Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Clones don't have mothers!

Check out the AP story on the supposed clone. Of note to me is that the news story calls the women who carried the child to term its mother. The women is not the child's mother. The "mother" is really the child's sister.

This is, of course, part of the violence being done to the cloned child: he or she will not have any parents.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

I have so much to blog, but no time

I will be out of town until New Year's Eve, and so am not likely to blog anything. I will be back full strength for 2003. If you do have a moment, say a prayer for safe travels.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Merry Christmas!

I thank all of you who prayed that I get job interviews--I have several, and will be heading off the day after Christmas. Hopefully one of the schools will think I am a good fit.

I also thank all of you who have read my blog in the past year. I have enjoyed writing it, and pray that those who read it may have gained some benefit.

Friday, December 20, 2002

After seeing all the Christmas lights in my neighborhood,
I want to put out a decoration like this:

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

No more Mass at the Polynesian

Check out this story on Disney's decision to cease having Mass at Disney World. Link courtesy of And Then?.

Don't tell me anything

about The Two Towers. I probably won't get to see it until next week, and I don't want it spoiled!

Monday, December 16, 2002

If you have a moment

Could you say a prayer for me and my wife? It is academic job hunting season, and the time to secure interviews is about up. If you could pray that I get lots of phone calls today asking to interview me, I would appreciate it. And if you need to hire a philosopher, look at my resume, posted in the left-hand column.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Conformity or Orthodoxy: Thoughts on Apologetics from Gabriel Marcel

I have been reading with interest some of the adventures of St. Blog's apologists and evangelists. Sal Ravilla over at Catholic Light has told the story of his ill-fated attempts to get the "Fugitive" back to Mass. Pete Vere over at Envoy has told of his initially failed attempts to evangelize a Mormon woman. Go read the stories. The upshot is that often our desire to crush error (a temptation to which I succumb as well) gets in the way of showing Christ.

I read a bit of Gabriel Marcel's comments on evangelization--by the way, Minute Particulars has a wonderful post that gives a summary introduction to the thought of Marcel, a philosopher that the world needs to rediscover. The good news is that his books are coming back into print. Marcel makes a distinction between conformism and orthodoxy.

"Conformism, whether intellectual, aesthetic, or political, implies submission to a certain order emanating not from a person, but from a group that which claims that it incarnates what must be thought, what must be valued. . . ." (Creative Fidelity, 186)

Conformism means that our thoughts must work in a particular order, that we must think certain things in a certain way. This looks suspiciously like orthodoxy. In fact, our efforts at evangelism can take the form of making sure that the person conform to a system of belief. "You need to believe that contraception is wrong., darn it!"

But conformity is not the same thing as orthodoxy. Conformism means that my thoughts run in the correct channel, and is a relationship between a person and a thing, a list of propositions. Orthodoxy is much more than that, since it is a relation to a Person, to Christ. When we engage in contoversies with those who do not believe as we do, it is very tempting to beat them with truth as a bludgeon; "it is with respect to interconfessional relations that we should be most on our guard against the kind of latent pharisaism into which we are constantly in danger of falling whenever we construe orthodoxy as a superior sort of conformism instead of as fidelity." We do not wish to get people to believe the truth, we want them to enter into a personal relationship with The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Yes, certainly everyone should believe as we should believe, because our beliefs are correct. But more than that, they should believe as we believe because our faith grows out of a living relationship to the Divine Trinity. To return to our previous example, contraception is not wrong primarily because it violates some arcane ethical principles (it violates lots of them) but because it is inconsistent with true love for God and each other as children of God. It violates the love for which we were created.

God is love, and since we are trying to bring people to God, we must bring them to Love. This is quite a different task than conquering someone in an argument. In fact, mere triumph can be counterproductive: "Can it not be said, therefore, that any lack of Charity, not so much on the part of the Church as on the part of those whose tremendous mission it is to act in its name, constitutes an attack on Orthodoxy itself; that a failure of this kind obviously tends to make orthodoxy appear to be a claim in the other person's eyes, when the fact is that it is a perpetual witness?" (CF 192-193)

Friday, December 13, 2002

Cardinal Law has resigned

It would be an act of charity to send some prayers his way. I would fill this blog with lots and lots of astute commentary, but I still have grading to finish, and besides, I couldn't give you anything better than the other members of St. Blog's. Check out Amy Welborn for a good start.

A sandwich? Thanks! Chomp Chomp Chomp. . .

Here I am, up late grading final exams, when I decide that I am finally going to download some music from Victor Lams' webpage. I've only listened to "Robot Love" and "My Weblog" so far, and I can say that he writes the sort of music I would write if I weren't afflicted with lyric self-consciousness (I always think my stuff sounds like the worst of Neil Peart) and suffering from a lack of sufficient whimsey. If there is one thing Victor has, it is whimsey!

If only I lived in Michigan, or he lived in Illinois, I would volunteer my considerable instrumental and vocal talents to aid his compositions. We could be like Lifeson and Lee, or Richards and Jagger, or perhaps Yakko and Wakko.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Why I don't have comments

A reader wrote in to ask whether I have thought about adding a comment section here. Yes, I have thought about it, but I am reluctant to do so, for the simple reason that I already suffer from low to mid-level internet addiction. I am the type that checks my email five minutes after I check it. Having comments, I fear, would only make it worse.

Nevertheless, I will consider it, perhaps after I get done grading finals.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Does money equal justice?

As you may know, and as you certainly know if you read any of the uberbloggers such as Amy Welborn, the archdiocese of Boston may have to declare bankruptcy. This would be an unheard-of step. This is being made necessary because of the damages awarded to the many victims of Boston priests.

Everyone, myself included, is agreed that the victims deserve something. Most of us, without a second thought, think that this means that the victims deserve money. But I have a question: if you were raped by a priest, what good would money do for you? Wouldn't victims rather have justice than cash? Those who commit these crimes, and those who were accomplices, should be put in jail. This would be justice.

But we think that justice means that the victims get a big pile of cash. Where does the cash come from? I live in the archdiocese of Chicago--if I were to sue them for some misdeeds against me (None have occurred. This is hypothetical.) I wouldn't be getting money from the Cardinal. I would be getting my money from St. Stephen's church and St. Mary's church and St. Joseph's church. The cash to pay me comes from the money given to the Church by other Catholics, intended for the missions, or for the mortgage on the building.

Always remember: lawyers don't create wealth, they just redistribute it. If a victim gets a million dollars from the archdiocese of Boston, that money is taken from other members of the diocese. One could make a case for suing a cigarette company which has made profits over the years by selling a dangerous product. The company is an adequate target, since its structure and assets are the direct result of the profits made. Any damage judgments will come from those profits, and are thus tied to the original misdeed. It is not so in the case of the church--there is no profit. There is no necessary connection between the misdeeds and the property of the Church. In fact, this property was probably generated from the good-faith offerings of the members of the diocese. Any monetary judgment comes from these offerings.

Of course the victims deserve something. But what they deserve is justice, which is not necessarily the same thing as money.

Monday, December 09, 2002

If you see me blogging

It's because I am avoiding the pile of grading I have to do. I've got lots of bloggable thoughts, but no time to do it, in addition to giving the meager results of my Catholic sci-fi contest. I'll be back, but intermittently.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Shacking up, creative fidelity, and Gabriel Marcel

More and more people today are cohabitating before getting married. Often it is seen as an ordinary step: the couple moves in together and sets up housekeeping long before the actual wedding takes place. It seems quite reasonable, since after all "You wouldn't buy a car without taking it for a test-drive, would you?" Why not live together? Why not taste the milk before buying the cow? It only makes sense to find out if you are suited to each other before you make vows.

But there is a problem. Marriage is supposed to be a life-long commitment. It is a promise that we make in before God to love our spouse not just on the wedding day, but into the future. Marcel gives an example: what if in a moment of need you promised a homebound friend that you would visit him every week, but you find that this duty has become uncomfortable for you. You resent going, and if the friend knew you resented it, he would release you from the promise. You promised him in a moment of emotion, but now the emotion has passed. By what right does the promise remain? "Isn't it strictly more honest to live by paying on delivery--to imitate in short those valetudinarians whom we are all acquainted with, who never accept an invitation categorically and who say: I can't promise anything, I'll come if it's possible, don't count on me. . . ?" (CF 160) How can you in good conscience make a promise and bind your future emotional states? If this is the case, is a wedding vow even truthful? How can you promise to be true, to love and honor (obedience is easier) until death parts you? How can a promise I made in 2000 be binding on me in 2002? I am a different person, aren't I?

Marcel has an answer, based in the very nature of a promise. If you promise, you don't make a prediction about your future attitudes, you make a decision to shape your future attitudes in a certain way. By making the marriage vow, you are saying "I will not allow myself to cease loving and honoring this person, and in fact I will make every effort to increase my love." You take responsibility for your future. Thus such a promise is creative, or to use Marcel's term, is creative fidelity; the promise creates you as you will be. It is necessary to have faith to make this sort of promise, since, after all, you might be mistaken about the person you marry--perhaps she isn't as wonderful as you thought. But since the promise is made to the spouse, but before God, we have some assurance: "in the act in which I commit myself, I at the same time extend an infinite credit to Him to whom I did so; Hope means nothing more than this." (167) God guarantees the loan, so to speak.

A promise of fidelity must be creative, it must change the person who makes the promise. Without having power over your future states, a promise is meaningless. So what about cohabitation? Here I let Marcel speak:

"In short, how can I test the initial assurance which somehow is the ground of my fidelity? But this appears to lead to a vicious circle. In principle, to commit myself I must first know myself; the fact is, however, that I really know myself only when I have committed myself. That dilatory attitude which involves sparing myself of any trouble, keeping myself aloof (and thereby inwardly dissipating myself), is incompatible with any self-knowledge worthy of the name. Nothing is more puerile than the efforts made by some individuals to resolve the problem by compromise: I allude in this respect to the idea of a pre-marital trial whereby the future spouses begin by surrendering themselves to an experience which commits them to nothing, but which is supposed to enlighten them about themselves; it is all too clear that such an experiment is immediately nullified by the very conditions under which it is performed." (CF 163)

Such pre-marital trials cannot be successful in showing how the married couple will be for the very reason that it is a trial, not a marriage. Marcel's insight seems to be sustained by statistics that show those who cohabitate before marriage are much more likely to have a failed marriage.

(The quotes are taken from Creative Fidelity by Gabriel Marcel, published by Farrar, Straus, and Company.)

Good thoughts on prayer

by Bud MacFarlane. While you are there, be sure to sign up to get the free novels.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

A challenge for the Advent season from St. Francis Xavier

Here's what Francis had to say yesterday in the Office of Readings: "Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: 'What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!'"

More on Utilitarianism and Sex

The prolific Kevin Miller has responded to my earlier post, suggesting that I have been influenced by Germain Grisez on sexual morality and suggesting that Karol Wojtyla is better:

But while I think his arguments are generally on the mark, I don't think they're enough. I think that an explanation of why contraception or homosexual acts are wrong must show not only why they don't pursue some intelligible good, but also why they in fact violate or attack some good. And I do think this can be shown.

Karl seems to draw especially from the natural-law theory of Germain Grisez. Karol Wojtyla's natural-law argument against contraception in Love and Responsibility is richer (if less fully/explicitly theoretically elaborated) than Grisez's, and adds the essential point that it is contrary to the nature of another human being to treat him or her as an object rather than as a (knowing and willing) subject, as a mere means to some end - like pleasure - rather than as a partner in the pursuit of some real and common good. That is to say, it is contrary to the nature of another human being to treat him or her with use rather than with love.

Kevin is correct, sort of. I am influenced quite a bit by John Finnis, who works with Grisez a lot. I also am currently in the process of reading Love and Responsibility, and I find much there that is good. But so far I prefer the approach of identifying goods of practical reason and not acting contrary to these goods, rather than the Kantian approach taken by the Pope, which says that we must not treat others merely as a means to some end, but must treat them as ends in themselves. The reason is that so far I find this formulation a bit vague, and like Kantian moral philosophy in general, it is difficult to figure out what counts as exploitation and what doesn't: are my students using me merely as a means to their diplomas, or are they respecting me as an end in myself? How will I or they know?.

Perhaps Karol Wojtyla has worked this out in more detail--after all, I am only half-way through Love and Responsibility. Maybe Professor Miller could do us the favor of giving a sketch of what he comes up with: how does one know which actions are mere use, and which are actions of love?

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Advent is a penitential season, and I can prove it

In the office of readings on Sunday, the first day of Advent, we find this quote from Isaiah:

What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

Christmas is not merely a feast of the birth of a little child, but rather is the feast celebrating the glorious coming of the Lord. Would you prepare yourself for the Lord's coming by indulging your whims, by getting fat from holiday meals, by getting lots of goodies? Perhaps we should take the Lord's advice and prepare for Christmas by making our souls "white as snow." As my wonderful pastor says, Christmastime has it exactly backwards: rather than giving up attachments to earthly things for the sake of Christ, we build up our attachments to this life. But Jesus explains the cost of following him: "If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) If we must love God above father, mother, etc., than surely we must love God more than all the finest food and latest gadgets. Spend Advent in prayer and fasting, so as to be ready for Christ when he comes. If you aren't sure how to fast, you could either follow the Eastern custom of foregoing meat and dairy products on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or you could do like Latin Rite Catholics are supposed to do, and give up meat on Fridays or do some other penance.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

So just why are sexual perversions wrong?

Eve Tushnet has an interesting post on homosexuality where she points out the difficulty of maintaining that homosexuality is wrong if one accepts contraception:

1) Contraception. Once you accept that heterosexual couples can choose to eliminate the unitive-as-reproductive aspect of sexuality, it becomes a lot harder to figure out what could possibly be wrong (other than "eeuugghh, gross") with same-sex canoodling. There's a good essay on this in Same-Sex Matters: The Challenge of Homosexuality--Patrick Fagan's "Inversion of Heterosexual Sex." Once pleasure, rather than personal physical and reproductive unity, is considered the primary purpose of sex, it's hard to make a case against masturbation, homosexuality, promiscuity, or sundry kinks and fetishes.

She is exactly correct, as usual. If the purpose of the sexual act is pleasure, then there is no reason why male-male sex or female-female sex or female-male-dog-sheep sex is wrong. All could presumably be pleasurable, to some degree. This shows the problem inherent in the dominant ethical theory of the day, Utilitarianism. This theory, originating in the Sophists, developed in Epicurus, and reappearing among English writers such as Hume, Bentham, and John Stuart Mill, teaches that pleasure is good and pain is evil. The goal of human action ought to be to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Utilitarians claim that their theory is not mere egoistic hedonism because we all have a feeling of sympathy: we feel pleasure when others feel pleasure. So the supreme principle of Utilitarianism is one ought to act so as to promote the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people.

Sex leads to pleasure, and so should be promoted for as many people as possible. For this reason, contraception was necessary. It is fitting, perhaps, that the first Christian church to allow contraception was the Anglican church, since Utilitarianism developed in England. Contraception is absolutely necessary, since it allows sex to become merely a pleasurable activity, and not the possible creation of new life. Now, there is no reason to restrict sex to the boundaries of marriage, since there need be no raising of children. Therefore, heterosexual sex is fine and dandy, and since it is pleasurable, it should be promoted as much as possible.

Now, it is not only heterosexual sex that is pleasurable. Lots and lots of forms of sexual activity are fun, and all of them can be rendered sterile with enough hormones or latex, so there are no fetishes or kinks which could legitimately be thought to be bad, under Utilitarianism rules. Gay sex, lesbian sex, bestiality (recently promoted by famed utilitarian Peter Singer), even sex between adults and children could all be pleasurable. They could all be mutually pleasurable, which is all that is needed for them to be morally acceptable. "If it makes you happy, then it can't be that bad," as Sheryl Crow says.

Utilitarianism is the dominant moral theory of the day, but that doesn't mean that it is right. In fact, it is almost unbelievably silly, so silly that the only reason it can flourish as it has is because it promotes pleasure, which indeed is something we all want. But it is still silly. Let me give you a few reasons why:

1. Utilitarianism requires us to judge a proposed course of action by the amount of pleasure each alternative generates. Utilitarians speak quite casually of adding up pleasures, as if it were a math problem. But this is patently absurd. Mill himself admits that pleasures and pains are non-homogenous, and therefore are incommensurable. Does the pleasure of scratching an itch count as much as the pleasure of reading philosophy? Does the pain of heartbreak hurt as much as a torn fingernail? There are no common units! It is like adding meters to coulombs, or feet to bananas. Pains and pleasures can't be added.

2. The concept of pleasure is so broad as to be meaningless. Varied things such as itch-scratching and heroic self-sacrifice are all put under the class "pleasure." A word that can mean everything clearly means nothing.

3. Utilitarianism cannot explain adequately why I should care for other people. It presumes that I have a feeling of sympathy with my fellow-man. What if I don't? Why shouldn't I exploit others for my own pleasure? Utilitarians cannot give me a good reason why not.

4. Utilitarians cannot explain self-sacrifice, since my jumping on the grenade gives me no pleasure. If utilitarians are correct, then we are all fools to admire heroes who sacrifice their lives for others. What pleasure do they gain from that?

5. Utilitarianism requires us to judge between actions by the amount of pleasure they will create in the future; we are to choose the most pleasurable course. But none of us can predict the future. Utilitarianism therefore requires us to do the impossible. "Even the very wise cannot see all ends," as Gandalf says.

6. The concept of pleasure is not only broad (see #2), but narrow. It fails to take into account that human excellence is far more important than human pleasure. It is better to lead a life of virtue without pleasure than a life of pleasure without virtue. If it were otherwise, we would applaud deadbeat dads, who take the pleasurable, nonvirtuous path.

7. Utilitarianism cannot explain why slavery, infanticide, torture, rape, child-abuse, or any number of terrible actions are in fact wrong. If enslaving black Americans increases the sum total of pleasure, we should do it. If babies get in the way of the general pleasure, they should be eliminated, as Peter Singer and others (including one member of the Watson-Crick DNA team, I forget which one) have proposed. If prisoners can be tortured to get confessions, they should. If the rapist gets lots and lots of pleasure, and his pleasure is more than the woman's pain, he should rape. Ditto for child-abuse.

Utilitarianism fails to recognize that there are basic human goods that must be respected, but that cannot be easily mapped onto the concept "pleasure." A far better approach is that of natural law, which attempts to use reason to determine what are the proper goods of the whole human person. Contraception and all the other sexual perversions are wrong because, as pleasurable as they may be, they diminish the human person.

Saturday, November 30, 2002

I finally got a chance to see the extended Lord of the Rings

The extended version is a much more leisurely movie, even though it is only half an hour longer. There is much more exposition, in particular of the hobbit way of life. In the theatrical release, we are barely introduced to hobbits before Frodo and Samwise are crashing their way through the wilderness. In the extended version, we get to see a bit of what hobbit life is like.

The journeys from the Shire to Rivendell and from Rivendell to Moria take quite a long time in the books, but were almost instantaneous in the movie. The extended version is more faithful to the book, giving a fuller scope to Middle Earth.

The best thing about the extended version is the greater depth it gives to three characters, Aragorn, Boromir, and most of all Gimli. We learn a bit more about Aragorn's parentage and why he is who he is. Boromir's relationship with Pippin and Merry is shown in greater depth; despite his treachery to Frodo, he has real affection for the hobbits, which is evident in several added scenes and bits of dialogue. Gimli, however, benefits the most from the extended movie. In the theatrical release, Gimli is a bit of a caricature--"Nobody tosses a dwarf!" In the extended version we get to see his relationship with Galadriel. If you are a Gimli fan, you must see the extended version.

I enjoyed the extended Lord of the Rings quite a bit, and have added it to my Christmas list.

Scientists discover that fire is hot

Well, it is almost as obvious. Take a look at this earthshaking study showing that , by golly, men and women may actually be biologically different.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

A few new blog links

I've added a few links to my blog (see the blogroll on the left), to Veritas, Envoy Magazine, and to Dale and Heather Price. The last is a husband and wife blog, which is always interesting. I would invite my wife to join my blog, except for the fact that although she may not indeed be Nihil Obstat, she is just as bad, and would probably strike this last sentence because it is disjointed and too long. Just for the record, honey, "foment" is a perfectly good word!

Monday, November 25, 2002

My mind is boggled!

Apparently, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are fraternal twins, not identical.

Trading Spaces at church

I attended Mass this weekend in a small, 19th century church in southern Wisconsin. The church was still mostly beautiful, but clearly had undergone big changes in the last thirty or forty years. There were traces of the former high altar left, but most of it had been removed, and the area behind the main altar is now a blank wall decorated with wooden forms in the shape of Gothic arches. As I sat listening to the handbell choir, I had a thought for what has happened to churches in the last forty years: they have fallen victim to Trading Spaces.

Trading Spaces is a show on The Learning Channel where two couples trade houses and then redesign a room in the other couple's house, with the help of professional interior decorators. It is a very entertaining show, because the decorators have total freedom; the couple who owns the house is not allowed to determine what will happen or to see the work in progress. Sometimes (most of the time, to my taste) the decorators do good work and create interesting rooms. Sometimes they create monstrosities, such as the Tantric love temple with lewdly-posed Barbie and Ken dolls. The fun of the show is that the viewer doesn't know what will happen.

The show works because the decorators have no guidance, and so no one can tell what will happen. But isn't this in fact what we have done with our churches? We have 1900 years of tradition in church art and architecture, but we have tended to cut all of that off, making the design of a new church into a exercise in free-form design. Sometimes (not too often, for my taste) the results are stunning. Sometimes the results are stunningly bad. I am sure you have examples in mind; I am thinking of the Freddy Kreuger tabernacle at Holy Name in Chicago. If you divorce yourself from tradition, sometimes you will get great art, but most of the time you will get self-indulgent tripe. The best art grows out of a tradition, not spontaneously. In music, the best composers, from Mozart to Bach to Ellington, work within a tradition, taking over the forms that are current and understandable by their listeners, and transforming them through their genius. The tradition is a framework that makes sure that we will create sensibly and not randomly, and it makes the difference between Bach and Schoenberg, or between Ellington and Ornette Coleman. We should do the same with our churches.

P.S. Disputations' eminent writer sent me a note, pointing out that the Tantric love temple was from a different but related show, While You Were Out.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Favorite links for a friday

One of my favorite links for research purposes is the Perseus Project at Tufts University. They have assembled a large collection of classical texts in Greek and Latin with English translations. The best thing is that the Greek and Latin words are hyperlinked to dictionaries and morphologies, so that even if you haven't had Latin in thirty years, you could still poke your way through Cicero, clicking on all the words you don't remember. They also have both the Vulgate and the Greek New Testament, which is especially useful when one gets frustrated with lousy bible translations and wants to read the real thing.

My new favorite link is courtesy of the Old Oligarch. There is an online museum called the Art Renewal Center that has lots of good old-fashioned representational artwork. Spend some time browsing through the collection and I am sure you will be delighted. My new desktop background is Vibert's "Un scandale," which, besides being funny, is a good reminder to me that I should keep custody of my eyes.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I wish we had that kind of power

Take a look at this page from Jack Chick's website--it is the end of a comic book detailing how the Vatican is responsible for every evil in the world. According to Chick, we are responsible for the Communist Party, the KKK (an evil plot designed to make Protestants look bad), both world wars, the creation of Islam, and the Russian Revolution.

If the Catholic Church is so powerful, how come Fr. Bob can't get the choir to quit singing Marty Haugen?

I've got some grading to do

so won't be blogging too much today. I make my final plea concerning SF books that have a Catholic understanding of human nature: I will probably post the results soon, so if you want to send me a note, please do so. Scroll down if you want to see my original post on that topic.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Universal Call to Celibacy

There is a wonderful reflection on celibacy in the Church in this month's First Things, to which, if you haven't subscribed yet, you definitely should. Fr. Maximos Davies, a Ruthenian monk, writes that we all have a call to celibacy. Note that he says celibacy, and not chastity. Yes, all Christians must be chaste in our relationships, whether married or not, but Fr. Maximos is saying more: we are all called to celibate, both the married and the unmarried. What does he mean?

Looked at from the perspective of the Eastern Churches, celibacy has very little to do with the sacrament of Holy Orders. It has everything to do, however, with the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Through the latter we are born into a new kind of life, in the Kingdom of God. We die to this world in Christ and rise again to eternal life. And in this resurrection we "neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:30)

In eternal life, there is no marriage. So, clearly, celibacy is the universal state of all Christians, at least after the resurrection of the dead. Those who practice celibacy in this life are engaging in an ascetic practice. The word ascesis in Greek refers to exercise: an athlete is an ascetic, preparing for a future race. An ascetic in the Church is preparing a foretaste of the eternal life that we all hope to receive. Fr. Maximos says "Asceticism, as we have seen, is the recognition that everything we see and touch is mystically redolent with unseen and ineffable Divinity." So the celibate is showing how sexuality itself is nothing without its reference to the divine. Marriage is nothing without God but an embrace of two corpses, both doomed to die and come to nothing. "Marriage is worth of reverence only because the two hearts fall into a sacramental embrace with a Third, only because the children born of the union are born again through baptism into a new life, only because together the couple apply to their comforts the balm of asceticism that gives their possessions true and sacramental meaning." It is God who makes marriage sacred, and the celibate who foregoes marriage is bearing testimony to its sacredness by focusing on the divine.

The married couple must recognize that their marriage is only of relative value, and is not something to be valued in itself. The marriage is a union of souls for the sake of eternal life, and without this, is materially no different than fornication. Those who are married must be celibate (in the expanded sense of the word which Fr. Maximos uses) in their marriage, recognizing that sex is not the goal of marriage, but rather that the marriage is the goal of sex. In other words, one's sexual life is given for the purpose of creating new souls capable of eternal life and for the union of the married, but is not an end in itself. All in this life is a foretaste of the divine, and we all need to be mystic enough to see this. Mysticism comes from asceticism, from giving up the things of this world in order to retake them as gifts of God and symbols of our eternal destiny.

Fr. Maximos concludes with some thoughts about priestly celibacy, which is both ascetic for the man who undertakes it and symbolic for us. I quote him at length: "To be blunt: it is both psychologically dangerous and theologically illiterate for a Christian community that values sexual 'freedom,' including sex outside of marriage, adultery, abortion, and the contraceptive mentality, to then demand an entirely different sexual standard from its priests. Priests do not become celibate merely because they feel a personal call to a life of sacrifice--at least, they ought not. Priests accept celibacy because they lead a community that is as a whole committed to the ascetic discipline necessary to transfigure human sexuality into an experience of the divine. Celibacy is healthy when it is regarded as a common labor in which each Christian has a share. Seen in this way, priests will find their commitment to celibacy valued, understood, and supported. Celibacy will thus become a point of communion between priest and congregation."

A laity that doesn't understand its vocation to ascesis will not understand the ascetical practices of its priests, and will undermine that vocation. We are all called to pray, to fast, and to engage in the transformation of every aspect of our lives into communion with God. Fr. Maximos challenges the western Church to return to its ascetical practices, and says that until we do so, we won't understand the celibacy of our clergy: "Only a Church of mystics can realistically expect their clergy to be saints." Amen.

If you found this as thought-provoking as I did, you should definitely subscribe to First Things. If you like browsing through St. Blog's, you should subscribe to First Things. You should subscribe to First Things. Here is the subscription website.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Read any good SF books lately?

Tell me about it. I am hoping to compile a list of speculative fiction (science fiction) books that express a Catholic understanding of human nature. Drop me a line (email address is on the left). Here is my original post on the topic.

Monday, November 18, 2002

'Tis the season to be jolly? 'Tisn't!

We are rapidly approaching Advent, which is viewed by many as a time to put plastic Santas on the lawn, to start playing Christmas carols, and to buy lots and lots of stuff. It is not enough that we celebrate Christmas by celebrating excess, but we also celebrate it much too early. The Advent season is not an extended Christmas, but is a time of preparation. The recent Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy says that

Popular piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord's birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and imarginated. The expectation of the Lord's birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it from conception. Popular piety intuitively understands that it is not possible coherently to celebrate the birth of him "who saves his people from their sins" without some effort to overcome sin in one's own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time.

Don't prepare for the coming of the Lord by merely preparing your front lawn with big plastic reindeer; prepare your soul for His coming through an effort to overcome sin. I have some suggestions for how to do this, taken from my parish bulletin:

  1. Fast: you could join Eastern Catholics in the Phillip's fast, which says not to have meat or dairy products on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday until Christmas. Think how good that Christmas dinner would taste! Of course, you could just make sure you follow the current Latin rite rule for the whole year, which is no meat on Fridays or some equivalent penance.
  2. Go to confession.
  3. Ten minutes of silence each day.
  4. Mute the commercials from the television, or turn off the TV entirely.
  5. Listen to classical music rather than top-40.
  6. Pray the rosary, the divine office, or perhaps the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. Repeat ad libitum.)
  7. Read the bible every day. If you want "Christmasy" stuff, read Isaiah.
  8. Read spiritual books. I recommend Frank Sheed, St. Josemaria Escriva, lives of the saints (try the DeWohl novels), the Philokalia, and in general anything from Ignatius Press. If you are one of the many Catholics who disagrees with some doctrinal teaching of the Church, take the Advent season as an opportunity to study that teaching--don't disagree blindly, but rather give the Church the benefit of the doubt. You owe Christ that much.
  9. Heal or improve relationships with family or friends.
  10. Give to the poor. Perhaps rather than giving that fourth or fifth toy to a child, you and the child could give the money to the poor?
  11. Support your church. Lots of people have used the scandal as an excuse to quit giving to their parishes. Why not make up the slack, since someone has to?

If you make some effort to get your soul ready for Christmas, the real season to be jolly, the twelve days from Dec 25th to Jan 6th, will be much more jolly.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Maybe this kind of stuff plays well in France

I just got done watching a movie called The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which is about one hour's worth of decent action film plus eighty more minutes of absolute silliness. Here's the plot: there is some sort of beast terrorizing the French countryside in 1764, somewhere near Avignon, a fact that has symbolic importance. A renowned naturalist cum martial arts expert is summoned to deal with the beast. After many plot twists and turns, the beast turns out to have been created by the evil Brotherhood of the Wolf, a group created by the pope in order to spread supernatural terror throughout France, thus scaring people back into the arms of religion. The good but whoremongering naturalist eventually dispatches the evil papist brotherhood, along with the poor tortured beast.

The movie is clearly propaganda, since Rome stands for fear, ignorance, torture of animals, and just plain evil. It is no accident that the action takes place near Avignon, which I take it is a symbol of popery dominating the French.

Ordinarily I would let this last detail pass, but since the movie is so repulsive, I must mention one more flaw. In pursuit of the beast, the naturalist and his Indian guide make traps out of bamboo. Bamboo! In Southern France!

Thursday, November 14, 2002

A wonderful reflection on why one should be Catholic

Go look at Zorak, the Embittered Mantis's reflection. It is very good.

Note to Nihil Obstat: how does one do the possessive in a case like the above? Is it Zorak's, the Embittered Mantis, reflection? Or is it Zorak, the Embittered Mantis's reflection? Or perhaps should I drop the commas: Zorak the Embittered Mantis's reflection? Do tell.

I teach the Church's position on contraception in my ethics class, and

nobody complains. Yes, believe it or not, when we discuss natural law ethics, I use the Church's prohibition of contraception as my example. I show how Aquinas proceeds: there is the first object of practical reason, which is the good, and then the first indemonstrable precept, that good is to be done and evil to be avoided. Then arises the question "What is good?" At this point one needs to examine human beings to decide what human goods are. It is not a simple matter of taking a poll on what humans like, but rather a matter of finding out what the real goods are that contribute to human flourishing. Just as if in a plague 51% of the people with the illness wouldn't make the illness health, so also if 51% of humans think that fornication were right, it would still be wrong, because fornication doesn't help humans to flourish.

So far, so good. We have a sketch of how natural law theory works. But how do we figure out particular precepts of the natural law? I use contraception as an example. We take a good hard look at the nature of the human person and of the sexual act. Sex is an act that by its very nature includes the gift of self to another, a total gift of the whole person to the other person. If its procreative dimension is taken away, the act becomes false, a restricted and shallow use of another for pleasure rather than a self-gift of love.

We then look at it more concretely. I draw a circle on the board to represent a woman. In the circle I place the various elements that contribute to the whole that is woman. So, it looks like this: (intelligence, judgment, wisdom, humor, love, sexual organs and attributes.) This represents the whole woman. I then draw another circle representing a man: (sexual organs.} I point out that if sex is open to the gift of life, the man needs to consider the entire woman, for she could be the mother of his child. If the sexual act is sterilized, the man no longer needs to consider the whole woman, but can just consider (sexual organs.) The woman becomes nothing other than a tool to be used for pleasure. Evidence that this is the case can be seen in the desperate things that women do to fight to stay sexually attractive, from botox to fad diets, from breast implants to mutilating their faces in plastic surgery. Look at what Joan Rivers has done to herself in a futile attempt to remain "sexy." Further, look at what happens to the man: because of contraception, the man is able to live his life like a fifteen year-old boy would like to live, full of sex without consequences. Once a student asked me when men grow up, and I said "Only when they have to." If men can have sex without consequences, they will never grow up. Thus men become incapable of being good husbands and fathers, since they never had to, because of

I ask the students to answer if they think, honestly, that contraception leads to human flourishing: "Umm, no." I then say "If that is the case, then is the Church correct that it is a bad thing?" "Yes." Perhaps it is a result merely of my wonderful teaching abilities or commanding personality, but as of yet no-one has disputed me on the conclusion.

The moral of the story? The teaching on contraception hasn't been rejected as much as it has never been taught. It can be taught in a way that allows the students to come to the correct conclusion on their own. I appeal to all of you to teach the Church's teaching on the Gospel of Life--it can be effectively taught for the simple reason that it is true. Teach it!

Monday, November 11, 2002

Science fiction friendly to religion?

Recently I complained that in Star Trek, the only races to have any sort of religion were the Klingons, and theirs was a primitive warrior cult. A friendly reader pointed out to me that the Bajorans from Deep Space Nine also were religious. I apologize for my error. I never quite had time to keep up with DS9.

But the letter got me thinking: what novels or movies in the field of speculative fiction are most congenial to religious belief, and specifically to a Catholic understanding of human nature? (I prefer the name "speculative fiction" rather than "science fiction," since often the subject matter has little to do with science. Lord of the Rings is certainly speculative fiction, but not at all science fiction.)

So I want to start a bit of a contest: send me your list of the best Catholic speculative fiction. After a week or so I will publish the top ten, if I get that many responses. Keep in mind that we want good books, and that the books need not be overtly Catholic. Walker Percy points out that if a novel is perceived to be a religious novel, it probably isn't a good novel; the novelist must be tricky, a master of deception, so that themes of God and salvation are absorbed, but not perceived. These books should be good, first of all, and Catholic second. Further, The Lord of the Rings are in my opinion the most Catholic of all novels, and there is not one bit of Catholic doctrine in the books. They are Catholic because they show a Catholic understanding of sin, grace, and redemption. Note further that I say Catholic mostly to keep out the Left Behind garbage; otherwise, non-millenialist Christian novels will be accepted.

I'm interested to read your responses, so send me a list, with some explanation, of the best and most Catholic novels in the genre of speculative fiction. I will print names when I post the results unless you specify otherwise.

Dear Readers

If you come upon this blog, could you spare a minute to say a prayer for me and my wife? Nothing is wrong, but we pray for you, and turnabout is fair play!

"The first and greatest duty of the bishops

is the promotion of holiness." So says the papal nuncio to the US. Holiness will rebuild the Church, and will call people to faith and conversion.

Bishop Gregory says they must not allow people to exploit the scandal

There are those who have used the admitted weakness of the shepherds to advance their own agendas. Gregory says that the Church cannot and will not change her teachings on these matters. False prophets work by the strategy: "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter." More applause.

Applause at the USCCB!

Bishop Gregory is calling for the overturn of Roe v. Wade, calling it a disastrous decision justified by bad logic. The bishops burst into applause.

God help them

The US bishops are meeting today. You can access the coverage through EWTN. I will be watching much of the meeting, and will blog such things I find blogworthy.

Just remember as you watch: rule of the Church by bishops is the absolute worst way to run a church, except for all the others. And as bad as you think the bishops are, the laity in the US are worse. Most of us, after all, believe that there is nothing wrong with contraception or even abortion, which, if engaged in, are mortal sins. Consider this: since 90% of Catholics engage in the practice of artificial contraception, then 90% of Catholics in the US are potentially in a state of mortal sin. We truly have the bishops that we deserve.

Friday, November 08, 2002

You are an act of God

Recently I was involved in some debates about politics and abortion rights. A GOP political operative complained that if the Republicans ran pro-life candidates in the Northeast, they would lose, because the battle has been lost. New Jersey and states like it are thoroughly secular, he said, and there is no hope, short of an act of God, for them ever to change their minds on abortion.

It would certainly be nice if God were to do something extravagant and miraculous. Perhaps Mary could appear atop the statehouse, imploring all who entered to respect life. Or perhaps there could be a plague of locusts, or the rivers could run with blood. I doubt that these miracles would be any more effective than they were with Pharoah; belief has to do with the will, and no number of miracles can change a human will.

What can change a will? Reason and charity. We need to explain the gospel of life. It is not that there has been a debate between life and death, and death won, but rather the debate hasn't happened. Abortion is accepted as a fait accompli, contraception is thought to be a natural and normal as sunrise, and casual sex is the rule, not the exception. The opponents to the culture of death have left the battlefield. We have left it unopposed from fear of being rude. This cannot continue. Those of us who recognize the true dignity of human life must speak up. If we don't engage the enemy, who will? Waiting around for God to solve the problem with a miracle ignores an obvious fact: You are a miracle. God created you, calling you by name into existence. Everything you do that is good is an act of God. You have a mind, and you have a voice, created by God for a purpose. Perhaps your purpose is to proclaim the Gospel of Life. If your voice speaks the truth and your life bears witness to the love of God, hearts may be opened and minds may be changed.

God rebuilt his Church in the twelfth century not through miraculous signs, but through the human miracles Francis and Dominic. It is certain that he is calling you and me to do the same in the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

I visited some of my favorite people last weekend.

I was attending the yearly meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. I enjoy the ACPA meeting because it is a group of generally like-minded people, where one can talk of such things as being, goodness, beauty, and truth. Particularly I enjoy attending Mass at the conference: it is quite moving to see a room full of extremely smart, well-published, and tenured academics who are also pious Catholics.

Conventional wisdom says that religious people are not intelligent. Religion is a superstition that one grows out of. You can see this conventional wisdom on television, since religious characters are most often portrayed as villians or as idiots. In Star Trek, for example, Klingons are the only species that has any residual religious belief, and that is a primitive warrior cult; everyone else has evolved beyond religion. (This is one of many reasons why Babylon 5 was much better than Star Trek.) The ACPA meeting shows how false this view is. I am proud to be a member, and look forward to next year's meeting.

I'm quite pleased

with the results of the election.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002


Please vote. Vote pro-life wherever possible. If your parish didn't give you a voter's guide, here is a simple rule: the Democrats are almost 100% pro-abortion, and those who aren't have no power or influence.

If you live in Illinois, vote often!

Say a prayer for good results tonight.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Hermeneutics, Shermeneutics

Locdog has published a treatise on biblical interpretation, and for the most part his Eight Rules are fine. However, there is a difficulty with Rule Six: Precedent. Locdog thinks that the Bible must be interpreted according to the Bible. In other words, one passage should be interpreted in light of other passages. So far, so good. Now we get to the difficulty: the "explicit" sense of scripture trumps any sort of doctrinal precedent. In other words, even though the Church has taught for two thousand years that Mary is ever-virgin, since the text says "brothers", it must mean "brothers," even though the word could mean "cousins." Locdog says if there is ever confusion of the sort where an implied teaching appears to contradict an explicit teaching, deference is shown to the explicit.

According to Locdog's rules, he is required to accept the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist: "This is my body" (Matt 26:26)and "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not have life within you" (John 6:53) are pretty obviously explicitly teaching exactly what Catholics believe. It takes hermeneutical gymnastics to make the text mean what Protestants generally take it to mean, that the bread and wine are some sort of symbols or memorial. No. The text is clear: we are called to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. Follow your own principles, and accept what Jesus explicitly says.

There is a further difficulty in his assertion that the text trumps doctrine. Not all doctrines are created equal. Certainly if some sect claims that the bible says something it doesn't say, the bible should rule. But the Catholic Church is not a sect. It is the historical Church, and the bible is the Church's book. The collection of the books of the old and new testaments was done by the Catholic Church, which therefore precedes the bible. If the Church teaches something, and the text of the bible appears to contradict Church teaching, deference should be paid to the Church, since the bible comes to us from the action of the Holy Spirit in that Church. We all read the bible from within a community of interpretation, and this colors what we think the "explicit" meaning of the text is. If you are a Protestant, you likely think Matthew 26:26 is explicitly metaphorical, because your community of believers thinks that way. But what if another group thinks differently? How can we adjudicate different readings of the explicit meaning of the text? Here is the answer: find out which Church Christ founded, and then read the bible in the light of Christ's Church.

One must be Catholic to read the bible correctly.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

I'm going to Cincinnati

tomorrow morning, for the annual meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. I won't be back until Sunday night, and probably will not blog until then. You could say a prayer for my safe travels, if you have a moment.

This weekend is extremely important

You will probably spend time with friends and family this weekend. Be sure to remind them that there is an election on Tuesday, and that they have a moral obligation to vote for the pro-life candidate. It will probably take a breach of good manners to bring up politics, but you could make a difference by doing so. Speak quietly and with charity, but forcefully.

Remember, we are one senator and one Supreme Court justice away from being able to legislate for the protection of children in the womb. This election is crucial.

Rousseau was an idiot.

I've been reading the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, and have been tempted to throw the thing across the room. His deduction of the state of nature is so riddled with errors that I don't see how the book passed the laugh test. Of course, the book has been tremendously influential, most notably on Kant and Heidegger. Never have so many intelligent people been adversely influenced by something so stupid.

Good. I feel better now.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Contra Locdog

There is a Protestant blogger who occasionally slums in Catholic blogland, by the name of Locdog. Yesterday he posted a list of thoughts on Catholics. The list is quite long, so I am only going to focus on one or two things.

4. rome isn't the great whore of babylon those of you who've read chick tracts know what i mean. those of you who haven't are probably better off that way. actually, some of his older ones are great, but he seems to have gotten more dogmatic with the years and his dogma has gotten more and more bizarre. the theory is that the whore talked about in Revelation is actually the roman catholic church, who will eventually succumb to ecumenical currents and dilute the message of the gospel to accommodate all other faiths. the unitarian/universalist crowd is doing that right now. maybe it's them. rome denies no essential of the Christian faith and as long as that's the case then we should look for whores elsewhere. times square around midnight would be a good place to start.

I am somewhat disappointed that Locdog doesn't believe I belong to the great whore of Babylon. I think that if one is going to be a Protestant, one needs to have a good reason not to be Catholic. The supposed apostasy of the Catholic Church would be a good reason. Without such an apostasy, I think you need to be Catholic. I think every Protestant should have to re-enact the Reformation in his own mind and decide if it was justified. Here's why:

The Catholic Church is clearly the Church founded by Christ. If you look at history, no matter how far you go back, you find the Catholic Church, complete with bishops, priests, deacons, Marian devotion, the Eucharist, and intercessory prayer. If you believe in the Trinity as described by the Nicene Creed (God from God, Light from Light, etc.), you should know that everyone at the council of Nicea was Catholic. They were bishops of the Catholic Church. This is a historical fact. So if you believe in the Trinity, you get it from us.

Look further back, in the writings of Ireneaus and Clement and Justin Martyr, and you will find again that these Apostolic fathers are Catholics. They too were members of a Church complete with bishop, deacon, priest, and the Eucharist. Justin gives a description of the liturgy of the Christians in the second century that is almost identical in its details to that which Catholics celebrate every day. As far back as we can go, to about thirty years after the New Testament was written, we find only Catholics.

So, but for that thiry year gap, there is clear historical continuity in doctrine and practice from the ancient Church to the current Church. If I were to be a Protestant, I would have to come up with some time or some incident that made the Catholic Church an apostate, satanic Church. We must have gone terribly wrong at some point; otherwise, why aren't you a Catholic?

There is a myth, current even in Catholic circles, that there was a pure community of believers in New Testament times, a pure church that has been covered over by all sorts of ecclesiastical accretions. But if you study history, you will find that there is no evidence of such a church. No matter where you look, there is the Catholic Church. So either come up with a plausible apostasy and betrayal, or join us!

P.S. Locdog, the correct term is Catholic, not Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church contains about 21 individual churches, such as the Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, and Roman churches, all in communion with the Pope. "Roman Catholic" refers only to one of the 21 churches.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Modern Scripture Scholarship takes on Winnie the Pooh

Courtesy of Catholic Light: check out this historical-critical deconstruction of the Pooh books.

If you know me at all, you should know I am rolling on the floor laughing.

More on evangelization

The Mighty Barrister has written a reflection and extension on my remarks of yesterday. Go here to read it.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Do we evangelize?

My pastor gave a wonderful homily this weekend on the duty that Catholics have to the world. We Catholics are truly blessed; we have been given the Truth. Members of other religions or those who practice no religion may indeed have some part of the truth, but we have the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No other religion has been given this great gift. What are you doing about it?

For example, Catholics are the only people who have been given the Gospel of Life in its entirety. We not only know that the child in the womb is an image of God, an immortal soul destined for life with God, but we are also the only people who have clarity on the meaning of marriage. We know that marriage is an image of the Trinity in the world, ordered towards the creation of new life, and that the love of husband and wife is a mirror of the relationship of Christ to his Church. We know, based on our understanding of marriage, that contraception is a great evil. We know that following the teaching of the Church makes one's life better, since it is only the teaching of the Church that respects the full human dignity of each person.

So, have you shared this great gift with anyone else? Do you proclaim the Gospel to all nations? How about your friends and coworkers? To my shame, at a recent family gathering, I kept my mouth shut when one of my relatives discussed with approval a friend who had undergone in vitro fertilization. Rather than using the opportunity to teach ("Did you know what they do with the excess embryos? They kill them!"), I cowered behind the shield of good manners. I should have spoken up. Woe to me if I am ashamed of the Gospel. Do you proclaim what you believe? Why not?

This is election season, and so proclaiming the Gospel of Life is very important. I have blogged a bit about abortion in recent weeks, and probably will a bit more. I imagine that most readers of my page are substantially in agreement with me; we St. Blog's readers are a self-selecting group. Please, if you find any of my arguments persuasive, use them. Print them out, share them with others. We must be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We have been given a priceless gift, and we must share it, as Jesus commands: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." (Matt 28:19-20)

Saturday, October 26, 2002

A rare non-churchy post

I must say that I am extremely pleased with the quality of Notre Dame's football team this year.

Friday, October 25, 2002

God help them

Apparently the Chechen Muslims are slaughtering the hostages in that Russian theater.

If you are tempted to vote for a candidate who supports abortion,

you need to go read this. In fact, you need to become intimately familiar with all the horrible details of what goes into the lovely procedure of the "termination of pregnancy."

"But Karl," you may say, "abortion is always going to be legal. We don't have any hope of changing the law, so can't I just vote for my favorite Democrat?" No, you may not. Your first premise is false. It will not always be legal because it is contrary to the law of God, and God always wins. In addition, we are exactly one senator and one Supreme Court justice away from having good legislation in this country.

You wouldn't want to be standing before Christ at the last judgment and have to say to him, "When did we tear your living body piece by piece from the womb, Lord?" "Whenever you failed to protect the least of my brethren from being slaughtered in the womb, you did it to me." (Adapted from Matthew 25:31ff.)

Some good news in Detroit

According to Doug Sirman, one of the Gang of Four has disassociated himself from the letter that appeared in the Detroit Free Press saying, in essence, that abortion was just peachy. Fr. Kaucheck now claims that the letter was distorted and edited by the newspaper, which certainly happens, and also claims that he completely supports the position of the Catholic Church on life issues.

I'm happy that he has retracted, but I doubt his claim that the Free Press distorted the letter. I don't see how those offending sentences and paragraphs could have been extracted from a non-offensive letter, unless everything that the FP published was preceeded by "Opponents to the Church's position say this: __________."

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Don't Forget!

Luminous mysteries of the Rosary today. BWATE: Baptism, Wedding, Announcing the Kingdom, Transfiguration, Eucharist.

Blogging will be light in midweek

since I have to teach. Perhaps tomorrow I will blog longer. In the meantime, you could say a prayer that the sniper has been caught.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Wondering what evil is really like?

Evil is often cloaked in reason, with sweet-sounding arguments. Think of the idiot letter of the four evil Detroit priests. Evil is calm and speaks with a quiet voice. But take a look at what evil is in its pure form. In Matthew 8:28-34, we have the story of the Gadarene demoniacs. The demons beg Jesus to send them into the herd of pigs. What do they do once they are in the pigs? "Behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters." Once the demons have free reign, they kill.

St. Peter Chrysologus explains it this way: "The foul-smelling animals are delivered up, not at the will of the demons but to show how savage the demons can become against humans. They ardently seek to destroy and dispossess all that is, acts, moves, and lives. They seek the death of people. The ancient enmity of deeprooted wrath and malice is in store for the human race."

(Chrysologus quote courtesy of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.)

Monday, October 21, 2002

Why would they do this?

The new Christina Aguilera video, which is nothing but pornographic, apparently has some posters in the background promoting the child sex trade in Thailand. Here is the story.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Now that I have calmed down a bit,

A few words about the Gang of Four in Detroit (see my previous post). I was going to go through a point by point refutation of the idiocy of their letter, but Amy Welborn and Kevin Miller have done my work for me. But I want to add something. It is my contention that these men must be removed from the active ministry. I don't know if canon law allows them to be laicized or excommunicated for this evil act, but they can certainly be removed from their positions as pastors. There are two reasons why this must happen:

1: For the sake of the souls of their parishioners. Consider if a young couple went in to talk with one of these priests. "Father, we've got a problem: my wife is pregnant, but we don't have enough money to support the child. What should we do?" The priest then gives a highly nuanced, precisioned, and completely bogus answer: "Church teaching is ambiguous on this topic [it isn't], and reasonable people have the right to follow their consciences when they disagrees with Church teaching [they don't--disagreeing with Church teaching is evidence that one's conscience is incorrectly formed]. So you do what you think is right." The couple then goes out and aborts the child, putting their souls at risk, since abortion is a mortal sin incurring automatic excommunication.

2. For the sake of the souls of the priests themselves: Jesus says "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt 18:6) If the priest through his teaching contributes to the fall of any of his parishioners, he is responsible. Ezekiel 33:6 is equally clear: the pastor who fails to warn the people of the wickedness of deeds will be guilty of the act himself. If these priests cause anyone to choose to sin by their squishy and evil teaching, the priests are responsible. They are digging themselves holes straight down to Hell.

A good shepherd (Note to Cardinal Maida) would quickly remove these men for the sake of the faithful, and for the sake of the men themselves.

Is killing children worse than raping them?

If so, Cardinal Maida must show zero tolerance to these four evil priests in his diocese:

The Rev. Paul Chateau Pastor, Our Lady of Fatima Oak Park

The Rev. John Nowlan Pastor, St. Hilary's Detroit

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Kaucheck Pastor, St. Anastasia Troy

Dr. Anthony Kosnik Professor Emeritus, Ethics,

They wrote a letter to the Detroit Free Press, available here, where they use sophistry to claim that one can be a Catholic and support the murder of life in the womb. May God have mercy on their souls.

If you want to know what the face of evil looks like, go see either of these four men.

I can't write anymore, I am so upset. Go visit Victor Lams on this: he has their home addresses and the phone number for Cardinal Maida. These four men should be laicized and excommunicated. Failure to do so will cause Catholics to believe that they are free to disregard Church teachings that they don't find "convincing." Excommunicate them!!!!

Friday, October 18, 2002

Lunchtime Confessions

Fr. George Rutler has some things to say about confession:

Fr. Rutler stressed to the audience the need for and the importance of confessions. “If you only knew what happens in the confessional during lunch hours throughout the week; how lives are changed. So often when I feel I have to leave the confessional because either it’s too hot in there or I’ve had too much tea,” quipped Fr. Rutler, “somebody comes in and says ‘Bless me Father, I’ve never been to confession before,’ or ‘Bless me Father, it’s been thirty years.’ The life-changing confessions that happen every day would absolutely astonish our media. It’s absolutely true that when a priest has the urge to leave the confessional, it is the devil trying to get him out. It is a tremendous compliment the devil pays the Catholic Church.”

I don't know if I have any priests reading this blog, but if so, I plead: get your rear end into the confessional, several times a week, perhaps even daily. Think about it: if mortal sin is the death of the soul (it is), then absolution is resurrection. You can bring people back to life! It breaks my heart that priests only schedule confessions for half an hour on Saturdays. Who lights a lamp and hides it under a basket?

What is the common element of all priest saints? They heard lots and lots of confessions.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

If you know any pro-choice people

send them here. It is a page full of testimonies from doctors who used to perform abortions, and explains why they quit. It should be required reading. Warning: if you are squeamish, you may get nauseous from the descriptions of what actually happens. But then again, if you are pro-choice, you deserve to have nausea.

I was never a big fan of the Rosary

although I do pray it. The repetitive nature of it left me cold. But yesterday I read the new letter from John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, and I think he might have given me the key. Listen to what he says:

If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them. . . . To understand the Rosary, one has to enter into the psychological dynamic proper to love.

This has rung a bell for me. My wife and I say "I love you," or some variation of this, to each other many times a day. If you observed us doing this, you might think it was a dry and boring exercise. But if you were on the inside of the loving relationship we have, the words "I love you" never become repetitive, but are always perfectly expressive of a deeper reality. I understand this in relation to my wife; if I can use this same understanding in the Rosary, I think the prayer will be very fruitful for me. I am not just saying a whole bunch of "hail Marys", but am saying to Jesus and Mary "I love you, I love you, I love you. . . ."

Thank you, Holy Father, for clearing this up for me. I look forward to breaking in the five new mysteries today.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Theological Problem Solved by Local Psychic

(I am not making this up.) From the Village View Newspaper, October 15th: Mari believes the soul is located just above the belly button. "When you're dieing [sic], your soul goes up to the stomach--which then looks like a black tunnel. In the distance it sees the light which is above the head. At last you emerge into this light," said Mari.

Ms. Mari can be contacted at www.jackimari.com.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

How neat is this?

I am becoming addicted to Fedex package tracking.

Departed FedEx sort facility/ORLANDO FL 10/15/2002 07:52
Scanned at FedEx sort facility/ORLANDO FL 10/15/2002 05:01
Arrived at FedEx sort facility/ORLANDO FL 10/15/2002 00:48
Departed FedEx sort facility/WEST PALM BEACH FL 10/14/2002 22:26
Loaded onto trailer at FedEx facility/WEST PALM BEACH FL 10/14/2002 20:28
Package information transmitted to FedEx 10/14/2002 17:43
Picked up by FedEx/WEST PALM BEACH FL 10/14/2002 15:51

Isn't technology cool?

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

The sniper in Virginia has everyone scared, and rightly so. Hopefully he (she?) will be caught soon. But perhaps we can turn his evil deeds into something good. A wife was killed as she loaded packages into her car with her husband. Can you imagine what that would be like? One minute you are walking with your spouse, the next minute she is gone, for no reason except for the evil actions of a sniper.

News like this gets me thinking about the utter contingency of life. All of our lives could end at any moment, and every time we walk out the door and say "goodbye" to our loved ones could be the last time we ever see them. Thinking on death is scary, but it is also salutary. If one thinks on death, all of the petty cares and worries of this life vanish. The only thing that remains then is the concern for one's soul. Rather than thinking whether a job search will succeed, one thinks whether one's salvation will be achieved. This shift of concern from self to God is a good thing.

This is why the Church gives out ashes on Ash Wednesday, so that we will be reminded that no matter how permanent our dwelling seems in this world, it is less than a breath, and could end at any moment. With this knowledge firm in our minds, we will be better able to give no thought to the cares of the flesh, and to store up treasures in heaven. The sniper attacks, evil as they are, are a reminder that we must do good, go to confession, and tell our wives, husbands, and children that we love them!

Philosopher for Sale, Cheap!

It is the season for academic job-hunting. If any of you, my loyal readers, happen to be the heads of philosophy departments, you may wish to look at my curriculum vitae, which I've linked to in the left hand column.

If you aren't a head of a philosophy department, could you perhaps throw a prayer my way? Thanks!

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Is Iconoclasm Back?

Today in the Eastern Church it is the Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This council took place in Nicea in 787, and was called in response to the problem of the Iconoclast heresy. In 726, the Emperor Leo ordered all the images of Christ and the saints to be forcibly removed from all the churches. Most were destroyed. Leo was probably influenced in his decree against the images by the Muslims, who had attempted to convert him. Leo decided to get rid of the images, hoping that this would allow an easier conversion of Muslims and Jews. As a result, the faithful had to suffer as their churches were despoiled and their precious icons were destroyed. To see what these icons look like, go visit my parish's web site.

In 787, the council declared that we could in fact venerate icons. The reason given is the Incarnation of Christ. Here is an excerpt from the hymn sung in Liturgy today: How the Son proceeded from the Father our words cannot express; but having two natures, He was born of a woman. We do not reject His image when we behold it, but in faith we venerate and honor it. And the Church professes it as true belief when she honors the image of Christ's incarnation.

We are able to venerate images of Christ and the saints because Christ assumed a truly human nature, thus elevating that human nature. The old testament prohibition against graven images makes perfect sense, because the God of the Hebrews was a spirit and not a physical being. But two thousand years ago, the greatest miracle of all happened: God, pure spirit, became man. Since the second person of the Trinity was born of the Virgin, we can truly paint a picture of God. It is right and just that we do so. The picture of the human being is a picture of God because God is a human being. This is the great and awesome mystery that the icons celebrate.

What does any of this have to do with us today? This past summer I traveled to Spain with my wife. We visited a 1200 year-old mosque in Cordoba, built by the Muslims over the site of a Catholic church in the 800's. (After the Reconquista, it was reclaimed by the Catholics, and is a cathedral now.) The building is an amazing structure, consisting of thousands of columns arranged in precise geometrical patterns. In keeping with the theology of Islam, there are no images of God and no representational art. There are only verses from the Koran embroidered into the mosaics. There is a garden outside that even has air conditioning, by means of evaporating water. It is a site well worth visiting.

It is the first mosque I have ever visited, but I felt that I had been there before. Then it hit me: the mosque reminded me of any number of Catholic church buildings here in America. Modern church design is every bit as iconoclastic as Muslim mosque building in the ninth century. There are rarely any images of the saints, the stained glass windows are non-representational, the high altar is non-existent or stripped of all ornament, and the central focus of the building is no longer the tabernacle, but an amorphous "worship space" at the center of the congregation. Christ may be there among us, but His image is almost nonexistent. But for the crucifix, often itself a "risen Christ" or something terribly distorted and abstract, one would not know that most of these buildings are churches. We are the midst of an especially virulent outbreak of iconoclasm.

In the old days, iconoclasm was easy to fight, since it was imposed by a bad emperor. The Church had a target to fight. Now, however, iconoclasm is hidden in liturgical committees and architectural firms. They will never deny the Incarnation of Christ, but they will ever so gently but insistently remove all testimony to the Incarnation from the churches. Heresy has become as invisible and ephemeral as poison gas. You might not even know you have been poisoned until it is too late.

Fortunately, however, there is something we can do, although it will involve much suffering. If your parish has liturgical committees or worship-space committees, join them, no matter how painful it may be. These committees must be stacked with Catholics who understand the Church's teaching on sacred art and music. Then, perhaps, parish by parish, we can fight back the scourge of iconoclasm.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Now that Jimmy Carter has the Nobel Peace Prize,

Do you think he will start fomenting armed rebellion against Republican occupation of the United States, following in the footsteps of that other great Peace Prize winner, Yasser Arafat?

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Eve Tushnet and the "comfort of religion"

Eve has an interesting few blogs (Click here and follow the links) about bad days: Recently I had a bad weekend. A really, really lousy, stressed-out, low, hateful weekend. And at some point I realized something: You know, I used to feel like this all the time! Thinking over it, actually, I used to feel worse than that, all the time. Like between the ages of, say, five or six, and 20. After 20 or so, I've had frequent bad patches, grim little self-hate-fiestas, but they've been interludes between longer calm, basically happy stretches. This correlates very roughly with my entrance into the Church, which is interesting; I don't know what to say except "interesting," because entering the Church has certainly provoked new anxieties and fairly painful self-assessments. But there it is.

I reference this because it exactly squares withmy own experience. Before I came back to Sancta Mater Ecclesia, I was subject to really bad black moods, where all I saw was darkness. I still have them every now and then: I had one this past Monday night, triggered by the Bears' loss to the Packers, but no less serious for having a trivial beginning. I couldn't see any reason to hope. But the difference between now and, oh, say 1992 is that I know that there is a reason for hope. The black days are much fewer, although they still come. But when they come, I can hold them at bay by saying "I know that my redeemer lives." Even when all feels black, I know in my soul that there is light, that there is joy. Before I came to have faith, I had no defense.

Consider the problem of evil. How is it that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God allows evil to exist? This is a difficult puzzle, and is best answered by an appeal to the value of having free human beings who, being free, have the possibility for sin. This puzzle is quite often given as a reason for why atheists don't believe in God. But getting rid of God solves nothing. Evil still exists. Why is the spontaneously-generated universe so full of evils? The atheist can only answer with a shrug. A Christian may be able only to give a variation of the same answer, but there is a crucial difference: the Christian has reason to hope. Yes, there is evil, but there is also the hope of salvation and redemption.

The theological virtue of hope, instilled in baptism, is the cure for black moods.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Last round with Locdog

Locdog has graciously agreed to let me have the last word in our ongoing debate about sin and grace. You may see my previous entries here and here. I am sad to see the debate end, because it has forced me to think clearly and defend coherently that which I believe.

I just want to clear up a few loose ends, since our positions are pretty well established. I brought up Kant's ambiguous relationship to Christianity mostly as an aside, but I do believe his focus on the will can lead to a relativistic view of morality. Kant perhaps doesn't do this, but his followers may.

But what is most interesting to me is the difference of opinion between cleansing our sins and covering our sins. Locdog puts it concisely and clearly:

to me, words like "cleansing" are used figuratively in Scripture. whenever we clean something, we make it as though the stains that once soiled it had never existed. while that may be possible with a pair of pants, it's not so simple when we are talking about the human soul. i certainly believe that once we accept Christ as our savior, God no longer holds our sin against us. but if this cleansing notion is correct, then what God is actually evaluating when He decides to let us into heaven is our own righteousness. He cleans us up, checks us out, and, if He doesn't find any spiritual dirt, He lets us in. philosophically, i find this very troubling. we have either sinned or we have not. we either violated God's commandments or we didn't. God cannot clean us in such a way as to pretend that that which did happen didn't. when God looks at the ledger of our lives, He still sees that on such and such a date we lied or cheated or stole, and He cannot erase those things because that would involve God lying to Himself. but the Biblical picture, fortunately, is that our righteousness is an imputed righteousness; a foreign righteousness that is credited to our account.

Locdog finds the notion of God cleansing our sins "philosophically troubling," and then goes on to say that "God cannot clean us in such a way as to pretend that that which did happen didn't." God doesn't actually make us clean, and indeed he couldn't. What he does is pretend we are clean.

Well, I long ago gave up judging scripture by what is philosophically troubling: lots of it is philosophically troubling to me. But I believe the bible to be a witness of the word of God. And in the bible, it rarely speaks of covering sins, but often speaks of washing them. For example, Ananias calls to Paul in Acts 22:16 "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name." (RSV) Psalm 51 is a plea to God to wash away sin, which includes the plea to "Create in me a clean heart." It doesn't say "Cover over my sinful heart," but rather pleads with God to renew his heart. Ezekiel talks about a similar renewal, as God takes away stony hearts and gives hearts of flesh. I could give many more examples of washing imagery. The beginning of Isaiah includes these words of God: Isa 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."

The testimony that sins are cleansed and not covered seems overwhelming. I must conclude that the doctrine of covering is simply unscriptural.

Concerning God's ability to forgive our sins as if they have never happened, look at Psalm 103:12 where the Psalmist says "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." East and west are infinitely far apart, and so God removes our sins infinitely far away from us. There are more examples that I could give.

I will not put bounds on God's ability to forgive my sins. I know that he does, and I believe his words when he says that they are really cleansed. I believe this because my Church teaches it, but my Church teaches it because the bible says so.

In any case, I have enjoyed our debate. It has been challenging and informative to me, and I hope it has been the same for Locdog and for the two or three readers who have followed along. God bless!

Hey, somebody noticed me!

Over at Minute Particulars, I am taken to task for complaining here of my students' lack of intelligence. He thinks I probably should have complained of their lack of education, since the correlation between intelligence and good grammar is loose at best. I agree. I should have been more precise about what I mean, since the rest of my blog for that day was a complaint about incomprehensible grammar, not about not being able to "grasp many things from few."


However, as Aquinas might have said, intelligence can be spoken of in two ways: 1) the native ability to grasp many things from few, and 2) the virtue or state of character that refines (1). In both senses, I think one could say that the intelligence of the average college student is down. The native ability is down simply because more people go to college than in the past. The virtue of intelligence, able to be developed by training, is also down, and that can be attributed to failures in education.

Thanks to Minute Particulars for pointing out my lack of clarity. By the way, I still have an inappropriate attachment to hy-phens.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Excellence or Effectiveness: more thoughts on education

I have been thinking quite a bit about higher education recently, given the low level of ability of most college students these days. This has led to some reflection on my part as a philosophy teacher: I wonder whether attempting to learn philosophy does most of my students any good. Will they end up like Alcibiades, who learned enough from Socrates to question the values of Athens, but who didn't learn enough to find out what values he should have had? Learning to question is easy; learning to answer is much harder. If they can't learn the second, should I teach the first?

Why is it that there are such problems in education? I think it has to do with the emphasis on effectiveness rather than excellence. I take these terms from Alasdair MacIntyre, who uses the words to refer to the two dominant but competing themes in ethics: do we seek virtue (excellence) at all cost, or do we seek success (effectiveness) for the greatest number? Modern education seems to be directed at the latter. A college degree used to mean that one had attained excellence, that one had mastered a rigorous course of study. Now it is seen as a right, something that one is entitled to. Everyone needs a college degree, right? It will make one's life better! So the aim of a college is no longer to educate students, but is rather to graduate them.

I was told recently by a representative of a local college that they are a "tuition-driven institution." I have been thinking about this phrase, and I think that it is exactly indicative of the problem. The college or university needs to attract students in order to attract their tuitions. If the students flunk out or don't have a fulfilling experience, they will leave, enrollment will drop, and the tuition receipts will fall. So, in order to guarantee the greatest happiness for the greatest number (to maximize effectiveness), the classes are dumbed-down, the class sizes are increased, attendance policies are ignored, adjuncts are hired at slave wages rather than full professors, grades are inflated (remember when a C was a good grade?) and the students soon learn that they can talk themselves into a degree. This makes the students happy and the college administrators happy.

But the problem is that education is not a matter of material happiness, but of excellence of soul. A student who receives a B.A. or B.S. should view this not as an entitlement or the result of a mere paper-chase, an admission ticket into the American economy, but should view it as a testimony that he or she has attained personal excellence in the subject area. This is what universities were created for, and is what they should still be. This would require colleges to toughen the courseload and probably to lower their enrollments, and is so likely never to happen.

Perhaps there is a niche, however. Perhaps colleges could come into being that recognize the need to instill excellence in students. They could advertize much the same way as the Marine Corps does: "Come to St. X University! We will demand and bring out the very best from you. You might even flunk out. But if you do graduate, you will know that you have done something wonderful." One may be able to make more money by giving away college degrees for four years and $40,000 or so, but one should be able to sustain a college that promises and delivers excellence.

Monday, October 07, 2002

Grading papers and Mondays always get me down

I have been catching up on grading today, and have, as usual, become quite sad about the lack of intelligence of my students. They write semi-weekly analyses on the reading assignments, and I read them and try to write comments about the arguments they make. Unfortunately, the arguments made are often unintelligible due to the horrible grammar. These kids (who are in college) have almost no command of the English language. Commas are used to string sentences together, but are neglected when required. Participles are dangled and sentences are fragmented.

Perhaps, however, it is not their fault. Perhaps they have been able to sail through high school and grade school without ever having learned the difference between a noun and a verb. I try to point out grammatical errors in class, and give tips on how to avoid them, but I find that the students lack even the basic terminological understanding to know what I am talking about. These students have been ill-taught, chiefly by being passed on to higher grades with no mastery of the required material. As a result, they end up with college degrees without knowing anything.

I have nothing constructive to say on this, but rather am ranting in order to let off some steam. Perhaps you can join me in praying for my students.