revolution was, on the other hand, more of a reform than a revolution.  We kept much of the English common law tradition intact, for example.  It is why the American project has been more successful: it kept traditions – however imperfect – alive.  We might think, as the French did, that we can produce something that works from scratch.  But really we cannot.  Human life is too variable, you just cannot invent a system that can deal with all the contingencies and accidents of human life.  So better to rely on time worn conventions which, however imperfect, have been worked out over generations and manage to hold society together.

So I still support the unwritten rules and think it would be a terrible shame if this younger generation of riders dispenses with them.

Posted in Polis (politics, culture), Sports | 6 Comments

Theology on Tap

theology_on_tapTheology on Tap – Logan is meeting every Monday at 6:30pm this term.  I am presenting at the next meeting (Monday March 13) on Religion and the Public Square.  Newman Center social hall (basement of Newman Center, on corner of 800E and 800N, Logan).

Some snacks and drinks are provided, but feel free to bring your own beverage (adult or otherwise).

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Stations of the Cross during Lent

I will be helping lead the Stations of the Cross (according to the method of St Francis of Assisi) every Friday during Lent, noon at the St Jerome Chapel / Newman Center.  It is a beautiful and solemn devotion.  All are welcome.

Click here for a nice history of the Stations of the Cross (Via Dolorosa), a devotion that has roots in the very early Church.

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March for Life

It has become cliche to gripe about liberal bias in the media, true as it may remain.  But given the extraordinary amount of attention paid to the “Women’s March” last week, I could not help myself and was keen to see how much coverage the March for Life would receive.

The Washington Times compared media coverage of the Women’s March this year to the March for Life last year and found that the Women’s March received 129 times more coverage.  The major news networks combined to spend 1:15:18 talking about the Women’s March, but last year only one major network even mentioned the March for Life, and dedicated only 35 seconds (22 seconds of which covered a group of high school kids who got stuck in a blizzard on the way home).

Perhaps this is because the Women’s March drew so many more people than the March for Life?  The Women’s March drew an estimated 500,000 in Washington DC.  Certainly worthy of considerable media attention, particularly since as many as 2 million attended marches around the country.  And we are in a very interesting political moment, so lots of coverage is totally justified.  Add to this that Trump has said – and perhaps done – awful things about women, and the large demonstrations are obviously newsworthy.  (Though the scarcity of outcry – and even the willingness to victim blame – with respect to Bill Clinton’s history obviously raises questions of uneven treatment).

And the March for Life last year was much smaller, given that a blizzard dumped 2 feet on Washington and made travel very difficult (the March for Life, I suspect rather more than the Women’s March, depends on people bussing in from all over the country).  But in the previous 5 years, the March for Life has drawn between 400,000 and 650,000 people.  Not that anyone would know this, since it hardly gets mentioned in the media.  In fact, if you google largest ever marches on Washington, the March for Life is not even listed – despite the fact that marches with many fewer (200,000) make the list.

I have not been able to find a crowd estimate for the March for Life this year, though somehow every media outlet had ready crowd estimates for the Women’s March.  Most news stories simply report that “thousands” attended, which cannot be read other than as an intentional understatement.  One said the crowds appeared larger in recent years, suggesting that the event may have been larger than the D.C. Women’s March.

And media coverage was predictably uneven again this year.  On the day of the Women’s March, I counted 4 news stories at the top of the page on, including it being the featured story all day.  Early stories gushed “as many as 200,000 were in attendance”, though later figures pushed that up to 500,000.  Stories continued for two more days.  So how much coverage of the March for Life?  On the day of the March, I saw one story on, and you had to scroll down a bit to find it.

It should be noted that the Women’s March was not really a march for women, it was a march for some women of a particular political disposition – namely that who are aggressively pro-abortion.  Pro-life feminists were not allowed to participate.  The rigidness and fanaticism of pro abortion feminism was even mocked by Saturday Night Live (hardly a conservative outfit) in their news segment last weekend.

So did the radically pro-abortion Women’s March represent American women?  Not really.  According to a Real Clear Politics article, 77% of American women support limiting abortion to the first trimester or earlier (higher % than men).  83% of women support banning international funding of abortion (same as men).  61% of women think it is important to restrict abortion in some way (higher percentage than men).  59% of American women say that abortion is morally wrong.  A large majority of men and women who say they are “pro-choice” actually support restrictions on abortion.  And nearly half of women (46%) identify as “pro-life”.  So the Women’s March – whose leadership actively excluded and prohibited pro-life feminists from marching with them –  excluded 46% of women.  Hardly, then, a march representing [all] women.  In fact, the abortion views of the leadership of the march are wildly out of step with the overwhelming majority of women in America.

60% of American women call themselves “feminists”, though it is interesting that older women are more likely to identify as “feminist” than younger women (69% of women 50-54 vs 51% of women 35-49).  Perhaps this is because younger women realize, as the SNL skit noted, that there are “levels to this” and that some levels of it are pretty kooky.  Of course a much larger number of women are feminists in the sense of wanting equal rights for women (equal pay, etc), but they do not assume the label “feminist” because of the perceived (and often real) radical gender and abortion politics one finds among “feminist” leaders.  All of this to say – the feminists leaders speaking at the Women’s March, like Cecile Richards and Gloria Steinem – are out of touch with many self-proclaimed feminists and wildly out of touch with most women.

Finally, not a few observant writers – including many on the left – have noted that the Women’s March was a very white affair, whereas the pro-life movement is far more diverse.  Latino Americans and African Americans are generally more opposed to abortion than the rest of the American population.  Most promising is that younger people are more likely to support abortion restrictions and to identify as pro life.  Rather than millennials being more progressive on abortion than their parents (as one might expect), they are more conservative on almost every measure (how many identify as pro-life, how many support restrictions on abortion, etc). It is also noteworthy that pro-life millennial are less likely to be religious than are older pro-lifers.  All of this, combined with other demographic shifts, suggests that the pro-life movement of the future will be more diverse, younger and also more secular.

But the most relevant number in this debate is 58 million.  That is the number of children who have been killed in the womb since Roe v Wade.  58 million people who, were they allowed to come to term, would have lived a life every bit as human as yours or mine.  If a society is judged by how well it defended those who were most innocent and defenseless, America will not be judged well.  Even if one might wish to argue that abortion is at times a justified evil, many signs at the Women’s March suggested a shocking callousness to the moral gravity of ending a human life.  Some signs proudly joked about abortion.  Most signs were all about “me” – “my body, my choice” individual rights type stuff.  But this forgets that when a man and women come together and a child is produced, it is not all about you.  There is another human life on the scene.  Unfortunately, Americans are not having this serious conversation, and the media is not doing its part to help foster it.

Posted in Catholic thought/religion/culture, Polis (politics, culture), USU Catholic Newman Center | 2 Comments

Martin Luther King Jr

On this celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., it is worth re-reading one of his most famous letters – the Letter from Birmingham Jail.  First published in the Atlantic, they republished it today here.

One thing a re-reading will show is that the contemporary appropriation of MLK has banished the moral foundations which he himself saw that as necessary for morally justified civil disobedience.  MLK Jr appeals, in almost every case, to the natural law.  He specifically cites St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas in this letter on the natural law, as he defends his civil disobedience by explaining that the segregation laws are unjust –   precisely because, and indeed only because, they violate the eternal and natural law.

Something else I find noteworthy.  When I learned about Martin Luther King Jr in school as as child, he had been completely secularized.  That he was a Christian preacher was a historical footnote.  It is clear from reading this letter (and indeed all of his works), that MLK did not see his Christianity as a footnote.  Quite to the contrary, his whole work followed from his Christian calling, and it is in explicitly Christian terms that he understood all of his own work.

Posted in Catholic thought/religion/culture, Polis (politics, culture) | 1 Comment

Tolkien and Catholicism discussion

Totolkiennight (Monday Nov 14) I will lead a discussion on Catholicism and the Lord of the Rings.  USU Catholic Newman Center (795 N 8000 E), 7pm.

All are welcome

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Election panel discussion


Posted in Education, Philosophy, Polis (politics, culture) | 5 Comments