Joining Discovery Institute

I’m excited to be joining Discovery Institute as a Research Fellow in their Center on Human Exceptionalism. I’ll continue with Americans United for Life as Chief Engagement Officer at the same time that I join Wesley J. Smith to contribute to the conversation he leads at the Center on Human Exceptionalism on human life:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Discovery Institute is pleased to announce Tom Shakely, who serves as Chief Engagement Officer at Americans United for Life, has joined the Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism as a Research Fellow where he will focus on human dignity, human rights, and law and policy.

“Tom’s passionate and distinctive voice on the human right to life will be a powerful addition to Discovery Institute’s interdisciplinary community of scholars and policy advocates,” said Steve Buri, President of Discovery Institute.

“We’re living through a time of increasingly sophisticated, and ultimately brutal, attacks on human rights,” said Wesley J. Smith, Senior Fellow of the Center on Human Exceptionalism. “Tom is a powerful advocate for the principle of universal human rights who understands the importance of asking this central question: ‘Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?'”

Tom Shakely serves as Chief Engagement Officer at Americans United for Life, where he hosts “Life, Liberty, and Law,” featuring conversations on the human right to life. Tom has spoken on human rights issues at the United Nations, testified to the District of Columbia City Council on conscience rights, and advised on testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. House of Representatives. Tom holds a B.A. in Political Science from the Pennsylvania State University, M.S. in Bioethics from the University of Mary, and Certification with Distinction in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“I’ve admired the Discovery Institute for its ability to transcend partisanship and factionalism in American life, and I’ve particularly admired Wesley J. Smith’s relentless commitment to engaging issues of human dignity and human rights,” said Tom Shakely. “I’m grateful to contribute to the conversation on these essential issues.”

Discovery Institute is a public policy think tank whose mission is to advance a culture of purpose, creativity, and innovation. The Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism exists to affirm and uphold the intrinsic nature of human dignity, liberty, and equality, examining the entire spectrum of issues relating to human life in order to inspire, inform, and equip thought and policy leaders with a comprehensive vision of the importance of being human as the predicate to universal human rights and human flourishing.

For more information contact Discovery Institute at Discovery Institute at (206) 292-0401 x1070 or via e-mail at

Cardinal Wolsey’s chapel

Ruth Gledhill reports that the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace will host the first Catholic service since the 1550s:

Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Nichols will celebrate Vespers and the Bishop of London, Dean of the Chapel Royal, will preach in Henry VIII’s chapel, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century but taken from Wolsey by the King and rebuilt.

Henry VIII broke with Rome and established the Church of England after Wolsey failed to secure his annulment from Catherine of Aragon. …

A spokesman described it as “an unprecedented coming together of the Catholic and Anglican churches on such an historically important site”.

The Vespers will be dedicated to St John the Baptist, remembering the origins of the chapel as built by Cardinal Wolsey on the site of a former chapel of the Knights of St John Hospitaller. Members of the public will be able to take part in a ballot for a stall or boxed pew at the service.

The music will be performed by Harry Christophers and his ensembles The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen and will include Thomas Tallis’ Magnificat, William Cornysh’s Salve Regina and John Taverner’s “Leroy” Kyrie.

Before the service, Cardinal and Dean will take part in a “conversation” on “Faith and the Crown” in the Great Hall at Hampton Court. They will debate the role of the Chapel Royal in maintaining elements of Catholic worship to the present day.

I remember the Queen and Pope Benedict XVI being friendly, and some speculation about what that might mean about a decade ago. Mark Woods wrote a few years ago that the Church of England is “lucky to have a believer at its head:”

At its head is the Queen, the many-times-removed successor of Henry VIII in that role. He was recently named as Britain’s worst ever monarch by a panel of historians; she, because of the near-faultless way in which she has navigated her role in a democratic society blown every which way by the winds of social change, has some claim to be regarded as the best.

We have all been lucky to have her. The Church of England, though, has been particularly fortunate. Previous monarchs have been murderers, adulterers, meddlers and fools. Their attitude to religion has sometimes been sincere enough, as long as it didn’t inconvenience them too much.

In Queen Elizabeth, however, the Church has someone at its head for whom the Christian faith is not another layer of ceremony but a living reality.

In recent years she has worn her faith more openly, as we have seen in the Christmas broadcasts in which she speaks directly to the nation. Last year she said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” In 2012 she said: “This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.”

The previous year she said: “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general…but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” Forgiveness, she said, “lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

Today, Queen Elizabeth passes Victoria’s record as our longest-serving monarch. We should be glad of her example of loyal service, and glad that she is not ashamed of the gospel. What sort of spirituality her successors will bring to their role is open to question…

The Catholic Anglicanism that the Queen demonstrates seems unlikely to survive her reign. I imagine that it goes against every instinct of hers to even imagine it, but if there is going to be English monarch in the modern era who could initiate a return to Rome, it seems like it would have to be her.

‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind’

I spent this morning in Arlington at St. Charles for the Borromeo Brothers men’s group. I hadn’t been for a few weeks due to work and travel in December, and it was great to be back and to start the new year with good men.

We read and considered Romans 12:1-13, where Paul is speaking: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” That’s part of the reading.

We spoke about what this call to be a “living sacrifice” looks like in the day to day, in our lives and especially in relationships like marriage. A few of the married guys shared powerful and honest reflections.

A friend joined for Borromeo Brothers, and afterwards we went to Mass and then caught up at Northside Social over coffee, before I walked back to Georgetown.

It’s a beautiful day despite being overcast, like 55 degrees. Great day to be with good people and to be outside.

Abductive logic and avoiding tyrants

Joseph Ford Cotto reviews Ben Novak’s “Hitler and Abductive Logic: The Strategy of a Tyrant.” I helped Ben deliver the manuscript to Lexington Books, and am glad to see Ben’s scholarship on abductive logic continuing to earn coverage. It’s a form of logic that may give rise to new heroes and villains alike, and it’s important to understand. Cotto writes:

While the facts about why Hitler did what he did are often discussed, the question of how he was able to attain stratospheric political, economic, military, and, in the broadest sense, societal power typically goes unanswered. Ben Novak, who retired from practicing law to begin a new career in historical scholarship, seeks to provide an explanation.

In Hitler and Abductive Logic: The Strategy of a Tyrant, he writes that the aforementioned despot had a most unique ability “to ‘scent out’ the fundamentals of political power and to imagine and inquire in an extraordinary way, quite unlike what ‘normal’ people do.” Novak argues that this sixth sense of sorts allowed Hitler to utilize a seldom-mentioned concept called ‘abductive logic.’

First identified by Charles Sanders Pierce, a nineteenth century Johns Hopkins University professor who Webster’s Biographical Dictionary deemed “the most original thinker and greatest logician of his time,” it is — per Stanford University’s philosophy encyclopedia — “the stage of inquiry in which we try to generate theories which may then later be assessed.” Pierce described abductive logic as “the process of forming explanatory hypotheses. It is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea”. He also said that it pertains to “all the operations by which theories and conceptions are engendered”.

Novak believes that Hitler used abductive logic to, above all else, capture the hearts and minds of millions who, when confronted by other power-seekers, would not have been nearly as receptive. Laying out in painstaking detail how Hilter put abduction to work for the Nazi Party, Novak delves deep into the dictator’s life story, long before his infamous altercation in a Munich beer hall, let alone ascension to Germany’s chancellorship. …

Novak, in tracing Hitler’s childhood and rise to power as an adult, more than ably disseminates a story of how the lowest depths of humanity were reached. From Hitler — an unremarkable, unsuccessful farm boy gone to the big city — channeling his deep personal rage into political power to the ease with which throngs of voters rallied to his cause to how he attained stomach-wrenching domestic order primed to liquidate not only those within but abroad, nary a stone is left unturned.

Especially astounding is that, for all of the power he attained, Hitler never delivered typical campaign promises, like pragmatic solutions to pressing popular concerns. Instead, he cast such a spell over those around him that Nazi supporters were willing to pay admission so they could be present at their party’s gatherings.

“Hitler was no ordinary demagogue who merely flattered the crowds, played on their emotions, and told them what they wanted to hear,” Novak specifies at the end of his book. “Rather, he acted on a plan he created in advance completely in his mind, and then, in a very short period of time, methodically put each element of what he had only imagined into place. Perhaps, what is most astonishing is that he did it, as he himself admits, ‘against all factors of human reason,’ by doing the opposite of what both his opponents and contemporary observers expected him to do, and by being prepared to take advantage of the opportunities he imagined would result.”

That Hitler followed this course of action yet found success for years on end reveals a terrifying truth regarding human nature. Hitler and Abductive Logic is not bedtime reading or any sort of literature for those who, even while learning about catastrophe, expect silver linings to grace the clouds. Nonetheless, it is an immensely powerful work which not only researchers of World War II should read, but anyone who is prepared for an education in how raw power is coveted, worked toward, obtained, and sustained for purposes so horrific that they roam beyond what words can describe.

When people write off villains like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc. as simply “madmen,” they are ignoring the fact that the clinically insane end up on the street—not in the halls of power. What Ben tries to point out is that tyrants often rise for specific reasons, and through the force of a specific logic, and if we don’t understand that logic and how to counter it, we’re more likely to see more tyrants.

Fresh new days

I got back into Washington early yesterday afternoon. It’s a good time of year in the city. The days feel just as fresh as the year, and it feels as if a good portion of the city is still away until next week. The streets have felt quieter than normal, and it makes it a bit more peaceful, like on tonight’s walk home from work.


This was the view as I walked along M Street, over Rock Creek and the Rock Creek/Potomac Parkway.

Boarding a train home

Happy New Year! I’m at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, ready to board a train home to Washington after a good week with family.


I’m eager to be back in Washington, back to what feels like home after so many years of thinking of Philadelphia in that way. But Washington has been a great gift, personally, spiritually, and professionally. And so it’s easy to call it home.

Wherever we find ourselves in life, it’s good to ask whether the place you are feels like home. And if not, to start making it that.

‘Is this not a miracle in itself?’

It’s New Years Eve, and as the year comes to a close I’m reading one of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s sermons and reflecting on the miracle that is every year, that is every month, day, and minute. Every moment we live is a miracle, in that there’s no reason for any of this other than God’s sheer love and willing of our being. In worship, we recognize this gratuitous goodness, along with our inability to repay it or to earn anything, and at the same time the importance of simply thanking God for the goodness that is this life:

On Christmas night the shepherds are addressed by an angel who shines upon them with the blinding glory of God, and they are very much afraid. The tremendous, unearthly radiance shows that the angel is a messenger of heaven and clothes him with an incontrovertible authority. With this authority he commands them not to be afraid but to embrace the great joy he is announcing to them. And while the angel is speaking thus to these poor frightened people, he is joined by a vast number of others, who unite in a “Gloria” praising God in heaven’s heights and announcing the peace of God’s goodwill to men on earth. Then, we read, “the angels went away from them into heaven.” In all probability the singing was very beautiful and the shepherds were glad to listen; doubtless they were sorry when the concert was over and the performers disappeared behind heaven’s curtain. Probably, however, they were secretly a little relieved when the unwonted light of divine glory and the unwonted sound of heavenly music came to an end, and they found themselves once more in their familiar earthly darkness. They probably felt like shabby beggars who had suddenly been set in a king’s audience chamber among courtiers dressed in magnificent robes and were glad to slip away unnoticed and take to their heels.

But the strange thing is that the intimidating glory of the heavenly realm, which has now vanished, has left behind a human glow of joy in their souls, a light of joyous expectation, reinforcing the heavenward-pointing angel’s word and causing them to set out for Bethlehem. Now they can turn their backs on the whole epiphany of the heavenly glory—for it was only a starting point, an initial spark, a stimulus leading to what was really intended; all that remains of it is the tiny seed of the word that has been implanted in their hearts and that now starts to grow in the form of expectation, curiosity and hope: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They want to see the word that has taken place. Not the angel’s word with its heavenly radiance: that has already become unimportant. They want to see the content of the angel’s word, that is, the Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They want to see the word that has “happened,” the word that has taken place, the word that is not only something uttered but something done, something that can not only be heard but also seen.

Thus the word that the shepherds want to see is not the angel’s word. This was only the proclamation (the kerygma, as people say nowadays); it was only a pointer. The angels, with their heavenly authority, disappear: they belong to the heavenly realm; all that remains is a pointer to a word that has been done. By God, of course. Just as it is God who made it known to them through the angels. …

All who deny themselves in order to carry out love’s commission are on the right path.

Miracles happen along this path. Apparently insignificant miracles, noticed by hardly anyone. The very finding of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger—is this not a miracle in itself? Then there is the miracle when a particular mission, hidden in a person’s heart, really reaches its goal, bringing God’s peace and joy where there were nothing but despair and resignation; when someone succeeds in striking a tiny light in the midst of an overpowering darkness. When joy irradiates a heart that no longer dared to believe in it. Now and again we ourselves are assured that the angel’s word we are trying to obey will bring us to the place where God’s Word and Son is already made man. We are assured that, in spite of all the noise and nonsense, today, December 25, is Christmas just as truly as two millennia ago. Once and for all God has started out on his journey toward us, and nothing, till the world’s end, will stop him from coming to us and abiding in us.

Christmas visit to Lewes

When I was on the road with my brother last week, our first stop was in Lewes, Delaware to visit Ben Novak and his family. It was a good visit, and we had dinner at Grotto Pizza in Rehoboth Beach, about 20 minutes south of Lewes.

On Saturday, the following morning, we got up and got ready to hit the road to Central Pennsylvania, an approximately five hour drive. But before we did that we went out onto a fishing pier that looks out to the west at the Lewes ferry terminal, and to the east to Cape Henlopen State Park. It was perfect, late December light jacket weather.

If it hadn’t been for the approaching ferry, it would have almost been tough to tell where the horizon and the sky met.

State College and holy families

We’re in State College today, heading back to Philadelphia shortly for New Years with family. I’m here with one of my brothers for a college visit, and it looks like he’ll be a Penn Stater, Class or 2024. We walked the campus last night, which was particularly special because it was as deserted as I’ve ever seen it due to Christmas break. It was like we had the place to ourselves for a private tour and the sort of conversation that flows in moments like that. It’s been a good trip and we’ve had good time to be together. I’m excited for him as he looks ahead to this.

After waking up at the Hyatt Place downtown this morning, we checked out and headed to Our Lady of Victory for Mass. It’s still Christmas, and today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I’m pasting some of Bishop Robert Barron’s Gospel reflection below:

The family is, above all, the forum in which both parents and children are able to discern their missions. It is perfectly good, of course, if deep bonds and rich emotions are cultivated within the family, but those relationships and passions must cede to something that is more spiritually focused.

A biblical prioritization of values helps us to see what typically goes wrong with families. When something other than mission is dominant—a son’s athletic achievement, a daughter’s success at university, etc.—family relationships actually become strained. The paradox is this: precisely in the measure that everyone in the family focuses on God’s call for one another, the family becomes more loving and peaceful.

John Paul II admirably summed up what I’ve been driving at when he spoke of the family as an ecclesiola (a little church). At its best, he implies, the family is a place where God is worshiped and where the discernment of God’s mission is of paramount importance.

‘She glares at us in horror’

Michael Frost writes on Léon Cogniet’s 1824 Scène du massacre des Innocents:


If it’s not the greatest of Christmas paintings, it must be one of the most haunting and affecting. A terrified mother cowers in a darkened corner, muffling the cries of her small infant, while around her the chaos and horror of Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem rages.

Most painters of this scene turn it into a huge biblical spectacle, making it a revolting tableaux of death and mayhem. But Cogniet focuses our attention on one petrified woman, a mother who knows she is about to lose her child. She envelopes her doomed child, her bare feet revealing how vulnerable they are. There’s no way to run. She is cornered.

Wisely, Cogniet doesn’t show us the carnage. It is hinted at in the rushing figures in the background. Another mother is seen carrying her own children down the stairs to the left, running for their lives. But Cogniet shows a level of artistic restraint not seen in many depictions of this story. He forces everything to the background in order to draw our attention to the woman’s terrified face.

That face!

Staring at… us!

It’s as if we are one of Herod’s agents of death, and we have found her. She glares at us in horror. …

This Christmas, by all means remember the angels and the shepherds and the magi and the little boy-child Jesus in his manger. But also remember this mother and her child on the streets of Bethlehem. And remember that the coming of the Christ was to set in train a revolution of love and justice that would eventually sweep away all tyrants and free all victims and end all wars.

Any one of us could be one of those agents of Herod. That’s what I think about when I look into her face. I could be her child’s killer. If we’re capable of heroic virtue, we’re as capable of terrible evil. This is Jordan Peterson’s point when he cautions against being too self-assured that you would be on the side of the Allies and not the Axis powers.

Christ’s appearance in the world was consequential from the earliest moments. And we see in Herod (and in ourselves) how the human heart reacts to the prospect of the King of Peace, and a new order that transcends our vanities. We have the capacity to act violently, brutally.