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

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.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Off for the weekend

Dear blogreaders: I will be heading off to the frozen north for a few days, and so won't be blogging till sometime on Monday. Meanwhile, you can take the occasion of the canonization of Josemaria Escriva to browse through The Way, which, whatever you may think of Opus Dei, is a marvelous book. You can find it for free here.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

More debate on mortal sin and grace

Locdog and I have been having a friendly debate on mortal sin. I startedby quoting Augustine who said that the fact that there are mortal sins says that we are of infinite worth. Locdog responded saying that if there were mortal sin, it would diminish Christ's redemptive power. I responded that it doesn't reduce the power of God, since redemption must also be accepted by us. Locdog's latest post argues via Kant that although salvation may be lost, it requires an explicit choice to reject Christ. I quote and respond to him below.

LD: at this point, our views diverge. i do agree, of course, that God is all-loving (meaning God is infinite and perfect love) but that His love cannot coexist with sin, however, whereas karl limits this segregation to mortal sins, i would extend it to include all sins.

I would agree with this, at least when applied to eternal life. We truly must be perfect to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is why Catholics believe in Purgatory: it is where any final attachment to things other than God is ripped from our souls. In 1 Cor 3:15 Paul talks about being saved as if through fire; it is that purgation which we believe he was talking about.

More Locdog:karl and i both agree that God's standard for the unbeliever is perfection, but i left it as an unstated assumption that God's standard for everyone--believer or otherwise--is perfection. to state this explicitly, the only difference between the sinner and the saint in God's eyes is that when God looks at the sinner He sees sins and when God looks at the saint He sees Jesus. and how thankful we ought to be for that, because even if God looked directly at the most saintly of saints, their good deeds alone would still fall short. in other words, regardless of what sins we commit, whenever God the Father looks at us He sees only God the Son: as a practical matter we are sinners, but positionaly before God, we are perfectly righteous. this is why i believe that mortal sins deny the sufficiency of Christ's atonement, because no sin is so evil that it could burn through the covering of Christ's righteousness. not even the foulest of acts is more potent than the blood of Christ.

Ok, here is where the debate is going to get good. There is a fundamental disagreement over what happens when one is justified. Locdog thinks that no sin is powerful enough "burn through the covering of Christ's righeousness." But this is the core of the problem: Catholics don't believe that Christ covers over our sin, but that he washes them away! (See Psalm 51:2 "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" David prays to be cleansed, not to be covered over.) Does God make us just, as Catholics believe, or does he merely declare us just? Is justification a juridical act or is it a process of cleansing in our soul? Let's look at what St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans:

Romans 3:23-3:25 (RSV) "For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

We are justified, made just, by the grace of God, for that is what grace is, a gift. We don't deserve this justification, but God gives it to us anyway. Now how is it that we get this grace? "Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." A redemption is a payment; in fact, we still use the word that way, when we redeem coupons. Jesus redeemed or paid the debt for all our sins in the sacrifice of the Cross. This payment is what makes possible our justification.

But notice that Paul describes two steps: justification and redemption. We were all redeemed, but we aren't all justified, since we need to accept this justification. It is a free gift, and requires that we trust that there is a gift and a giver to give it. Imagine that you are hanging from the end of a ladder in the darkness. You hear a voice saying "Jump backwards!" You know there is an abyss underneath you, and you can't see anything else: you have no reason to believe that jumping off the ladder will save you. But you if you trust, if you have faith in the voice, you can leap backward and land safely on the ledge that you couldn't see. This is what justification is like: we are all sinners and we can all be made just. But this justification requires us to accept Christ's redemption, to say "yes" to the voice in the night.

Is justification a covering over of our sins, or does God really make us just? Let's take a look at scripture again, in particular Romans 6:19ff:

"I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. "

I highlight the word sanctification. Paul uses "justification" three times, and "sanctification" five times. I take them to be different words that mean the same thing: the reconstruction of our souls that occurs as a result of faith in Christ, that is paid for by the sacrifice of the Cross. Justification is a legal term, and could refer to the mere act of a judge pardoning transgressions. But sanctification is much more: it is making us holy, "Perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) This process of sanctification is the reason we have sacraments, especially the Eucharist: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." We share in the Eucharist to speed along the process of our sanctification, our growth in faith, hope, and charity, in having the life of Christ within us. Sanctification is a long and difficult process, since we must become perfect in order to enter the kingdom of God, as Christ says in Matt 5:48. This is the process we can derail by mortal sin. We don't cancel our redemption, since we are already paid for. We refuse the grace of sanctification/justification by choosing self over God, and since we refuse the gift, we don't get it. That's why mortal sin can lead to hell.

If justification/sanctification were a mere juridical declaration that I am now holy, why would I bother with the trouble of living what we call the devout life? It makes justification into a game of divine "Let's pretend." God pretends I am holy, even when I am not. Couldn't I keep carousing, safe in the knowledge that God is going to pretend I am holy? The Catholic understanding of this drama of redemption is that God actually takes the trouble to make me holy, through gifts of grace and chastisements. Justification is not a legal fiction, but a spiritual reality.

Locdog: i would imagine that karl is in agreement with me here, although i'm sure he would point out that what catholics believe isn't that sin is more powerful than Christ's blood, it's that Christ's blood, by mortal sin, is refused, and hence God has no choice but to look directly at the naked souls in all its ugliness. as i discussed in my last post, i'm not comfortable with the idea of a mortal sin, which is an action, being equated with a rejection of Christ as Savior, which is a choice. it seems to me that choice must always precede action, or the action in question has no moral worth. karl, being a philosopher, has no doubt read his kant. what would kant say about all of this?

Kant was ambiguous in his relationship with Christianity, believing that reason could edit the Gospel, but I think his philosophy is flawed in that he believes there can be such a thing as a good will, absent of that will willing anything. For this reason, he values the disposition of the person acting more than the act itself. The details of the act are without consequence to the moral judgment of the choice. But I think Kant is wrong: as Max Scheler points out, there is no such thing as a pure will! The will always wills something, and we can only find the will evident in actions. An action presupposes a choice, and so a bad action includes necessarily with it a bad choice.

Locdog gives more Kant, after giving examples of someone intending to do a good act, but failing. We rightfully judge intent in such cases. Locdog extends it to mortal sin: we must judge such acts by what the sinner intends. If he intends to break his relationship with Christ, he does. If not, he doesn't. Catholics believe that mortal sin breaks this relationship, and so for us, it does. Evangelicals don't believe this, and so for them, it doesn't.

I rejoin Locdog, in progress: now let us suppose that ignorance was a valid excuse. take an evangelical (please!), one who does not believe in mortal sins or perhaps one who had limited exposure to the catholic community and hadn't ever been introduced to the concept. let us further suppose such a person chooses to murder his neighbor, and of course, regardless of whether he succeeds or fails, from a moral standpoint at least, he is a murderer. however, there is a crucial difference between this scenario and one involving a catholic. the evangelical was at no point consciously choosing to reject Christ. he may have been committing a heinous, deplorable action, but even so it does not satisfy either my explicit or karl's implicit criteria for losing one's salvation. now if that same evangelical consciously chose to reject Christ one day, or chose to murder someone as an outward symbol of his inward decision to reject Christ, etc., then he would indeed be unsaved.

I would say that this poor murdering evangelical really is in danger, because he should have known that murder involves a rejection of Christ. See, our actions really are declarations of choices: you cannot murder without rejecting God, especially since the evangelical knows the commandments. But of course he is bound by his conscience, in that he will be judged by what he thinks was right or wrong to do. This doesn't get him off the hook, however: we have a duty to form our consciences correctly, and if he thinks murder doesn't separate him from Christ, he hasn't correctly formed it. We Catholics call the state where one is innocent of sin because of ignorance "invincible ignorance." But such blameless ignorance is extremely rare. As Abraham said to the rich man in hell who wanted to go warn his relatives to amend their lives, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." (Luke 16:29) The evidence that there are sins that can separate us from Christ is all through scripture, and ignorance is rarely blameless.

Locdog concludes with impeccable logic from his analysis that "the somewhat surprising conclusion of all of this is that for the catholic, mortal sins really are mortal, while for the evangelical they are not." In other words, whether something is a sin or not depends on whether I think it is a sin or not. There is truth in this, assuming I have attempted to fulfill my duty to form my conscience. But it is not good enough: sins don't just have a subjective component, pace Kant, but also an objective component. If I truly think in all purity of conscience that I need to go on a killing spree (an unlikely and nearly impossible state of affairs), perhaps I have not sinned; but I have still done much evil to the world. Bad actions always have bad consequences, even when the actor may not be guilty because of ignorance.

I want to conclude by posing a puzzle to Locdog: if losing salvation requires the conscious choice to reject Christ, how does he explain the scene of the last judgment in Matt 25:41? Those whom Christ sends to hell are not sent because they have made a choice consciously choosing to reject Him, but because "I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me. . . ." The hell-bound are in fact puzzled by their damnation because they don't remember ever consciously rejecting Christ. How does one square this passage with the evangelical view of grace and redemption?

As always, I eagerly await a reply. I think this kind of stuff is great fun.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Torch Song Tragedy

At least, that's what Democrats in New Jersey will claim if they aren't allowed to remove their non-dead-just-losing senate candidate from the ballot and substitute someone more likely to win. Arguments go to the state Supreme Court today, and I want to take a moment to show the idiocy of the Democrats' argument. Here is a quote from one of their lawyers, via AP: "Voters are to be given a choice. They're to be given a choice in a competitive race. And they're to be given a ballot that's not confusing to them," said Democratic Party lawyer Angelo Genova.

There are three points made: 1) Voters must have a choice, 2) The race must be competitive, and 3) the ballot mustn't be confusing. Here are my responses:

1) Don't the voters in New Jersey have a choice? Go take a look at the official candidates from the NJ state web site. New Jerseyites can vote for Doug Forrester (Republican), Ted Glick (Green), Elizabeth Macron (Libertarian), Gregory Pason (Socialist), and Norman Wahner (Conservative). There are five candidates for whom they can vote. So they do have a choice, and the Democrats do not have a justification to claim the voters' rights are infringed if there isn't a Democratic candidate. Let them vote for Pason, the socialist.

2) If the voters have a right to a competitive race, then I want to do-over the 1996 presidential race. Surely I had a right to have a competitive Republican candidate on the ballot rather than the inexcusably inept Robert Dole? How could a state government insure that a race be competitive? A right that is impossible to guarantee is no right.

3) I have learned throughout my teaching career that nothing is confusing in and of itself. Rather, people are confused. The ballot could be printed in crayon wit big smiley faces and people would still be confused. This is not a reflection on the ballot but on the average intelligence and thinking skills of the adult human.

By the way, I fully believe that the New Jersey Democratic party will succeed in their quest, since they own the judges. The lesson for all of us is that every race is important, and that even though the Republican party is the Stupid Party and is only marginally pro-life, at least they tend to nominate judges who read law rather than make law. Vote Republican for the sake of the judges. Hold your nose if you must, but do it.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

The Old Oligarch has found a parish

He describes it at length here. Note the references to the constant and convenient offering of the sacrament of reconciliation: it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of souls that confession be offered often. Going to confession is stressful enough for the ashamed sinner: making confession difficult to get to plays right into the devil's hands. If I have any priests reading this, please, oh please, go sit in the confessional, every day!

You may complain that miracles don't happen anymore. No-one is raised from the dead, and no-one is healed from diseases. You are wrong. Go stand in line at the confessional this Saturday and watch the people exiting: they have been brought back to life more truly than Lazarus. They have been saved from the death of sin.

I have written more on this sacrament, but the archives at blogger are extremely messed up today.

God help me, but I love politics!

I don't talk much about political cadidates here. If you want the nutshell Summa Contra Mundum voting guide, here it is: 1) Vote pro-life. 2) Voting for a pro-abortion candidate who also opposes the death penalty does not count as voting pro-life.

But back to my point. I am simply tickled by the shenanigans going on in New Jersey, where Bob Torricelli found himself behind in the polls and is quitting the race so that the Democrats can find another candidate who will win. This is clearly illegal according to New Jersey law, but such small matters as the law rarely matter when Democratic control of the senate is at issue. As a spectator, I am giddy with excitement to see what sort of arguments the Democrats will have for replacing their still-living and nominated-by-the-people-of-New-Jersey candidate, even though the law forbids it.

Fun, fun, fun!