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.