Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

I found the Le Guin parable cited by this article really very powerful, as it goes back to some deeply held intuitions of mine about "not being happy until everyone is."

Usually I am weary of conservative Catholic articles about abortion, given how political their focus always is; I am not one of those who believes a politician must support criminalization of abortion, let alone that individuals can't vote for a politician based on their views related to abortion. Politics is, largely, pragmatic, in my view. I'd rather a world where abortion was legal but few occurred, than a world that paid lip-service to its illegality but many occurred. So though my own voting record has been and will be absolutely pro-life, though I personally am a one-issue voter in that sense (you might even accuse me of moral cowardice in that regard; it certainly makes voting easy), I definitely understand and think valid the choice of people who decide that a given vote won't effect the status quo one way or the other (at least not as far as their limited knowledge can guarantee), and therefore vote otherwise.

However, in terms of peoples attitudes and those of society in general, this article realy hit the nail on the head, I thought, by referencing Omelas. It's haunting really:

If you support abortion, you’re not allowed to look away. Sorry. You don’t get that privilege. You don’t get to wrap yourself in nice little slogans about “women’s rights” and “my body, my choice,” or the most nauseating one of all: “well, no one likes it, but…” If your oh-so-enlightened views are predicated upon the existence of horrible things happening in tiny rooms to people you don’t know, you should at least have the moral courage to understand what happens in those rooms. This applies as much to those on the right who support torture as it does to those on the left who support abortion.

In her fable “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin offers her idea of a utopia. Her perfect world of perfect happiness can only be sustained by one child living in a locked, damp, darkened closet and subjected to constant abuse. The citizens all know this, and most accept this horror as the price for the world they live in.

But some cannot:
At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or a woman much older falls silent for a day or two, then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight outof the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.
Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
I’ve always felt that the point of LeGuin’s fable was this: the only people worthy of all that Omelas had to offer were the ones who could never have it, because they found the cost too high.

What Dr. Levatino describes does not happen to one child: it happens to over 3,000 human beings every day in the United States alone. Too many people accept this as a price of the world they live, or perhaps just the cost of their own moral and political views. Maybe they just haven’t looked hard enough. Maybe they don’t care, or have convinced themselves that this isn’t really a life, or at least not an important life, and certainly not one that feels pain: well, not much pain (probably), and certainly that pain is nothing measured against the inconvenience faced by the mother. Hard choices, you know. No one is “pro-abortion,” it’s a private matter, safe-legal-and-rare … well, you know all the lies. People can convince themselves of all kinds of things. People used to convince themselves that Jews and blacks weren’t actually human. They’ve progressed beyond that. Now they’ve convinced themselves that humans aren’t even human.

It’s hard to change a deeply-held conviction, and abortion is a hard subject to change your mind about. In her story, LeGuin emphasizes that the people who walk away, do so alone. She uses the word “alone” three times in two paragraphs, and emphases the darkness, fear, and unknown elements of what they face by making their choice. So much of our self-identity and politics and relationships are bound up in our beliefs on subjects just like this. It’s a frightening thing to change your views so radically on such a volatile subject. It certainly wasn’t easy for me.

Yes, I used to be one of those loathsome “well, no one likes it, but …” people, and that was the worst possible position to take, because I was admitting that it was a horrifying thing but saying it should continue anyway. I acknowledged injustice and brutality, and said, “I’m okay with that.” I gazed upon the child in the basement closet of Omelas and decided his misery is a fair price to pay for the world I lived in. It took time–years, in fact–but I finally looked a little harder in that closet, and I became one of the ones who walked away.
However, what I think I find so haunting is that even those of us who are pro-life, who vote pro-life even...are not really "walking out" of Omelas, are we? Not even those who avoid even some remote material cooperation in the form of boycotting the list of companies that support Planned Parenthood, etc. Are we really going "out from her, my people" ? Or are we complicit in Babylon's sins? How does one "walk out" though? Does a certain level of active protest or volunteering count? Does simply remaining personally aloof? Even if one does do something like go off to Africa, or drop off the grid...isn't this shirking responsibility too? (Especially since a First Worlder will never really be precariously poor, inasmuch as he will always have a social safety-net he can invoke again if he wants to, just by virtue of his citizenship even.)

This is a question that always concerns me. And it concerns me when others aren't too concerned, even though I'm not claiming my concern or Hatred of the World itself justifies me any moreso. But it really does shatter the progressive narrative to pieces, and makes me look extremely cynically on any claims that there is anything good about modernity or the Enlightenment project as such (philosophically speaking) that doesn't pale in comparison to all the bad consequences, to the human cost of it all...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mean Girls!

I don't know if this article is true or not, but it certainly feeds our need for sensationalism and gossip, eh?

With everyone gobbling this stuff up and talking about how grave it I the only one who thinks all this intrigue just doesn't matter??

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Modernism: Synthesis of All Heresies

I found a great article which really sums up what Modernism was all about, though I'm not sure you can really ever understand what is being described here until you have had the frustrating ill-fortune of meeting someone who holds this heresy which is utterly destructive to a right-thinking Christian mind and, indeed, to the community of the Church itself, tearing it apart from the inside:
One hundred years ago, on the feast of our Lady’s nativity, 1907, Pope St Pius X issued his renowned encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis. He wrote the encyclical to protect the Church against a new movement that was starting to develop among a certain number of Catholic intellectuals. For want of a better name, the Pope called this movement ‘Modernism’. He stated that it threatened ‘to destroy the vital energy of the Church’ and to spread poison through the whole of Catholic life. In fact, he went so far as to say that its proponents were ‘the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church’, since they harmed her from within and not from without.

What was the danger that prompted so vigorous a papal riposte? What were the ‘Modernists’ saying? In various ways, they were saying this: Catholicism should be based not, as hitherto, on reason, but rather on experience. The exaltation of experience above reason is the essence of the Modernist heresy.

Why is this so serious an error? The Church holds that her faith is rational. The First Vatican Council solemnly taught that the human reason is capable of knowing the existence of God with certainty. It also taught that even before coming to faith, a man can discover by the correct use of his reason that God has made a revelation to mankind. He does this by carefully considering the ‘external signs’ that bear witness to divine revelation, especially miracles and fulfilled prophecies. Vatican I, in fact, anathematised those who claim that we must be drawn to faith in God simply ‘by personal, internal experience or by private inspiration’.

The Modernists, however, did not accept that rational argument could show that Catholicism is the true religion revealed by God. There were various reasons for this. In philosophy, they were influenced by Immanuel Kant, who had argued that it was impossible for anyone to prove the existence of God. In theology, they were influenced by attacks on the historical reliability of the Bible, attacks led by men such as the German Protestant Julius Welhausen (for the Old Testament) and the former Catholic seminarian Ernest Renan (for the New). More generally, the Modernists, as their name suggests, were strongly influenced by the spirit of their times, which put forward inevitable progress as a ‘law of history’. This led them to reject as impossible the notion of a religion revealed from heaven once and for all. A fortiori they rejected the notion that one should discover by the good use of reason what this religion is and then embrace it.

Now the Modernists, at least in the beginning, wished to help the Church. There seems to be no reason to doubt that men such as Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) and George Tyrell (1861-1909) were at first sincere in desiring the Church to be immune from the attacks of non-believers. Thinking that she could no longer be defended by reason, they called experience to her aid. In the middle of a sophisticated and unbelieving world, religious experience would henceforth justify the existence of the Catholic Church.

Like all heresies, Modernism begins with the distortion of some part of Christian truth. It is quite correct to say that apologetic arguments by themselves can never bring anyone to Christ. A preparation of the heart is necessary for someone to embrace the faith. Likewise, there is a proper place in the Christian life for the category of ‘experience’. Who will deny that being present at a High Mass or looking after a sick person may be a profound experience that strengthens one’s hold on some Christian teaching or other? But none of this means that ‘experience’ is the ultimate guide to religious truth. Before conversion to the Catholic Church, natural reason is the guide; after conversion, our guide is the teaching authority of the Church, accepted by that same reason now enlightened by faith.

It would have been bad enough if the Modernists had simply denied the possibility of apologetics. In fact, their exaltation of ‘experience’ led the more radical among them to go further, until they drained the Creed itself of meaning. These radical Modernists taught that man has an innate religious sense, active in some people, dormant in others, and that a believer is simply someone whose religious sense has been somehow awakened. He has had ‘an experience of the divine’. When a group of believers reflect together on their various experiences, dogmas gradually result. Yet these dogmas are not truths publicly revealed by God and passed down without change from apostolic times. For a radical Modernist, a dogma is just a symbol of the religious experience of the believers. A dogma is therefore true insofar as it expresses these experiences in a fitting way.

But what particularly disturbed Pope Pius was that the Modernists continued to use the Catholic formulas of faith even when they had ceased to believe in them. Among themselves, they might interpret the Church’s doctrines in a purely ‘subjective’ way. But among non-Modernists they would continue to use the ordinary expressions of faith, no doubt justifying themselves by the thought that these formulas were, after all, true: that is, truly useful symbols.

For example, when a Catholic declares, ‘Christ is God’, he means just what he says. A Modernist, in using the same words, might mean, ‘in meeting Christ, or belonging to the community that he founded, one experiences the presence of the divine’. Again, if a Catholic says, ‘Christ was born of a Virgin’, he means exactly that. If a Modernist said it, he might mean ‘in contemplating Christ, one has a sense of radical newness, of something without a fully satisfying natural explanation’.

It will be seen at once that Modernism is essentially foggy. Whereas the Catholic creed consists of statements that are simple enough for a child to understand – for God Himself is simple – Modernism thrives on ambiguity and unclarity (Belloc said that Maude Petre, an English Modernist, had written a book to prove that God was not a Person but a Vagueness.)

Was the Pope a victim of paranoia in supposing that the men he had in mind emptied the creed of meaning whilst continuing to profess it? Let the most famous name among them, the French priest Alfred Loisy, be our witness. In a letter written in 1904 to Cardinal Merry du Val, the Vatican Secretary of State, he declared ‘I accept all the dogmas of the Church’. But in his private diary at the same period, he noted, ‘I have not been a Catholic in the official sense of the word for a long time’, and again, ‘Pius X, the head of the Catholic Church, would excommunicate me most decidedly if he knew that I hold…the virgin birth and the resurrection to be purely moral symbols’.

From the beginning of his pontificate in 1903, St Pius had attempted to persuade the Modernists, whether moderate or extreme, to abandon their system, but when this failed, he acted swiftly and decisively. In the encyclical Pascendi, he exposed their motives and methods to the broad light of day. At the same time he promulgated, through the Holy Office, a list of 65 condemned propositions taken from the books of the leading Modernists. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he issued the ‘anti-Modernist oath’, to be taken by all clergy and others with teaching posts in the Church. This oath affirmed with crystal clarity that the Catholic faith is founded on reason, and that the Church’s dogmas do not depend on religious experience, but were revealed by God to the apostles and so cannot change. Although the imposition of this oath led to much public controversy, in the end only about forty priests refused to sign it. By this means were Catholic seminaries and universities preserved from Modernism at least until the time of the Second World War.

So far, we have considered two general features of the Modernist movement: its abandonment of apologetics and, at least among its more radical representatives, its denial of the obvious meaning of the Creed. We can now consider a third characteristic of the movement, one that makes it peculiarly hard to eradicate, namely its attitude towards the magisterium or teaching office of the Church.

St Pius X noted that the Modernists of his day considered conflict between the magisterium and the laity to be a normal and healthy state of affairs (today this is sometimes called ‘creative tension’.) They considered that the pope and the bishops ought to act as a ‘conservative’ force within the Church, maintaining the traditional expressions of doctrine intact: until the ‘common consciousness’ of the faithful had so ‘evolved’ that it became necessary to replace some traditional doctrine with a new one. Accordingly, the Modernists claimed that men such as themselves, who were in the vanguard of this ‘evolution’, must inevitably clash with the pope and the bishops. The Pope’s ironic description of this Modernist attitude is worth quoting at some length:

‘[When condemned by the Church] they reflect that, after all, there is no progress without a battle and no battle without its victims; and victims they are willing to be like the prophets and Christ Himself. They have no bitterness in their hearts against the authority which uses them roughly, for after all they readily admit that it is only doing its duty as authority. Their sole grief is that it remains deaf to their warnings, for in this way it impedes the progress of souls, but the hour will surely come when further delay will be impossible, for if the laws of evolution may be checked for a while they cannot be finally evaded. And thus they go their way, reprimands and condemnations not withstanding, masking an incredible audacity under a mock semblance of humility.’

In other words, even when condemned, the Modernist would not feel compelled to choose between faithfully accepting the Church’s teaching and openly leaving the Church. In such circumstances, there would seem to be no other option than to act as Pope Pius did: to administer an oath of fidelity, relying on the natural human horror of perjury to prevent it from being taken insincerely in more than a very few cases.

It is a commonplace that Modernism returned to the Catholic Church after the Second World War and particularly from the time of the Second Vatican Council. If the Modernism of St Pius’s day may be compared to a dangerous tumour, removed by the prompt action of a skilful surgeon, this later Modernism might be compared to a great flood of water pouring into a house with devastating effects. Many eloquent and acute authors in various lands have chronicled this ‘flooding’ of the Church. One might name, for example, Romano Amerio (featured in the May Mass of Ages); the German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand; Jean Madiran, in France; and our own Michael Davies. Such writers as these have amply shown how the spirit of Modernism re-entered the Church when the vigilance of the ‘watchmen’ was relaxed.

This ‘neo-Modernism’ has presented the same features as the original Modernism. First, it undermined apologetics. Apologetics presupposes a clear distinction between the knowledge that our natural reason can have of God and the knowledge that comes from the grace of faith. But during the second half of the 20th Century, a marked tendency developed among Catholic theologians to blur the distinction between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural’ (this is why many of them, today, stumble at the venerable doctrine of Limbo, or the natural happiness prepared by God for unbaptized souls who have never known the use of reason.) As a result, apologetics, which had previously been taught not only in seminaries but also in Catholic secondary schools, fell out of favour.

This decline of apologetics was accelerated when seminarians ceased to be instructed in the perennial philosophy perfected by Aristotle, St Thomas Aquinas and their heirs, in favour of a rather superficial acquaintance with ‘modern thought’. Accordingly, the traditional proofs of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, proofs that show the rational basis of Christianity, were devalued in the eyes of many. The rout was completed by ‘developments’ in biblical studies. From the 1960’s, it became fashionable in many Catholic circles to accept the scepticism about the Gospels that had previously been the mark of liberal Protestants. At the same time, many Catholic exegetes came to embrace the idea, repeatedly condemned by the Popes and by Sacred Tradition, that there are errors in the Bible.

(The best modern work of apologetics that I know is Fr Peter Joseph’s revision of Archbishop Sheehan’s classic Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine. This was published some years ago by the Saint Austin’s Press; I hope very much that they, or some other publishing house, will soon bring it back into print.)

The second Modernist characteristic mentioned above was that of using Catholic language without Catholic convictions. The most devastating example of this in recent times perhaps concerns the real presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist. It is not common for any one with a teaching position in the Church to deny that Christ is present in the celebration of the Mass. But probably many seminarians in different countries have been exposed to accounts of this doctrine which claim that transubstantiation is an ‘outmoded’ concept. The alternative explanation of Christ’s presence which is then given is likely to be a Modernist one. That is, the physical presence of Christ will often be at least tacitly denied, and the experience of the ‘worshipping community’ invoked to take its place.

Another example is the doctrine of the Resurrection. It would be very surprising if anyone with the title of a Catholic theologian should ever say, ‘Christ is not risen’. Yet one sometimes hears or reads that the resurrection does not necessarily mean that Christ’s tomb was empty on the third day, but simply that Christ has been glorified or ‘vindicated’ by God the Father. Of course, this is a self-contradiction: how could it be our Lord who was glorified if His Body had not risen again? Either those who say such things are simply very confused (that is what we should hope); or else, they are reducing the resurrection to an experience, either an experience of the apostles or an experience of the contemporary ‘believing community’.

The third characteristic that I, or rather Pope St Pius, distinguished in Modernism was the habit of ignoring the immemorial teachings of the Church in the name of an alleged evolving Christian consciousness. It would not be hard to find evidence of this within the Church today; one can simply read the Tablet. But not only is the habit of ignoring the magisterium more widespread than in the days of Pascendi, it also extends to a greater range of Catholic doctrines. St Thomas Aquinas, discussing tyranny, remarks that when there is a succession of tyrants in a land, the later ones will usually be more tyrannical that the earlier ones. This is so, he explains, because the later tyrants ‘do not relax the burdens inflicted by their predecessors, and also invent new ones out of the malice of their hearts’. In the same way, Modernism has a tendency to grow with the years. All 65 propositions condemned by the Holy Office in 1907 are alive today; but any list of contemporary errors would need to include many others too, for example about the maleness of the ordained priesthood, the abrogation of the Old Covenant and various moral questions.

At the end of his encyclical, St Pius states that the two great causes of Modernism’s spread are pride and ignorance. It follows that if we are to be free in spirit from the continuing influence of Modernism, we shall need humility and knowledge. Humility preserves us from supposing that we know better than our Catholic forebears and from the fear of seeming old-fashioned. It therefore defends us against the doctrinal deviations current at any given time (in our day, perhaps the worst such deviation is the denial of the seriousness of being outside the visible Church.) Knowledge is necessary because false ideas often spread not from ill will but from confusion. Pascendi insisted that the philosophy of St Thomas was the great remedy against such confusion, and that it must therefore be the basis of all seminary studies: but there is no reason why it need be confined to the seminaries (for those wishing to become acquainted with ‘scholasticism’, the best short work that I know is Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy, recently brought back into print.) More generally, continual contact with the works of the Doctors of the Church is surely a powerful way to protect ourselves against what the spiritual writers call ‘the presumption of novelties’, and so to root ourselves in the Tradition of the Church.

Finally, in his outstanding work The Devastated Vineyard, Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, ‘we must storm heaven with the prayer that the spirit of a St Pius X might once again fill the hierarchy’. If that is true, and I do not doubt that it is, we might like to use the following prayer, given in the Dominican missal as the collect of the Mass ‘for preachers’:-

Enlighten, O Lord, the hearts of thy servants with the grace of the Holy Ghost: give them a tongue of fire; and on those who preach thy word, bestow increase of power.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Roman Insensitivity

I wrote a week or so ago about some disturbing statements regarding the maintenance of celibacy for Eastern Catholic priests outside their official patriarchal territories. Another article on this topic has come out which I think hits the nail on the head.

For example, in saying, "it’s difficult to see how Cardinal Sandri’s words advance the ecumenical agenda. In fact, it would seem to do the reverse. For, what possible inducement to deepening trust could the Orthodox find in Rome’s insistence that Eastern Churches compromise their traditions the moment they hit the customs line at JFK?"

Sometimes I think Rome's decisions in these regards, or what values are at play...are simply indecipherable. Sometimes they seem so thick that they wind up offending people even when they think they're appeasing them. 

Case in point, as this article also mentions, the baffling decision to get rid of the Pope's title "Patriarch of the West," which was actually probably one of the titles most amenable to ecumenical use; if the Vatican were to admit that most of it's centralized government and micromanaging applied only to the Latin Rite in the Pope's role as its Patriarch, rather than being intrinsic to his role as Pope of the whole Church...that might reassure the East. Instead, they strangely got rid of this title. Did they simply not think through the logic of it well enough and think mistakenly that it would somehow help ecumenical dialogue? Or was it an assertion that the Pope would not be reduced to "merely" Patriarch of the West in terms of his relation to the Eastern Churches? 

(Or perhaps it was some nuanced point about how there are not two offices, but that as Bishop of Rome he is by that very office Pope; just like Cardinal George is not separately "Bishop of Chicago" and "Archbishop of the Chicago Province" but is rather simply "Archbishop of Chicago" and from that archiepiscopal status of the See itself has his role as regards the suffragan dioceses. But then...the Pope ironically retained his separate titles "Bishop of Rome" and "Archbishop and Metrpolitan of the Roman Province" rather than collapsing them into "Archbishop of Rome" or something like that, so...this is still not consistent!)

Anyway, Rome seems to speak out two sides of its mouth as regards ecumenism sometimes. On the one hand, they make all these gestures or put forth all these hypotheticals in their ad extra dialogue with the Orthodox, on the other hand they carry on ad intra as if nothing is going to ever change (or even as if they're holding some things back as negotiating chips??) And in the process the Eastern Catholic Churches are put in a very difficult (and I'd say stifling) position.

Just Stupid

So I saw this story today on New Advent.

Basically, it's about a girl who got invited to this American Legion Auxiliaries summer camp, but ultimately has decided not to go because they won't let her go to Mass on Sundays.

The whole situation is really absurd. The campus where they'll be is right across the street from the Catholic cathedral, the mother has offered to come down and escort her daughter on Sunday if liability is a question, and someone else in the organization even was arranging for a priest to come in on Sunday and say Mass right there on campus for any Catholics among the girls who wished to attend.

But the leader, Robin Briere, absolutely shot any of this down. Ironically, Briere herself is a Catholic but says, "The Catholic religion that I know is not that narrow thinking" and insists that the non-denominational worship service they organize on Sunday should be "enough."

Now, I'm not bringing this story to everyone's attention because I want to go all "Bill Donahue" and throw a fit about freedom of religion or anti-Catholic bias or religion being marginalized in favor of "inoffensive" civic activities that are supposed to keep religion out.

This last thing, especially, is a real concern in our society, this idea that religion has no place in the public square as if people are supposed to compartmentalize in their lives and not let it effect their civic selves. But ultimately no one is forcing this girl to go, it's an optional thing not a required school trip, and the insensitivity seems to result more from a bull-headed notion of group unity or political correctness (or fears of a slippery slope of accommodation).

Furthermore, it's arguable about how much of a bind she's really being placed in. Catholics can seek a dispensation from their pastor to miss Sunday Mass for a good reason, and Catholics traveling who simply cannot get to Mass are also dispensed. Though it is questionable whether going to this thing (it is a week long) knowing that there will be no provision for Sunday Mass would dispense or excuse or not. But the point is there might be other ways around this on our end of things.

However, to me what's so annoying is how it would be so easy to accommodate her, and yet this leader is being so completely stubborn about not. The cathedral is right across the street. The mother offered to escort her. A priest was going to come to campus and have a Mass right in the next room! And it was all "No, no, no," because that didn't fit the original plans. Someone is clearly being an obsessive stickler for the rules. And I hate that kind of person, with their false officiousness. Dolores Umbridge (from Harry Potter 5) is what I'm imagining when I read about this woman.

Furthermore, part of it might even be suspect as a sort of personal agenda. This woman is Catholic, she obviously finds the idea that missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin to be "narrow minded." But even leaving her own priorities aside, her ability to empathize with how other people prioritize values seems utterly compromised. "You might have to make sacrifices to come to this"!?!? It's not like this girl enjoys Mass so much and is complaining about having to miss out on the party! She feels it is an obligation to go, an obligation to schedule her life in such a way that she will not deliberately prioritize any other engagement or commitment above going, and this woman is acting like she's just being spoiled for not being able to do two things? It's not like she's saying, "I want to be able to leave to go to my friend's birthday."

Of course, some of the comments are even more ridiculous in the version of the article in the non-Catholic source: "This young lady needs to speak to her priest. It is NOT a mortal sin to miss mass. It may be another level of sin, but only if it is for no valid reason. Catholics may, in fact, choose to set aside another day in the week to replace Sunday -- go to mass and be holy on that day. Guess she isn't as good a religious scholar as she thinks." Of course, this is nonsense. Catholics can get dispensed for true necessities, but Catholics may not "choose to set aside another day in the week to replace Sunday" and it's unclear whether this could qualify as a necessity.

Other comments are along the lines of, "another example of the catholic faith brainwashing the simple minded. the smart choice was to go to the program, her only reason in making a stink was to get her name and picture in the paper," and "I am trying to imagine how it is a moral sin to miss Mass or any religious service. Where is it written that missing Mass or any religious service is assault to one's faith. I have been taught that our faith is the substance of things hope for and the evidence of things not seen; therefore my faith in God has nothing with missing a service which is a ritual, although we should not make it a habit to regularly miss our weekly fellowship with other believers, it is not a sin."

While someone is free to hold such a belief, the disturbing thing that seems to be happening in our society right now (ala the contraception insurance mandate) and which does have very real implications for religious that people seem to think that religious freedom or accommodation should only be granted for a reason they agree with or judge "good enough." So you hear people using the arguments, "Sorry, most Catholics don't even agree on contraception, so you people who do object to it are just irrelevant and out-of-touch. Therefore, you have to be made complicit in it." Or, in this case, "The idea that missing Mass is a mortal sin is stupid and ridiculous, therefore this girl is getting what she deserves for believing such nonsense."

This utterly misses the point that religious freedom and accommodation aren't about whether you think a person's beliefs are silly or not, but about recognizing that some people place a high moral value on very different things than you, on things that might even seem strange or arbitrary or utterly irrelevant or "out of touch" to you, and that this sphere of conscience is nevertheless sacred and must be respected. You can't bulldoze over it and say, "Yeah, that precept is out-of-touch and only held by a few loonies, therefore it is invalid and we can bulldoze over their conscience rights for the sake of the convenience of the rest of us." 

Yet that's what we've been hearing lately, something along the lines of: "Your objection here is stupid, therefore we really don't have to accommodate it." It doesn't matter whether you think the objection is stupid! Whether something constitutes a violation of conscience is not for any outside judge to judge! If someones says, "this violates my beliefs" the most you can question is their sincerity. But if they are sincere, you don't get to demand that they explain why it violates their beliefs, or that they make some sort of moral argument that you deem valid. The whole point of religious freedom is to protect parties whom others disagree with about the validity of their beliefs, even if you think they're arbitrary or wrong! 

Can you imagine if a child from an SSPX family refused to eat meat on Fridays, and the school tried to froce him and said, "The Catholic Church doesn't require that anymore, therefore your beliefs are invalid"?! It doesn't work that way; a belief doesn't need institutional legitimacy for it to have legal protection under the concept of religious freedom. The SSPXer would be right (constitutionally speaking) to say: "I don't care what the Vatican says; I'm a traditionalist, and this is what our family believes!" They need no more justification than that! The State (even if it's representative is of the same religion as you nominally) has no right to tell you what your religion believes or not, as if there is some absolute standard they can appeal to (while also claiming to not recognize any religion). 

This frustrated me after September 11th too when I heard George W. Bush and other Christian politicians claiming that the terrorists had acted "against true Islam." Well, not according to the terrorists beliefs! Muslims as Muslims (not as politicians) could condemn the terrorists that way and say "That's not true Islam"...but it's just absurd for a Christian to say, "That isn't true Islam!" because what the hell does "true Islam" mean to a Christian (who presumably believes all Islam is false anyway)?!? By what standard can an outsider have any right to make such a judgment regarding the authenticity of a sect of another religion?? None!

I'm not claiming the American Legion is an arm of the State, mind you, just that the same sorts of attitudes towards religion are at play here. The most ironic comment of all, however, is "What a non-story. Rules are rules for these types of events. The Girl should have her invitation revoked, if she can't comply with rules in place." Ha! But "rules are rules" is exactly the principle the girl is sticking to as regards her faith!! Ironic!

Anyway, I think you can contact this Umbridge woman here if you feel so inclined to politely tell her what a fussy supercilious bitch she is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Keep 'em Coming! A Friend's Second Article

Following up on his first piece, a friend now has a second article in First Things, this time dealing with the question of identity. His first piece has gone quite viral, and some of the comments below as well as other pieces in response...have been quite crazy and homophobic. Ironically, many of the responses are the very sorts of things he has been trying to address in these pieces, and in that sense sort of prove his points. It's like the people didn't even read the articles and let them go right over their heads. This sort of bigotry is a huge problem for the Church however; as long as Catholic teaching is seen as targeting people, or a type of person, or a community, or an identity, or relationships, or "lifestyles" (whatever that means), rather than just types or discrete incidents of acts...the more problematic it will be for people to accept it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

100 Fans!!!

Finally, our Official Unofficial Facebook fanpage...has reached 100 fans!! (Though it mysteriously fluctuates sometimes). Thanks to all my readers for all the engaging discussions you've provided over these years!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Temporal Punishment and Construction

As I wrote about in a recent post, I have increasingly taken to thinking of the Faith in the terms of Idealism (while also being wary of attempts to then distinguish between the "really real" and the "constructed real" given that Idealism properly understood admits of no reality outside construction; Prime Matter is nothing but pure potentiality until a Form is read into it).

One insight this helped me to make was in understanding the concept of Temporal Punishment. It is the teaching of the Church, of course, that even after a sin is forgiven (especially, after the eternal punishment of a mortal sin has been absolved..."temporal" punishment is still due to God's justice in this life or the next (ie, Purgatory).

However, the exact nature of temporal punishment, or how exactly it was said to occur even in this life, has been rather unclear or poorly explained I think. And yet this is part of the meaning of "temporal," after all. Although something like Hell as regards suffering, and something like Heaven in the sense that it is without the possibility of further merit or sin with salvation guaranteed, Purgatory is clearly most analogous to something like an extension of the "trajectory" of this earthly life, seeing as it is not an eternal state but a temporal state.

But what exactly is temporal punishment to be identified with? Many popular apologetics sources make an analogy to the wound that is left after a nail is removed, or the fact that a window still needs to be repaired even after you have apologized and been forgiven for breaking it. In other words, the temporal "consequences" of sin. Of course, however, the consequences referred to must needs be conceived of as spiritual (though that doesn't exclude things like needing to repair a window, as hopefully my explanation will show!)

But analogies like a wound left after something is removed I think are lacking. For one, they seem to imply that temporal punishment can be equated with concupiscence. Obviously, that is one "intrinsic" spiritual consequence of sin that remains after sin has been forgiven: even after the habit of sanctifying grace and infused virtue has been restored, through sinning we may still have inclined ourselves towards sin. A person who rages and then goes to confession won't suddenly have their wrath under perfect control, and neither will the perpetual porn user with their lust. Fuel is added to the fires of concupiscence, the passions are stirred up and disordered, by sin.

But this is not temporal punishment. The relationship between venial sin, mortal sin, temporal punishment, concupiscence, sanctifying grace, and virtue is something to be further reflected on, but it is clear that temporal punishment itself is not to be identified with concupiscence. It is popular nowadays to speak of purgatory almost as if it is primarily a cleansing of concupiscence, but this is not terribly traditional. Traditional theological texts speak of venial sin and temporal punishment as being the two objects of purgatory; concupiscence itself may end with death, nor is there any increase in virtue or merit. What's left are any deliberate acts of venial sin (which is different in nature and not just degree from mortal) and temporal punishment.

But then what is this temporal punishment? Traditional sources speak of it as a "debt" owed to God's justice. That even after one has been forgiven, restored to grace and saved from Hell (in the case of mortal sin), or sufficiently detached from some inordinate attachment to a created good and reoriented towards God with fully lustrous virtue (in the case of venial sin)...God still demands satisfaction, demands to punish us, to have us suffer, for the sake of His Justice.

This seems a rather hard teaching! For it seems very "extrinsic" and we are used to teachings being parsed nowadays as "intrinsic" (and, I think, rightly so). So, we now hear, God doesn't send people to Hell, it's the logical outcome of the nature of their own choice, etc. Yet here we are being told that God is punishing even after restoration to grace or detachment. What does this mean? Is there a way to phrase this "intrinsically"?

I was thinking about indulgences the other day and I had an interesting thought. I was also thinking about the concept of "imminent justice" which is essentially the notion that if a bad thing happens to a bad person (especially if it is a direct result of their sin), then this can be seen as a playing out of God's justice (and likewise good things happening to good people). On the other hand, when good things happen to bad people or, especially, bad things to good people...this is simply the mystery of iniquity.

This is where my notions of Idealism and construction come in. To me here, clearly, we are seeing meaning read into things. But this is not invalid. After all, "causation" itself is clearly a mental category, a metaphysical category. In a purely phenomenological analysis...things just happen, one after the other. Attributing "cause" and "effect" to an event that follows another, is a qualitative concept that exists in minds (albeit, that includes the mind of God). When we draw a line, then, between sin and suffering...we are reading a causation into it, a causation based on a notion of divine justice. Again, especially when we're talking about the workings of Providence, about the level of Final cause, there is no way to falsify this or say it is invalid. However, we ought to be very careful about making this judgment regarding other people. We don't know what is in the mind of God, and bad things happen to good people to in order to increase their merit.

But, the point is, "constructing" such a connection between sin and suffering is not invalid. In fact, reading such a causal relationship into things is perfectly natural. And though it is dangerous to draw this connection for others whose soul we cannot read, it is perfectly legitimate and necessary to see it for ourselves. There is obviously nothing wrong with a murderer, even after confession, seeing his prosecution and imprisonment (or even execution) as his just-deserts for murder. But, I would argue, there is likewise nothing wrong or superstitious with him feeling the same Justice, the same Wrath of God, in his house being struck by lightning and burning down (even though, on the order of material causation, there is no significant connection between that and the murder).

Even though his eternal punishment has been forgiven (inasmuch as, by appeal to the blood of Christ through the minister of the community He established, he has been restored to grace, to ultimately orientation or harmony with the Supreme Meaning)...I think that this causal construction of suffering with sin is what we mean by "temporal punishment." The meaning of our sufferings change after sin. Maybe his house was going to be struck by lightning and burn down either way, but the meaning of this event is radically changed in view of the murder he committed. If he had been an innocent man, it would have been the mystery of iniquity, a trial from which he could merit. But, in view of the murder, the meaning of this suffering becomes punishment, becomes satisfaction for the sin, becomes an outcome of divine justice for the offense (even though the meaning of his life as a whole has been restored to grace).

This, I think, is how we are to understand temporal punishment (in this life especially, but it is analogous in the next). It also explains how an indulgence can, by the application of the merits of Christ and the supererogatory merits of the saints, remit this temporal punishment. And how a plenary indulgence can exist even when someone (as long as they are detached from sin) can truly remit all temporal punishment even when a person still has a lot of ascetic and prayerful work to do in terms of taming the passions and growing in virtue for the sake of greater merit and holiness. The causality in remitting temporal punishment works in a different way than how Christ's passion and death enable the forgiveness of eternal punishment, hence the two-step process.

Because temporal punishment is not concupiscence or the fact that virtue loses something of its lustre through sin. Instead, the remission is something more like deconstructing the connection between past sins and future sufferings, severing the causal line drawn. Although full penance is always good both for ascetic purposes and satisfying divine justice, an indulgence is the Church (who has that authority) declaring that the meaning of future sufferings is no longer to be connected to past sins (or, at least, lessening the degree of that connection) through invoking instead the superabundant satisfaction of Christ and the saints (who suffered even without deserving it) and "diverting" the inevitable connection of a person's sin (and, indeed, the very concept of sin demands that someone suffer for it; it can never simply be waved away without being "resolved") to this supererogatory suffering and satisfaction instead.

Article in First Things by a Friend

A friend of mine (and not just online!) has gotten an article published at First Things. The title is a bit misleading and he didn't choose it, however. Check it out. Some relevant selections:

In the past year, commentators including Elizabeth Scalia, Melinda Selmys, and Mark Shea have written articles to present the gay community as something other than simply an enemy. Each made clear their adherence to orthodox sexual ethics, but each nonetheless received a venomous response from many of their Christian readers.*

In my own Roman Catholic Church, the teaching is clear that homosexual acts are immoral, but the presence of homosexual inclinations is not. Most (though not all) Christians of other traditions would agree. But if we make the distinction in theory, its practical application is far too rare. The all-encompassing rhetorical tool of the “lifestyle” is used to reduce the entire identity of gay people to sexual activity, and thus our response to all concerns of gay people becomes an automatic “no.”

The guiding principle is not the distinction between sexual activity and orientation, but their conflation into lifestyle or identity, and so those who are targeted for being or seeming to be gay are given only the most abstract support for their profoundly concrete humiliation.


Last year, Biola professor Matt Jenson addressed students in chapel (like Savage’s address, also available on YouTube). After calling Christians to accountability for failing to make a real space for single people, he turns to the question of homosexuality. “The church is right to tell gay people the good news and call them to a life of discipleship, if and only if it is willing to live as their family.”
*The response Mark Shea has gotten is an especially ridiculous saga; you can check it out for yourself, in reverse chronological order, here, here, here, here, here, and the original here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Days Like This...

...make one really hate the Vatican.

Two pieces of terrible news today, really. First, the SSPX reconciliation will be "ongoing." Meaning the CDF decided not to fast-track it. A resolution by the end of May no longer looks in the cards (unless the Pope overrides everything), and it will drag on and on. Maybe, though, they're doing this to shore up unity within the SSPX to try to prevent the three other bishops from going into schism. Perhaps after the leak of those correspondences, it was best to move slower. It's disappointing, though. 

It should be so easy to tell the SSPX "You are not heretics, so we are willing to accept you just as you are and let you be part of healthy debate and discussion within the Church." No one can accuse them of heresy, so this "obsequium religiosum" idea is really getting annoying and, I think, misused.

Second, the head of the Vatican department for the Eastern Catholic Churches has come out encouraging Eastern Catholics outside their patriarchal homelands (and specifically in the United States) to "embrace celibacy." This continued policy of married priests not being allowed outside Eastern Catholic homelands without dispensation has been an embarrassment, an ecumenical barrier, and represents everything that is wrong with the current regime of celibate ultramontanism.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Legalize Same-Spirit Marriage!

"Spirit" as in liquor, I mean.

I just found out that it is apparently illegal in all 50 States for bartenders to marry two bottles, even of the same liquor!!

I mean, I can understand why it would be illegal to marry two different sorts, even if similar. But if it is the exact same spirit, why should there be anything wrong with marrying the bottles to save space? 

It seems like sort of a stupid law. I bet it's from those damn fundamentalist Christians trying to uphold their antiquated notions regarding marriage...

The real point of this post being, of course, that "marriage" is ultimately just a word, is already extended by analogy (analogy being one of the major ways semantic fields evolve) to other practices, and indeed to practices where the analogy is based on same-with-same rather than some sort of "opposite" complementarity (ie, you'd only ever marry two half-empty jars of mustard; you wouldn't marry ketchup with mustard).

Now, I won't deny that language effects thought, and therefore that there is something very disturbing (and "1984"-esque even) about attempting to change categories of thought (and thus speech and behavior) through legislating changes in the meaning of words. Especially when the definitional/categorical changes being attempted in this manner touch directly on the question of the moral and what constitutes the good.

But, ultimately, I still think we're going to end up looking really stupid if we allow ourselves to be dragged into battles about politics and semantics rather than about the underlying concepts of philosophy and theology. Words are important, but they are also adaptable and historically contingent.

Of course, if you're one of those for whom the legal battle is not merely to reserve the word (and thus, in a certain real sense, the historic mantle of) "marriage" for actual male-female couples (still something I can't believe anyone puts any energy or effort into), but to actually (as North Carolina recently did) make it the "only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized"...then that's rather more substantive as opposed to merely semantic, I suppose.

But in that case, being a supporter of civil unions or civil marriages for a variety of partnership and domestic arrangements (which, by the way, have no legal "sexual activity litmus test") I'd have to strongly disagree with your stance entirely. That may go against the Vatican's attempts to dictate on questions of mere political expediency to Catholics but, like Archbishop Nichols, I'm not too worried. 

Nor am I worried about adoption, actually. If singles can adopt (and who knows what sexual orientation a single might be, or what partnerships they might form later!), and if gays and lesbians can keep their own biological children (surely if it was absolutely harmful we'd advocate revoking custody!), and if step-parents can and do function as legal co-guardians of their children (leaving potential situations where if, say, the mother dies, the child will have two male guardians: a father and a step-father!), and if we don't oppose civil adoption by the divorced-and-remarried or Protestants and other heretics and infidels...then there is really no way I can see to justify any absolute policy of discrimination here (as opposed to a relative expression of what is merely preferable or ideal.)

There's no doubt having a child raised by his own biological parents is preferable, and if not his own, then at least a married man and woman who at least can be "imagined" to be. But, the perfect can't be made the enemy of the good. Indeed, it is still the case in many places, and perhaps rightly so, that finding a racial or ethnic match is considered "ideal" for the good of the child, for his ability to socially identify with the parents and his ease of imagining them as his own. It is therefore one factor to weigh when considering prospective adoptive parents. But it certainly shouldn't be made an absolute, as if it's better to have no parents at all rather than an imperfect situation!

The Church really needs to depoliticize its approach to all these questions, and get out of the culture wars. Otherwise, I'm afraid "RCC" is coming to mean "Republican Conservative Church"...

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Kindred Spirit?

Maybe. A friend just directed me to this website. The guy is "quirky," I'd say (like all us good Catholics are!) and an eyebrow or two may be raised at some things said. But his points on institutional self-critique and being a sort of loyal opposition are promising.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Original Sin and the Meaning of Being Human

I recently got into a discussion again about the question of monogenism and how modern science affects (or doesn't affect) the notion that original sin is transmitted by descent. I have discussed before how there is really no problem, because saying that humanity comes from one couple does not necessarily imply a genetic bottleneck. However, that's just what I was thinking about recently: the Church's teaching on original sin and monogenism, especially in the context of what we now know about evolution, is really ultimately a teaching on just what it means to be human (as opposed to merely hominid) and how humanity is transmitted.

Monogenism, then, is less a historical biological or genetic claim, and more a definition of just who constitutes a human, a claim on what the meaning or parameters of "humanity" are. In this sense, it is (like other doctrines) scientifically unfalsifiable, because it is a sort of "by definition" claim: humanity is defined to be transmitted by descent from one couple, therefore any and only descendents from that couple are by definition human. In itself, this is unfalsifiable.

Of course, the "problem" that arises is that we certainly don't want to claim that anyone alive today (or at any point in recorded history) is not a human, is some sort of unensouled "philosophical zombie" hominid. And, indeed, it would seem to disprove the idea that humanity is transmitted only by descent if there were people walking around fully recognized as human, and integrated into the human web of meaning (through use of language, etc), but who were "really not" human.

Because "humanity" is ultimately a construct. This should be obvious enough to us living today as moderns (and has relevance to the abortion debate, of course), and it is the implication of what I was saying about "by definition" monogenism above. The teaching is really more about the meaning of the construct, not about a historical claim. The historical claim only enters into the teaching accidentally, as it were, because of the definition of "humanity" as something transmitted only by descent, a community of meaning one can only enter into through birth, at least after the founding pair whose existence and ensoulment I now tend to think of in terms of something like Hegel's belief (according to Wikipedia's summary, lol) that "spirit cannot come to be without first a self-consciousness recognizing another self-consciousness."

I'd argue that this is an ontological and metaphysical leap that (besides being attributable only to God directly), also could only occur once. At least, in terms of any Meaning that would be mutually recognizable or intelligible to us. I imagine Adam and Eve in their tribe of hominids making this leap in recognizing each other (becaus, we must say of course, they had been ensouled by God from the start). But if we were to imagine, say, another pair or pairs of different hominids making this same "leap" in other mutual recognitions...each of these encounters would actually constitute a radically different "root" from which a totally unique meaning (or, rather, its equivalent, if we are defining "meaning" as uniquely human), a unique "school of intersubjectivity" would result. They would not at all result in the same meaning, the same intersubjectivity, being transmitted, exactly because of the diversity of the subjects (or their equivalents) in question. This is similar to what I've said about extraterrestrial "intelligences" likely being entirely meaningless to us as humans or in human terms.

"Humanity" and human subjecthood in the human community of actually, in this sense, "relative" or relational, and not some sort of absolute or objective essence of an evolutionary definitional line crossed. We're human through membership in the community of humanity. Humanity can only mean entering into an intersubjectivity that could (by the very fact of being an intersubjectivity) only possibly have been "founded" by a single relationship, and which could thus only be entered into through being born "into the bosom of" that intersubjectivity already.

After the initial founding of the relationship it, by nature, is not something that could be "entered" from the outside, nor could it be "conferred" by the original pair on others who had not been part of the original intersubjective encounter between the two (as all that would create, at most, is new "root" intersubjectivities, which would create irreducibly unique "lines" of meaning or, rather, meaning-equivalent). New membership in this intersubjectivity could thus only come about by being procreated "into" (and resulting from) the encounter itself. By one parent, at least; other animal-hominid lines could have bred in genetically. However, this is one reason to assume intersubjectivities of any sort, "parallel" communities of subjecthood(-equivalent), were never achieved by any other pairs: if it had been, cross-breeding between the two lines would have resulted in an offspring who was a subject in both, who would thus have had two "natures" (just as the One with a human mother and divine Father had both natures.)

This, I think, is the understanding that the doctrine on monogenism upholds so necessarily. It refutes the error that humanity is something that could be entered "from the outside" or which the human community has the power to confer on those it chooses to initiate or recognize. It does not. And while this means we can never by fiat make gorillas or dolphins human...the really important implication is that we can never take humanity away from any organism which descends from humans. There are no monsters, there can never be a soulless non-human born of man. If there is a living body descended from humanity, it is human, even if it is a "brain-dead" patient or an anencephalic infant without a brain.

(Some questions are raised about all this by the advent of biotechnology such as cloning. Obviously, a clone is still created from human tissue so that's not really an issue anymore than the fact that identical twins result from a "splitting" rather than direct conception. More troubling, though, is the idea of "building" a human out of non-human-derived organic chemicals "from scratch" in a laboratory. Personally, I would assume that this could still be called human given that it was created according to the human template by human agency...but I hope we never go so far in playing God!)

This, I think, is really the content of the teaching on monogenism (and, thus, original sin, which merely says that the human intersubjectivity has been marred from nearly the start by sin, which causes "humanity" to be mortal, originally without grace, etc.) The necessary historical claim going along with this that "all humans properly so-called descend from an original pair in at least one line of descent, have at least that pair as common ancestors," really only would be problematic from a scientific perspective if humanity as recognized throughout history could not be shown to have any common ancestors, or at least any common ancestors who themselves could conceivably be called human (ie, at least hominid; obviously if you go back far enough, any two organisms have common ancestors, but if we found out that the most recent common ancestor of all humans was a dog, and/or that the most recent common ancestry to include all humans also included today's chimps...this would be problematic).

However, this claim is not at all a scientific problem for all humans alive today (whose Most Recent Common Ancestor may even have been after Christ). Assuming we also need to include all humans alive during the period of recorded history pushes the question of a Most Recent Common Ancestor back further, and indeed we probably want to say that humanity was already universal before the original population spread from its home territory (lest there be any idea of independent non-human "lines" potentially subsisting anywhere). But in actuality there is no current scientific dispute that the original population from which all later humans descended was a small population of only a few thousand in Africa about 300,000 years ago, and almost certainly in a population so small it would have taken relatively few generations for there to be a pair (itself from an earlier point in the population) of most recent common ancestors for the whole population. Indeed, before spreading out from Africa the population likely had many ancestors common to all of them from earlier in the population's history, and indeed an Identical Ancestors Point had probably been established that itself was from within the same population.

So the science really isn't a problem here, and disputing about it is a distraction from the important part of the teaching to which the historical claim is merely a sort of necessary corollary. And yet people are quick, even eager I'd say, to want to believe that science has "disproven" the Church's dogma here, as if the lack of a mere genetic two-person bottleneck means we need to rethink what it means to be human or how human subjecthood is transmitted. That is simply not true, at least not with what we know about common ancestors (which has always been intuitively apparent; even before we knew about evolution, people always correctly assumed that species of animal and plant had descended from common root ancestors who were at least similar to them in form). Why then this jump to say that the lack of a two-person genetic bottleneck somehow changes the meaning of humanity or mode of transmission of human subjecthood?

Part of it may just be the general incredulity induced by the need to modify the "traditional"/simplistic understanding (which indeed seemed to imagine there was a two person genetic bottleneck). "Well, if we have to adapt things with a complicated biological argument involving unensouled hominids, that's clearly just an attempt to save the appearances and so we might as well question the whole edifice! Everything is up for grabs." This is an unfortunate result of change, even when the change is totally accidental (after all, the essence of the teaching was never about genetic bottlenecks in themselves, as if that's spiritually important, but rather about the nature and origins and definition and transmission of human subjecthood) and why the Church is right to be cautious and very conservative about any sort of evolution of understanding like this (because even changing the accidents of teachings can make people think the dogmatic essences are thus also up for grabs; just look at the scandal caused by "changes" regarding usury, slavery, religious liberty, etc etc).

But I also get a sense that part of it is a deeper desire to deconstruct the understanding of humanity as a particular community of intersubjectivity that can only be entered into by descent, for a variety of reasons, and that people jump at the opportunity to use evolution and genetics as a wedge for this deconstruction (even when their understanding of the biology involved is, in fact, poor). For one, I think some people do have this inclination to play God. They want to imagine that subjecthood could be conferred on animals, or that extraterrestrials could somehow essentially just be "humans from space." More darkly, I think people want to take humanity away from the inconvenient, especially the brain-damaged and, of course, the unborn.

The "democratic" urge which was supposed to be so humanizing actually leads to an idea that humanity is not transmitted "hierarchically" (ie, flowing from a single common font or head of the race), but rather is simply, like ethnicity, a matter of consensus; if one identifies as human and is recognized as such by other self-identified humans, then you're "in" (which implies some people could, by community consensus, have their humanity revoked.) I do think it is all, in this sense, very relevant to the abortion debate, and indeed to how that relates to the sexuality culture wars more generally. If humanity is recognized as being transmitted by descent, then the sacred nature of sexuality and its connection to procreation becomes clear enough. However, the cause of allowing this connection to be morally severed would be greatly helped if the conferring of human personhood was seen as an act or event far removed from sex. If membership is something one is "adopted" into rather than only possibly born (or, rather, conceived) into, then this helps the whole culture of death.

Finally, there are ecclesiasiological implications. Membership in the Church is analogous in most ways to membership in humanity. In entering the Church, we are entering a new community, putting on the New Man. In the Church, our Head is now Christ rather than Adam and, while not renouncing our human nature (for, indeed, Christ Himself was human and a Son of Man), we take our nature, a restored nature, a divinized nature, from Christ. But what did Christ tell us? He said that if man is not born again by water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot have eternal life. Although we are adopted as sons of daughters of God, it is really more accurate to point out that the Church is a community that also can only be entered through birth, through being born again, in baptism. Of course, the Church is not (like humanity) an intersubjectivity based on physical birth, but on spiritual birth (though, obviously, to be spiritually reborn you need to be born with a soul in the first place). 

Radical individualists do not like this communal dimension to salvation, do not understand that salvation can only possibly involve re-birth into a community. But it is only entry into this new community founded on the new intersubjectivity established by God dwelling with man, founded on Christ incarnating in the womb of His Immaculate Mother, as New Adam and New Eve in a new meaning-establishing encounter (that, now, of God and Man) that can restore our nature.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Selfhood: Truth and Authenticity

In a relatively recent post, I discussed (and rejected) the notion that there could somehow be a conflict between the Truth and happiness, at least in the sense of happiness which is psychological function or spiritual attainment.

Of course, there are people who for the sake of a sort of hedonistic delusionalism can lie to themselves and not face reality in order protect themselves from emotional vulnerability (think of someone crazy who denies for years that a loved one has died, or a narcissist who creates an entire false life story as his own inflated false ego). In these cases, real world external facticity is simply being ignored in favor of delusion, and so even if the person feels "happier," they are not actually functional (though sometimes, if the delusion is harmless, there is no particular reason to disabuse it for them).

However, the type of needless conflict I am talking about does not refer to the question of the truth of external events so much as the truth of personal meaning. In this realm, the idea that there can be any conflict between the truth and happiness is simply bad faith. Someone who says, "Yes, I would be happier if I believed there was meaning in life, it would serve as an organizing principle and motivate me to self-improvement, etc...but, I am lucidly facing the truth that there is no meaning, and so I sit here in my French cafe smoking all day in existential bleakness!" is actually, I think, betraying the true principles of the existentialism they invoke, and certainly their lucid recognition of nihilism is not brave at all if they use it as an excuse to despair or to live a pathetic cowardly life. 

If you say there is no meaning, than make meaning, dammit! If a certain construction of meaning would make you happier or more functional, then construct that meaning! What good is adopting some other idea of meaning (or lack of meaning) if it isn't as good? How can there be a conflict between the Truth and Goodness (and of what value is "truth" in itself if the truth isn't good? If it's not good, why is it desirable?) Likewise, there can be no conflict between the truth and beauty either, in the end. Finding something to be "a lovely idea" is basically what "believing" means; it means speaking and living according to an idea and its implications because of the supreme appeal of that idea and therefore being willing to "live it" into reality.

The only thing that could cause one to drive a wedge between the goodness or beauty of an idea, on the one hand, and its "truth" on the fear. Fear that somehow following the good idea will ultimately lead to something bad. To use one of the absurd/delusional examples as an analogy, the idea that I have magic powers and can fly is a lovely idea, perhaps, but if I jump of a cliff to try it, as the idea would imply, I'll actually die, and I am (rightly) unwilling to die merely to preserve a meaning as trivial as "I can fly." 

Many people do not believe Christianity, not because they aren't actually "convinced" (as if that's even a meaningful concept when discussing the realm of meanings) but rather because embracing it would mean facing death and martyrdom (at least that of death-to-self and asceticism, if not literally) and that fear is not, for them, outweighed by the appeal of the beauty of the idea itself. They may express this by saying something like, "If I knew for sure heaven was real, of course I would give up everything!" but in reality they show themselves disingenuous, as they are unwilling to live as is necessary to make the meaning of "heaven" real for them. It's not a question, then, of not being convinced the reward "exists" in some external sense, so much as being unwilling (due to fear) to try enacting the meaning in their own life, the enacting of which is actually ultimately the reward itself (it is not as if heaven is an "extrinsic" motivator attached to the good life; rather, it is simply an end intrinsic to the good life itself).

This is the paradox of even atheists respecting martyrs. "Oh," they'll say tragically, "I wish I could be as naive as them, for in their ignorance they show forth a certain romantic, child-like nobility, whereas I have eaten the apple and gained knowledge of good and of evil. Ah, but this facing the cold hard dreadful depressing truth is even truer bravery!" Of course, I would ask, if the Truth is cold and hard and dreadful and depressing, of what value is it? And if it's not of any value, if it isn't good, how can it be the Truth? Christopher Hitchens once offered a prize for anyone who could "name any moral action or ethical statement that could be made or performed by a believer but could not be made or performed by an unbeliever?" While remaining an atheist, of course, he ended up offering an answer to his own riddle in the form of Lech Wałęsa saying, in response to being asked if he was scared of reprisals for his actions against the Soviets, “I'm not frightened of anything but God or anyone but God.”

Saying "I wish I could have that child-like wonder and innocence back, but alas I've learned the truth," may be a valid statement if one is talking about external facts. There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube (without delusion) once you learn that it was your mom giving your quarters for your baby teeth and not the tooth fairy. But when it comes to something like Meaning itself...meaning is by nature subjective. That doesn't mean I'm a relativist or don't believe in an Absolute meaning of life or the universe; I do, but God Himself is a Subject, remember (or, rather, Three). As such, acting like there is some Truth that is separate from Values, from goodness, does not even make sense. Ultimately what we see as True is what we see as Good. Acting according to the Truth means to act according to the Meaning which maximizes goodness for us. If it doesn't, it isn't the Truth in any meaningful sense.

Of course, because there is one Supreme Meaning in the universe, it is not as if we can just choose arbitrarily. We do have to reconcile ourselves to Him one way or another. But He is also the Supreme Goodness, so there should be no fear here of the Truth, in the end, being "cold" or "hard." One place we do have a large measure of choice, however, is in the meaning of our own lives.

I recently said something to a friend along the lines of "The purpose of psychoanalysis isn't to find out the 'real' causation of some trait of personality or psychological quirk. It's to help the person construct a credible narrative about the self that explains things in a way that is useful for helping them change." Here I think my idea that a useless truth isn't Truth at all becomes rather apparent. If the "real" cause for a person's disordered pattern of thought or behavior was mere arbitrary determinism in the universe, or some "butterfly effect" too subtle and chaotic in its causation to ever be truly traced...would it really be preferable for that person to believe this rather than internalizing a narrative which (while perhaps overly simplistic or not even the actual causal chain in the material sense) can actually make sense of things for them in a way that can be tapped into to inspire change? To me that seems absurd to assert; of course the latter narrative is better!

"Oh," some might object, "but that's not really the truth then." However, it is. Because the Self is nothing other than a story, a narrative. The Self is a story about itself. And we are the Author of Ourselves. As such, the only reality and truth when it comes to our self-narrative in this psychological sense (at least as regards internal causation) is the narrative we choose to believe or attribute at any given moment. It is not as if the self is some object, some concrete "real" thing which we must discover and adhere to (because who, in that sentence, is "we" if not the self itself?) No, that view of the self is mauvais foi. No, there is no reality to the Self or truth to its narrative outside the narrative we choose to be the truth about ourselves. 

And so if we adopt some narrative that is not useful, that is not happy, that is despairing, that renders us "unfixable" or unable to grow in holiness, or which is not aligned with the Supreme Meaning or other beliefs we hold...then that is not authenticity. On the contrary, it is the very height of inauthenticity to pretend that "the truth" about the Self somehow limits who we are or what we can accomplish or be. The only truth about the Self is the story about the Self (internally speaking) we choose to adopt, because there is no Self outside that very story! So we might as well adopt a good and helpful story!