Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Welcome back, Steve!

Steve Mattson has resumed blogging. Go pay him a visit.

Monday, September 23, 2002

The Burden of Proof for Contraception

is on you if you believe that the Catholic Church is wrong about this issue. I have been reading some comments over on Amy Welborn's blog about the use of NFP to avoid pregnancy, and lots of contraceptors have come out of the woodwork. They accuse the Catholic Church of being illogical, silly, goofy, and just plain opposed to the common sense of society when we say that contraception is a mortal sin. Of course, given the title of my blog, you can guess that I don't care if the consensus of society is that I am wrong: the consensus of society has never been a reliable guide in morality.

In fact, the common consensus has never been a reliable guide in religion. The cross, after all, is "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) Our faith is not based on reason, but is based on the self-revelation of God. He talks, we listen. Faith is not contrary to reason, but is certainly beyond what human reason can reach. So we know what our faith is because somebody tells us; someone hands on the Sacred Tradition that Jesus himself handed on to the Apostles.

Here is a parallel example: imagine that you are marooned on a desert island for years. Finally, a bottle washes ashore. You pick it up, look inside, and find a note! What does it say? "Swim east at 9:45PM tonight and you'll be saved." This of course seems silly to you. Why should you swim east? There is no reason to do so. The water is choppy and you aren't a good swimmer. But what you don't know and couldn't know is that there is going to be a submarine east of your island at 9:45PM, and the note comes from them. This is what faith is like. It is a message in a bottle, bearing news we couldn't possibly have come up with on our own.

Part of this news, this message from Christ, concerns contraception. The Church found by Christ has always taught that contraception is a grave evil. This message may be different from what your common sense would come up with, but could you have come up with the Trinity or the Cross on your own?

Here is a bit of history that you may not know. Every church, both Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, has condemned contraception as gravely evil, until 1930. In 1930, the Anglican church decided that in certain cases married couples could licitly use contraception. As Monty Python's "Meaning of Life" puts it, "That's what being a protestant is all about!" Before 1930, the universal teaching of all of Christianity was the Catholic teaching.

The Fathers of the Church also teach against contraception. Catholic Answer has collected a few of these on their website. Go take a look, especially at John Chrysostom: "Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. . . . Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with his [natural] laws?

Aquinas is clear on this topic, saying that those who procure sterility through a drug are no longer husband and wife, but rather are fornicators. (Commentary on the Sentences IV, 32.2.3) The much discussed passages of Aquinas on abortion say that although an early abortion may not be murder, it is still a mortal sin because it is contraception.

Scripture doesn't say much on this topic, but it does speak. Onan was killed by God because he contracepted. Deuteronomy 23:1 condemns sterilization. Jesus says that one is not even to lust after a woman: what is contraceptive sex but lust?

There are also the numerous and univocal pronouncements of the magisterium of the Church, which all Catholics are bound to give religious assent.

In light of all this evidence, it is not the Church which must defend herself to the contraceptors, but the contraceptors who must defend themselves to the Church. How is it that 2000 years of Church doctrine is wrong, and you are right?

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Is the soul nothing but the brain?

There was a story in AP today about stress and out-of-body experiences.
Apparently there is a woman subject to seizures which produce visions
similar to OBE's. Doctors are able to reproduce these visions by stimulating
a particular area of the brain.

Skeptics of out-of-body experiences said that the experiment goes
a long way toward providing a scientific explanation for what some
believe is a paranormal phenomenon, even if the study is based on
only one patient.

``It's another blow against those who believe that the mind and
spirit are somehow separate from the brain,'' said psychologist Michael
Shermer, director of the Skeptic Society, which seeks to debunk alien
abductions and other paranormal claims. ``In reality, all experience
is derived from the brain.''

Is this story devastating to religious belief? Is it necessary that
the soul be some ghostly substance interacting with the flesh of the
brain? Perhaps professional skeptic Michael Shermer thinks so. But
in reality the Catholic faith does not at all depend on the mind being
something invisible and magical.

The Catechism does say that ``The human person, created in the
image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual.'' (362)
We are spiritual beings. But spirit does not mean ``ghost''.
Rather, to say that human beings are spiritual means ``that from
creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can
gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.''
(367) The word spirit refers to an activity, or more precisely
a potentiality of human beings: we are able to achieve eternal life
through the grace of God. It does not refer to some Cartesian
ghost in the machine.

In fact, this is nothing new. St. Thomas Aquinas took the idea from
Aristotle that the soul is the form of the body, a definition cited
by the Church as authoritative. What does ``form'' mean? It refers
to actuality. Aristotle believed that substances are hylemorphic,
formed-matter. Matter is the principle of potentiality, but without
any organizing principle, matter cannot exist as any individual thing.
The form gives matter its actuality, making it to be what it is. Without
matter, without the potentiality to be something, the form couldn't
exist either.

Consider a painting as a rough example: the painter conceives of an
idea for the painting. Before he picks up paint, brush, and canvas,
the painting doesn't really exist. It is only an idea. One must take
matter and organize it into the shape of the painting, thus putting
the form into the matter. Without the paint and canvas, there is no
painting. Without the form, there is just paint and canvas. With both
together, there is the Mona Lisa.

We have nothing to fear from brain research. If the soul is the form
of the body, then of course there are going to be physical components
to the spiritual aspects of the human person, just like there are
paint-and-canvas aspects to the artistic aspects of a painting. But
the Mona Lisa is still a masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Apologia pro bloga sua

If you are a faithful reader of my blog, you may have noticed that the frequency of my posting has gone down. The reason is that I am currently employed as an adjunct philosophy professor at a medium-sized Catholic college in the Chicago area. Adjuncts get paid very little, but still have just as much grading and course preparation to do. I will keep up my blogging, but it may be sporadic.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Golf clubs under the altar

I went to daily mass this morning at a parish near my house. The
pastor recently died of cancer, and they have placed a picture of him
under the altar. Today, however, when I went up to receive communion,
I saw that in addition to the picture, they had a putter and a box of
golf balls. Apparently the pastor liked to golf.

Let me repeat: there are golf clubs and balls under the altar. The
altar where Jesus himself is made present every day. Golf clubs are
under the altar upon which is mystically re-enacted the sacrifice of

Is it just me or is this sacrilegious?

Friday, September 13, 2002

I have a confession to make

I enjoy listening to girl pop singers.

Ok, now that I have that off my chest, I have some remarks on the
current state of the music industry. A few years ago a singer named
Christina Aguilera came onto the scene. She had quite a bit of talent,
and my wife and I enjoyed listening to her first few albums.

Miss Aguilera has been undergoing a transformation, however. In the
years since her earlier albums, her clothing has gotten smaller, and
her breasts have gotten bigger. I would have posted a link to pictures
from her recent appearances, but I don't want to have a pornographic
blogspot. Suffice it to say that her "shirt" was a scarf, and her
skirt would have made a good belt. In addition, the lyrics to her
songs, which in the earlier albums were not quite as racy as ordinary
Top-40 fare, have turned into whorehouse chatter:

I need that, uh, to get me off/ Sweat until my clothes come

Christina is a Catholic, and her priest even appeared in an MTV
special about her career. I wonder if the priest ever talks to her
now, and if anyone is telling her that it is immoral to sell albums
by appealing to lasciviousness. She certainly needs some guidance. Her
fate is not unique, however: there are lots of talented female singers
who have been caught on the slippery slut slope.

I recently noticed a story on Lee Ann Rimes' new album, which is
called "Twisted Angel." The album is to be applauded, says the blurb,
because "With its techno/house-influenced beats, Rimes takes her
listeners on a sensual journey through the desires of a woman in
control of her sexuality who knows exactly what she wants." Good
grief. The last thing I want to do is to go on a sensual journey with
Lee Ann Rimes. What I want is to hear her sing.

I suspect that money is at the root of the sluttification of
talented singers. (I am not talking about Britney Spears because she
never had talent.) The girls make some albums that sell, and then they
are told by managers that they need new images to make more hits. They
will need to dance and strut almost naked in order to keep the
attention of the public. They engage in their own objectification for
an increased profit. So what we get is not "a woman in control
of her sexuality who knows exactly what she wants," but rather a woman
parading her sexuality like a prostitute in order to make some

At least I've still got Kelly Clarkson!

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Why I love the Byzantine Church

Last night we went to a Vespers for the remembrance of 9-11. The prayers were beautiful. Here are afew. For full effect, sing in Ruthenian harmony.

From the morning watch until night let Israel trust in the Lord

O day of darkness and terror. Today the evil powers of hatred struck against defenseless people as their imagined enemies. Today sorrow and lamentation filled the land as its citizens mourned their dead. Today the nation faced great fear, but we cried out in trust to the Lord, who said: Do not be afraid, I have overcome the world.

For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him there is plentiful redemption; and He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Today we mourn for those who lost their lives in the unjust attack by bloodthirsty men. May the Lord grant their souls peace and forgiveness of their sins and offenses, and grant consolation to the bereaved families. Truly, those who kill and maim on the pretense of justice should quake in fear. Behold, the Lord will come with his countless holy ones. He will level judgment on all and convict everyone for their godless deeds.

Praise the Lord, all the nations; proclaim His glory, all you people

We sing now a hymn of gratitude, O Lord, for the multitude acts of charity and heroism done by firemen, policemen, medics, clergy, and anyone who came upon this scene. Indeed, the Lord has said: There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. See, here there were even those who gave their lives for strangers.

Strong is the love of the Lord for us: eternally will His truth endure

O God of righteousness and great mercy, Lover of mankind, Bestower of peace, be merciful to us in all our sins of injustice and ethnic prejudice. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, May the wolf be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the goat. The calf and young lion shall browse together, with a little child to lead them. Then they shall beat their swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. Peace to your people at all times.


40% of Brazilian women are sterilized

A story from the Tribune reports that demographers are stunned that in developing countries such as Brazil, birth rates are falling. The story is typical in that it assumes "the church was against limiting the number of births," which is not true. The Church is against artificial methods of regulation of birth because it deforms the sexual act, but she is not against responsible parenting.

So why are Brazilian women sterilizing themselves? In Brazil, some experts say, cultural factors, such as television soap operas, have played a role.

"The model of smaller families--a mother and father with two children--began to show up in the soap operas," said Jacqueline Pitanguy, former president of Brazil's National Council for Women's Rights. "It helped spread the idea that small families had to do with modernity."

The legacy of modern times is the destruction or minimizing of the good of family life. Children are no longer seen as a blessing, but as a distraction. Rather we should all live free-wheeling lives like soap opera stars, with one or at most two children that can safely be sent to day-care while we go about having unprocreative sex. Rather than "Be fruitful and multiply," we have decided to be sterile and diminish.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

The Old Oligarch Rocks!

T.O.O. has apparently finally gotten moved into his new digs, and has returned to regular blogging. Shame on me for not linking to him. In this post he answers a letter from someone dismayed with the prospect of a scripture study at his parish using the historical critical method. If you don't know what the historical-critical method is, it is a school of scriptural interpretation that looks at the bible as just another pile of papyrus from some savage tribe in the desert, no more inspired or worthy than the code of Hammurabi or the epic of Gilgamesh. If you have gone to a Catholic school any time in the last forty years, your understanding of scripture has likely been tainted by this method. The Oligarch gives many good book recommendations to cure you of this disease. I recommend reading the writings of the ancient fathers of the Church, and also can recommend the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture that the Oligarch links to.

Addendum:To show you how pervasive this scriptural silliness is, I was babysitting my precious nephews this afternoon, and I picked up a book from the shelf, a biblical atlas developed for children. Most of it was good, giving pictures of places occuring in the bible, but in the end it gave a description of the various books of the bible. Under the gospels, it said things like "Matthew is based on the gospel of Mark, and a document of Jesus' sayings known as Q."

They are teaching children Q-source theory! Ugh. Never mind that the theory is unproven and unprovable, teaching it to kids is likely to make them think that the bible is just a bunch of made-up stuff. Teach them first that it is inspired, and that the gospels are trustworthy historical documents, as Dei Verbum makes clear. When they get to graduate school, they can look up the so-called Q-source. (Did you know that Q stands for Quelle or source? So the Q-source becomes the Source-source. Kind of like calling a restaraunt "The La Trattoria.")

Friday, September 06, 2002

Must they go to the courts?

As you may know, Michael Rose, author of Goodbye, Good Men, has threatened Fr. Johanssen with legal action because of the latter's criticism of the methodology of the book. For the record, having been in seminary myself (albeit one of the good ones), I think that much of what is reported in the book is true. However, I wish that Rose had written it with less reliance on unnamed sources.

I have some words from St. Paul on those who go to lawyers to solve their problems. He says it much better than I would. From 1 Corinthians 6:
When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?
To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Is "Like", like, a real word?

In today's Chicago Tribune there is an article (Link requires registration) about a linguistics professor who claims that the word "like" is a perfectly legitimate and acceptable part of teenagers' speech. She claims that "like" is actually a discourse particle, a word that identifies something about the mood of the speaker. These particles are more common in other languages, such as German (denn, for example), although there are examples in English: "Where are you going, then?" What does 'then' mean in this passage? It isn't an adverb of time, but rather indicates that the answer to this question has some sort of logical relationship with what went before in the conversation. "Like," according to the professor, is similar.

What does "like" signify, according to Professor Muffy Siegel? (I am not making that up. The name of the professor defending "like" really is Muffy.) She says that it is used to make speech seem less formal, and also to indicate a bit of imprecision in recollection. If I say "So I was like, no way! And she was like, Yeah!" what I really mean is that I don't exactly intend that we actually said "no way" and "yeah."

I disagree, as I am sure you aren't surprised to find out. If a word is a legitimate word used to communicate some sort of meaning, then those who use it ought to be able to define the word. Try this as a test: ask any local teenager who uses "like" to define it. What are they trying to express? They will not give Professor Muffy's explanation that it is a discourse particle, or that they are using it for the purposes of relating indirect discourse. No, rather they will say "It doesn't mean anything!" It is a filler, something like "um." At best, it is used as a synonym for "said."

I am of the opinion that fillers should be avoided in speech, since they are distracting for the listener. I am also of the opinion that new words shouldn't be used when there are perfectly good old words, especially when the new words are ambiguous and multi-hued. Using "like" for "said" is therefore to be avoided as well.

Do your teenagers a favor, and fine them every time that they use the word "like" and don't mean "prefer" or "similar to." They will have a better life, and you will make some pocket change!

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Apologies for the slow blogging

We put down a new floor this past weekend, and so I got behind on my grading and class prep. I will get back up to speed soon!

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

More Malapropisms in Liturgy

One of my few readers wrote in with a few examples of mispronounciations and verbal blunders during Mass. Thanks, Tom.

Hi Karl,

Two of the more memorable malapropisms I've heard from confused lectors
were uttered by...

...the man who misread from 1 Corinthians 6,

"The body, however, is not for immortality, but for the Lord,
[...] Avoid immortality."

...the woman who misread from Isaiah 50,

"My face I did not shield from buffets ["boo-fays"] and spitting."

I'm surprised someone doesn't have a collection of these somewhere.

That sounds like an invitation!

Why we should study Scripture in the light of the Fathers

The New Jerusalem Bible Commentary talks of Matt 5:27-30 as portraying Jesus pointing out that actions are not the only things that are sinful: "when a person has seriously decided to commit a wrong the moral evil is already present, even though it can be increased by further action." (p. 642). Note the qualifier "seriously": what if I just look at a women lustfully, but without any intention to commit a wrong? Is it sinful then? The NJBC is generally good in its explanation of this passage, but I am suspicious of it. Jesus doesn't say anything about lust being wrong because it is an intention to commit an immoral action. Lust is wrong in itself, according to the text.

Now take a look at how St. John Chrysostom reads this passage: "What then," one may say, "if I should look, and desire indeed, but do no evil?" Even so you find your place among the adulterers. For the Lawgiver has pronounced it, and you must not question further. For when you look once, twice, or three times, you will perhaps have power to refrain; but if you make this your habitual practice, kindling the furnace within you, you will assuredly be overcome. Your human nature is no different from that of other people. If we see a child holding a knife, though we don't see him hurt, we spank him and forbid him ever to do so again. In the same way, God removes the licentious look even before the act, lest at any time you should fall in act also. For he who has once kindled the flame, even when the woman whom he has beheld is absent, is forming continually within himself images of shameful things. The images often lead even to the concrete act. Hence Christ takes away even that embrace which is in the heart only."

Note that Chrysostom looks at the text with reverence, and doesn't try to correct it to make Jesus say "If a person has seriously decided to commit adultery, he has already committed adultery in his heart." No. Jesus says that lust is bad, and St. John takes him at his word. But he gives a wise and pastorally sound reason why one should refrain from lust. Jesus was wise (of course) to tell us not even to lust, since the act of lust itself is damaging to human character. It doesn't matter if we actually commit adultery or even intend to: the fantasy in the mind already does damage to us, and so is sinful. Just as it is bad for a child to play with matches even if he doesn't plan to burn the house down, so also is it bad for us to lust, even if we don't plan to fornicate.

By the way, if you would like to read Scripture with the Fathers, there is a new book series that might be of use, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, put out by Intervarsity Press. I got the Chrysostom quote from the volume on Matthew 1-13.

Saturday, August 31, 2002

If you have a moment

Could you say a prayer for a special intention of mine? Thanks much.

Friday, August 30, 2002

Reasons why my wife clearly is Nihil Obstat

N.O., the resident proofreader of St. Blog's, is promising to
reveal clues to his identity. There is no need. I have already figured
out that Nihil Obstat is none other than my beautiful, talented, and
grammatically fastidious wife Melissa.

What is my evidence, you may ask?

1) She liked Amy Welborn's book Prove it: Church, but
wanted to know why Ms. Welborn constantly used a plural
pronoun (they) to refer back to a singular subject
(everybody). "Everybody has to face these questions in their
lives," or something similar, caused her no end of annoyance.

2) She told me that yes, the Navarre Bible Gospel of John had
nice commentary, but surely they could use an editrix. Yes,
she actually used the word "editrix."

3) No matter how much I explain to her that ending sentences
with prepositions is fine, and actually shows the debt that
English owes to German, it is still something up with which
she emphatically refuses to put.

4) She was willing to seek other employment when her boss told
her that she wasn't to use the word "whom" anymore.

5) Most suspiciously, Melissa claimed that her company's
internet policy stopped allowing blogs around the same time
that Nihil Obstat opened up shop. Clearly, she was trying to
put me off the scent.

6) Nihil Obstat never finds errors on my
blog. Obviously Melissa feels that this is pointless, since
she tells me of my errors at home.

So, Nihil, you can quit this charade and reveal your identity. Come
clean, Melissa!

Thursday, August 29, 2002

I got to teach again last night

I'm back to work teaching college students, if only as an adjunct. If you don't know, an adjunt professor has all the responsibilities and duties of a full professor, only without tenure and with a salary that barely covers gas money.

I am teaching adult students, and it is quite a bit different. Normal college-age kids are relativists by habit, and in class I generally have to take the position that there are moral absolutes and argue for them. The adults are the opposite: they tend to think that there are such things as right and wrong, and I have to take the opposite position to get them to think critically about why things are right and wrong.

Why do I have to challenge their beliefs? Chances are that real life will challenge their beliefs at some point in time. Far better for them to be challenged in my class, where unexamined ethical assumptions can be examined. The goal is for them to know why one should be good. Otherwise, if we don't know the "why", when temptation comes we will probably give in. After all, why not?

Morals without reasons are like houses without foundations: they may look pretty and work for a little while, but when bad weather comes they may just wash away.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Pre-mass sharing?

Fr. Rob Johanssen has a debate going on over at his blog about the appropriateness of turning and greeting one's neighbors before the Mass. Especially check out the comments.

For the record, I'm against it.

If Augustine were alive today,

Would he be forced to quit being a priest because of zero-tolerance? Chances are the mother of his son wasn't over 18 when they started fornicating.

More from Mrs. Malaprop

The woman who reads at daily mass read the psalm response thus: "Lord, teach me your statues." She never caught her error.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Hooters girls are not beautiful

If you haven't noticed, there is a new blog documenting the entrance into the Church of a former atheist. Sean posts a lament at the arrival of a Hooters girl next door. Six months ago he would have seen this as a good thing, but now it is not.

This got me thinking (everything gets me thinking) about the nature of beauty. Aquinas says beauty includes three conditions, "integrity" or "perfection", since those things which are impaired are by the very fact ugly; due "proportion" or "harmony"; and lastly, "brightness" or "clarity," whence things are called beautiful which have a bright color. Think about what these conditions relate to: how do we judge something to have intergrity, proportion, and clarity?

If you go to Hooters, there will be lots of pretty girls bouncing around in short shorts. Hooters makes lots of money by having bad food and bouncy waitresses. The strategy is to play upon the sexual urge of mostly male customers. The customers will become aroused, by more beer, and leave bigger tips. How does one judge the quality of a Hooters girl?

We use the mind to judge whether something is beautiful, and the groin to judge whether someone is a good Hooters girl. Something different is going on in the two cases. For beauty, there is a delight taken in the apprehension of the integrity, proportion, and clarity of the beautiful object or person. This delight iis a response to the action of the intellect. But for the Hooters girl, the reaction is entirely different: the sexual urge awakens and causes a response. There is no apprehension of the integrity, proportion, and clarity of the whole person, but rather a narrow focus on the sexual suitability of the various parts of the girl. We use different organs in each case. Beauty is the province of the mind, sexiness the province of the genitalia.

So although a Hooter's girl may be sexy, chances are she is not beautiful, or at least not as beautiful as she could be. The choice to work in a place where one makes money by toying with the sexual desire of men shows a lack of integrity in the person that mars beauty. Another example: Pamela Anderson or those who work in pornographic films may be extremely sexy, but they are not at all beautifull, since the way they make money is without integrity.

The most beautiful of all women are those who, although possessing much integrity, proportion, and clarity of body, also possess enough integrity, proportion, and clarity of mind not to flaunt it.