Monday, May 31, 2010


If you didn't notice, I un-centered the title at the top. I don't really like it left-justified like that as much, but the centering html was showing up when, for example, people "followed" my blog, and that's annoying. So I'm willing to make this sacrifice.

A Bad Joke...

Even when they're trying to get "healthy"...this institution once again shows itself to be sex obsessed. This article describes the psychological screening process for seminarians, and it's really got to make you wonder where their heads are. Certainly, it is intended to deal with the abuse, which is good; if there's one thing I'm all for, it's psychosexually integrated priests (and people in general).

Yet it raises the question about what structural features of the contemporary priesthood make this even necessary in the first place. I doubt people working in any other job (except perhaps, like, CIA agents) have their employers prying into their lives this much, not even grade-school teachers who work with children full-time. What a zoo!

They should parody this on SNL or something. It would make a hilarious sketch, really, it's just so delightfully naive and perverse (though then Bill Donahue and his ilk would scream "anti-Catholicism!!"):

Every job interview has its awkward moments, but in recent years, the standard interview for men seeking a life in the Roman Catholic priesthood has made the awkward moment a requirement.

“When was the last time you had sex?” all candidates for the seminary are asked. (The preferred answer: not for three years or more.)

“What kind of sexual experiences have you had?” is another common question. “Do you like pornography?”

Depending on the replies and the results of a battery of standardized psychological tests — including sketches of anatomically correct human figures the candidate is asked to draw — the interview may proceed into deeper waters: “Do you like children?” and “Do you like children more than you like people your own age?”

It is part of a soul-baring obstacle course that prospective seminarians are forced to run in the aftermath of a sexual abuse crisis that church leaders have decided to confront, in part, by scrubbing their academies of potential molesters, according to church officials and psychologists who screen candidates.

But many of the questions are also aimed at another, equally sensitive mission: deciding whether gay applicants should be denied admission under recent Vatican guidelines that do not explicitly bar all gay candidates but would exclude most of them, even some who are celibate.

Scientific studies have found no link between sexual orientation and abuse, and the church is careful to describe its two initiatives as more or less separate. One top adviser to American seminaries characterized them as “two circles that might overlap here and there.”

Still, in the aftermath of the abuse crisis that erupted in 2002, reducing the number of homosexual men who enter the priesthood has become one the church’s highest priorities.

That task has fallen to seminary directors and a cadre of psychologists who say that culling candidates has become an arduous process of testing, interviewing and making decisions — based on social science, church dogma and gut instinct.

“The best way I can put it, it’s not black and white,” said the adviser, the Rev. David Toups, director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It’s more like one of those things where it’s hard to define, but ‘I know it when I see it.’ ”

Could a psychologically mature gay person, committed to celibacy, never become a priest? Could the church afford to turn away good candidates in the midst of a critical priest shortage?

The Vatican permits every bishop and leader of a religious order to make those decisions, which vary from stricter to more liberal interpretations of the rules. But the methods of reaching them have become increasingly standard, experts say.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist at Catholic University who has screened seminarians and once headed a treatment center for abusive priests, said the screening could be “very intrusive.” But, he added: “We are looking for two basic qualities: the absence of pathology and the presence of health.”

To that end, most candidates are likely to be asked not only about past sexual activities but also about masturbation fantasies, consumption of alcohol, relationships with parents and the causes of romantic breakups. All must take HIV tests and complete written exams such as the 567-question Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which screens for, among other things, depression, paranoia and gender confusion.

In interviews by psychologists — who usually are selected because they are Catholic therapists with religious views matching those of the local church leadership — candidates are also likely to be asked about their strategies for managing sexual desire.

“Do you take cold showers? Do you take long runs?” [ROFLMAO!!!] said Dr. Thomas G. Plante, a psychologist and the director of the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University in California, describing some typical questions.

The questions are intended both to gather information and to let screeners assess the candidate’s poise and self-awareness — or to observe the tics and eye-avoidance that may signal something else.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Little Pieces

More unsurprising news.

I find it odd how, though they're always emphasizing how the priesthood is for the good of the Church and therefore "no one has a right to be ordained"...once the priest is ordained, they act like he has some sort of right to remain in the clerical state (and on the payroll) and therefore require all this "due process" to laicize him.

But I don't think any process is due in order to simply revoke something that you never had a right to have in the first place. If it's for the good of the Church, priests should be expected to accept removal whether it is "fair" or not. It is fair, by definition, even if the reasoning behind it isn't true, because you have no right to expect something that's a privilege in the first place.

I mean, people always emphasize "obedience" and the "learning to do things even when you don't like it" aspect of seminary formation. And yet, once the priests are certainly doesn't seem like they were required to "obey" their bishop when he, you know, wanted to laicize them for child molestation! When it comes to something like that, oh, then they apparently had this "right" to refuse what their bishop wanted and challenge him in canon court!

So you've really got to wonder about the priorities of this whole ridiculous system. Given that the "obedience" that so many people romanticize and extol doesn't seem to actually be invoked much in practice in many seems like it's really designed just to screen for people who will keep their heads down.

"The petition in question cannot be admitted in as much as it lacks the request of Father Campbell himself," Ratzinger wrote in a July 3, 1989, letter to Bishop Daniel Ryan of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.


"The whole idea was that the priesthood was so sacred you couldn't kick these guys out," said the Rev. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer who reviewed the Campbell case and who has advocated for abuse victims. "It wasn't that it wasn't possible — it was possible — but the practice had been not to accept the petition unless the priest accepted."


I fear the infliction of further pain upon the victims of his criminal activity and their families," Ryan wrote. "I fear that the diocese will suffer further pastorally and in public relations, to say nothing of greater financial damage."

Ratzinger refused, citing Vatican policy, and told the bishop to proceed with a church tribunal.


Ryan, who lives in a nursing home outside the diocese, was unable to respond to questions. He retired in 1999 under a cloud of accusations of sexual relationships with male prostitutes and at least one priest; his successor found that he had engaged in "improper sexual conduct," allegations Ryan denied.


John Paul "certainly, I would say, is more culpable than Benedict," said Lasch.

The Vatican previously accepted involuntary laicizations, but turbulence of the 1970s, in which the Catholic Church suffered a huge worldwide loss of priests, helped push John Paul to revise the policy and promulgate the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which emphasized more due process rights for priests and discouraged penal sanctions.

"It didn't have any provisions in it for involuntary laicizations," said Msgr. John Alesandro, a canon lawyer and professor at Catholic University. "But I think most canonists believed that whether it was in the Code of Canon Law or not, the pope could do it."

John Paul did not, and as the abuse crisis exploded in the Catholic Church in the United States, bishops grew frustrated.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Very Cool and Very Beautiful

Archaeologists have revealed the first detailed studies of what some call one of the world's most significant collections of rock art, a treasure trove of more than 3,000 stunning paintings and other images spanning as many as 15,000 years.

The extraordinary cache lies in a remote and sparsely populated region of north-central Australia. Known by the Aboriginal name of Djulirri (rhymes with "Hillary"), the site was until now almost completely unknown to science.

The rock walls of Djulirri bear images of kangaroos, the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger, sailing ships from the 1800s, humans performing a ritual with a snake, European missionaries, even a biplane. In some places there are 20 layers of artworks, one painted atop the other.

The oldest paintings at the site are 12,000 to 15,000 years old; the newest, roughly 50.

Another Video to Puzzle

A reader left a comment saying he was left puzzled by this video post.

Here's another:

Trust me, though, there is a deep meaning to all of this (unlike the documents of Vatican II...) You just have to put the pieces together.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just a Reminder

A reader did start our official Unofficial Facebook page. If you're interested by what you read, join it!

I also added a link to a friend's new blog.

An Excellent Comment

That a poster put on a recent post of mine regarding the psycho-sexual dynamics of clericalism:
Interesting post, sinner. I'd be interested to know exactly how long you think this clerical education/training has been a problem, leading to an unhealthy culture among priests. I know that it definitely goes back to before Vatican II, since I heard all about it from my grandfather who was a psychologist who examined many seminarians, diocesan and religious. He predicted shortly after World War II that there would be huge problems for the Church when that current crop of seminarians assumed authority within the Church.

There are a few comments in the article that I find especially interesting, given what I heard in my family. (1) Many a priest at the time was his mother's favorite, and perhaps joined the seminary more to please his mother than Christ. (2) There was a lot of immaturity among seminarians, characterized by a general unwillingness to face life the way normal people do. This usually took the form of preferring an easy, somewhat luxurious lifestyle, to the hard work of earning a living and raising a family.

I have to add, though, that I'm hesitant to adopt the idea that everything here just has to do with power. I can't give precise reasons right now, but it just seems a tad too simplistic.
I would agree, actually; the insistence on the conformism and authoritarianism is in many ways just to maintain a certain economic position. Though there are certainly power-hungry ambitious priests and bishops, as well as repressed ones who fetishize following orders fascistically, I think mainly the reasons they are so invested in maintaining their position, as I've discussed before, is just that lazy immaturity you describe.

Priests have a very cushy position, and are very much dependent. Their job could, frankly, be done almost entirely by unpaid volunteers, at least in our literate leisure society. So they have to create a whole clericalist mystique around the priesthood with all sorts of very specific barriers to entry, like mandatory celibacy, in order to justify their continued existence as a separate class. This, in turn, leads to a certain holier-than-thou clericalist pride of the type Fr. Z shows all the time in posts like this one.

I mean, they get to live off our donations for doing tasks that, if we're being honest, aren't exactly rocket science; they mainly involve reading words out-loud and waving their hands over things. Their "education" is largely superfluous, but they have to portray themselves as a profession in order to maintain the idea of the priesthood as a full-time job for special men requiring special skills so that people will continue being willing to pay them. But people are starting to see the man behind the curtain.


The site on which I found that definition of "intellectual incest" in the previous post is rather interesting (remember, that's my code-word for not necessarily agreeing with all of it but still finding it thought provoking). It is from the so-called Church of Reality that seems to promote a sort of existentialist humanism.

I disagree with it, ultimately, about Faith not corresponding with Reality. Good religion (smart religion) is unfalsifiable (if only by design), and so cannot be said to contradict reality. I think this is where a lot of militant atheist dreck becomes just ridiculous. Marx himself, though not a believer, found atheist rhetoric crude, as he believed that religion was the natural and necessary outcome of human alienation and would be stopped not by polemics, but only ultimately by eliminating the conditions that led to human alienation in the first place. Again I disagree ultimately (while sympathizing) but I'll write more about Marx later.

One point, however, when it comes to these questions, is that praxy is much more important than theory. People who rail against religion do so assumably because they believe that religion causes problems. At least that's me giving them the benefit of the doubt. For many of them, I actually suspect they are just as much ideologues as anyone else, and that atheism is just as much their sort of fundamentalist religion (Marx believed the same thing about ideological atheism, by the way). But for these purposes I'll assume that they sincerely believe that religion is an obstacle to human progress or happiness. And certainly it very often is, but that's usually not the fault of religion in itself, but of human beings. As that post the other day discussed, if religion is just making you more of a jerk or just more miserable or repressed without even helping anyone...then you might as well just drop it completely.

In reality, it isn't belief in things, real or not, provable or not, that is making people unhappy. Some abstract belief that 2000 years ago a woman was conceived without without something called Original Sin has never harmed anyone. Neither has the sacramental or liturgical practice of religion generally: no one has died because they had some water poured over them to remit that same Original Sin. Liturgy on an aesthetic level can be beautiful and even fun. Even if it weren't true, someone merely believing in the Immaculate Conception in the abstract doesn't hurt them anymore than accidentally believing Lincoln was the fifteenth president (instead of the 16th) or that their first grade teacher's first name was Jane (when it was really Jean), as long as it doesn't effect their behavior negatively. And even if I lost my faith, I'd keep going to the traditional Mass just for the aesthetic pleasure and intellectual stimulation of the experience.

And I think that's just the thing. What hurts people and makes them unhappy, or causes them to harm others or make others unhappy, or gets in the way of advances that would generally increase practice, not theory. Such is the "religion" of people who believe they are supposed to kill or coerce others in the name of God. On a more subtle level, it can take the form of those who want to impose their religion on others in the form of trying outlaw condoms even for non-believers or get government funding for things that other people don't agree with. Or even are just being scammed into giving money to some big institution to support its parasitic clergy (which can happen even if the religion is true!)

Sometimes it's harder to tell. Creationists are only a problem if their theory would hamper scientific investigations. The science of evolution has led to medical advances that presumably would never have been achieved if the scientists had constrained their thought to the paradigm of anti-evolutionism and not allowed themselves to even hypothetically consider other possibilities. That's a huge problem with many "religious" people; they won't even let themselves think outside their own box even just in a hypothetical "what if" way. But, as long as some scientists are willing to think outside the box that way, and as long as the Creationists don't somehow prevent that research...who cares what they personally believe on the matter? I doubt it effects their day-to-day behavior negatively (except when they waste all sorts of time in long youtube comment-box arguments with militant atheists on the matter, lol). And if, all the better, they are able to come up with an explanation that is just as good at making predictions and explaining the evidence (even if it doesn't satisfy Occam's Razor) then who is hurt?

The point is, it's only when beliefs start causing dysfunctional behavior or feelings that they become a problem. And realistic religion shouldn't do that. That's where I think we could learn somethings in dialogue with the Church of Reality. I think they make a lot of good points about ideologues not being intellectually honest, and about people letting their "religion" actually warp their view of objective reality and affect their behavior for the worse.

For example, they point out, the belief in heaven or the imminent end of the world has led some people, many people probably, to put less emphasis on trying to improve conditions in this world. Of course, then you look at someone like Mother Theresa and see how the opposite can also be true when religion is properly applied. Or how toggle-switch absolution has made many people just fall back on a cycle of guilt and forgiveness without really changing them morally as people, in fact relieving them of the sense of urgency when it comes to changing. Then again, there are many Saints who have shown the opposite can also be true.

The Church of Realism would probably argue that people depriving themselves of things that would otherwise make them happy or give them pleasure, for the sake of some (they would say: "imaginary") reward in the heaven is another problem. But, I believe that as long as you aren't hurting anyone else, you should let people do that even if you believe they aren't actually going to get any bigger reward. I would also argue that what people who think that self-denial is unnecessary and makes people unhappy don't realize is that many mystics and ascetics do experience very tangible benefits in the here and now in terms of altered states of consciousness, inner peace, even ecstasies (whether you believe their cause is natural or supernatural) that are not dependent on the reality or not of their heavenly reward later.

People are much more rational actors than some of these atheists would believe, and they are actually much more influenced by their present material concerns than abstract ones, even if they themselves would attribute their actions, putatively, to the abstract ones. Marx would say that their religion is merely the natural symptom or rational expression of people's material situation, a responsive behavior, not some irrational cause wherein all problems could be solved simply by getting rid of the belief. There are reasons people believe dysfunctionally or let even neutral or good beliefs affect them in dysfunctional ways, and, if anything, it is those reasons that are the problem (whatever they may be), not the belief itself in the abstract.

I've complained about this many times. Faith is about truth. Yet so many religious ideologues are intellectually dishonst to the point of hyping false statistics or "interpreting" facts in disingenuous ways; the recent crisis in the Church has had many examples of this. The fact is, as the Church of Reality people say, if you're convinced that your faith is real, then you wouldn't be afraid of the facts of reality or try to hide from them.

So many idealists do just that when they insist that something about human society is true in fact just because something ought to be morally speaking. Or they'll take a good or condemned thing from the religion and try to prove that it is associated with good or bad effects in practice. Just for one example, trying to create evidence that children raised by a gay couple are psychologically harmed or that allowing openly gay soldiers would ruin the effectiveness of the military, when there really is no such evidence. Believing homosexual acts are immoral and unnatural is one thing, but that's an abstract moral question. It's really neither here nor there when it comes to expected outcomes of such studies. The same faulty logic is expressed in looking for evidence that prayer has salutatory health effects. Or expecting that Christians will, as a group, be more moral than average. Or that priests actually are celibate just because they are "supposed to be."

In other words, trying to drum-up evidence about concrete effects to try to bolster an abstract moral belief, is not only dishonest, but also makes no sense. The material facts and the question of morality should have nothing to do with each other as they're two separate categories; sin doesn't necessarily lead to bad material effects, and just because Christianity spreads a message of moral improvement, doesn't mean its followers will actually follow it. Trying to draw some sort of correspondence between the abstract non-falsifiables of faith, and the concrete falsifiable facts of reality, is bound to get you into trouble.

My faith, on the other hand, has nothing to fear from reality.

Intellectual Incest

Intellectual Incest is a situation where too many people in a group all think alike and exclude legitimate diverse viewpoints. Not all points of view are intelligent arguments but sometimes when people become too uniform, they fail to evolve for lack of fresh new ideas. The concept is similar to genetic inbreeding. Realists are encouraged to exchange ideas with people who are not of the same mindset because it gives both individuals the opportunity to learn something new. When people hang out with people who agree on everything then there is less opportunity to learn from a new point of view and it leads to stagnation.
Visit a trad or neocon discussion forum (or blog combox) sometime; almost always you will find there the sickly or even deformed mental fruits of such intellectual inbreeding.

This is also a huge part of why I find the "enclosed monastic hothouse" of the seminaries to be a huge turn-off (and very creepy).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Saudi Arabia!

We got a visit from there! Wow!


In the same vein as some of my past posts, here's a fun little piece that came out today:

Dozens of Italian women who have had relationships with Roman Catholic priests or lay monks have endorsed an open letter to the pope that calls for the abolition of the celibacy rule. The letter, thought by one signatory to be unprecedented, argues that a priest "needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved".

It also pleads for understanding of those who "live out in secrecy those few moments the priest manages to grant [us] and experience on a daily basis the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men".

The issue was put back on the Vatican's agenda in March when one of Pope Benedict's senior advisers, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said the abolition of the celibacy rule might curb sex abuse by priests, a suggestion he hastily withdrew after Benedict spoke up for "the principle of holy celibacy".

The authors of the letter said they decided to come into the open after hearing his retort, which they said was an affirmation of "the holiness of something that is not holy" but a man-made rule. There are many instances of married priests in the early centuries of Christianity. Today, priests who follow the eastern Catholic rites can be married, as can those who married before converting to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism.

One signatory, Stefania Salomone, 42, an office manager, said the message to the pope had been endorsed by nearly 40 women registered with an online forum linked to Il Dialogo website. But such was the sensitivity of the issue that only three had published their names.

The letter was posted on the internet on 28 March. But it was only reported on Wednesday by the online international news agency, globalPost.

Salomone said that because Catholics were taught to look up to priests, women dropped by their priest-lovers "often lose their faith in men altogether". Her own five-year relationship had been platonic, but Antonella Carisio, one of the other signatories, had had an affair with a Brazilian priest who frequently slept at her house.

When their relationship was discovered by another priest, Carisio's lover was transferred to Rome. "When he left, he even gave me an engagement ring," she said.

But he subsequently returned to Brazil and this week told the globalPost news agency: "She was a friend and a confidante, but I was never in love with her."


Things had calmed down in May, somewhat (relative to April certainly), regarding the scandal of incomparable proportions that has just begun to rock the Church, but it looks like things are possibly heating up again. Catholics can rail against "the media" however much they want, but the fact is the media does have the power to control public opinion and if it wants something to happen, there's a good chance it will. I found these recent tidbits telling:

And while a well-placed Cardinal has publicly speculated that Benedict will deliver a mea culpa in early June, the words of that apology--if that is what it proves to be--will be severely limited by theology, history and the very person and office of the Pope. It is unlikely to satisfy the many members of Benedict's flock who want a very modern kind of accountability, not just mealymouthed declarations buttressed by arcane religious philosophy.


Benedict now seems to understand the stakes. But Alberto Melloni, a church historian at the University of Modena, says other power brokers in the Vatican think the church can just ride out the storm. "They don't realize the deep bitterness among the faithful, the isolation of the clergy. We can't predict where this is going to wind up." Speaking to TIME, a senior Vatican official foresees immense consequences for the entire church. "History comes down to certain key episodes," he says. "We're facing one of those moments now."


Presented with the scenario of a personal apology by the human embodiment of the church, a well-placed Vatican official sighed as he weighed the theological and historical implications. "It's dangerous," he said. "It's dangerous." [Dangerous to what? I suspect merely to their twisted narrative of clerical, and specifically Vatican, exceptionalism]


The church must be a state.
That became more imperative as the secular authority of the papal states in Italy was stripped away by French and Spanish monarchs, Napoleon and Garibaldi, Mussolini and Hitler. The historian Melloni points out that the papacy was able to take advantage of its weakened condition to buttress support among the faithful by resorting to vittimismo, playing the victim and blaming others for preying on the church. "This actually had the effect of raising the devotion to the Pope," he says. That was the legacy of the 32-year reign of Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, Pope Pius IX, who stage-managed the First Vatican Council into approving infallibility in 1869 with a suspect majority of bishops. In obedience to its divinely absolute monarch, the Vatican bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, became even more centralized and domineering. So even as the Pope lost his divisions, the empire of Christ based in Rome constructed a government to rival the civil institutions in countries where its clergy served the faithful. Churches and cathedrals became the embassies of God and his vicar, the Pope, in the secular world.


After Easter, when there was no end to the stories of the sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests and how the incidents were covered up, the old guard in the Vatican ramped up vittimismo, blaming the media, atheists, homosexuals and moneygrubbing lawyers for exploiting the crisis. But that did little to buy sympathy or change the dominant opinion that Benedict's papacy was permanently damaged.


"For a church that is famous for moving slowly, they've been moving pretty fast lately," says McDaid, the abuse victim from Massachusetts. But, he says, that's because "these people are in fear. They should be in fear. This isn't going to go away just with words."


"Expectations are again building up for the Pope to say something that will somehow resolve everything," says a Vatican source. But the Pope seems to have no such plan in mind. "It has backed him into a corner," says the source, speaking of the speculation that a mea culpa is coming. "It is clear that people at the Vatican are not singing from the same hymnbook."


As for challenging the Curia, a Benedict loyalist in the Vatican doubts that the aging Pope can take on the established powers of the church at this stage of his papacy. Moreover, to seek accountability for the culture of cover-up means undermining the legacy of his great friend and hero John Paul II, under whose watch much of the crisis occurred and whose papacy quite consciously chose to ignore the clamor of abuse victims until it exploded into a public scandal in 2002. The Polish Pontiff is on the fast track to sainthood. Says a Vatican insider: "When John Paul II is canonized, it will be despite his abysmal record as administrator of the church."


[And perhaps most important and exciting of all when it comes to what we can do:]

Though their church is still run top-down, Catholics now carry the expectations of a kind of faithful citizenry rather than an obedient flock. Plans are afoot for thousands of abuse victims and their loved ones to travel to Rome in October for a "Reformation Day" to pressure the Vatican to act. McDaid, who met Benedict in Washington in 2008, is one of the prime organizers of the march on St. Peter's, and he envisions a massive democracy movement to transform Rome. "It's the people's church," he says. "We have to take it back." McDaid talks about priests and nuns who are raising travel money for "victims who can't rub two nickels together to get to Rome. This is way bigger than [Martin Luther's] Reformation."

Christian Marxist Against Atheism

I found an interesting article about a self-proclaimed Christian Marxist who wrote a book opposing the militant atheism of the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He makes some interesting points.

By the way, if you hadn't noticed already, saying something is "interesting" is my code-word for "I don't necessarily endorse it all, but there's some stimulating and possibly useful ideas in there." And, of course, "useful" can mean either as an idea to borrow/build on or merely serving as a foil inspiring thought (if only in the effort to refute it; producing better answers through the new questions it raises).

So, yeah, I thought this was interesting:
This Christianity "is not primarily a matter of signing on for the proposition that there exists a Supreme Being, but the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love." He goes on to say that faith "is for the most part performative rather than propositional. Christians certainly believe that there is a God. But this is not what the credal statement 'I believe in God' means. It resembles [rather] an utterance like 'I have faith in you.' "


"Reason, Faith, and Revolution" argues that the first third of that trinity is not the enemy of the second, properly understood, and that the second can inform the third by offering "valuable insights into human emancipation." Eagleton is certainly correct that the atheists miss how Jesus and his followers took on the religious and political establishments, preaching an unconditional and egalitarian love that, if anything, is utopian in its radicalism.

This erudite but often entertaining volume runs out of gas only sporadically, whenever Eagleton commits too much philosophy, dishing up wordy and opaque paragraphs. His politics, while humane, can be as simplistically rendered as Ditchkins's theology. Arguing that evil is an intrinsic part of humanity, he writes, "This is not to conclude that racism or sexism or capitalism cannot be defeated."
I found some other quotes from the book in this article that are also very interesting:
The New Testament is a brutal destroyer of human illusions. If you follow Jesus and don’t end up dead, it appears you have some explaining to do. The stark signifier of the human condition is one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains. The traumatic truth of human history is a mutilated body. Those who do not see this dreadful image of a tortured innocent as the truth of history are likely to adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress, for which we shall see, Ditchkins is a full-blooded apologist. There are rationalist myths as well as religious ones. Indeed, many secular myths are degutted versions of sacred ones.”
I'll write more about Marx and religion soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm Also Lazy Again

But Reditus keeps having such great posts:

Many religious groups have a strange approach towards modern life. The Muslim Wahabists, the Old Believers, the Hasidim, snake handlers, traditionalist Catholics, and the Amish all seem to try to fight modernity by creating an order that accentuates selected parts of the past to the point of being grotesque. Female dress is one of these things. A typical woman hundreds of years ago probably did not look like a Hasidic wife or an Old Believer maid wading in the wheat. She certainly did not look like the traditionalist Catholic wife piling out of her white van with eight well-groomed kids in tow. The customary style of dress would not have been an issue. It would not have been an object of serious reflection. That is because being a reactionary is not the same as being traditional, just as being conservative may be just as much about creating an ideal image of the past as saving it.


The veiling of woman was merely the closing of the door on nature as seductress: woman, like nature, is the servant of the devil, and she can only be controlled by hiding her charms. Ultimately, it was the bourgeois philosophy and religious thought of Descartes and Luther that turned man decidedly inward, so that he is left staring at his own reflection: a Narcissus trapped in a dead cosmos.

One could thus say, in some sense, that just as modernity is a war against the local, so it is a war against the feminine. I mean this not in a political sense, but rather metaphysically. Perhaps the only reason that the flesh unveils itself now is because we have tamed it, compartmentalized it, and brought it under control. In other words, we have emptied it of meaning. Those who advocate the styles of “modesty” only play into this paradigm in that they continue the early modern fear of woman and nature under the guise of “traditional piety”. They are just as modern as anyone else.

Though I think head-covering of some form while in church is an important part of the whole symbolic system (on which also depends the doctrine of the all-male priesthood), it is clear that sometimes this pressure for women to wear some sort of traditionalist uniform (no pants, sleeves at least to the elbows, etc) to TLMs is just an attempt to enforce an aesthetic. Which, ironically, makes what would have been beautiful become stilted and repressive; like Pleasantville. You cannot legislate taste.

Now, I think there is something so wonderful about free-flowing and draped colorful cloth, especially on a woman, and it's nice to see, especially in a setting like traditional liturgy that is already transporting and "romantic" in its aesthetic. But this has also all bizarrely been tied up with a fear of women's sexuality by men who project the blame for their own alienated lust.

I suppose this is a perfect example of where vain Romanticism easily becomes totalitarianism, and ugly hunchbacked old Realism shows himself to be, in his tolerance, the one who is truly noble and compassionate.

Don't be left staring at your own reflection. Let yourself be seduced.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm Lazy Too

That's probably why I keep just referring my content from other sources. And very often from Arturo Vasquez over at Reditus, who once again has written something I find resonates very much with what I stand for, or at least one important aspect of it:

Of late I have been dissecting all aspects of cultural Catholicism: the imagery, the laziness, the Voodoo of making deals with God and then breaking them. For most of my sentient life, I have counter-posed Catholicism to the world, even though that was not how I was raised. I was raised a church-going, cultural Catholic. Catholicism primarily informed the rhythm of life in a very low key way. While I went from crazy fundamentalist to strange spiritual seeker, reversion to normal life has driven me to chose once again the Faith of my childhood. While some people con-vert, and others re-vert, I think at this point I am in the process of di-verting. As I have put it before, how can I keep the Faith without the Church being all up in my business?


I have seen so many “committed” Catholics do, say, and believe so many bizarre and disturbing things that I have come to the conclusion that it is almost better for your soul to not take your religion very seriously. Or, to put it more bluntly, if religion is becoming a way for you to be a better asshole [or even, I would add, is just making you miserable without doing anyone else any good], it is best if you just dump it altogether. God doesn’t need to help people be worse jerks than they already are [nor any help in making you or other people more miserable].

The philosophical morale of the story is to put more faith in the things of God than in the skill and understanding of man. Going to Mass once in a while is better than going to Mass under the pretext of being the “last good Christians on earth”, or of social conservative engineering. Openly expressing doubts about this doctrine or the other is better than living in a Potemkin fortress village the walls of which anyone can see through. A soccer player making the Sign of the Cross before coming on the field is far better than the social critics who think that a Puritan God showers His decent bourgeois elect with earthly blessings. In “cultural Catholicism”, the thing is primary: not one’s perception independent of it. The symbol, in all of its earthiness, does not change. How you believe in it and how you employ it does.

I think I will use "Potemkin village" in reference to mandatory celibacy more often now.

Lying to yourself is just as much a lie, and just as much a sin, as any other lie. Yet so many Catholics do this every day.

Nested Quotes

The beginning of Chapter 27 of the Book of Jeremiah has five layers of nested quotes!

The Douay just does it all with colons:
In the beginning of the reign of Joakim the son of Josias king of Juda, this word came to Jeremias from the Lord, saying: Thus saith the Lord to me: Make thee bands, and chains: and thou shalt put them on thy neck. And thou shalt send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the children of Ammon, and to the king of Tyre, and to the king of Sidon: by the hand of the messengers that are come to Jerusalem to Sedecias the king of Juda. And thou shalt command them to speak to their masters: Thus saith the Lord of hosts the God of Israel: Thus shall you say to your masters: I made the earth, and the men, and the beasts that are upon the face of the earth, by my great power, and by my stretched out arm: and I have given it to whom it seemed good in my eyes.
But if you actually tried to put in the quotation marks (the rule usually suggested is to alternate single and double quotes in such nestings), it would look something like:
In the beginning of the reign of Joakim the son of Josias king of Juda, this word came to Jeremias from the Lord, [Jeremias] saying, "Thus saith the Lord to me, 'Make thee bands, and chains and thou shalt put them on thy neck. And thou shalt send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the children of Ammon, and to the king of Tyre, and to the king of Sidon, by the hand of the messengers that are come to Jerusalem to Sedecias the king of Juda. And thou shalt command them to speak to their masters [by saying,] "Thus saith the Lord of hosts the God of Israel, 'Thus shall you say to your masters, "I made the earth, and the men, and the beasts that are upon the face of the earth, by my great power, and by my stretched out arm: and I have given it to whom it seemed good in my eyes." ' " ' "
So, in other words, Jeremiah says that God said that Jeremiah should say to the messengers that God says that they [the messengers] should say to their masters [the kings] that God is great.

And, frankly, if we're being realistic, the messengers would probably have to introduce God's statement to their masters by saying, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts the God of Israel, 'I made the earth...' " Though for some reason that attribution is not made explicit in the series of quotes. So it ends up looking like the messengers are to say to their masters, "I made the earth..." without explaining to the masters who "I" is! But surely God isn't telling the messengers to claim that they made the earth!

I suppose at that point God just assumed the messengers would explain the path of transmission to the kings ("Jeremiah said that God said that Jeremiah was supposed to tell me [the messenger] that God said to tell you [the king] that God said, 'I made the earth...' ") It's a bit strange though, even so, given that God seems to be very careful to explicitly instruct Jeremiah himself to attribute quotes to Him (by including the "Thus saith the Lord" as part of what He instructs Jeremiah to say), but then seems to just trust that the messengers will give the correct attribution without needing to have it explicitly included in the message Jeremiah tells them to relay to the kings. Maybe Jeremiah was obsessive-compulsive about stuff like that but the messengers weren't? (An ironic joke given the obsessive nature of this analysis...)

I added a couple clarification in brackets just because the Douay formats it a bit oddly at a couple places. More modern translations simplify things a bit by getting rid of the outer-most layer. That first rather confusing floating "saying" is removed, and "Thus saith the Lord to me:" is made simply a separate sentence, the one that properly introduces the first layer of quotation (instead of already being within a quotation).

However, this requires treating the first line as either a sort of heading added later to Jeremiah's testimony about the message he received (in which case, the whole thing becomes a sort of block-quote anyway). Or else it requires assuming that the whole chapter is narrated by Jeremiah from the start rather than being introduced by a sentence which indicates that Jeremiah is the speaker of the rest (which rather awkwardly would mean that he is speaking in the third-person in that first sentence.)

So, the point is, treating this complicated nested series of quotations has been a confusing task for translators and editors. And so I think it is a good thing that I put the whole excerpt as a block-quote instead of adding a layer to the confusion by trying to regularly quote it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tropes and Sequences

These are some useful resources:

The Winchester Troper

The Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi (volumes 8, 9, 10, 34, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 53, 54 have many of the "lost sequences" from throughout Europe)

Down Under

It's a good sign when archbishops start speaking out:

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, whose archdiocese is based in the national capital of Canberra, took the unusual step of writing an open letter attempting to explain the culture that led the church to turn a blind eye to priests accused of molesting children.

Factors include a determination to protect the church's reputation, a culture of discretion, "institutionalized immaturity" of priests fostered by seminary training, and an outlook of "sin and forgiveness rather than crime and punishment," Coleridge wrote.

Clerical celibacy was not itself a factor but it "has its perils," he wrote. "The discipline of celibacy may also have been attractive to men in whom there were paedophile tendencies which may not have been explicitly recognised by the men themselves when they entered the seminary."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Western Rite Orthodox Catholicism?

Sigh. After writing that Athos post, it got me thinking that most of what I want in the Catholic Church, almost all of the reforms I plug for around here...are already present in the Orthodox churches.

The "vision" I have in almost all its aspects (except perhaps the streak of very Western individualism and tolerance, which the Orthodox don't necessarily have in practice, even if some of their rhetoric would seem to support it) is essentially a vision of the Catholic Church if it were to, well, become more Orthodox. Or, I'd like to think, more like it itself was in the First Millennium.

Of course, there are reasons I remain Catholic, and if I were Orthodox I would want those things (and probably experience a lot less tolerance in advocating them). First of all, of course, communion with Rome. Secondly, dogmatic precision on issues I am convinced are true like purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, soteriology, etc...which some Orthodox are downright hostile towards, and which are only ever at best "optional" theologoumenon that will likely make you suspect of being a "Latinizer" even if you try to parse them in Eastern terminology.

Also very important, however, is the question of Rite. Though some might say to me, "Well, why not become an Eastern Catholic," the fact is that my spirituality (and certainly my liturgical home) is definitely Western. I am a Latin, for better or worse. Thoughts of running off and joining the Ethiopian church are affected at best, though tempting given how much our own eccelsiastical and especially liturgical life need the spirit of the East.

One option that has remained tempting, if it weren't for it being in schism with Rome, are the Western Rite Orthodox groups that have been set up, especially in Europe. They have the beautiful fullness of traditional Western liturgy, but sometimes in hieratic vernacular translations. They also have an organic diversity of old uses that the Roman bureaucracy has been very strict about in its insistence on centralization and needing explicit permission to try anything different. They have small parishes with married priests that look like they really build personal communities, and their organization is, of course, not over-centralized. Their disciplines are more rigorous I'm sure, while also maintaining that "Orthodox" pastoral style that is accommodating of human frailty.

Hence the title of this post. While people attached to Eastern Orthodoxy and its way of doing things have, within Catholicism, the Eastern Catholic Churches...there is no such equivalent for Western Orthodoxy. It is assumed to be equivalent simply to the Latin Rite, and anyone converting from that would probably just be lumped with the Latins. If Rome wants to insist on maintaining the big, bureaucratic, institutional, hyper-centralized, authoritarian Western Church...couldn't it at least carve out a sui juris church for "Western Rite Orthodox-in-communion-with-Rome" to reunite?

Of course, my only hope is that they may in effect be doing something like this in the creation of the Anglican Ordinariates, which will represent a model of Western Christianity more like what I imagine. And yet, though people speak of the generosity of the Pope in making this offer...I actually think they are being quite stingy. As far as we can tell, only converts will be able to remain married priests, liturgy will still have to be approved in a centralized bureaucratic way, and don't expect an "oikonomic" attitude about divorce, annulment, and remarriage or anything like that.

And yet, I can only think that having such a "Western Rite Orthodox" model, or at least niche structure, would not only woo back traditional Anglicans, but also groups of traditionally minded Old Catholics, Polish National Catholics, and other Western-Rite independent groups (which have likewise seemed appealing to me) which split off mainly just because of over-bearing administrative tactics from the Roman apparatus, but some (some, not all by any means) of which are still very much traditionally-minded doctrinally and liturgically. And, I'd have to think, it would help unity with the Orthodox too.

Yet, even though it never invokes its power to do anything useful, the Vatican remains utterly terrified, for some reason, of loosening its clutches even just a little bit, even just on non-doctrinal issues of discipline and administration.


Though I also tend to suspect the monks at Athos are probably not the most well-adjusted men in the world (given their extreme stance against even female animals, except cats) I found this very intriguing:
A young monk appears and takes your permit and passport. He reappears like the angel in Revelation after about a half hour's silence in heaven, restoring you with a glass of cool water, a little glass of anise liquor, a square of fruit jelly, and spiced Turkish coffee. It's the sign that you have been admitted among the guests. You are entitled to a bed in a room for six within the centuries-old walls, with freshly laundered sheets and a towel. From now on you will live the life of a monk.

Or rather you will do as you please. The monasteries of Athos are not like those in the West – walled citadels where every move, every word is under communal rule. On Athos there is something for everyone. There is the solitary hermit on the rock precipice, whose food they send up little by little with a basket. There are the anchorites in their huts hidden among the brooms and strawberry trees on the coast of the mountain. There are those without a permanent dwelling, always on the move and ever restless. There are the solemn colonies of communal life ruled by an abbot, here called the "igoumenos." There are the village monasteries where each monk keeps his own pace.

Megisti Lavra is one of the latter types. Within its walls there are squares, alleys, churches, arbors, fountains, mills. The cells are in blocks like in an Eastern Kasbah. The blue plaster stands out, while red is the sacred color of the churches. When the call for prayer is made, with seven-tone bells and the beating of the wooden talanton, the monks set off for the "catholikon," the main church. But if someone wants to pray or to eat alone, nothing keeps him from remaining in his cell. It's this way even for the visitor, except that he has very few alternatives.


What Western, Catholic liturgies today are able to initiate simple hearts into similar mysteries and to inflame them with heavenly thoughts? Joseph Ratzinger, previously as cardinal and now as pope, hits the mark when he points to the vulgarization of the liturgy as the critical point for today's Catholicism. On Athos the diagnosis is even more radical: the Western churches, in trying to humanize God, make him disappear. "Our God is not the God of Western scholasticism," the igoumenos of the Gregoríos monastery on Athos moralizes. "A God who doesn't deify man can't have any appeal, whether he exists or not. A large part of the reasons behind the wave of atheism in the West are found in this functional, incidental Christianity."


Eliseos, the igoumenos, has just returned from a tour of monasteries in France. He prizes Solesmes, bastion of Gregorian chant. But he judges the Western Church as too much "the prisoner of a system," too "institutional."

I've often said that the fact that they so blithely destroyed the liturgy, but then insisted on maintaining the corrupt feudal institutionalism with things like mandatory celibacy and adult-boarding-school seminary for diocesan priests...shows just where the Latin hierarchy's priorities were organizationally and, I must assume, what sick priorities they had even within their own psyches.

Live and let live. I think you'll find that the people who want to will do these things voluntarily. Authoritarianism and institutionalism has never made anyone holy, though it has made many miserable. Beautiful liturgy, on the other hand, has made many holy, and almost no one miserable.

Adam Smith on Slavery and the Middle Ages

An interesting tidbit (mind you, I'm not saying I agree, just that it's interesting):
Adam Smith made the argument that free labor was economically better than slave labor, and argued further that slavery in Europe ended during the Middle Ages, and only then after both the church and state were separate, independent and strong institutions, that it is nearly impossible to end slavery in a free, democratic and republican forms of governments since many of its legislators or political figures were slave owners, and would not punish themselves, and that slaves would be better able to gain their freedom when there was centralized government, or a central authority like a king or the church. Similar arguments appear later in the works of Auguste Comte, especially when it comes to Adam Smith’s belief in the separation of powers or what Comte called the "separation of the spiritual and the temporal" during the Middle Ages and the end of slavery, and Smith's criticism of masters, past and present. As Smith stated in the Lectures on Jurisprudence, "The great power of the clergy thus concurring with that of the king set the slaves at liberty. But it was absolutely necessary both that the authority of the king and of the clergy should be great. Where ever any one of these was wanting, slavery still continues."

Friday, May 21, 2010


Someone recently asked Fr Z about whether the penitent is bound by the seal of their own confession. He answered:
in general a person can reveal he contents of his own confession and what the priest says. That said, it is probably better for the penitent not to speak too much about what occurs in the confessional under normal circumstances. The less said about concrete instances of the sacrament of penance the better...

So, the long and the short is that a penitent in general can speak of his own confession and the advice and penance received, but in normal circumstances it is better to leave it for the most part in silence.
He's correct that the penitent isn't bound, of course, but what is with this attitude that "the less said about concrete instances of the sacrament of penance the better" ?!?

Another move to maintain the clergy's little monopoly on knowledge about people's sinfulness?

I think the interview I quoted the other day is relevant when it says that seminarians, novices (and probably Catholics in general), "don't feel they can speak openly and candidly about their experiences of their own sexuality, because to speak of their experiences might be to acknowledge their own sinfulness. And the church reserves such admission to the sacrament of Reconciliation, the only place where one should make a manifestation of conscience."

And also the article I posted about a few days ago when it says, "The confessional booth became a cockpit of mortal sins, with birth control emerging as the key control mechanism — the church’s control over every Catholic adult’s affections and actions." Not that I disagree with the Church's teaching, but the psychological dynamic of emotional manipulation and control that has gone with it very often is undeniable, as the article continues, "church authorities will pay any price to maintain a vestige of control over the inner lives of Catholics."

The fact is, the clergy loves secrecy, and this Fr Z attitude toward the Seal of Confession is designed to give them a deep-reaching psychological power over your guilt as much as to protect you from embarrassment (penance used to be public, remember). The Seal is meant to protect you from the priest. I'd be very suspicious of any advice that would prefer you not talking about your own confessions.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The sort of spiritual blackmail these men in their dark boxes hold over people is best fought by full disclosure to friends and even the public, when you're comfortable with that. We're all sinners, and to compartmentalize that is unhealthy and isn't going to help you get any holier. Rather, glory in your infirmities, and in God's mercy. Sure, confess to the priests for absolution, but then confess, like Augustine, to the whole world as well. Don't let them use some sort of cloak of secrecy to shame you.

That whole attitude reminds me of how Scar manipulated Simba in The Lion King:

"What will your mother think?" Well, if Simba had just told his mother rather than submitting to the secrecy and shaming, Scar's reign of terror would never have taken place. Priests like Fr Z who would have you give them a monopoly over the knowledge of your sins...are vicious roaring lions out to devour your soul for the sake of their own power, all while seeming benevolent and understanding. Then they become like the auditors of Scientology I mentioned the other day.

Don't let them win.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sister Wendy on Sex and Artistic Freedom

That...Is a Brand New Day!

Unhealthy Devotions

This website on "Unhealthy Devotions" is interesting, if rather directly opposed to the sort of Folk Catholicism that a blog like Reditus (which I love) is interested in.

Still, I am always wary of when Catholics (often middle-aged women) start to get all involved with private apparitions and apocalyptic devotions. In third world countries or medieval Europe it could be "quaint." In modern American suburbia, it's often just weird and kitschy.

And sometimes it is just a matter of emphasis. It gets bad when people start to make a gnostic "religion within the religion" surrounding some particular private devotion or apparition, even when it is something good in itself like the Rosary or Divine Mercy.

Very often I get irked when people speak of their favorite private devotions on the same level as the truths of the Faith. This is one trait that distinguishes this phenomenon from folk devotions, which at least always seem to have some implicit sense of their own inherently local and contingent character...whereas the modern superstitions tend to have universalizing claims made about themselves.

So their devotees will treat it like it is better than all the others objectively or as universally applicable (when the whole point of private apparitions is that they are meant for a particular historical context) or as practically essential to the Faith (we saw this once again with the conspiracy-theory Fatimites during the Pope's recent trip). It also should raise some red flags when people get legalistic about complicated processes or rituals associated with various devotions (which, if there is any proper way to understand them, is only ever as an incentive to prayer).

The Unhealthy Devotions site is also associated with a site on suspicious "apparitions" and one that warns against "consecration vows" (including, somewhat surprisingly, the St. Louis de Montfort one; which I'll admit has likewise given me a bad vibe in the past, even though it is by a Saint).

However, some of the site's own "warnings" seem a bit weird in themselves. For example, a lot of their concern with avoiding the occult seems to be based on the fear of demons rather than just opposition to superstition on an intellectual level. In other words, they seem to oppose superstitious practices because they are actually afraid they might work in some dark sense, whereas I oppose them simply because I don't believe they have any effect (at least generally) and are irrational.

So take it with a grain of salt. I'm not endorsing them fully, just thought it was interesting.

True Religious Freedom

The Pope recently praised the ambassadors from Mongolia and the UAE for their countries' policies of religious freedom.

While trads often think of "religious liberty" in terms of the experience of America and Western Europe, in terms of a classically Liberal separation of Church and state where heretics and infidels are given free reign in majority Catholic countries...they often forget the other side of the coin.

As, of course, these are two examples (and there are many more) of countries where, if there was not religious certainly is not Catholicism that would be the officially allowed religion. Quite the contrary. So...what exactly do they imagine in such situations?

Do they think that such nations would take kindly to our holding a double-standard whereby we expect religious freedom in countries where we are the minority, but then don't allow it for their people when we are in the majority?

Catholics are free to disagree on the question of this prudential diplomatic/political matter, of course, but I find it hard to believe that this would be a prudent policy for the success of the Church in any sense of the word if we are truly to evangelize effectively.

Of course, if your vision of traditional Christianity is simply the goal of maintaining some sort of Eurocentric-stronghold in a "clash of civilizations" narrative in which "Europe is the faith," maybe that makes sense to them. I think it's twisted, however.

Pulpit Initiative

This sounds like it is worth considering.

I can't say I agree with everything they stand for or are associated with, as I haven't looked into it enough, but their main goal is to restore that principle that "churches and pastors have a constitutional right to speak freely and truthfully from the pulpit – even on candidates and voting – without fearing loss of their tax exemption," which I think is very good.

It is has neutered the voice of religion in the public square to not let us endorse candidates from the pulpit, to not let us form direct political alliances as institutions without losing tax-exempt status. Though I also think bishops have been cowards for not defying this, for not calling their bluff by at least excommunicating pro-abortion politicians, etc

The Dalai Lama...

...was recently a guest on the Today show.

Why is he willing to engage the public through the media like this, when it would be unthinkable (currently) for the Pope to give such an interview?

Perhaps it's one reason why the Dalai Lama is popular with hip young people and the Pope is not?

I mean, even the President went on Jay Leno (where he made his infamous "Special Olympics" gaff)...

Yet the Pope (like some neutered figure-head monarch) thinks that to maintain his "gravitas" and "dignity" he cannot engage in such things? What arrogance!

If I were Pope, the first thing I'd do is sit down for my interview with Barbara Walters.

One finds it hard to feel a personal connection to figures like this these days if they don't submit to such things; it makes them seem aloof and out of touch and like they're hiding something.

Misleading Statistics?

An interesting article on deconstructing certain misleading statistics we're accustomed to hearing. Some of the articles recommended also debunk both conservative and liberal expectations about marriage.

For examples that conservatives might not like,
it turns out that the younger the couple is when they marry, the greater the likelihood of divorce. Also, Red States are actually more prone to divorce. For examples liberals might not like, gay and especially lesbian "marriages," where they are legal, turn out much more likely to end in divorce. Likewise, serial cohabitation in relationships before marriage does indeed lead to a greater likelihood of divorce.

I think statistics are a good way to force people on either side of debates to be realistic, rather than trying to use spin to force reality into conformity with a naive idealism or strident ideology. In this case, when it comes to the concrete realities of marriage and divorce:

We’ve all heard the statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, but recent data on marriage and divorce rates show that isn’t true. Divorce rates have actually declined since peaking in the 1970s, and 10-year divorce rates have dropped dramatically with each generation.

As economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School explain, there’s no simple equation for predicting divorce risk. Age of marriage, years of education and the decade during which you married all influence divorce risk. For instance, about 23 percent of female college grads married in the 1970s had divorced after 10 years, but among similar women married in the ’90s, only 16 percent had divorced.

Recently, major publications have taken a closer look at the numbers. Time magazine asks the provocative question, “Are Marriage Statistics Divorced from Reality?” The post includes a charming slide show of couples married for 50 years.

What about your own divorce risk? You’ll get some clues by reading the risk factors identified in a new report from the Daily Beast, which offers a list of fun facts about divorce and marriage, including data on how money problems, smoking and even whether you have a son or daughter influence your chances of staying married. (Full disclosure — both articles quote from my new book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.”)

To learn more about the factors that influence your personal divorce risk, be sure to check out Dr. Stevenson’s helpful divorce risk calculator from