Thursday, September 30, 2010

Speaking of Religious Illiteracy...

I thought this article was rather coincidental after my recent post on the religiously literate laity vs the religiously illiterate. I'll leave in the original links, which go to other (sometimes more in depth) versions of the same story:

"The United States is a nation of religious illiterates," says Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, whose research on Americans' spiritual ignorance inspired a new study that has religion teachers and ministers aghast. A significant number of Christians don't know the basics about their own professed faith or other major religions, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, while atheists and agnostics have the highest "Religious IQ," correctly answering 20.9 questions in the study's 32-question quiz. (Take a short version of the quiz.) What's going on in America's pews? (Watch a CNN discussion about the study)

Just how badly did Christians perform?
It depends on the denomination, but no group beat the atheists/agnostics. While Jews (20.5 correct answers) and Mormons (20.3) came in second and third, white evangelical Protestants trailed with a score of 17.6, followed by white Catholics (16.0), white mainline Protestants (15.8), black Protestants (13.4), and Hispanic Catholics (11.6). "We have a weird kind of Christianity in America if Christians don't even know what Christianity is," says Prothero.

What's the theory behind the atheists' high performance?
Pew's Alan Cooperman suggests that atheists tend to grow up in a religion, then consciously give it up after much thought and research. Methodist minister Adam Hamilton factors what he calls Christians' lack of introspection and curiosity into their relatively low scores: "They accept their particular faith... to be true and they stop examining it," he says, and, in turn, don't bother examining other people's beliefs. "That, I think, is not healthy for a person of any faith."

Still, do atheists actually know more about Christianity than Christians?
No. Mormons scored the highest on questions specifically about Christianity, white evangelicals came in second. Both Atheists and Jews racked up points on questions about Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.

What was the easiest question?
Eighty-nine percent of respondents knew that public school teachers can't lead prayer in the classroom under Supreme Court precedent. But only 36 percent correctly answered the follow-up question, which focused on the issue of teaching the Bible as an example of literature.

What seemed to be the hardest question?
Only 8 percent of total respondents knew that Maimonides, the influential medieval theologian and rabbi, was Jewish. (Only 57 percent of Jewish quiz-takers knew the answer.)

What didn't people know about their own religions?
Forty-five percent of Catholics didn't know that the church believes communion wafers and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ during Mass, and 42 percent couldn't name Genesis as the first book of the Bible. Only 47 percent of Protestants could identify Martin Luther as the writer who sparked the Protestant Reformation.

Does this ignorance really matter?
Yes, argues Prothero, it is a "civic problem of the first order." People make many decisions based on their faith or religious leaders, and if we don't understand the basis of other faiths (or our own), "we cannot make sense of the world." He says the cure for our "national epidemic of religious illiteracy" is "mandatory public school courses on the Bible and the world's religions." Hold on, aren't we reading a bit much into this one study, asks Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. It's likely that quite a few respondents who grew up in the black Protestant tradition, for example, "thought 'Martin Luther' was a reference to a great American civil rights leader, not the German priest and professor," he says. At least in some cases, "the pollsters were asking the wrong questions."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something Else For You To Oppose

Since Good Catholics like being against things so much, I thought I would point out another dangerous biotechnology that we all need to be vigilant in opposing. It's not exactly within the realm of possibility yet, but it's coming, and all hell could break loose when it does!!

I'm talking, of course, about so-called "teleporters." But not all teleporters. Teleporters based on wormholes or something like that could be okay. But what many people seem to imagine is some sort of device that would dematerialize a person and simply reconstruct them elsewhere. This is clearly an abomination fraught with grave metaphysical problems.

As the Wikipedia article itself points out:
"There's also the philosophical issue of whether destroying a human in one place and recreating a copy elsewhere would provide a sufficient experience of existential continuity. The reassembled human might be considered a different sentience with the same memories as the original, while the original human would have ceased to exist. Furthermore, if several copies were constructed using merely descriptive data, but not matter, transmitted from the origin and new matter already at the destination point, each would consider itself to be the true continuation of the original; moreover, because each copy constructed via this data-only method would be made of new matter that already existed at the destination, there would be no way, even in principle, of distinguishing the original from the copies."
I mean...haven't you seen The Prestige, people?!?! This is super serious!!! I think it's best to start the moral panic now before we wind up killing people and replacing them with armies of soulless teleclones!!!!!

I write all this in a jestful tone, since any such scenario is a long way off, if even possible at all, and it's funny how much energy some armchair philosophers put into debating hypotheticals like this. But don't get me wrong either; I do believe the problems raised would be serious ones, and I would probably object (even just an instinctual level) to any such methods of teleportation that destroyed the original only to "reconstruct" a copy with new matter elsewhere. The Prestige does indeed make a good point about what magic is repulsively unnatural in this regard.

The idea of such a teleporter is utterly repugnant to me, as I do feel it provides no meaningful continuity of identity, especially given that multiple copies could be made. I've pondered this issue since I was a kid and the "reconstructed somewhere else" idea never seemed right to me. This would represent the ultimate triumph of atheist materialism when it came to our conceptions of the human soul and personal identity.

Similar problems are raised by this idea that some futurists have where they think someday minds could be uploaded. Nonsense. Neural maps of brains, perhaps, but not consciousness itself. See my Qualia post.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Breaking of the Light

I take the following mainly from a conversation I've bee
n having with a friend. It involves the question of a "static" vs. "dynamic" ideal for the cosmos in Catholic thought. These are scattered thoughts, I don't really know what they mean or imply, but are simply some things to think about and remind ourselves of regarding how our view of the universe has changed.

Ultimately, I now very much favor a "dynamic" ideal of creation, even though I am very much a medievalist who used to tend to view anything "breaking the symmetry" of the universe as an imperfection.

To demonstrate what I mean by "symmetrical" or "static" universe, just consider that the medievals were even troubled by the craters on the moon, to the point that Dante basically dedicated a whole canto of the Paradiso to explaining them away. Because the heavenly bodies were supposed to be perfect balls of homogenous quintessence. So why was the moon "smudged"?

For another example, the Summa Theologica (though only in the supplement that Aquinas himself did not write) denied the existence of animals, plants, and minerals after the Last Judgment. For these were composite beings (not sustained by an immortal soul) and thus destined for ultimate decay. After the End, only God, Angels, the Heavenly Bodies, and Man would endure, with the pure elements Fire, Air, Water, and Earth remaining in their non-composite forms, having all "rested" at their proper level, the movement of the heavenly bodies having ceased, the sun at high noon forever.

Every man and woman would be in a perfect 33-year-old body (like Christ). And there was a lot of angsting among theologians as to whether hair or fingernails would keep growing, what length they'd stop at (men would all have beards...or would they?), and why Christ's foreskin was available as a relic (why didn't it reattach when He resurrected?!) There would be no eating or drinking in this world either.

It strikes me that this "static" idealist view of the glorified cosmos would strike us today as...well, rather boring. This idea that all the even purely material flux was going to come to "rest" in some final unmoving stasis...seems, to us moderns, a rather bleak and depressing heaven.

I feel the same way about universalizing narratives that would dismiss "differently abled" people as being a sign of fallen imperfection, about a theology that would explain that all away as "glitches" of some sort. Will conjoined twins be separated after the Last Judgment? Traditional "static ideal" theology would say certainly...I am not so sure anymore. There are some pairs whom you couldn't pay to separate; that's who they are! Will Little People suddenly be of normal height? Will those with Down Syndrome suddenly be "normal"? Will the albino? Will the hirsute? Will the homosexuals all be made "straight"? Should people with tattoos expect them to last? What exactly is to happen with all of our milk teeth? And, indeed, just what about circumcisions?!?

There is something disturbing to me about an ideal that would see all the beautiful diversity as imperfection, even if it wouldn't have existed without the Fall. But then, as I asked recently, would different races or ethnicities or cultures? Would different languages? There was even a lot of debate among theologians at one point as to whether anyone would have been called to virginity or celibacy before the Fall. O Felix Culpa! I tend to see, now, the Fall as like a mirror being shattered, but the coming of Christ (First and Second) as not like the mirror being repaired, but rather like a million colored lights being reflected in all the pieces, or a million different smiling faces.

Part of it is living in a post-Darwinian world, but the view of a universe made up of essentially static eternal Forms with realities that can only deviate from them as "imperfections" no longer seems satisfactory. And even the Church has internalized this. Some in the Theology of the Body crowd now advocate the idea that there may be even sex and eating in the New Heaven and New Earth. I certainly don't think anyone is any longer insisting, like the Summa, that they couldn't contain animals, plants, or any composite minerals. And I simply cannot look forward to a heaven in which there will never be another sunset!

Then again, maybe I'm just too attached to this world; shouldn't the Beatific Vision be enough?

Something in my own life recently suggested to me the analogy of "perfect ideal white light" being split up into all the colors by a prism. The light is "broken," of course, but only into the beautiful diversity of the concrete specificity of all the colors. And yet, the old "static" view of the universe might have called this an imperfection. Perhaps the pre-Fall world was like Pleasantville or the book The Giver, where color only comes to people as a fall from innocence. This idea may seem absurd, yet it must have some sort of internal logic, as it has suggested itself to a variety of authors. I remember there is a passage in
A Canticle for Leibowitz where a religiously skeptical scholar insists (in an attempt to cast aspersion on religion) that the Church must believe that pre-Fall light was not refrangible (ie, could not be refracted into different colors) because, after all, the rainbow was only first created after the Flood. Well, the monks simply all laughed at that! So should we.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some Truths Are (Or Would Be) Useless

So, in one of my teaching classes we touched a bit on the history of various controversies, and discussed 1994's The Bell Curve a little bit. The debate gave me some thoughts that I'd like to share.

In the past, I have even supported the notion that
eugenics has gotten a bad name and that if we were merely talking about incentivizing "good breeding" among, for example, the could be perfectly moral in Catholic thought, as long we were careful about the attitudes and values behind it.

It is incontrovertible that intelligence ("IQ" if you want to call it that, though I question whether the tests are truly culturally neutral) has a large biological, heritable component. As such, I think we do have to admit that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that different groups of individuals related by closer genetic heritage could have differences in the distribution of intelligence.

Certainly, we all admit in practice that certain families tend to be more intelligent, presumably because they have the genes for higher intelligences. There are even some studies ranking the countries of Europe in terms of mean IQ, and it doesn't seem too controversial to posit that perhaps this is because some nations/ethnicities in Europe have a somewhat higher proportion of the genes for higher intelligence than others (demographically speaking, of course, none of this effects the individual, who may fall anywhere along a distribution).

However, at some point between the level of family and the level of becomes unacceptable (or at the very least, politically incorrect) to posit that there could be demographic differences in mean intelligence that lead to differences in economic development in the world for various groups. Where is that line drawn? I don't exactly know.

Now, let me make it abundantly clear: I do not, in fact, believe that the different levels of development that various races find themselves in has anything to do with different mean intelligence. In reality, I think it has to do with structural exploitation inherent in the capitalist world system. Because, I've heard, the genetic differences
within the same "race" are actually much greater than the genetic differences between the "races" and distinguishing them. Even with something like, say, the sickle cell gene, this is actually related more to smaller sub-populations than to some "African race" generically; some East African groups are actually unlikely to have that gene whereas certain groups of Mediterraneans, Arabs, and Indians are actually more likely to have it. As such, any theory that acts as if "races" can be treated as significantly distinct genetic populations, as opposed to humanity existing on a geographic continuum, are scientifically suspect. The truth is, race is a social construct, not a meaningful genealogical reality.

However, at the same time, this is only something that has been discovered through a lot of genetic research. It is not self-evident. Certainly a person, at least before we started mapping genomes, who believed that races constituted statistically significant clusters...would not have been positing a theory outside the realm of possibility. Some groups of more closely related individuals do, obviously, constitute genetic clusters that are significant. Thus, I think the idea that a certain group could be disadvantaged socially and economically because of its genetic heritage when it comes to intelligence should not be dismissed a priori for merely political reasons. Rather, it should be dismissed for "races" only because science has demonstrated that "races" are simply too large (and too nebulous, and too artificial) of groups for such a suggestion to make any sense for them. But it might, frankly, be a reality on the scale of smaller groups that do constitute real genetic clusters/populations (it is certainly a reality on the level of families and clans).

But the point of this post, the thought I had was...even if it were true, I wouldn't want to know. Or rather, such a truth would be useless. If it were true that a certain group had a mean intelligence that was somewhat lower than other groups, why would this be important? How would it change our behavior? The book in my teaching class suggested that The Bell Curve led to people suggesting that we stop "wasting" our money trying to "fix" the education of blacks, for example, because it "was doomed to fail" or "we can never bring them up to equality as a group." But to me it is this fatalistic attitude that seems the real racism. The mere hypothesis that there could be a genetic correlation among races to intelligence...meh, whatever. That's now been scientifically disproven, as I said, but the idea was not self-evidently impossible either. But the suggestion that such a correlation (even if it did exist) would be reason to stop fighting for those children en that is truly foul.

Because, as I was saying above, any such correlation, even if it did exist, would only be a statistic. It wouldn't say anything about the
individuals who may in fact lie well above the mean of whatever "group" you're putting them in. Even if the mean intelligence for whites was somewhat higher than for blacks...any given black child might still be more intelligent than any given white child. And it's the individual children that educators need to fight for!

It would be ridiculous to stop funding efforts to boost the schools of a certain minority group even if a difference in mean intelligence did make futile the attempt to equalize them as a whole with other groups. Maybe the fight would be impossible. But so what? I'd rather fight an impossible fight for the sake of the principle of giving everyone a fair shot and equal opportunities...than simply despair. Because when you fight that fight, well, even if you don't or can't ever get "the group" to the same level "as a whole"'d still, surely, help many individual members of that group (especially, for example, the ones who were above average).

And that's really all that matters: individuals, not constructed "groups." Individuals still deserve a fair chance. Even if funding programs for certain racial or ethnic groups was "doomed to fail" in an attempt to equalize them "as a group"...who cares?! Why would that matter? It would surely still help some of the children in that group, children who deserve equal opportunities as individuals regardless of whether their "group" was at a natural disadvantage. As such, I'll say it again, the fact of any such natural disadvantage's existence
(though we currently have no evidence for any such disadvantages)...would thus be a useless truth. Perhaps simply better to not even know. Because it wouldn't effect how we should treat individuals in the slightest. And social programs should only ever be viewed as for the sake of individuals, not for the sake of "groups."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Lay Clergy

I've been mulling over the most recent post at In Exsilium, especially in light of some things discussed on Reditus and some of my own concerns that I've written about regarding clericalism and also the question of self-righteousness/fundamentalism among the "good Catholic" neocons and trads.

I'd like to quote from the In Exsilium post as a jumping-off point for getting out my own thoughts. I'm going to ramble, so please bear with me.
A Medieval Christian knew that he was a sinner, yes, but, he also knew that, as a member of this Mystical Body, his failings and short comings were being mended in the lives of the Saints, in the cloistered clergy and the anonymous women religious living their entire hidden lives praying for other anonymous persons such as himself. He knew other people were suffering with Christ for his sins. The Protestants were right- there was an elevated class of persons who were living the full intensity of Christian self-oblation. The majority of people simply could not muster it, and society actually could not afford universal monasticism, so the broader society supported this class materially
So, Christianity (at least since medieval times) has been (at least) two-tiered (and, in fact, I'll argue farther down it should be three tiered). There have been different classes with different levels of expectations placed on them. Really, such a double standard was the only way to get the vast majority of a society Christian; the demands would be too rigorous otherwise.
The question of 'good' and 'bad' Catholic can not enter into this system in the same way it does presently. Sin is taken both more seriously and more lightly at once. There is no obligation to the take the Blessed Sacrament or confess your sins more than once a year. Yet, the Sacrament will be worshipped with dramatic fervor. In this fact of Medieval life, there is the paradoxical idea that one is typically both too sinful to take the Sacrament regularly and yet ought not to be so worried for his sinfulness that he needs to be reconciled and fed from week to week. Compare this to the present state where to abstain from the Eucharist is often to draw a few eyebrows.
I thought that "paradoxical idea" was a very interesting point. As nowadays there is both a liberal and a conservative horror at the idea of abstaining from the Eucharist. The liberals think the idea of abstaining is elitist, or legalistic, or filled with "guilt." No one should feel "unworthy" to receive the Eucharist, the liberals say, that's a judgmental and un-accepting or un-affirming idea. Yet the conservatives also look down on abstaining: for the conservatives, you may be unworthy to receive, but then you'd better damn well get worthy as quickly as possible!

And yet, in the early church, canonical penance excluded people for years from communion (and many people opted for deathbed baptisms, etc.) There is also the notion that, according to Reditus, even Archbishop Lefebvre apparently held, among the polygamous in Africa, that it was better to leave these people as sort of "perpetual catechumens" for many years rather than baptizing them before they were ready to take on the full burdens of Christian life.
The Catholic People were to become a regimented army with weapons of Rosaries, they were to know their doctrine in and out, and a Catholic education would become absolutely necessary. Eventually, you had to have all the right responses to the haranguing questions of the nun with her ruler.
In other words, the idea was for everyone to become religiously literate, as it were. And what was a "cleric" medievally except someone literate? The development of a literate lay class is something "new" (in the long history of the Church) and may be the source of some of the tensions we see today.
The ideal eventually emerged that one should be taking the Eucharist daily, for example. Of course, this meant one needed to be as holy as a monk- without actually being a monk. The whole of the laity had to be as holy as they thought the clergy were, to live as a “people set apart“, yet, not actually being set apart. In the past, it was obviously the clergy who were set apart. But the laity were to be incorporated into this. The same standard, one and for all.
This point is very interesting too. There has been clericalization of the laity or, at least, some of us (the "good" ones) for some time now.

This has its origins back to Trent and the Counter-Reformation, as he posits, but possibly even earlier (in fact, as I'll discuss, I might peg it to the implementation of universal celibacy for the clergy).

So there are now "high-powered" laity who pray the Office, read the Summa and catechisms and moral theology manuals and the Encyclicals of Popes (and Catholic blogs), watch EWTN, receive daily communion, and are also expected to conform in intimate detail to all the detailed tenets of sexual morality, use only NFP, understand Theology of the Body, etc, when previously there was a more benign neglect or at least discretion toward the laity in these regards.

My thought is this: this new religious literacy for the laity isn't bad necessarily. Because the "literate" Catholic laity, like anyone reading this blog, who know the finer points of orthodox theology, and for whom Catholicism is not just our religion but also our "hobby," and who are (usually) the self-appointed "good Catholics"...are probably just that segment of the population that would have been secular clergy in the past. As such, I think a "clerical" piety and orthodoxy is appropriate for us.

The fact that 80% of Catholics are not totally orthodox or orthodoxly moral or all-out zealous or whatever...doesnt really concern or surprise me, and hasn't for some time (a sentiment I think I've expressed before) because I guess I see them as sort of equivalent to the ignorant but well-meaning peasants of the Middle Ages; they have their dispensation and will be saved in their own way. They don't know any better, but I know they're good people at heart. Simple folk, spiritually at least. And though some could be educated, I'm not too concerned with enforcing too many things on them or shattering the blissful ignorance which allows the objectively immoral things they may do to be unculpable in the subjective forum.

Nevertheless, that doesn't excuse those of us who are religiously literate (and you can never take that back once it happens) from living up to the standards of orthodoxy, however. The ignorance of the laity could always be winked at; the hypocrisy of the clerical class, however...that has long been considered contemptible in the Catholic imagination. The self-righteous dogmatism of the fundamentalist-Catholic laity...may indeed be just a manifestation of the same phenomenon as clericalism, as we are in some ways now pseudo-clerical by the very fact of our religious literacy and opinionated intellectual investment in the whole thing. However, it also means, on the flip-side...that immorality and heresy among those of us who are religiously literate is as contemptible and disgusting as the hypocrisy and corruption of the Renaissance clergy (for we are now the equivalent to that class).

So the real problem (and it is a very real problem for some who really do feel called to the priesthood, but not under the current model) is, as it was so perceptively put:
Still, remarkably and unjustly, the [actual] clergy retained all the distinctions and privileges of being a unique class, with the laity being burdened with same expectations. Sure, they could have sex, but they couldn’t enjoy it. Unable to consecrate the Eucharist through their own powers? Of course such a power is barred to them, but they are also expected to be sanctified and take the Eucharist every Sunday just as the priest himself must. You are not called to be a “lay person” you are called “to be a saint”, but with none of the pretty robes or the excessive free time before the Monstrance.
A segment (and we here are part of it) of the secular laity has been "clericalized" by being made religiously literate. And also, as the recent Reditus post points out, by being institutionalized psychologically in a typically "clerical" way through a more regimented control of sexuality. I commented on that post that this may be merely our equivalent of the psychological leash mandatory celibacy creates for the actual priests (or, as JD exaggerated: we can have it, but not enjoy it, lol). Yet we are still not, in fact, actual priests or clerics of any sort. So, as he says, all the expectations, but none of those privileges.

So, there is now an unofficial three-tiered system, as it were. The actual clergy, the religiously literate laity, and the simple folk. In a way, there have always been officially three tiers too, but not necessarily corresponding perfectly to the categories that exist in practice. Namely, the laity, the secular clergy, and the consecrated religious. The secular clergy once formed the sort of middle class that the "clericalized laity" now form: the segment that was both religiously literate and secular, that was officially orthodox but not among the "perfect" according to the standard of the evangelical counsels (which really do require an institutional structure like a monastery to enforce).

But now, as I've discussed before, all priests (even the nominally "secular" [ie, diocesan] ones) are basically expected to exist on the model of religious life when it comes to things like mandatory celibacy, training in the "enclosed monastic hothouses" which are the seminaries, remaining a full-time salaried employee of the bishop, etc.

At some point in the Middle Ages, the secular clergy as such began to cease to exist in the West in a meaningful sense. The “middle tier” between the religiously illiterate peasants and the highly institutionalized monastics was eliminated as diocesan clergy took on a variety of features designed to basically merge or move them up into the category of monks. This was a development long in the making, but I think the elimination of the natural "middle category" in this way...was a big part of the process which eventually lead to the unhealthy duality of "good" and "bad" lay Catholics that is so toxic among the self-righteous neocons and trads today.

For the old second-category niche has come to be filled by highly motivated and educated lay Catholics. Lay Catholics who are, however, denied the priesthood or clerical-caste status of some sort (including the status of priest's wife for the women). Oh, they/we find pseudo-clerical roles in other ways (this all reminds me of my post on the politics of lay readers), including even a few as married permanent deacons who are technically "clerics" in canon law (but not really treated like it in practice in terms of having any say).

But since for the most part we're still laity, it creates this fundamentalist animosity with other laity, with the laity who would have been (in the old world) the "peasants." You know, the 80% who are using contraception, or not fully understanding, or sinning but not worrying too much about it, etc. Now they're considered "bad" by the arrogant "good."

In the past, this "bad" group was treated rather leniently because they weren't expected to be any better. Of course they weren't totally up to par: they weren't clerics! As JD said, there was assumed to be a holier-than-thou class, and this was considered natural.

But now, since the class of "clerical laity" has seemingly "proven" that lay people too can live up to the clerical standard of religious literacy and orthodoxy and orthodox morality (even if not the perfection of cloistered consecrated religious), everyone in the laity is held to it. Even though it's still only just a certain type of lay person who can live up to it: namely, those of us who would have been of the clerical class in the old world! But now there is a resentment towards those who don't live up to such standards among the "good" laity similar to that of the elder brother for the prodigal son. Since we bear these burdens, shouldn't everyone?

Well, that attitude is bound to antagonize the "peasant believers"...and of course it should. It's an unrealistic expectation for them, and not even what God has called them to or the role He has for them. No wonder many have reacted by simply leaving the Church or becoming, sadly, knowing/explicit (as opposed to merely ignorant) heretics, outright rejecting orthodox teachings as opposed to merely accepting that they were sinners and abstaining from communion for long stretches.

These "cafeteria Catholics" are now constantly being berated by the "good Catholics" and told that they are "bad"...or, perhaps, "false" might be the more accurate concept; people in the past didn't mind being sinners, but now they're being told that they're not even "real" Catholics, even if they were willing to recognize their sin. At that point, of course they're driven away or embrace heterodoxy. The message they hear from the orthodox is basically, "We don't want you, filth!"

Of course, that's not to say we shouldn't educate who we can (we should; we could be the instrument of their vocation to the "clerical" state) but it's never going to be everyone or even a majority. And I do, of course, think we men who are religiously literate probably should be made secular clerics officially to create that distinction again, without the consecrated-religious-like expectations of monastic seminary formation or not being able to have a wife (not that all would want one, of course).

There are fewer vocations because it used to be that basically all literate individuals became clergy and there was a distinction between the more strictly orthodox "clerical religion" and the more lenient "folk religion." Furthermore, there was also a segment spanning between the ignorant peasants and the perfect monks: secular priests in the true sense of the word (literate, but living in the world, potentially married, etc). But now...this second segment of literate Catholics doesnt need to be priests (in fact, many of us couldn't stand to be under the current system, because the current system basically assumes all priests will also live like consecrated religious).

Equating even secular clergy with consecrated religious led to clericalist dualism (as opposed to the natural triune structure) wherein religious literacy was equated with being "good" or holy (which previously was the domain of the Monks and Nuns only, not necessarily the secular priests). Well, this of course wasn't acceptable. For one, a good portion of the secular clergy were bad, and so with such evident hypocrisy, it was especially patronizing for the laity. The Protestants rightly protested this:
"I wonder if, perhaps, it could be said that Protestants tried to absorb all the energy of the dismantled priesthood into the laity [while still retaining a nominal clergy], while the response of Trent was to turn all the laity into priests [while retaining all the privileges for the actual priests]. The result is roughly the same, in the end."
The result was indeed the same.

For Protestants, it was unacceptable to identify religious literacy (ie, clerical status) with "goodness" their "clergy" were basically laicized to eliminate such a distinction; goodness was for everyone, because everyone was to be a secular. For Counter-Reformation Catholics, on the other-hand, the unacceptable duality was solved in the reverse manner: we couldn't get rid of the concept of the religious (as opposed to secular) life, so the ideal became just for the laity to all be clericalized and all the clergy to become like Religious.

But the result is indeed basically equivalent either way inasmuch as it leaves the ideal as everyone being the same, everyone being held to the same very high standard.

In the end, it won't work. Because there is always going to be a distinction between the religiously literate and the illiterate. Between those who just happen to adhere to a religion, and those who do so zealously. Between those who do believe but aren't that interested or concerned with religion actively, and those who think about it a lot and get a real kick out of liturgy and prayer and theological discussions.

We in the "clerical lay" group may romanticize the "folk religion," or try to fight for it to be benignly neglected rather than condemned or antagonized by our peers, but ultimately we ourselves are not and can never become peasants. For better or worse, we are bound by the rigors of orthodoxy and morality in a way they (subjectively, in practice) aren't. However much we might envy their care-free ignorance and lower expectations, however much we might resist the emotional leash they've gotten on us, however much we might wish we could be one of those peasants, however much we might resent our vocation to this status and the obligation it imposes on us.

Not everyone is called to be religiously literate. Many people are naturally those "peasants" and only some of us are meant to be "clerical." The problem, I think, is that not everyone religiously literate is meant to be a Religious. Not everyone meant to be of the clerical class is meant to be non-secular. By getting rid of that middle class (of secular clerics) in practice (if not in name)...they caused first clericalism (since even the very often not-holy secular clergy basically became identified with the holy religious) and then (as Protestantism reacted against this) fundamentalism, as the "good" laity (the ones who would probably become secular clerics if it weren't for the 'religious' aspects of the current secular priesthood: ie, mandatory celibacy, seminary formation, etc) were then set against the "bad" laity.

Another friend of mine responded to these thoughts in the following manner:
This idea of the tiered structures and now the removal of a tier might explain why within the Roman Church there is so much tension from various groups. I don't perceive within the Orthodox Churches (but then again I don't search out news of the Orthodox in the same way I do for RC.) These groups are made of religiously literate laity. They feel as if they need a say in the Church since they'd be the ones who a thousand years ago would have been the secular clergy and actually had a say.
Exactly! Yes, I certainly feel that's a large part of our frustration. I'm religiously literate, "clerical" as it were...but there is no class for real secular clerics in between the peasants and the monks (and all priests are basically now expected to be monks, even if they are diocesan, by the mere fact of mandatory celibacy, monastic seminary, a life "apart" from the world, etc).

Well, I know I'm not called to be a monk, but I also care and have opinions and ideas to try about church matters...yet being part of the segment (it's maybe 10-20%) that is religiously no longer enough to be an actual cleric. So, there is a lot of tension, and yet not enough vocations to the real priesthood. A lot of energy and ideas and motivation among the religiously literate laity, and yet they are denied the say that the actual clergy get except, like, on parish committees (shoot me if I ever join one).

So the "clerical laity" get self-righteous because (since they aren't of a class with different expectations) they want to demand everyone else be like them. The priests get all clericalist because, being identified with the Religious in externals, people assume they are holier and not just more literate. In the meantime, the actual Religious get less strict and watered-down since they are made essentially equivalent to secular priests. And many lay people are left frustrated, seeking pseudo-clerical roles and activities (including, in the end, even just altar serving, or catholic-blogging, or theological debates, etc).

In some sense, the breakdown of the clerical/lay distinction or roles in the liturgy since Vatican II was already there implicitly in allowing lay servers, in having a portion of the laity that follows along in missals, in having lay people who were well versed in catechism or for whom Catholicism was our "hobby" and not just our religion. The attempt to clericalize the laity while denying them actual clerical status...eventually burst out in the modern culture wars within the Church among the armchair lay theologians, and in the destruction of the liturgy according to "populist" premises ("populist" as ironically determined by a revolutionary elite).

The solution, however, is not to discourage this segment who are called to a higher standard, or to excuse ourselves from orthodoxy just since we're lay/seculars. Rather, these people (the men at least) should be made actual clerics minor and major (and the women like this would probably be inclined to marry that type of man). Definitely, some sort of official recognition should be given to this class to take the pressure off the simple peasants to conform to it.

The removal of the "middle" tier leaves religiously literate laity in a weird position. It also antagonizes the "peasants" because there is this pressure now that they too become the catholic-fanboy type, because they're lay too and, the logic goes, if some of the laity (ie, the clerical laity) can do it, then all of them can. But they can't. So it turns their mere apathy or ignorance or accepted sinfulness...into actual apostasy, explicit and knowing heresy, and obstinancy about sin.

What is the celibate clergy's investment or ulterior motive in allowing all this? I can't say for sure, but one theory might include the fact that it creates a niche market for the paraphernalia of clerical-catholic piety (regular confession, EWTN, books and booklets on theology, websites and the blogosphere, retreats, "good liturgy," Newman Centers, etc) without us being able to confect the sacraments ourselves, with us remaining dependent on them to supply it. So they get us hooked, get the leash on us psychologically, but then deny us the corresponding privileges.

By doing so they create a greater demand for themselves (since we can't do it without them) and maintain even the secular clergy as a full-time salaried position. When, really, if the "clerical laity" were allowed to be actually clerical (the role I feel they are naturally called towards, the men at least)...almost all its tasks could be fulfilled by part-time volunteers and their wives. But, as it is, we keep "needing" the lazy alcoholic who works only 2 hours a day and lives off our donations...

It is a real structural problem in the sociology of the Church. The secular clergy needs to be untied from the pseudo-Religious expectations it is now held to and be opened to a model which is meaningfully secular. This will both return rigor to the actual consecrated religious, solve the vocations crisis, and also give the religiously literate segment of the laity an official place and voice within the Church so that they will stop having to antagonize the simple folk as self-appointed inquisitors.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What's In It For Them??

So, Fr Z has rigged yet another poll; this time on the question of dropping mandatory celibacy.
Two Belgian bishops have openly questioned mandatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests, rekindling a debate Monday within the scandal-hit church. The bishop of Hasselt, Patrick Hoogmartens, and his counterpart in Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, said in separate comments that married men shouldn't automatically be excluded from priesthood.
There are actually surprisingly few votes total, but the "conservative" Catholic blogosphere has got the vote out in favor of mandatory celibacy, unfortunately. Vote against it if you think it will help, but unless some major liberal sources publicize this with the same zeal as Fr Z and his ilk, I doubt we'll be able to counter the conservative vote.

It's not like anyone is paying attention to this sort of unscientific poll except them anyway. But still, given that these people voting are overwhelmingly lay and probably many of them married have got to wonder why they care so much about stopping a group of men from getting married. Why should they care about whether other people are having sex? The whole thing creeps me out more and more.

Contraception vs Sterilization

UPDATE: I've somewhat changed/nuanced this opinion, upon further consideration, to recognize that contraception and sterilization may ultimately be collapsable into essentially the same intention/sin, even if pre-intercourse methods more easily allow for a second act of the will to change the intent.

This post may not be favored by my more liberal readers, especially in light of recent conversations, like this on Reditus, which are very interesting but which would also seem to scoff at a sexual morality that gets too technical or detailed.

I myself am against the idea of some Inquisition to try to enforce it on everyone, and am of course actually quite suspicious of seeming attempts to create public psychological power for the clergy through an obsession with questions of sexuality that should really be mainly private and between the individuals, God, and perhaps a confessor and other close confidants, rather than the center of some culture war (though the fact that it is such a hot-button topic perhaps points to the inherently social, and thus public, nature of sex?)

Nevertheless, as much as I may think there are unhealthy attitudes towards these things among the fundamentalists in the Church, I am ultimately still orthodox at the end of the day, and so do believe there is an important place for a theology of the body (if not "THE Theology of the Body") and for certain nuts-and-bolts questions to be addressed by moral theology regarding chastity.

Those of you who roll your eyes at such discussions or who reject the very premises they are founded on, feel free to disregard the rest of this post, which is indeed more characteristic of my Catholic Answers days than now. This is probably because (pendulums swinging as they do) I've recently been seeing the limits of "loyal dissent" and being a "renegade" gadfly (not that I'm giving that up!).

But many people do have a need for simply the nitty-gritty apologetics type questions like this to be addressed satisfactorily with clear-cut answers about how to act or what to say to opponents. Too often in the circles I've been reading in lately, people are instead hit with intellectual meta-discussions that end up undermining the role of philosophy and theology in answering any practical questions about leading the good life (usually by concluding with endless doubt about whether we can ever actually determine what the good life concretely should look like). But without concrete conclusions, that approach (stimulating as it may be) can, in the final consideration, lead simply to mental and behavioral laxity and decadence; spirals of thought, point and counterpoint endlessly considered, forming an excuse never to act or spiritually change. Something I've always been concerned about.

Anyways, I got into a theology of the body type discussion with some Catholic friends on the difference between impotence and infertility in Catholic thought; the former being an impediment to marriage and invalidating sex, the latter not. And were discussing the minimum requirements of sex for being moral, and had a thought regarding the application of that to the question of birth control.

It seems to me that "contraception" as currently conceived (no pun intended) may not be a particularly accurate category of sin. I'm not saying all the things that we think of as contraception aren't sinful (they are) but it seems to me (based on TOB at least) that there would be a difference between a method like onanism or the use of a condom, and something like the pill or a vasectomy, based on their "visibility" vs "invisibility."

The perceptible acts (like a condom, withdrawl, etc) from that perspective, are seen to make the sex act not even really valid sex in any natural sense. The withholding of the transmission of the semen by the man, or (in the case of something like a diaphragm) the withholding of receptivity of it by the woman...make the act basically just mutual masturbation. The correct "syntax" of sex just isn't there, which involves, on the phenomenological level, the completion of total self-giving in that act.

However, the valid act doesn't require, for example, the presence of any sperm in the semen. Or for the woman to be fertile, or even have a uterus (a woman after a hysterectomy may still have sex). As with any sacrament, only perceptible differences matter on this level. Sex has to be procreative, but it does not have to be reproductive. It has to be the type of act which (on the perceptible level, at least) could be fertile, which signifies the creation of life...but it does not need to actually produce its fruit except implicitly.

And this makes sense. Just as the Church believes that the Real Presence ceases when the particles become too small to recognize with the senses, so too is the language of the body only determined by what we can actually perceive, in terms of the validity of the sacramental act.

And sex is intrinsically a sacrament, whether of the Christian dispensation or merely a "natural sacrament" as Catholic Encyclopedia explains in its article on marriage:

For a better understanding of the sacramental character of Christian as opposed to non-Christian marriage, we may briefly state the relations of the one to the other, especially as it cannot be denied that every marriage from the beginning has had, and has, the character of something holy and religious, and may therefore be designated as a sacrament in the broader sense of the word. In this connection we cannot pass over the instructive encyclical of Leo XIII. He says: "Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of the Divine Word; consequently, there abides in it a something holy and religious; not extraneous but innate; not derived from man, but implanted by nature. It was not, therefore, without good reason that our predecessors, Innocent III and Honorius III, affirmed that a certain 'sacrament of marriage' existed ever among the believers and unbelievers."
It is the perceptible sacramental symbols which convey the language of morality in this case. So, for example, the man must be able to ejaculate into the woman. This is enough to convey the transmission of fertility on the psychological level (even if the semen is actually infertile if examined microscopically), because science cannot override human nature. The conscious rational knowledge of microscopic things doesn't change the deep subconscious psycho-spiritual understanding of sexuality, which considers (in terms of the questions of self-giving and chastity) the sense-perceptible transmission and receptivity only, not the question of unseen gametes.

Which is why methods like the pill or a vasectomy seem to me to perhaps require another category of sin. Not contraception but, rather, sterilization. In other words, their fault might lie not so much in unchastity, but rather in their nature as a deliberate mutilation of what was otherwise a healthy and working function of the body. On the perceptible level (which TOB sees as what effects the spiritual "symbolism" of sex)...the Pill does nothing more than create the same state that a woman is in most of the month anyway, or that an infertile woman is in always.

This can be a problem in arguments about contraception based on TOB type arguments (which modern man does seem to find more compelling in their non-legalistic personalism) and basically all I've heard Catholics offer is, "Well, doing something deliberately to frustrate fertility changes the act, but no one can be blamed if something happens beyond their control" even though, apparently, deliberately waiting for the natural period of infertility is okay...

Yet, it strikes me, an act is either okay or it's not. Yes, context and intent affect the morality of choices as well, but if we allow for sex during infertility (and even recognize the monthly infertile period as a good and natural thing rather than merely pathological), that doesn't answer why the creation of infertility deliberately is wrong, but waiting for it each month deliberately is not. If the latter can be a chaste act, it implies actual fertility in itself is not essential to valid sex, so what suddenly becomes essentially unchaste about the former? It can't be merely the lack of fertility, as that has already been shown by other allowed examples to not be essential. If sex during the naturally infertile period is considered to be of the same type of act that signifies fertility, then sex on the Pill isn't any different as it merely extends the naturally infertile period through the whole month.

However, if we distinguish between contraception as such, and sterilization, between an act that is basically mutual masturbation, and one that is sex but with a separate question of mutilation of the body...this answers a lot of those questions. It explains why NFP is okay, why infertile couples can have sex, and why a man is not required to reverse a vasectomy, why a woman can take the pill for legitimate medical reasons, why she can have sex after a hysterectomy, etc. Because the creation of infertility does not necessarily make the sex unchaste or take something essential away from it (as fertility is clearly not essential to valid sex). But it is nevertheless still sinful, but for a different reason: namely, it is the mutilation of a healthy and working function of the body for no proportional double-effect medical reason.

So, that is basically my little thought: it might be very helpful in arguments with non-believers on this issue to differentiate between "contraception" which deforms the natural act itself and makes it unchaste, and "sterilization" which (while it may have unchaste motives) has its sin more in the mutilation of the body (hence removing the previously tricky question of undeliberate infertility from the debate).

Assuming my differentiation between "contraception" (condoms, diaphragms, coitus interruptus, etc) and "sterilization" (vasectomy, tube tying, the Pill) is correct and helpful (and I think it is given how it takes all the "but why can an infertile couple...?" questions off the table) then we can distinguish between the method itself and the sex had using it.

So, for example, contraception is only wrong in the context of sex. Putting a condom or a diaphragm on...isn't wrong, in itself. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with putting a rubber sheath over your penis. It only becomes wrong if you actually have sex that way and so it stops the "transmission of the gift" as JPII so eloquently euphemized ejaculation, I believe. This sex then becomes unchaste, basically just masturbation with a piece of rubber that happens to be held between a woman's legs, a with-holding of total self-giving that shatters the natural script of sexuality on a deep subconscious level, and turns the act into a "lie" with the body.

In the case of contraception the "syntax" of the sex act is ruined. Human nature knows on a deep level that valid completion of that type of act means, "I want you to be the parent of my child, which is in itself a lifelong commitment," and that lust may be defined as any desire that takes pleasure as an end in itself, or which posits for it a subjective meaning other than its God-given significance as a motivator for that teleological script. The valid act may be lustful in motive too, of course, even between spouses...but invalid acts are lustful by nature. Like any sacrament, certain essentials are needed for validity, and sex done contraceptively becomes like, well, like baptizing a baby who is wrapped in a rain coat (so the water never touches his skin) or even like pouring the water just on the floor instead of on the baby!

This also makes me think of my controversial post in which I argued that 1) the contraceptive effects of using a condom are the lesser evil in situations where, the couple refusing to abstain entirely, to not use a condom would lead to risk of disease and other material consequences, and 2) in most fornicatory or adulterous situations, the use of contraception doesn't really change anything about the morality of the act, because in most cases the fornicators will already be viewing sex as disconnected from both unitive and procreative purposes; they already don't or can't intend either lifelong commitment nor pregnancy (really the same thing) by it, so at that point actually using a method that at least is effective doesn't make it any worse, in fact I'd hope for society's sake that they do.

That point about fornicators using contraception not usually being any worse still stands. As, to continue with the "sacramental" analysis...such people can be analogized to a priest who withholds sacramental intent and therefore invalidates a sacrament. Well, if the sacrament is thus already invalid by withheld intent...does it really matter at that point if he uses the right or wrong matter or form? In fact, at that point, I would hope that such a priest would also use invalid matter or form just so that no one is duped by his intentionally invalid sacrament. At that point, such things don't make it any worse. Likewise in my argument that fornication usually isn't valid "natural" sex already, prior to any question of whether a condom is used or not, as intent is usually already withheld; at that point, additional factors don't make it any worse since it's invalid already and you can't make something "more invalid"'s like alive and dead, it either is or it isn't. But I also did admit that "simple fornication" that was still "natural" might be possible in some cases of concubinage or common law marriage which are open to life. In these cases, I suppose, to use the common sacramental terminology, the sex could be said to be merely "valid but illicit."

However, sterilization seems to be the opposite of contraception. With a vasectomy, it's not actually the sex following it that is wrong or unchaste (though there may be an unchaste attitude). That sex is still natural and not, in fact, sinful in itself; men who get vasectomies are not required to have them reversed after confession. The sin in sterilization lies rather with the initial act of mutilation in itself, whether sex follows or not. The sin is in the unnecessary violence against a healthy functioning of the body. The sex that follows the act of sterilization (assuming the essentials are all there and it's within marriage) is not sinful, it's the original act of sterilization itself which is the sin (and a sin of violence/mutilation at that, not unchastity).

Contraceptive methods actually ruin the sex act itself, and are sins against chastity. Sterilizing methods are, on the other hand, wrong in the initial mutilation only, not the subsequent sex acts; they are primarily sins of violence against the body, not unchastity. Though, of course, as even with NFP itself...the motives can still be subjectively unchaste (as opposed to just violent) if the goal of the sterilization is purely to enable sex only for pleasure or the fulfillment of lust. You might assume this to always be the case, but I don't think necessarily. For example, a married couple who already have several children together have already demonstrated the significance that they want to be the parents of each others children and are committed for life. At that point, if they sterilize themselves for, say, economic reasons...I'd argue that, while the act of sterilization is still wrong as a mutilation, they are not necessarily being particularly unchaste or lustful.

What this leads me to wonder is about the gravity of all sterilizing acts. Contraception is clearly considered a mortal sin as sins against chastity are. And most forms of deliberate mutilation that sterilize would seem to be also. Certainly something like tube tying, a vasectomy, an unneeded hysterectomy, etc.

But while sins against chastity don't admit of degrees...I think mutilation can. I think there are mutilations of the body which are minor and so only venially sinful. While most sterilizing mutilations are clearly major and mortally sinful, I do have to wonder about something like the Pill. It's a sterilizing mutilation, yes, but it's reversible, a relatively minor act compared to surgical intervention, it can apparently be justified by other conditions as minor as acne, and it's effects are cumulative (ie, the Pill has to be taken daily). I wonder then if the mutilation has to be considered to reach the level of mortal sin every time the woman takes her daily Pill (even though for most of the month she would be infertile on that day anyway)??

I think it's something the Church could reconsider in light of the contraception/sterilization divide that I've fleshed out here. Certainly, while the abstract moral principles behind the condemnation of contraception are objective doctrine, the subjective casuistic application to various specific methods or situations is subject to evolution and interpretation. Now, likely they would conclude that, due to the sacredness of reproduction, any mutilation (however otherwise minor) that effects fertility is by nature mortally sinful even though it is "sterilization" rather than "contraception". And perhaps rightly so. Still, I think they've been rather sloppy in considering and making these distinctions, and it's led to a lot of confusion and faltering arguments on our side against those who, as I said, invoke infertile couples as an argument for invalid sex being okay, or who don't understand why NFP is okay but the Pill isnt, etc.

I'm not really questioning any of the "what" of doctrine, as you can see, but I think there could be some restructuring of categories and explanations like this to make the "why" a lot more convincing for people. By splitting birth control methods into the contraceptive and the sterilizing, with separate reasons given for why they're wrong (one making the sex invalid by removing one of the essentials, the other merely because it is a mutilation of the body) it takes questions about naturally infertile couples, NFP, legitimate medical procedures that have sterility as a side effect, etc, off the table.

I think it would be very helpful in discussing this with people, apologetics-wise, to make this distinction and to clarify right from the start that fertility/reproduction are not intrinsically necessary for valid sex, as long as the perceptible essentials that symbolize them are there (in other words, as you sometimes hear, it is "that type of act"). Deliberate but "invisible" sterilization can then be explained as wrong too, not because of unchastity, but rather as acts of bodily mutilation.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Testimonial from Portugal

Continuing the theme of testimonials, one of my readers has sent an interesting testimonial on the state of traditionalism in Portugal and his own efforts and difficulties in promoting it. If anyone from Portugal is interested in helping in his efforts, please email me through the blog and I can put you in contact with him. I thought this was worth sharing:
I recently went to the workshop that was given by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. I think it could have been better organized than it was, but we've got to work with what we're given, right? Sadly there were very few people there. I tried putting some fliers up in my city in certain churches but received a big "NO" from the priests (who seemed to have no idea even what the Summorum Pontificum is). But still, it was interesting. I got to learn the meaning of much of the symbolism of the Gregorian Mass, as well as the relation between the Mass and Jewish rituals (something I had been looking up on the net for a while now). We also had a conference on the Bragan rite. Every day we had a high solemn Mass, one of them being celebrated according to the Bragan rite; there was even a high solemn Mass in the Fátima Basilica, the first official one in 40 years (unfortunately I couldn't make it to that one, but given the pictures I saw and the hour the Mass was scheduled for, it wasn't full). My girlfriend had never been to a High Solemn Mass; she was left speechless. Though she isn't much of a church goer (we're working on that, though not forcibly, but just by example and talking about things), she now finds the Pauline Mass "lifeless," for all its noise as she commented at the baptism (she mentioned missing the silence of the Canon).

We're trying to set up an Una Voce office here to address the issues particular to the Portuguese and the implementation of the SP. Most of the laity and the clergy seem to be unaware of it. Also, most people have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear the word "tradition". Portugal was under a dictatorship for some 40 years roughly, so tradition tends to be associated with the "old regime"; the fact that the State tried to use the Church's Social Teaching for some if its political policies further associated the Dictatorial State and the Church in the mentality of the people (though it is generally those born toward the end of the regime - in the 50's and 60's - who have the greatest animus towards it). So, as you can see, "tradition" carries a lot of baggage with it here. Most youngsters will have none of it, in any form. Breaking with the past, with any links, seems to be the norm.

We also have another problem, which the priest who celebrated the Bragan rite highlighted. He mentioned that the Portuguese aren't a "liturgical" people (as in, there's a lot of ignorance as to what the Mass is all about). The Mass, in most of their eyes, is "the priest's thing", so they didn't care much when the rite changed so long as they could keep receiving communion. On the other hand, popular piety is their thing. Most priests are smart enough to not meddle much in processions and changing statues from one place to another in churches, etc., because they will feel the backlash (I know of cases where priests stopped processions from happening and the parishioners got them kicked out of their parishes). This popular piety has been an indirect/unconscious brake on liturgical abuse, so that we have only a mild form of it, not so bad as in the US or other European countries. In my opinion, the Gregorian Mass gives itself more naturally to popular piety, so if we can find a way to wed the two back together, I think we'd get a foot in the door that way. As to what would attract the younger crowd (which seems to be who has really gained weight in the US and really helped the movement along), I have no idea; I was born "old", so I can't really relate to youngsters, especially not to the Portuguese younger generation (after all, I still tend to think like an American). It would also be interesting to see the Bragan rite come back to life, as it is hanging by a thread (once again).

I'm trying to find people my age who are interested in tradition and slowly they're popping up. I hope some will get involved in Una Voce because, even though I like the folks who are going to be at the meeting, I don't want it to be led mostly by the "NO is of the Devil!" crowd (there might be a few of them there; I only really talk to the people who go to the diocesan Mass; others go to the Mass at religious houses so I have no idea what they're really like).I'm sure you understand my reservations? Flies to honey, not vinegar, and all that...

It was the first time I remember going to a baptism. I tried convincing my brother to get it celebrated according to the older rite (I'd have felt more comfortable with the older exorcism prayers given that my godson's grandparents on both sides dabble in the occult), but no go. The Mass seemed to be rushed (it was basically an hour), and not even the baptismal font was used. No one told the priest that he could have been a Baptist minister (but then he'd have to get a job, wouldn't he). At the meeting before the Baptism he insinuated that infant baptism was an invention, that there was nothing sacramental about it (no immediate effects either) and that it was just a sort of fancy symbolical rite into a "life experience community". He also made some comments about the initiatory rites which would have irked off our Eastern and Oriental brothers (Catholic and Orthodox). I have never felt so much anger at a priest as I did that day. On the day of the Baptism, only 5 of us were dressed formally (I know formality in dress isn't much of an issue for you, but here it is, or at least used to be; given that this was a special event in the kid's life, I think it would be appropriate if people demonstrated that at least by dress, if only as a sign of respect even if they don't believe in what is being done); not even my nephew had any particularly formal clothing on as most kids do for the occasion. Still, in the end he was received into the Mystical Body and was for that day (and perhaps for some time afterwards) worthy of reverence as he became a temple of the Holy Spirit, so that's what matters né? In the end it's all about saving as many as possible.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Further Thoughts on Homoeroticism

I've received a lot of positive feedback by email about the post recommending my friend's gay traditionalist blog a few days ago.

However, I would like to discuss two things that came up in the comments thread of that post. I posted them there, but they got rather long and so it makes more sense just to do a post about it:

1) I think what one of the posters said about there being no real openly homosexual Saints is an important point.

Of course, it could just be because, in the past, sexual preference was not conceived of in the same essentialized way as it is today, as an identity, etc. And yet, surely temptations of all sorts have been experienced in the past, and usually there are Saints who shared peoples experiences.

All sorts of Saints experienced, it is implied, heterosexual temptation (and had to throw themselves into thorn bushes, lol) but this particular experience is covered up or denied as "scandalous" or whatever. Give me a break! It's all the more ironic given how much of a subtext homoeroticism has been in the culture of mandatorily celibate clergy for much of history.

Pope Benedict will beatify Cardinal Newman on Sunday. Here is a man who, it is quite clear to anyone who is not blind, was homosexual (at least in the Victorian construction of that; which may be somewhat different than how it is constructed today) and in fact was by all accounts involved in some sort of tender, though beyond-a-doubt celibate, relationship with another man, Ambrose St-John. Call it a "romantic friendship" or what you will, the point remains the same. (The fact that Benedict himself gives off a rather strong vibe is additionally ironic).

And yet, all sorts of articles (like on Fr Z and similar) were vehemently denying that Newman was homosexual. Partly because they don't want to see him co-opted by the liberal "gay" agenda, I suppose...but there is also a real sense of homophobia one gets reading them. Especially since Newman was celibate (and there is no doubt he was, even among the liberals), then why such reluctance to admit merely that his romantic attractions were to men? Why the continued stigmatization of homosexuality, even separate from questions of unchastity?

They're taking someone who could be a great model for a spiritually-creative, satisfied but also chaste, non-repressed (if necessarily discreet) homosexuality...and denying it. Maybe Newman is seen as already too subversive in other ways, given his definitively Modern existential angst and his paradox of free-thinking orthodoxy (what we strive for here).

But, subversion is just what we all need, in some sense, against authoritarianism. A subversion, like Christ's or Rosa Park's...which is also spotlessly innocent, so they can't use anything against us (because the Accuser will use whatever he has against us). So I would definitely encourage people to not be afraid to adopt Newman as their own, and simply ignore the panicked denials of his homosexuality.

2) I am a bit disturbed that the comments still tend to take an essentially "negative" view of homoeroticism. I would be wary to equate homosexuality merely with "a Cross" to be carried or as a "temptation" or to compare it to pedophilia or eating disorders. I mean, there are always some points of valid analogy between any thing and any other thing that exists...but I worry those sort of attitude implies the very sort of stigma that needs to be avoided.

As the Catechism itself explains: "Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others."

All sexualities have their particular burdens, even asexuality. Yet one's sexuality is a paradigm for thinking and feeling about the world that colors pretty much everything, and it extends far beyond just sex or even romance.

Homosexual (and third-gendered/"transgendered") people have a particular difficulty in the Church and in conservative society, because models of a proper outlets are not readily available, whereas liberal society offers some very clear and appealing models. But among the orthodox it is seen as a stigma or a disease or a tragic flaw or a disorder or even (among fundamentalists) a sin, etc.

The asexual can easily be a celibate. The bisexual can ultimately find an opposite-sex spouse whose existence gives them sexual release and more mental and emotional freedom to be comfortable with their same-sex feelings as well.

Homosexuality, however, well...the Vatican is throwing around the term "intrinsically disordered"! And the expectation of how a homosexual should integrate their sexuality is basically to "struggle with" the "same sex attraction" (a patronizing terminology) and see it "as a cross"...but to also be silent and invisible, or else to treat oneself as some sort of recovering alcoholic or mental patient.

I would be wary about groups like Courage, even, for this very reason. There is, firstly, the fact that there have been known to be crazy "ex-gay" threads in such movements that try to actually "cure" homosexuality. I won't discount the idea that human sexuality can be very fluid for some, especially the young, or that many gay men have insecurities surrounding masculinity (though that becomes a chicken-and-the-egg question), but the "reparative" mindset has been shown to be ridiculously damaging and unhealthy. But even beyond that undercurrent, there is also simply the troubling notion of homosexuality purely as a negative to "suffer"...or if it is seen as a positive, it is only a positive because it is negative, because it is "a cross". It sounds like it would all be some sort of AA meeting.

There are no doubt crosses that go along with homosexuality, just as there are crosses that go along with married or celibate heterosexuality. But the attitude that would see a diversity in sexualities as purely a "bad" result of the narrow. I mean, different races and cultures and ethnicities are in some sense a result of the Fall too (or different languages the result of Babel). And yet we now celebrate and try to preserve a diversity of languages, a diversity of cultures, etc...even when we recognizes the division they can lead to (even war). Well, at least I do; obviously, some trads do seemingly want their own globalizing narrative (a Eurocentric one).

It's why the "Big-D Deaf" resent attempts to treat deafness as a medical condition or a "disability" (though not all the hearing impaired agree or identify with that "culture"). But the Deaf see their condition as a unique experience to be celebrated, a unique way of seeing the world and experiencing reality and communication, a unique way of structuring thought, even, that is a needed separate perspective.

That's not to say we approve of certain acts (or of the fact that some Deaf try to deliberately deafen their children). No, ultimately there is no "sex" except the natural act. The rest is just masturbation with another person's body. But impotent heterosexuals can't marry either, yet people seem to sympathize with their plight a lot more, approve of companionate relationships for them, etc., than they do for homosexuals, who are still treated, in terms of pastoral approach, in a way (however well-meaning) clearly tainted by cultural stigma against homosexuality that extends well outside the bounds that the mere moral question about behaviors might justify.

There is also the problem of meeting people where they are, and simply ignoring the real personal difficulties of homosexuals involved in potentially committed relationships with people they are apparently expected to just cut off entirely, even when there is deep affection and intimacy and humanizing love, just because of one moral flaw in the relationship regarding misguided physical expression of that love. It is not surprising at all many take it so personally; it's a very personal thing!

"Some are born eunuchs, some are made so by men" (and for some it is a complex psychological interaction of both biological and environmental factors, lol) But I don't think Christ's statement there was at all a negative one. In fact, He seemed to be viewing it as a gift ("those to whom it has been given"). Of course, Christianity takes (or at least took) a positive view of celibacy for everyone. The disciples' reaction on hearing Christ's absolute prohibition of divorce ("Then it is better not to marry at all!") is indicative of a view of marriage as actually the greater cross, in some sense, ironically.

Anyway, my point is, I'm sensing still a view of homosexuality and homoeroticism as still something just negative, a burden to bear, a cross to carry, as some affliction like cancer that people need prayers for. But I don't think that ultimately is going to be an appealing model for many.

Homosexuals need to be offered clear ways to celebrate and relate positively to their sexuality. Besides the offensive caricatures that the neocons and rad trads seem to portray it all as: you know, going to "Pride" parades and being flamboyant, using club drugs all the time, and sleeping around with members of the same sex. That's not to say those things don't happen, but let's address those things, then, specifically...not generalize to viewing homosexuality as some sort of crazed bacchanal.

This shouldn't be so hard: sexuality extends far beyond sex, to all facets of personality, and a healthy integration would see sexuality in all parts of life. I think people more intuitively see this with gender than sexuality; most of us instinctively act "as men" or "as women" even in areas just like conversation or how we relate to people or think or approach tasks, even tasks that are not self-evidently gendered.

And yet, there is still a ton of shame heaped on the idea of comfortable day-to-day homoeroticism. I'm not talking just about effeminate affections or "gay" indicators or "culture" either. I mean breaking down the emotional barriers (and they exist in repressed heterosexuals too, trust me) of compartmentalization, of denial, of repression, that leave people sapped of vitality, rigid, emotionally constricted, and ultimately embittered or just sort of phony.

I think we all know or suspect some people in our lives (especially among the religious) of holding themselves back, keeping others at a distance, being constantly on guard and not spontaneous, all because they are perpetually over-conscious (in their attempts to deny or constrain it) of parts of themselves (sexual or otherwise) that are really no big deal and should really just become a constant, but low-key, background noise.

I think I asked before on this blog: if a man sacrificed his life for another man because of his love (and I do mean eros) for him, would we see this as shameful or bad? If someone is made brave or incited to prayer or to self-improvement or betterment out of love for a member of the same sex, or even just to be more appealing to the same sex generally...are we to condemn it? If someone's charisma or zeal comes from a throbbing pulse of homoeroticism at the core of their being...if that energy magnetizes their life and relationships, are we to throw it all out as disordered?

Well, I think you'd lose a lot of artists, a lot of professionals, a lot of priests, and probably a lot of the Saints. If you look to, say, some of Plato's dialogues, I think you see there a model of homoeroticism that is at once ennobling (considered "better" than heterosexuality, even) but also, ideally, chaste. Yet such a potential model has been lost in both conservative and liberal narratives.

In some ways, the attempted "domestication" of the homosexual by the liberal movement, the "normalization" can be seen as an attempt to tame the subversive element inherent in homoeroticism as much as the conservative model of repression. There is nothing more threatening to the establishment than someone who can't be satisfied within it.

But isn't that sort of subversiveness what we need these days? Because of this, I wouldn't be surprised if a certain sort of chaste homoeroticism is actually a major force that eventually empowers the restoration of tradition and counters the secularization of society.