Monday, June 28, 2010

I Wish I Had the Time... cover this story more. I'm on a hotel computer on vacation here, but apparently the Pope has brought Schönborn and Sodano together to "clarify" some things and, it is implied, scolded Schönborn for being so outspoken and for publicly rebuking Sodano.

Because, allegedly, only a Pope is supposed to publicly judge a cardinal, not another cardinal. And all sorts of conservative Catholics online are giddy over this totally misdirected "show of authority."

So much for
Schönborn being happy to be part of a Church with freedom of speech and opinion! I suppose this means all us lay people who have been critiquing bishops and cardinals in their incompetence are being scolded too. And I suppose no one ever may criticize the Pope. Screw that!

This is insane. The Pope is being called out for not doing enough to discipline child molesters and those who covered for them, and for letting all these bishops and other yes-men close ranks to defend him (in sometimes ridiculous ways) but, oh,
when it comes to petty institutional protocol being respected, then he really puts his foot down! Yeah, real stellar leadership there...

This is just...ugh. I'm going to bed.

Friday, June 25, 2010


So, the blog will probably be on hiatus for the next 10 days or so as I am taking a family vacation and may not have much access to internet. Oh well; at least I got to 50 posts for June, and will be back by the first week of July. In the meantime I'm sure all my readers will forget about me and go away.

For anyone taking over-night trips this summer, I recommend the Itinerarium from the appendices of the Breviary.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

From a Friend

It's always nice to hear from readers. This comes in about a dream:
So yesterday, I had two dreams, and one of them was a horrible nightmare. There was some sort of giant building explosion along the coast, horrible carnage, wreckage and destruction jeopardizing everyone; I almost died.

And then in the nightmare they were hosting a talent show during the liturgy (they wanted me to play tambourine)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The (Long) Hard Problem of Consciousness, or: On the Nature of Spirit (and Existence Itself!)

I intend to discuss today what is, to me, a foundational philosophical question (perhaps the foundational philosophical question) and yet one which I fear is, perhaps, so basic, that many people have never even considered it. This is the so-called “hard problem of consciousness,” of subjective awareness, of the experience of “qualia.”

I do not intend to address materialist arguments about the origins of qualia; to me it is obvious that they are a non-material phenomenon and constitute the primary essence (“intellect”) of the rational/spiritual soul (the other constituent power being free will, of course). I merely intend to get people to consider their existence and to try to demonstrate how they cannot be explained in any way by matter, how subjective consciousness is of an entirely different nature than the objective material world (although in humans the former may indeed be embedded into and entwined with the latter, which will be discussed at the end.)

The very question is something, I think, previous cultures took for granted as self-evident (and it is) but which ours has, with its web of sophistic words, managed to talk its way out of, to the point that many people are not even, due to widespread scientism, at first able to understand the question, let alone consider any answers. It is, as James S. Trefil said "the only major question in the sciences that we don't even know how to ask.” Though, I would highly disagree that the question is one answerable by material natural science as opposed to metaphysics.

Now, I am no professional philosopher, and so I am sure I will not to treat the question with the precision it deserves. It is a hard thing to even verbalize, by nature, and modern confusion of terms has not helped. To organize my thoughts, I am going to be drawing from (and linking to) the wikipedia articles on the issue and various related topics, which will hopefully serve the purposes of this introduction.

I know I have already tried to have this conversation with several friends who are atheistic materialists or at least apathetic agnostics in tendency, and have been extremely frustrated that they did not even seem able to understand the problem of the phenomenon I was trying to articulate, let alone any explanations (spiritual or otherwise) for it. Perhaps this means that they themselves do not have souls?!

I’m joking of course (I hope), but to me the understanding of qualitative consciousness is central to my conception of self and the universe. And also the unique dignity of human beings (or, rather, rational personhood in general, which includes the angels) and how exactly it constitutes the Image of God. It has also been to me a powerful proof of realities beyond the material in moments of religious doubt. It has been since I was a child, even before I ever formally encountered the question in writing (which has only been in the past few years). And so to find out that even most intelligent, reflective people have not even considered the question, nor are even able to understand what I’m talking about when I describe it, is very disturbing indeed.

It suggests to me that this collapse of awareness of this most-intuitive-thing-possible...may be at the heart of the self-alienation which is so characteristic of our modern society, and the endless angsting and conflict over constructing identity. So...this is going to be an extremely long post, even by my rambling standards, but please bear with me. I obviously think the point is very important.

To begin introducing just what is meant by the hard problem of consciousness or of qualia, I should first reflect on the questions I asked myself as a child. These youthful thought experiments, I later found out, have actually been also put forward by philosophers discussing the issue.

The first question I can remember asking myself, even in elementary school, about subjective consciousness in the universe, is “Why am I me?” Specifically I think I thought of it in terms of, “Why do I see out of my eyes instead of anyone else’s?” In other words, why are my experiences tied to this body? Well, my brain is in this body, of course. But then, there are many brains out there. Why am “I” in this one? I imagined that the question must be even more poignant for identical twins, “Why am I this twin instead of that twin? Wasn't I very close to being him instead?"

This reflection on my own consciousness led me, even before I knew of him, to formulate something like Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum” at the base of my framework for thinking. Except instead of “I think,” I would rather say, “I am conscious” or “aware” and therefore I am. And therefore Being itself is. However much of an illusion it might be, reality is self-evidently real, as was I, even if all the sensory phenomenon I was experiencing were false like in a dream.

The second little thought experiment I did is actually one I found later had been first proposed by John Locke as the “Inverted Spectrum” proposal. How do I know, I asked myself at a young age, that the color I see as “blue” (color is in some ways the quintessential quale [a concrete singular instance of qualia] discussed in the literature) is not seen by other people as what I call “green” (or "red" or "yellow" etc). They’d grow up their whole life seeing it that way, and since the whole spectrum would just be shifted, their description of the world would presumably be the same. The same words would be attached to the same wavelengths of light, the same wavelengths of light would still cause the same reactions in their brain, but those could lead to a different experience of color. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why a given arrangement of neural activity should correspond to the subjective experience of any color, as long as the correspondence for each person is internally self-consistent.

And yet this would be totally incommunicable and non-transferable and private. No one could ever know, because we couldn’t compare that sort of utterly personal, subjective experience without me becoming them and and thus ceasing to be me (a different question even than my brain simply being in their body, or even my consciousness in their brain). In fact, these are some of the properties of qualia that have been enumerated by philosophers:
ineffable; that is, they cannot be communicated, or apprehended by any other means than direct experience.

intrinsic; that is, they are non-relational properties, which do not change depending on the experience's relation to other things.

private; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.

directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness; that is, to experience a quale is to know one experiences a quale, and to know all there is to know about that quale.
This totally irreducible nature of conscious experience is what gives rise to the so called hard problem of consciousness in philosophy:
The term hard problem of consciousness refers to the difficult problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences. In considerations by David Chalmers, this is contrasted with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set, and he assumes that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained."
This, I think, is part of the problem that I have experienced when trying to discuss qualia with the materialist-minded. The modern sciences of psychology, neurology, and even computer science, have led us to view “mind” as simply the cognitive processes of the brain. And indeed, things like imagination, the sensory memory, sensory processing, emotion, and even higher order cognition...are almost certainly explainable as simply computer-like processes in the brain.

On the other hand, popular culture has come to think of “consciousness” or “soul” or “spirit” in terms of these very same phenomenon. When asked what your soul does, many people will probably say that it “thinks” for you or even that it is the source of “emotion.”
This is a very grave fallacy that somehow got into the pop culture: that “emotion” is "what makes us human" or is the nature of the human soul. Such a naive conception of the nature of the soul makes an easy straw-man indeed for the forces of materialistic, atheistic science-ideologues to knock down.

Really, all philosophers and theologians throughout history have known that emotions, were in fact, part of our lower appetites, our animal nature, and that animals certainly shared emotions. If anything is uniquely human about the cognitive faculties of our brain it is language, the fact that we encode information verbally, as abstract symbols. But even this is now also shared by computers in some very real sense. Hence, perhaps, the arrogant assertion by some computer scientists that Artificial Intelligence will someday be able to be fully human (when really, at best, it will be able to merely imitate human behavior perfectly, but as a “philosophical zombie”) and also the false (or, at least, unprovable) claims by animal rights activists that animals feel their pain subjectively (as opposed to it just being an objective reflex reaction made by nerves firing and effecting the muscles in a certain way).

This is the explanatory gap that qualia present for someone trying to explain the universe in a purely material way. Materialists explanations of the universe assert that all information is accounted for by the purely physical properties of the system. But philosophers came up with another thought experiment called “Mary’s Room.” Mary, they say, is a color scientist trapped in a room that is all black and white. She has never seen the color red, even though she knows everything about it physically; the wavelength that causes it, the reaction it produces in the brain, the way it has been spoken of and described through history. And yet, surely, even though she has all the physical facts about the color red, she experiences something new, something irreducible, when she actually sees red for the first time. This is the “quale” red, the experience of the qualia of color.

Some philosophers countered that if Mary could manipulate her brain to cause the same neurons to fire as she knows fire when someone sees red (perhaps just by rubbing her eyes very hard), she would thus experience red without needing a real red object. Almost certainly true. But then, her experience of red upon manipulating her neurons to hallucinate that way...would still be a new thing. The subjective experience is itself a form of information that cannot just be known, it requires personal experience. The neural manipulation argument also reveals another problem in attempting to explain qualia in a purely materialist way: namely, that there is no particular correspondence between a given neural network and the way it is experienced.

As I was saying in the “Inverted Spectrum” example...why should a given neural arrangement correspond to the experience of blue? There is no blue in the brain. Some philosophers will say that this doesn’t matter. After all why should shaping the mouth in certain ways correspond to certain sounds, and a CD-ROM contains information as a series of tiny ridges on its surface or whatever, and yet these can contain all sorts of information about images, sounds, etc. Others have countered, in turn, that the mouth shapes correspond to certain sounds because of how they physically shape the air to vibrate it. And a CD’s code is translated into images and sounds on a computer screen by a process that turns them into electric signals that, through circuitry, cause pixels to light up as a certain color and a speaker to vibrate at a certain frequency. All a chain of physical causation with no explanatory gap.

But in the case of human experience, who or what exactly is “translating” the neural code in your brain into experience, and perhaps more importantly, where is the “screen” and who is “watching” it?? So another question I was always fascinated by is “why do I see what I see?” Meaning, why do does having a certain wavelength enter my eyes and be processed by my brain produce vision of a color? This color doesn’t correspond to anything in the brain itself. I see green represented by my brain’s model of the world (as encoded in the neurons) even though there is nothing green in the brain. I can even simply close my eyes and imagine the color green (by activating the same network of neurons in memory) without there being anything green present to me. Why should this neural network translate to “green,” who or what is doing the translating, where is it displayed, and who is watching it? These are difficult questions that get to the heart of the impossibility of a material explanation for subjective experience as it seems to require infinite regress.

When people are trying to describe what I am calling subjective consciousness of qualia in this post, sometimes the word “self-awareness” will be used, and I think it is accurate. However, I don’t like that term because I have found that it too has been confusingly reduced to the description of purely cognitive faculties by modern usage. Scientists will say that they have proven that a dolphin or a cat is self-aware because it can recognize itself in a mirror. Big deal. That is not the sort of metaphysical self-awareness we are talking about, because it again is speaking of “self” as an objective thing. It would be easy to program a computer with a camera on it to recognize itself in a mirror, it would just have to determine that what it was seeing matched its own physical properties and moved in the same way when it did. And, on the other hand, even a human might be fooled by this sort of visual self-recognition if they had an identical twin who was a really good actor.

No, the type of self-awareness that is being discussed when it comes to the question of subjective consciousness is awareness of one’s awareness simply. Again, a warning: I did not say awareness of the fact of one’s awareness, or awareness of the abstract idea of one’s awareness. It is not meta-cognition I’m talking about, it is direct intuitive awareness of your awareness simply. This is one reason why it must be immaterial.

This infinite regress of self-awareness cannot be explained by purely material causes. Because otherwise there would always be a “blind-spot.” Even a 360-degree camera will only film everything except itself. And yet our consciousness does not have such a blind spot. In fact, it first and foremost perceives and contains itself. Could you be meaningfully said to be aware of something if you weren’t aware of it?

Another argument for the immateriality of subjective experience is the unity of conscious experience. Obviously, different senses are processed in different parts of the brain, different thoughts in different parts, etc. And yet my Self experiences them all at once as a unified whole.

The ridiculousness of a material explanation of consciousness is in this way shown by the model of a “homunculus” in a “Cartesian theater” in our brain. This is the question I mentioned about “who” is watching all the sensory information in your brain. Who am I? Who is the observer watching all this?

Even if we were to find physical explanations whereby all the sensory data from the brain were “translated” in some way into a unified “movie” at one place in the brain integrating all the data, and displayed on some screen for a little man who was the “real you” at the core of it all...the problem then arises of what is allowing him to experience it all? Does he have a little brain with a little theater and even littler homunculus inside him? And does that homunculus have one, ad infinitum? This would require an infinite regress and with matter that is impossible: matter is discreet, it cannot be infinitely divided smaller and smaller, eventually you get down to the level of quarks and can't divide it anymore.

I like to use the image of a camera pointing at a TV that is displaying what the camera is filming. As you probably know, this forms an infinite regress, as the TV itself appears on the screen, which then must display a littler TV in that littler screen, which then has an even smaller TV on that even smaller screen, etc, ad infinitum. Of course, eventually the real TV loses resolution and cannot display any smaller. In some ways our conscious perception would seem analogized in this, except it never loses resolution. It is like a sphere lined on the inside with flawless mirror that is also able to let in all the light coming from outside (obviously impossible, physically, without creating a "blind-spot" for the hole to let in outside light).

Some would say that “the system as a whole,” that is to say the brain taken as a whole, is what makes qualia, and that there is no need for one central locus or simple irreducible singularity to unify consciousness. This is unsatisfying however, without a soul to designate the brain as a single unity, as why should my brain form a unified system with consciousness as a whole, but then not individual sections of my brain (with thus separate consciousnesses) or even my brain and someone else’s brain sitting next to me (with one consciousness between us). The experiences of those with their corpus callosum severed provide an interesting thought experiment in this regard. No, we experience consciousness as a discreet unity with very absolute boundaries. Namely, it contains everything my brain brings to the conscious level, but also [outside miraculously infused knowledge from God] only those things contained in my brain. It exists on that level.

The fact is that consciousness by nature cannot exist along a continuum (as some people who believe that animals are subjectively conscious would seem to think). You are either conscious or you are not. An infant may be conscious of fewer or more simple thoughts, a sleeping person of vaguer or stranger thoughts (we call them dreams) or of no thoughts at all, but the simplicity or coherence of the phenomenon you are experiencing doesn’t determine anything like a higher or lower “level” of consciousness of those experiences. Either you are conscious of a phenomenon (however simple or complex) or you are not. Even consciousness of nothing is different than lack of consciousness; a mirror in a totally dark room may not reflect anything, but the potential is there if there were something to reflect, which is very different than the mirror simply not existing in the first place.

So consciousness is an utterly personal, utterly irreducible, and totally immaterial phenomenon. It cannot be explained merely by the material functions in brains. To me, this is proof of the existence of spirit in reality as opposed to just matter, as a separate metaphysical category entirely, and something which cannot simply arise from matter. It must be created and infused directly into each new human being. I do take it on faith that other human beings are conscious, by the way. Though obviously (like dream characters, or really convincing robots) they could be philosophical zombies too, theoretically, I suppose. But I trust they're not. And the fact that individual spirits must be created new and utterly unique implies that the Being creating them is likewise spirit, is likewise a conscious personal entity. Something greater could not be made by something lesser. I dont think immaterial consciousness could be created by someone that didn’t, in fact, possess it himself.

Now, I’ve probably totally lost you, but I’ve covered pretty much so far the faculty of the soul called Intellect (ie, subjective consciousness), and I’d now like to discuss related topics that deal with the other faculty: Will.

One important problem debated by philosophers who accept qualia as immaterial is what effect, if any, subjective experience has back on the material world. This is an important question, as if we are claiming that all the objective qualities of a system (including other people’s behavior) can be explained materially, then how trustworthy is a person’s assertion that they experience qualia too?

Obviously, even discussing qualia in itself as a topic cannot be taken as proof that they do experience them subjectively, as a robot could be programmed to discuss qualia based on a recording of my voice and some complicated algorithm. This is why even so-called “Artificial Intelligence” that artificially recreated a human brain in circuitry would not necessarily be human, and no test could ever prove that it was or wasn't. My mere cognition about the concept of qualia, is just symbols being manipulated in the brain by a very complicated computer, essentially.

And yet what purpose have qualia if they don’t effect the material world but merely sit as a sort of passive observer just seeing what the brain does deterministically? One school of thought actually does treat qualia that way. These philosophers believe that qualia are merely “epiphenomenon.” For them, qualia are recognized as immaterial, but are thought to mysteriously arise from material processes in such a way that material processes cause this parallel phenomenon to exist, but it is totally dependent on them, and cannot influence them in turn. For some time, I tended toward this belief. That the brain essentially acted like a deterministic system and that the consciousness, the spiritual soul, clearly existed, and yet simply watched. After all, why wasn't the soul able to act as a "bridge" between the two sides of the brain for those who had their corpus callosum severed?

We know that free will only applies to choices with moral value. In other words, your free will was probably not actively involved in what kind of cereal you ate this morning, that was mostly just the playing out of various preferences and mental circumstances. Only choices with a moral quality are the subject of free will. But for a time I thought this might be something that utterly could not affect the material world (mainly because I didnt see how it could). You made your choice whether or not to kill someone, for example, in the depths of your soul...but whether or not your body’s actions corresponded to this choice was up to material laws. At that point, I suppose I saw free will as really amounting to more of just a consent or non-consent by a passive, almost external, observer to what the body was doing.

This position was, of course, unsatisfying and ultimately unsustainable. I then considered the possibility, like that held by the Parallelists (though, again, before I had ever heard of them), that the body does usually seem to follow the decisions of the spiritual soul but only because God’s providence arranges for them “coincidentally” to usually be the same or in harmony (I say “usually” because, of course, the person could theoretically have a seizure and lose control of their body at some point or something like that).

However, that seemed rather dualistic, inorganic, and needlessly contrived and complicated. So, like CS Lewis himself, apparently, I think the answer I’m happy with now is that the indeterminacy of the universe claimed by quantum mechanics allows room, within the scientific framework (now shown not to be a deterministic closed system) for the “random choices” of particles to be interpreted as the action on the physical system by a non-physical entity, namely free-will within the human brain (since the human spirit is also the soul or Form of the body, in Aristotelian terms). Split-brain patients could not transfer information from one side of the brain to the other through the soul for the same reason I can't choose to fly; because the soul would be limited, in that sense, by the physical possibilities presented to it by the brain. It also, coincidentally, provides a specific mechanism by which Providence can be said to remain absolutely sovereign over each and every event in the physical universe at large.

This is the so-called quantum mechanical interpretation of “consciousness causes collapse.” Now, this is certainly not agreed on in all interpretations of quantum mechanics, though it is in the Copenhagen Interpretation. Here, in the mystical realms of highly abstract theoretical physics, scientists are faced with the conundrum that the universe, it seems, is at the most fundamental levels probabilistic rather than deterministic. As the famous Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment explores, quantum realities function as a series of superimposed wave-functions that ultimately have several potential outcomes, and there is no deterministic way to say which outcome will in fact occur, only the probabilities of the various outcomes. Particles (such as in the celebrated double-slit experiment) seem to have to make a “choice” that is entirely arbitrary, and we can’t know the outcome until we actually see it.

Though this is not how things appear to generally work in the macroscopic world, the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment shows how they are linked, as ultimately every macroscopic thing is likewise made up of particles, particles which function probabilistically. The “consciousness causes collapse” explanation of how, or rather when, the probabilistic wave function collapses into a single concrete real outcome, says that it is only when a conscious observation of the phenomenon takes place. What constitutes a “conscious observer” is debated, but it may even be said in some sense that, for a given observer, the wave function isn’t collapsed for them until they observe it or some effect indicating what it was, though it is not as if the observer in that interpretation is thought to determine which outcome, he is generally thought to merely confirm it (lest their be magic or no objectively consistent reality). My best guess would be, however, that in the brain itself, the conscious observer (the spiritual soul) both confirms the wave-function's collapse and, through the free-will given by God, is also able to decide the outcome, according as such superimposed wave-functions are presented to it by the brain (and limited to that too).

This line of argument by quantum physicists actually gets rather philosophical, as it implies that it is subjective consciousness which ultimately determines reality from non-reality, especially for the individual. The radioactive decay in the cat experiment may or may not have gone off, the cat would die if it did, but what makes that real and not just a possibility? I could send in a robot to check on the cat and turn on a red light if it is dead, but what makes that real until I see it, until the buck stops at my subjective consciousness? It is ultimately the same question asked long ago, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?”

There is another quantum interpretation, of course, which is the “many worlds” theory. This says that particles do not, in fact, make a “choice” when observed that collapses the wave function to only one of its possible outcomes. Rather, these physicists say, every possible outcome is equally real and just occurs in “different realities” that split off like an infinitely branching tree every time one of these junctures occurs. To me, this seems like largely a semantical game, definitely crossing over the border from science into philosophy But it shows that, at its extremes, that even the natural sciences are not “self-contained” in their explanatory power, and that physics eventually has to have a continuity with metaphysics.

Even if there are “many universes” that split off at every wave-function collapse, it doesn’t explain why I am in this one. They might suggest that consciousness splits too (an interesting question raised by the end of the movie “The Prestige,” if anyone has seen it), but that, if anything, simply removes the problem by one step and demonstrates unsolved the very question it is claiming to solve: even if consciousness splits into the two universes of the two possible realities, why am I now this continuation of consciousness instead of that one? And furthermore, is speaking of another “reality” even meaningful if I cannot ever experience it, by nature?

This leads me to conclude with another line of thought I pursued as a young child. I think I, rather adorably, phrased it to myself as “Why isn’t there a unicorn in this room right now?” Well, because unicorns don’t exist. But maybe there is a non-world where they non-exist, I thought. Given that I can imagine a unicorn in the room right now, and there is nothing logically contradictory in the image, why isn’t that possibility actualized in fact? Well, because that idea’s existence parameter, as it were, is toggled to “off”...whereas the lamp’s over there is “on.” But this then seems to be a relative property. Relative to what is existence being defined as on or off?

A purely objective outlook (as materialism tries to create) can make no distinction between existence and non-existence except relative to each other. Non-existence is what doesn’t exist, existence is what doesn’t non-exist. Like Left and Right or Up or Down, there is nothing that objectively gives something existence except that it is in the same world, the same existential state as the other things that we say exist. It’s like the relativity of motion; if everything were moving alongside each other at the same speed with no fixed reference point...this would be equivalent to nothing moving at all. But what is our fixed reference point for existence except that which does (or can) affect subjective consciousness?

The idea of the unicorn exists because the idea can enter into my consciousness. The neurons encoding the idea exists because they affect my consciousness through the idea. My perception of the lamp exists because it is in my consciousness. The neurons encoding the perception of the lamp exist because they affect my consciousness in the form of the perception. The light that brings the image of the lamp to my eyes exists, because it affected the neurons, and thus my consciousness. And the lamp itself exists, because it affected the light, which affected my optic nerve and visual cortex, which effected my conscious perception.

But the unicorn in my room itself does not exist, because that idea is in my head simply as a composite of other images drawn from reality or memory (a horse, a horn, my room). The possibility of a unicorn in the room remains unactualized, remains in the realm of non-existing potential, because it is not in the same state as subjective observers, who exist by definition (you wouldn't be conscious if you didn't exist). My consciousness cannot cause the existence of the unicorn to collapse, because God in His own consciousness did not will to do so (assuming God's Will has the same power over the external universe that I posited He gave us over our own brains). I think we see here also hints of the celebrated Western Trinitarian analogy of the Son or Logos as God in His Intellect and the Holy Spirit as God in His Will.

Of course, to me, this is all one of the most convincing arguments for God, and a personal God, and even a Trinitarian God. That God thus functions as the “objective subjectivity” in the universe, the Universal Observer who knows and loves the universe into being. As I plan to write a post about later, God’s incomprehensible essence is said by Eastern Christian theology, especially, to both exist and non-exist, or rather to be beyond both, to be beyond that division, that categorical duality of potentialities. But God in His hypostases, however, in His comprehensible “existences” (as the East sometimes calls the Persons) provides a universal standard for that which exists compared to what doesn’t. And that standard is consciousness, is personhood, is intellect (and will). God’s existence forms the rock or standard or absolute compared to which other potentialities can be said to either be actualized in reality or not, and our own subjectivity is an Image of this (though ours derives its existence from conformity to God’s likewise, of course).

The only other possibility, it seems to me, is absolute solipsism. That my consciousness is all that exists, or all that can be said to exist in any meaningful sense for me, at least. That there is no way to posit how it arises or what causes the qualia, the phenomena I experience, that I and the universe are simply a series of perceptions with no underlying explanation, cause, rationale, or objectivity (at least none that I can grasp from within my subjectivity), with the whole concept of an objective external reality (Kant’s “noumena”) probably being totally meaningless, and yet with me not even having the power to determine what phenomena I experience. This does not square with the materialist view of the universe either, mind you. Reality must be either God's own "solipsism" (ie, what is Real is that which is willed to be so in the Mind of God), or it's my solipsism. And it's a lot less lonely if it's His.

And now I’ve probably confused you all more than clearing things up. Oh well. Good night!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Not Notably More Loving"

Here's an interesting article from an Orthodox standpoint on the sex abuse crisis and mandatory celibacy in the Catholic Church. Some important selections:
Where Orthodoxy has had difficulties in the area of sexual abuse, they have usually occurred in monasteries or involved other celibate clergy.

Having seen the way priesthood is lived in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, I do believe that the Orthodox discipline--which allows priests to marry before ordination--is the better one, for pastoral reasons. One argument made for celibacy has been that the commitment to celibacy frees someone to love all people in a way that the commitment to marriage does not. On the contrary, if you are not capable of loving one person deeply, in a committed way (this need not mean a sexual way), you are not capable of loving anyone, much less everyone. Catholic priests are not notably more loving or generous than the Orthodox priests and Protestant ministers I have known--not to speak of doctors, nurses, counselors, and other people whose work demands compassionate involvement with others.


To make it a part of the job description for every priestly candidate is a mistake, I think, because it unnecessarily limits the number of people willing to undertake the life

I mentioned the pastoral benefits of a married clergy. One Orthodox priest said to me, "The Catholic system can produce some saints and some real neurotics, but what it doesn't produce is a priest who lies awake at night worrying about his furnace, like everyone else in his parish." That was meant to be funny and is a half-truth, of course--there are celibate priests who also have to worry about furnaces--but it makes a good point. I have had parishioners tell me that they would find it impossible to confess to a priest who was not married, who had never had teenage children--how could he relate to their spiritual condition? It is not that there are never any celibate exceptions to this rule, but I do think a married priesthood makes more pastoral sense for ordinary parish ministries.

As the revelations continue, it is clear that some bishops have also been personally involved in the sexual abuse of young people. Perhaps one reason for the secrecy with which these cases have been surrounded is the possibility of blackmail: Blow the whistle on me, and I'll let everyone know about you.

Our Lady of Licheń

A Polish-American seminarian friend of mine has started a blog where he is posting about the apparitions of Our Lady at Licheń, Poland, because he was surprised that they are largely unknown in the English speaking world. He is doing translations from Polish because he cannot find English translations many of the messages and source documents even though this is apparently quite famous in Poland. I don't know how "renegade" it's going to be, but (being of half Polish ancestry myself) it seems a worthy cause even just in the name of making available information and sources in English about a Catholic topic which were not available previously.

[Update: his blog seems to have closed, but I still encourage everyone to look into Our Lady of Lichen as a worthy devotion.]

Lay Readers and Liturgical Politics

Ugh. I've been having to sit through some awful readings at daily Mass and it's got me we really need lay readers?

In the Old Rite, at a Low Mass with no deacon and subdeacon, the priest simply did the readings himself. In the New Mass, on the other hand, though the Gospel is still reserved for a cleric (deacon or priest), it seems some lay person has to come up and do the readings for some reason, in their lay clothes (they don't even have one of the vested servers do it), and often it's a woman.

Of course, this goes against the traditional understanding that only clerics were "public pray-ers" strictly speaking, and that even if lay substitutes had to be used, they were substitutes for clerics. Clerics preformed liturgy because only they were appointed as public liturgical actors, as it were.

Of course, there used to be many more clerics. Even up until after Trent, married men could be in the Minor Orders at least, which encompassed a lot of the "ministries" we see lay people doing today during Mass. They had real Porters instead of ushers, real Lectors instead of readers, real Acolytes instead of altar servers.

Catholic Encyclopedia explains:
Clerics in minor orders enjoy all ecclesiastical privileges. They may be nominated to all benefices not major, but must receive within a year the major orders necessary for certain benefices. On the other hand, they are not bound to celibacy, and may lawfully marry. Marriage, however, causes them at once to forfeit every benefice. Formerly it did not exclude them from the ranks of the clergy, and they retained all clerical privileges, provided they contracted only one marriage and that with a virgin, and wore clerical costume and the tonsure (c.unic., "de cler. conjug." in VI); they might even be appointed to the service of a church by the bishop (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXIII, c. vi). This earlier discipline, however, is no longer in accordance with modern custom and law. A minor cleric who marries is regarded as having forfeited his clerical privileges.
Gradually, and I think unfortunately, this "bridge" between the higher clergy and the laity came to collapse under the logic of mandatory celibacy and the clergy-as-a-caste-apart seminary model, and they were reduced to mere rites of passage within seminary.

But even Trent imagined that there could be married clerics in minor orders serving the liturgy in parishes. And even after that practice was ended, it was certainly always the case that the men chosen (though they came to always be single men) were not bound by celibacy until major orders, and could always leave to marry at any time (they just lost the clerical state when they did).

Under the Novus Ordo, though, I think all of this liturgical logic has been lost. Instead, even when it's just for one reading and the responsorial psalm at daily Mass...the priest almost never does the reading. Some lay person seemingly has to come up into the sanctuary, in their lay clothes, possibly even a woman, and read it.

The insistence usually seems to come from some idea that if the priest just appropriated the role for himself, then he would be limiting the opportunities for "participation" on the part of the people. And at Sunday Masses especially (with readers, altar servers, EMHC's, having lay people bring up the gifts at the Offertory, etc) they seem to act like the liturgy is some sort of audience-participation game-show where getting as many people involved as possible is ideal. The priest just doing the readings himself would be "exclusivist" or something like that...

But, of course, 98% of the congregation is still not involved "actively" like that. They can't be. There's only going to be one reader, a few servers, a couple people carrying up the gifts, a handful of EMHC's. So in some ways it is just as "exclusive" as ever; it's just exclusive to a privileged group of goody-two-shoes volunteers, a self-selected group, rather than to just clerics.

The justification given, then, is usually that the lay participants in the sanctuary "represent" the rest of us, and that we will feel like we are participating through them, that we will identify with them.

Of course, this is ironically indicative of an extremely entrenched clericalism. Because it implies that we in the pews couldn't possibly identify with the priest. Oh no, he couldn't possibly adequately represent the congregation in the sanctuary, so we need to have some plebeian tribune up there to represent "our" interests, to be the laity's proxy in the liturgy.

But of course, that's all "clergy" are in the end. That's what priests are: simply members of the church appointed to act as the representative of the congregation before God in the sanctuary, just as Christ was the mediator between God and Man. This idea that lay people need to see another lay person in the sanctuary to identify with in their participation, instead of identifying in participation with the priest himself, stems from an essentialization of the clergy as objectively different than the laity in caste, rather than as being defined precisely as simply the community's representative in the sanctuary.

And even when the priest is taking the role of the Other during liturgy (ie, in persona christi)...the Eastern churches, at least, then use the deacon as the symbolic mediator between him and the congregation (like the Church is between us and Christ), as the congregation's proxy or point of identification. Not some random unvested lay person (and certainly not a woman) waltzing up there and inserting the profane and secular into the sacred.

Of course, this sort of essentialization and thus class-conflict also happened to monarchies after absolutism. Whereas medievally the monarch was the conceived of as the embodiment of the nation, of all the people, the head of the body politic, later there was an alienation between the ruler and the governed, and so an additional Prime Minister was required to "really" represent the citizenry in a populist sense, "against" the interests of the king or whatever, as if they were opposed or in conflict.

But, of course, eventually the Prime Minister himself just essentially becomes the new ruler (just one drawn from the new ruling class: the ascendant middle class). And so then someday, the new lower class will start thinking you need yet another figure (drawn from their class) to act as tribune for them.

So I wouldn't be surprised if someday we see the idea develop that the elite of lay liturgical-volunteers have developed into a new ecclesiastical ruling class in the parish (allied at last with the marginalized old clergy), and are thus "resented" by the "real" congregation who will then need to, again, have appointed a "real representative" of themselves in the sanctuary. And this process would continue ad infinitum in constant revolution!

This sort of caste division based on liturgical role is not a healthy political dynamic for the Church, yet it's existed as the determining factor structuring the Church's institutional organization for a long time (going back to Constantine probably). And in the Novus Ordo we are seeing the final outcome of it: with the priest reduced increasingly to a monarchical figurehead cast as opposed to "the people" while a cabal of bourgeois lay volunteers take more and more of the roles "for us" and develop into simply a new liturgical ruling class.

Monday, June 21, 2010

World Systems and Exploitation

In the past I have of course discussed the structures of exploitation inherent in the current world economy, and the evils of American Imperialism (and the pathetic nature of the Vatican surrender to it). Personally, I think it can be seen as a form of institutionalized usury, though not necessarily just in monetary policy.

Today I'd just like to give a concrete summary of just exactly how the structure of the world economy is exploitative, using this article on Immanuel Wallerstein's World Systems Theory.

One basic premise of the theory is that consideration of domestic economies is rather useless when it comes to getting the big picture. Because they are not self-sufficient, analysis of their internal economic system is useless. Only analysis of the "world systems" as a whole can show all the actors involved and the flow of value.
[A World System's] self-containment as an economic-material entity is based on extensive division of labor and that they contain within them a multiplicity of cultures. It is further argued that thus far there have only existed two varieties of such world-systems: world-empires, in which there is a single political system over most of the area, however attenuated the degree of its effective control; and those systems in which such a single political system does not exist over all, or virtually all, of the space. For convenience and for want of a better term, we are using the term "world-economy" to describe the latter. Finally, we have argued that prior to the modern era, world-economies were highly unstable structures which tended either to be converted into empires or to disintegrate. It is the peculiarity of the modern world-system that a world-economy has survived for 500 years and yet has not come to be transformed into a world-empire--a peculiarity that is the secret of its strength.

This peculiarity is the political side of the form of economic organization called capitalism. Capitalism has been able to flourish precisely because the world-economy has had within its bounds not one but a multiplicity of political systems. I am not here arguing the classic case of capitalist ideology that capitalism is a system based on the noninterference of the state in economic affairs. Quite the contrary! Capitalism is based on the constant absorption of economic loss by political entities, while economic gain is distributed to "private" hands. What I am arguing rather is that capitalism as an economic mode is based on the fact that the economic factors operate within an arena larger than that which any political entity can totally control. This gives capitalists a freedom of maneuver that is structurally based. It has made possible the constant economic expansion of the world-system, albeit a very skewed distribution of its rewards. The only alternative world-system that could maintain a high level of productivity and change the system of distribution would involve the reintegration of the levels of political and economic decision-making. This would constitute a third possible form of world-system, a socialist world government.
That is one of the important structural features of the current world economy: actors act within a sphere larger than that controlled (or at least governed) by any one government. An American company, for example, can then get labor from countries that have no minimum wage. And the US, of course, can put up tariffs against poor countries to help our companies, and the poor countries cannot retaliate in kind.
We have defined a world-system as one in which there is extensive division of labor. This division is not merely functional--that is, occupational--but geographical. That is to say, the range of economic tasks is not evenly distributed throughout the world-system. In part this is the consequence of ecological considerations, to be sure. But for the most part, it is a function of the social organization of work, one which magnifies and legitimizes the ability of some groups within the system to exploit the labor of others, that is, to receive a larger share of the surplus.
If we look at the world today we will see that First World countries have largely become service economies, the "Second World" (however you now would define it) is industrial, and the raw materials and cheap labor come from the Third.

As Wallerstein says, modern capitalism is far from "non-interference" by the government in economics. In fact, the State is a huge factor in the (exploitative) workings of the current world economy.
In a world-economy the first point of political pressure available to groups is the local (national) state structure. Cultural homogenization tends to serve the interests of key groups and the pressures build up to create cultural-national identities. This is particularly the case in the advantaged areas of the world-economy--what we have called the core-states. In such states, the creation of a strong state machinery coupled with a national culture, a phenomenon often referred to as integration, serves both as a mechanism to protect disparities that have arisen within the world-system, and as an ideological mask and justification or the maintenance of these disparities.

World-economies then are divided into core-states and peripheral areas. I do not say peripheral states because one characteristic of a peripheral area is that the indigenous state is weak, ranging from its nonexistence (that is, a colonial situation) to one with a low degree of autonomy (that is, a neo-colonial situation).

There are also semiperipheral areas which are in between the core and the periphery on a series of dimensions, such as the complexity of economic activities, strength of the state machinery, cultural integrity, etc. Some of these areas had been core-areas of earlier versions of a given world-economy. Some had been peripheral areas that were later promoted, so to speak, as a result of the changing geopolitics of an expanding world-economy. The semiperiphery, however, is not an artifice of statistical cutting points, nor is it a residual category. The semiperiphery is a necessary structural element in a world-economy. These areas play a role parallel to that played, mutatis mutandis, by middle trading groups in an empire. They are collection points of vital skills that are often poetically unpopular. These middle areas (like middle groups in an empire) partially deflect the political pressures which groups primarily located in peripheral areas might otherwise direct against core-states and the groups which operate within and through their state machineries. On the other hand, the interests primarily located in the semiperiphery are located outside the political arena of the core-states, and find it difficult to pursue the ends in political coalitions that might be open to them were they in the same political arena.
I think we can vaguely see the core, semiperiphery, and periphery as mapping onto the First World, Second World, and Third World as commonly conceived. And as he says, the Semiperiphery is not merely a gray area between the two. It has the essentials structural role of doing the "unpopular" functions which benefit the First World, but which deflect attention from it. Americans are often want to point to the Soviet Union or Red China as exploitative and evil States. And they may be. But that is/was because of where they are embedded in the world economy.

In other words, the Master has the luxury of distance that allows him to be pretend to be kind and genteel. It is the Overseer who has to bear the unsavory position of both being inferior to the master, but also hated by the Slaves for his cruelty. It's one of the reasons I think bourgeois self-righteousness against slavery, the slavery of the past, is so ironic; slavery is simply a social position that is intrinsically neutral, though it almost always tends towards exploitation. And it still exists, at the foundation of the capitalist system, it's just been diffused onto whole nations of people as a whole which in many ways has made it worse, not better.
The division of a world-economy involves a hierarchy of occupational tasks, in which tasks requiring higher levels of skill and greater capitalization are reserved for higher-ranking areas. Since a capitalist world-economy essentially rewards accumulated capital, including human capital, at a higher rate than "raw" labor power, the geographical maldistribution of these occupational skills involves a strong trend toward self-maintenance. The forces of the marketplace reinforce them rather than undermine them. And the absence of a central political mechanism for the world-economy makes it very difficult to intrude counteracting forces to the maldistribution of rewards.

One factor that tends to mask this fact is that the process of development of a world-economy brings about technological advances which make it possible to expand the boundaries of a world-economy. In this case, particular regions of the world may change their structural role in the world-economy, to their advantage, even though the disparity of reward between different sectors of the world-economy as a whole may be simultaneously widening.
In other words, anecdotal evidence is useless. Showing that one country improved when it adopted "democracy" or "free markets" or conformed to neoliberal structural-adjustment...proves nothing. I would suspect that the Core powers sometimes allow a country to improve as a form of propaganda, as an example to the other slave-nations to say, "Look, if you become nice and obsequious and tributary to us, you can have a nicer situation." Of course, if they all did, it couldn't be true, there wouldn't be enough to go around and still keep the Core's ridiculously high standard of living.

As regards "communist" countries in the 20th-century and the "fall of communism, Wallerstein says we should, "regard with great circumspection and prudence the claim that there exist in the twentieth century socialist national economies within the framework of the world-economy (as opposed to socialist movements controlling certain state-machineries within the world-economy)." As I have discussed before, it doesn't really matter what the domestic economy is. What matters is the world economy, and all the "communist" states...were still functioning in a capitalist world economy when it came to trade (and international trade totally dwarfs domestic economy in our world).

I am especially interested, however, about what he has to say about class and the rise of the middle class:
Since in conflict situations, multiple factions tend to reduce to two by virtue of the forging of alliances, it is by definition not possible to have three or more (conscious) classes.


To say that there cannot be three or more classes is not however to say that there are always two. There may be none, though this is rare and transitional. There may be one, and this is most common. There may be two, and this is most explosive.

We say there may be only one class, although we have also said that classes only actually exist in conflict situations, and conflicts presume two sides. There is no contradiction here. For a conflict may be defined as being between one class, which conceives of itself as the universal class, and all the other strata. This has in fact been the usual situation in the modern world-system. The capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) has claimed to be the universal class and sought to organize political life to pursue its objectives against two opponents. On the one hand, there were those who spoke for the maintenance of traditional rank distinctions despite the fact that these ranks might have lost their original correlation with economic function. Such elements preferred to define the social structure as a non-class structure. It was to counter this ideology that the bourgeoisie came to operate as a class conscious of itself...
This claim by the middle class to be the "universal class," or at least that it should be, is in some ways the distinctive feature of the current world social, cultural, and political situation under American hegemony. It is this class, the parasitic capitalist class, that is in control of the strong State machinery.
Strong states serve the interests of some groups and hurt those of others. From however the standpoint of the world-system as a whole, if there is to be a multitude of political entities (that is, if the system is not a world-empire), then it cannot be the case that all these entities be equally strong. For if they were, they would be in the position of blocking the effective operation of transnational economic entities whose locus were in another state.

It also cannot be that no state machinery is strong. For in such a case, the capitalist strata would have no mechanisms to protect their interests, guaranteeing their property rights, assuring various monopolies, spreading losses among the larger population, etc. It follows then that the world-economy develops a pattern where state structures are relatively strong in the core areas and relatively weak in the periphery. Which areas play which roles is in many ways accidental. What is necessary is that in some areas the state machinery be far stronger than in others.
I've discussed before how the fact of a multiplicity of governments has always been a cause for war and exploitation. Because governments only represent their own citizens, and so when some "outside" group (either geographically or socially) is excluded from the scope of citizenship or government, the government of one nation will obviously not defend them from exploitation by its own citizens. They're "supposed to" rely on their own governments, but of course with the structural differential in the strengths of States, this simply is not a practical answer.

Why is America so concerned about stopping other nations from getting nuclear bombs? I personally assume it's because they don't want anyone questioning our hegemony. Why is there this big anti-immigrant sentiment? Because if the US government had to embrace all the Mexicans as citizens too, and guarantee them minimum wage, and give them infrastructure, and protect them, and give them various social services...well, the loss of the economic "gradient" across the border would not be advantageous to the standard of living of those current living here.

I will end simply with something interesting he says about "tradition," which though it refers to political and economic traditionalism, is certainly relevant to us:
In those states in which the state machinery is weak, the state managers do not play the role of coordinating a complex industrial-commercial-agricultural mechanism. Rather they simply become one set of landlords amidst others, with little claim to legitimate authority over the whole. These tend to be called traditional rulers. The political struggle is often phrased in terms of tradition versus change. This is of course a grossly misleading and ideological terminology. It may in fact be taken as a general sociological principle that, at any given point of time, what is thought to be traditional is of more recent origin than people generally imagine it to be, and represents primarily the conservative instincts of some group threatened with declining social status. Indeed, there seems to be nothing which emerges and evolves as quickly as a "tradition" when the need presents itself.

In a one-class system, the "traditional" is that in the name of which the "others" fight the class-conscious group. If they can encrust their values by legitimating them widely, even better by enacting them into legislative barriers, they thereby change the system in a way favorable to them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Transitional Missals

A reader sent me a link to a project he is working on over at his blog, posting online the 1968 Romano-Seraphic Missal, one of the post-Vatican-II transitional missals. Go check it out.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Twisted Fantasies

So, Fr. Z and The Hermeneutic of Continuity are stirring up all sorts of terribly unrealistic hope that the papal tiara might come back on the trip to Britain. I don't think there's a chance in hell, as much as I'd like to see it just as a sign of the vindication of tradition.

The Pope is the Visible Head of the Church, and so crowning him is not about the man or his temporal authority. And as much as some crazy trad triumphalists may want it to be, it is not supposed to be some sort of monarchist gesture (whether medieval or absolutist) glorifying the papacy. Rather, it is about crowning the Church, putting a crown on Her Head. In this way it is an iconographic action akin to crowning a Marian icon or statue, with a deep theological significance as also expressed in things like the Feast of Christ the King and the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. There is a reason Eastern bishops' mitres are all crowns; because they are Head of their local church. It is the Church being crowned, the image of the Head of the Church (and thus an image of Christ), not the man.

However, one argument given in the comments thread about why it's not likely is true but frustrating: "All the other arguments notwithstanding, most importantly the restoration of the tiara would be a direct, in-your-face reversal of Pope Paul VI’s public decision to discontinue it, which popes simply don’t do to other popes."

Of course, Popes have done that to other Popes in history all the time. It is only with the relatively recent ultramontane hyper-sacralization of the figure of the pope, that popes have done all this double-speak and passive-aggressive nonsense to maintain the appearance of deference to recent predecessors. Which I think is actually as sign of institutional weakness and stagnation. A vibrant organization changes regimes and shakes things up all the time; gradualism is false idol.

It is also ironic that this sort of ultramontane deference to predecessors is actually one cause of the Popes not using the full authority in practice that ultramontanist attitudes fight so hard to attribute to them in theory!

I think many of us know the story of Pope Formosus, whose successor Stephen dug up his corpse and put it on trial (and then desecrated it and tried to destroy it, though it was recovered):

That's how you show people that change is here!

This line of thought got me into some rather sick fantasies today. I imagined that, if I were elected Pope, I'd have my coronation, of course. But I'd first insist that every Pope who hadn't had one in between...have one first. Their corpses would be dug up and set, in whatever state of decay, in thrones at the Lateran (because, as Pope, I'd start using my actual cathedral a lot more than St. Peter's).

After being severely rebuked by me, in the flesh ("Take this crown, of which you have made yourself unworthy through arrogantly rejecting it in the name of false humility!"), they'd be briefly crowned with the same tiara that would then be put on me. Paul VI was crowned, but I'd probably have him there (in his own ugly tiara) and chew him out too for his inaction. In refusing to be crowned themselves out of some notion of democratization or personal "humility"...what they have really done is refused to crown Christ, refused to crown the Church.

Their official portrait in Vatican publications from then on (during the rest of my reign, at least) would be the horrible photo of their rotting corpse wearing its crown at last. Symbolic, as it were, of the responsibility and authority they shirked in life by their weakness and administrative incompetence (however personally holy).

Shocking, grotesque, macabre. An image for the people to remember, to say, "Those days are over! I'm serious about this." Or just have them think I'm crazy...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rolling Heads

Well, Tony Hayward has been demoted, relieved of his leadership duties at BP, as predicted. Because that is just how things work in the real world when there is a monumentally offensive crisis and leadership doesn't handle it well. They are removed. That's what accountability looks like. This article describes how "heads continue to roll" at BP.

Oh. By the way: Cardinal Brady is still in power...

Rosary History

This is a really interesting site that has a time-line of the history of the development of the Rosary with quotes from various sources. It seems well researched, although at the end it mentions Medjugorje uncritically. Still, this must have taken a lot of time to make, and has some good info.

Let He Who Is Without Sin...

Here's another reason that I don't like the death penalty. Sure, maybe the State "theoretically" retains the right to execute a guilty offender, and possibly even should if it were necessary to save more lives for some reason (which, to paraphrase the catechism, are now practically never).

But it's not really even a concern for the criminal that makes me averse to capital punishment. It's the fact that no man is an island, and so you end up punishing innocent people too, people whose only "crime" was loving them.

I was reading this article about yesterday's rare execution by firing squad. My first thought was that I'd rather die by firing squad (or guillotine, or hanging) than by lethal injection, and that I have no idea why injection is considered more humane than forms of death which are more instant; just so that it leaves a nice clean corpse? I don't care if my corpse is maimed, I'd want to die as quickly as possible! That would be my main concern. But I suppose the State doesn't like messy appearances to remind people of what they're doing (killing someone), they want it to be all cold and clinical.

Then I started reading about the killer's family. Yes, remember, they have families too. Spouses, and parents, and siblings, and children who, in spite of everything they've done, love them:
Gardner ate his last meal – steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7Up – on Tuesday night, and chose to fast for his last 48 hours. Relatives said their goodbyes on Wednesday.

"We were able to hug and kiss," an emotional Brandie Gardner, the inmate's daughter, told the Deseret News. She was 3 years old when her father was sentenced to die. "He said he loved me and that he was sorry. He has a lot of remorse for what he's done."

Prison officials said Gardner seemed reflective and relaxed on his final day, reading the spy thriller "Divine Justice" and watching the last episode of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. At 8 p.m. he met with a bishop from the Mormon church, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in a minute-by-minute account of Gardner's last moments.

"He's comfortable and he's at peace," a member of Gardner's legal team, Dale Baich, told The New York Times.

About two dozen members of Gardner's family held a vigil outside the prison, some of them wearing T-shirts with his prisoner number. None had planned to witness the execution.

"He didn't want nobody to see him get shot," the inmate's brother, Randy Gardner, told The Associated Press. "I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother."

At one point in court proceedings, Gardner described himself as a "nasty little bugger." Court documents excerpted by the AP show his early life was marked by drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage. "I had a very explosive temper," Gardner admitted.
Is it really fair to punish these people for the their loved one's crime? Surely incarceration is necessary to stop the risk of someone killing again, and there will inevitably be inconvenience for the family there. But to put all of them through the torture of knowing their loved one was going to die at an appointed hour and that there was nothing they could do about it? If that were happening to one of my loved ones, that sounds like a fate worse than death to me. And physical and sexual abuse, and possible brain damage? How can any society create monsters when they are just children, and then feel self-righteous about destroying them?

Forget any thought of kindness or compassion for a killer, even; lock him up if you will, whatever. He may well deserve it. But think of those who love him personally. Think of his children. They didn't do anything wrong. When the State kills an offender (though it retains the right and in rare cases, especially in the past before good prisons, it may have been necessary)...they also punish everyone who loves him. It isn't fair to hurt innocent people and put them through possibly agonizing grief just out of some notion that "well, the victim's family had to deal with it too." The offender's family is usually no less innocent. That is cruel and unusual punishment and a lack of due process indeed, for the family.

This is one place where I real feel that radical Western individualism (as much as I am an individualist) goes gravely wrong. You can't just kill a man as if an individual exists in isolation and can be punished in a vacuum. He's loved by people, innocent people, children even in some cases, mothers, wives. Sometimes people for whom his death will be, for them, worse than their own.

I close reminded of the word's of John Donne, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Vox Nova

A reader recommended to me the Vox Nova blog which (though not necessarily Trad) does seem to have a Renegade streak to it, being tolerant, free-thinking, and seemingly just as fed up with the vapid right-wing ideological version of Catholicism so popular these days.

They describe themselves as:

Vox Nova is a response to the ecclesial mandate to promote the common good in every sphere of human existence. We come from varying backgrounds and carry diverse social outlooks, traversing a wide range of demographics and political sympathies. Vox Nova is free, to the furthest extent possible, from partisanship, nationalism and demagoguery, all of which banish intellectual honesty from rational discourse.

United in our Catholic, pro-person worldview, yet diverging in our socio-political opinions, we seek to provide informed commentary and rigorous debate on culture, society, politics and law, all while unwaveringly adhering to, and aptly applying the principles of Catholic doctrine. We are not intellectually wedded to any single political ideology. Following the example of the rich tradition of Catholic social doctrine from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI, we do not forge artificial blockades between “faith and morals” and “social judgments.” We do not and will not filter Catholic doctrine and morality through contrived categories in order to morph our Catholic faith and practice into some ideologically acceptable form.

We understand that the grace of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of humanity, extends to and permeates very human act, however private or public, and that the only viable path to peace, prosperity and justice in the world is to recognize that grace saturates, sanctifies and perfects every aspect of nature. Thus, faith informs and grace affects the full scope of human effort, from the deepest devotion of spirituality to the most mundane activity in the social sphere. Vox Nova seeks to be a herald of this glorious truth and its manifold implications for culture, society and politics.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Priestly Training Before Trent

I found this interesting chapter in a book online about the question of how priests were trained in the Middle Ages. It is not entirely satisfying, mainly because our sources are apparently quite sparse. We know about the University system, of course, and know somewhat about cathedral schools and houses of formation in cities. But of the training of the majority of medieval priests (the rural, parish priests) we know very little except that they seemed to have been trained in an apprenticeship and presented themselves to the bishop to be tested. To say the least, there seems to have been a much greater variety of models for training, and the bar does not seem to have been universally set as high (basic literacy seems to have been the main concern in some places, albeit that usually meant rudimentary Latin), though there was great variety and inconsistency.


I just saw this film (Synecdoche, New York) at the recommendation of a friend, and it was incredible. It isn't as well-known, unfortunately, but Roger Ebert called it the best film of the decade, and Corina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times called the film "wildly ambitious ... sprawling, awe-inspiring, heartbreaking, frustrating, hard-to-follow and achingly, achingly sad." I think it's one of the best films ever now, especially if you want to see something really epic in its breadth and monumentally post-modern. Very disorienting, though.