Category Archives: Religion

Neuroscience and the Criminal Justice System

My wife passed to me an interesting article about the state of neuroscience and its impact upon our criminal justice system. Fair warning: I read the blog post and not the original essay. I agree with some of what the author of the essay has to say. Our criminal justice system is a hodgepodge of competing goals, some of which act as exclusive to one another, unfortunately. What’s jail for, after all? To protect society? To punish the guilty? To deter future crimes? As it currently sits, all of the above, and that can create all sorts of issues.

Into this environment, add the concept of “guilt” with regards to mental health. Neuroscience and genetic psychology are getting better all the time, and over and over again, it’s pointing to the dominating role genes play in not only our life course, but our everyday actions. I’m currently reading Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think, which cites tons of research with twins to pretty much settle the “nurture vs. nature” argument. It’s nature, hands down, within some common sense boundaries.

Where I part ways with the author of the essay first mentioned is his dismissal of the idea of free will. For the most part, I think that idea is a non-starter, and neuroscience and genetic research doesn’t disprove any of it, at least from my perspective as an interested layman. Outside of extreme cases (like his mention of Tourette’s syndrome), free will certainly does exist on a micro and macro scale. Arguing that it doesn’t strikes me as more of a college level coffee house debate than anything else. I think a better way of viewing the role of genetics and neuroscience in a person’s actions is that those genes, and their expressions, create a likely range of actions and decisions. It doesn’t pre-suppose them. This discussion makes for great science fiction, interesting theological discussions, and fun arguments, but it ends where reality begins, in my opinion.

His arguments about how we should reform our criminal justice system is on much firmer ground. How much the convicted is blameworthy shouldn’t have any bearing on if they should be locked up or not. But of course, this assumes that the system is setup primarily for the protection of society, which it’s only partially so. Other use is to extract justice upon the evil doers, in lieu of the victim. In this case, the blameworthiness of the convicted does have a bearing, right? Lawmakers and judges should be operating from a clear set of principles on the why, and not only the how.

From the Darker Side of Parish Politics: Scandal

Jeff Miller over at the Curt Jester points his readers to a sad story about a Catholic journalist doing some investigation in a small town in Georgia and ending up being driven from his parish via restraining orders. Now, reading both sides, it’s apparent that one party is not telling the truth. My gut tells me that the journalist — Robert Kumpel — is the truth teller here, and as a humble blogger, I have that right. It’s just a hunch, though. I wouldn’t do justice summarizing, so go and read, and come back. Jeff has all the relevant links in his post.

You’re back? Good. A pretty amazing story. Several things come to mind. First, this is essentially denying of sacraments over a civil disagreement. Isn’t there some appeal that Mr. Kumpel can make with higher ecclesiastical authorities than his local bishop? There has to be some structure in place to check misuse of authority of local bishops. Second, this is certainly indicative of the kind of behavior that a small number of priests from the old generation suffered from. Back then, with a large Catholic family, one boy would be all but forced into the priesthood, resulting in a lot of priests that really were going through the motions. A priest and bishop from the Old Country, both of the pre-Vatican II generation? Bingo. I think I’m warm here. And lastly, if I were him, I’d move out of the diocese. It sounds as though his faith and exercise thereof is a central thing in his life, so it’s either that or wait the bishop out. Even if there is a process that the Church has to resolve these matters, it would probably take years to do so, and would be a long shot.

I will say that it sounds like the only thing that could move this case without involving the Vatican would be either very high powered Catholic lawyers working for free, or a campaign to publicize this and keep the light shining on this parish for a long, long time to come.

A sad story, and brings into relief how human the Church is. Honestly, they’re acting like children, and not as adult Christians.

Five Years Old?

A quickie post by Mark Steyn on the National Review’s blog The Corner caught my eye this late insomniac evening, in reference to an English middle schooler that may be a father at age 13. A reader had pointed out something pretty telling in the original source material on the Telegraph:

Britain has the highest underage pregnancy rate in western Europe, despite channelling substantial resources into sex education for children as young as five.

One of Steyn’s readers points out: “On this side of the pond we would say “because of” or “due to;” perhaps you could explain this alternate British meaning of “despite” to your American readers?” Yeah, bingo. Now, to me (as well as the reader and, presumably, Mark Steyn) this is common sense. Starting sex education for preschoolers is a problem in this situation, and not the solution. What I think is interesting is that this is an opinion blog. The Telegraph is straight news, and yet to that staff journalist, it’s common sense that sex education for preschoolers would obviously lower teen pregnancies. Obviously.

Rest In Peace Father Neuhaus

I was sad to see that Father Richard Neuhaus passed away this morning. I’ve read a lot of his writings on First Things ever since I came back to the Church in earnest years ago. He was definitely one of the more influential voices in the “conservative” Catholic world, and will be missed.

As an aside, I never liked the term conservative/liberal for the doctrinal differences within the Catholic Church. It makes it sound like it’s a political thing, and an easy template for Republican vs. Democrat, which it certainly is not. I prefer the term “traditionalists” for the movement that Father Neuhaus helped represent. The words may be similar, but it underlines that they are not the same thing. Many traditionalists will have voted for Barack Obama, and proud life long Democrats. At the same time, they bow to the Church and the Magisterium in humility. They should not — and are not — in conflict with each other.

Father, Son… Catholic Priests?

This is just fantastic. Two British Anglican ministers convert to Roman Catholicism. This is happening more and more these days (a great thing, in my opinion), and now the inevitable — a father and son are now both Catholic priests. It’s very cool. As the Episcopal Church goes into a show motion schism with itself, a bunch of the more conservative/traditionalist side of it will seek to rejoin Rome.

Thanks to Splendor of Truth for finding this gem.