Sunday, December 18, 2005

Unfinished ideas to tie up

I've got a lot of good starts on ideas I would like to finished up sometime. To to recap:

  • The argument for the existence of God
  • The whole business of the love of God
  • The taxonomy of conservatives
  • The liturgical hierarchy of needs
Unfortunately, I'm too far behind on my work to handle these at the moment. Yet I would like to a little investigation regarding Confession. I asked some friends whether a line of would-be penitents who did not have enough time to confess their sins would have to abstain from Communion, in spite of the fact that they had a clear intention of confessing, and could be offered Communion immediately following Mass. The general response was that they would have to abstain, except in cases of dire emergency, in which case they could be given Communion after Mass when they confessed.

This leads to two other issues, which maybe I'll consider later--first, what shape the liturgy involved in Reconciliation would take when combined with a sort of "Communion service"; and second, how to prepare Catholics via catechesis and preaching to willingly abstain from Communion at Mass in spite of psychological and cultural pressures to the contrary.

But first I want to research the question of whether it would be necessary for them to abstain in the first place. First we'll start where any good bishop would start: the Catechism. (Personal note: I'm very proud of my highly abused-looking Catechism, complete with mildly torn or detached pages, dozens undone-dogears, and coffee stains). #1385 is very clear: "Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion."

A consideration of any exceptions, of course, would have to stem from the Church's teaching on perfect contrition, to be found in #1452-1453: "When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is caled "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible." Contrary to 'imperfect contrition', "born of a consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself, however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance."

Now, I'm going to be doing some linguistic hair-splitting, but I do so with the strict disclaimer that the Catechism, and moreso the English translation, has imprecisions and ambiguities that immediately hurt the credibility of analytic legalism.

Say a person has committed mortal sin, and for reasons out of his control has not has sacramental confession (i.e., he came, stood in line at the Confessional, but time ran out and he never got in). Whether this person could receive communion would be dependent on this one thing: whether he is conscious of grave sin. Now, I think we need to grant that, at least in some cases, a Catholic may be in a state in which he can not only make a perfect act of contrition, but also be fully and clearly aware that he has done so. In such cases, I think said Catholic would be blameless in receiving communion and going to confession at his first opportunity (i.e., asking the priest for confession immediately following the Mass, before he goes anywhere!)

However, before the sacrament of penance has taken place, knowledge of whether contrition is perfect or imperfect is accessible only to God, and sometimes to the Catholic. Moreover, perfect contrition seems to be difficult and rare; clear knowledge of it would be virtually impossible, since given the gravity of the stakes, a person would have to have no doubts that his perception of perfection contrition is not contaminated by any presumption.

Nevertheless, the Code of Canon Law appears to grant this possibility. "Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible."

Now, we have the "no opportunity to confess" thing down pat. No problem there. Yet what would constitute grave reason? One obvious case of a grave reason is when it concerns the priest himself. A country priest with no easy means to confess frequently cannot deny his parish the Mass because he is conscious of his own mortal sin. One concrete example is Blessed Damien of Molochai, the leper priest, who (if we believe the film) had to confess his sins in French to the bishop across boats because nobody would come near him.

Are there any such grave reasons for parishioners? If they are in no danger and can receive communion after Mass in the context of sacramental penance, I believe not. One may cite cultural pressures--I know that sometimes family members and others who are poorly taught can contemn those who remain sitting as being sanctimonious, and, in a wierd way, 'proud of their humility'. It's the same liberal disdain against those who genuflect before receiving communion, or who prefer attending the Ecclesia Dei Mass. Undoubtedly, sometimes people who abstain from communion can be sanctimonious about it--there is a temptation to preen oneself and think, "Hmph. I'll bet most people here are ignoring their mortal sin, unlike me." That's a sinful attitude which must be named and desperately avoided.

But that possibility is no excuse for those non-abstaining folks to be sanctimonious themselves. If people are afraid to abstain because they (correctly!) believe that others would look down on them, then perhaps a degree of guilt for the unworthy reception the Eucharist would be spread among all who fostered that stigma (especially the priest, if he did so). But it would not take it away fully from the person receiving under the cloud of mortal sin.

Since this is my blog, and is the one place I get to misbehave in writing, I'm going to do something obnoxious and quote myself: "The onus here is evidently on the priest, however, whose charism it is, not only to conduct and direct the liturgy, but also to help form his congregation in the virtues necessary to make the liturgy possible and fruitful."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Liturgical "Hierarchy of Needs"

When I was in high school, I discovered Lincoln-Douglas debate, which quickly became a favorite hobby of mine because it was an outlet for all of my opinionizing and analyzing. One of the staples of L-D debate is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This little psychological nugget is, as I understand it, most often taught in the context of educational or child psychology, but as a general descriptor of basic human needs it has a ton of useful applications, especially in ethical debates.

The gist of the hierarchy is that people's most profound and distinctively human needs supervene their basic physical and psychological needs. "Supervene" is a great word; it means that the higher needs depend upon the basic ones, but are more than the basic needs, and do not necessarily follow, and therefore need specific attention. In other words, people cannot be reduced to their need for food, water, and shelter; but they cannot hope for love or fulfillment without these things. "All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them." (Luke 12:30)

Now, it seems to me that Maslow's hierarchy applies beautifully to the liturgy. Not word for word, of course, but the liturgy, like a person, has a hierarchy of needs that supervene on one another. Consider the following:

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsLiturgical Needs
6. Self-Transcendence6. Salvation
5. Self-Actualization5. Active Participation
4. Esteem4. Community Integration
3. Love & Belonging3. Beauty
2. Safety2. Stability
1. Physiological Needs1. Humble Obedience

Humble Obedience - Sorry to make liberals bristle, but this is simply true. To perform the liturgy (especially the Mass) at all is an act of solemn and religious obedience--"Do this in memory of me." More than that, however, any lacking in humble obedience on the part of the minister or the congregation will severely impact the entire liturgy. The liturgy is not the property of the priest or the congregation. The onus here is evidently on the priest, however, whose charism it is, not only to conduct and direct the liturgy, but also to help form his congregation in the virtues necessary to make the liturgy possible and fruitful. Now, humility and obedience do not themselves rank as the highest virtues, and it is not my intention to inflate them by assigning them as the prerequisites of liturgy, the "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed" (SC 10). But let us keep in mind our analogy--eating and drinking are obviously not the highest activities of the human person. Yet just as a person cannot even begin to be personally fulfilled if he does not eat and drink, so also our salvation cannot accomplished through the liturgy if it is not conducted in humility and obedience.

Now, the analogy extends still further. Humble obedience may be basic prerequisites for the liturgy--but does that mean that liturgy is impossible unless the humble obedience is at 100%? No. In fact, 100% humility and obedience is impossible even for living saints (just as perfect nutrition is impossible for even the most neurotic dieter). It is not simply a question of whether every single relevant rubric is followed to the letter (which itself, I'm sure most good conservative Catholic priests will agree, is a challenge even when the congregation is cooperative!). It's that nasty little word, "humility," that throws a wrench into the gears and makes this prerequisite crushingly difficult for even the most rigoristic clergyman.

Thus, even liturgies with slightly more obvious deficiencies in humble obedience are not thereby 'invalid' or 'worthless'. But as much as a liturgy is prideful or disobedient, that much damage is done to the fulfillment of each of the higher needs, or else it makes their fulfillment superfluous.

Stability - Stability is parallel to Maslow's stage of "safety" not only analogically but really. As William James wrote in his essay, "The Sentiment of Rationality," any good and acceptable idea will, at least in some way, "banish uncertainty from the future." Widespread uncertainty about the future is damaging to the liturgy and the life of the whole parish. Of course, there is no way to expell this uncertainty completely (to try to do so is to be an idealogue), but the pastor must be mindful not to generate needless confusion through constant or dramatic change. Catholics have a right to the comfort of knowing that next week will not be terribly different than this one.

Recall that I said that supervenience means that higher needs do not necessarily follow when basic needs are met. Thus, humble obedience does not gaurantee stability. This is true here for at least two reasons. First, the hot-shot liturgical priest, who knows all of the rubrics, reads all of the liturgical journals, and even has contacts in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, may be in danger of turning the liturgy into a fidgety perfectionistic mess. Not only does immediate lock-step cutting-edge rigorism imply frequent changes in minor aspects of the liturgy, but devotion to theoretical speculations as to the best way to fulfill the rubrics can itself cause wildly varying practice and do great harm to the congregation. The other reason is that a new pastor of a parish whose liturgy has been long lacking in 'humble obedience' could greatly endanger stability by making sweeping changes too quickly or too often in rapid succession. Going back to our analogy of the person, consider the disaster following the American liberation of starving Holocaust victims. US soldiers at times distributed Snickers candy bars to the prisoners, causing their fragile digestive organs to hemorrhage and kill several of them. So much for good intentions...

Beauty - Beauty, in a Christian sense, is an objective category. (Liberals: *bristle bristle bristle*). Now, I use the word 'objective' only in a loose sense, because the beautiful is beautiful in its being perceived by subjects; thus there is no strict subject-object split here. But the beautiful pertains to what is beautiful universally, by virtue of its identification with the Good (see reply to Objection 3) and the True. Thus, for that which is truly beautiful, for a person to perceive it as ugly, the defect would not be in the beautiful object, but in the perceiving person. Of course, in such cases, the solution is not to brow-beat the fellow with his defect of perception, but rather to invite him or her to further displays of beauty so that a connection may be seen.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that the beautiful contains two elements: harmony and clarity. Harmony is something like truth and something like justice. Harmony is like truth because it involves a correspondence, an equality, a parallelism, a resemblance. It means: there is a real connection between what I now see and deep reality. It is a union of reality, knowledge, and expression. Harmony is like justice because it inolves giving everything its due. Nobody and nothing is cheated or cheapened; rather, everything has its due being; everything is as it ought to be. Duties fulfilled, creation complete, etc., i.e., the Good.

The task of the priest, as the director of the liturgy, is to help it achieve as much beauty as possible. In other words, decisions must be made that enable the liturgy to glorify God in its aesthetic elements. The rubrics incorporate this concern somewhat, through their instructions that roles receive their due fulfillment, and the parts of the Mass their due emphasis. However, of course, a rubrically correct liturgy can still manage to be horrifically un-beautiful.

An important precept regarding the beauty of the liturgy is that it must be done as though God himself was the true and only "audience"--because he is. Even the homily, which is addressed to the congregation, has as its deepest goal the conversion of minds to the pleasing of God more and more. The Christian community never addresses itself for its own sake. No action which has a human being as its agent is ever finally addressed to the congregation or to the person of the priest; not the music, nor the prayers, nor even the Sign of Peace or the Eucharist. The Sign of Peace is a sign to God and Church of our preparedness to receive the Eucharist, and the Eucharist itself has no merely human agent. All human efforts in the liturgy have God as their origin and God as their end; all human benefit comes from God alone without human merit.

Misdirected human action is the most popular source of the "cheapening" of the liturgy. The congregation is made into the audience, so both church architecture and liturgy are twisted to serve merely the delight of a particular group of people. Thus the images, music, and manner of celebration no longer even attempts to give God his due glory, the greatest due is fulfilled the least, and ugliness ensues. It may be that a self-justifying mini-theology may crop up that says, "When we are pleased, God is glorified"--which runs so contrary to the teaching of the Bible that it is mind-boggling. "For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality. Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed." (Wisdom 3:4-5)

But it would be a mistake to suppose that beauty was somehow opposed to delight. People receive delight in different ways. St. Thomas quotes Augustine, "many things are beautiful to the eye [i.e., delightful], which it would be hardly proper to call honest [i.e., beautiful]." The really beautiful, because it is beautiful, is delightful; but the delightful is not always beautiful. Thus a liturgy that myopically focuses on delight risks ejecting beauty; but a liturgy which is beautiful is gauranteed to delight.

But this point needs to be augmented by one more fact if it is not to devolve into rigoristic naiveté: beauty in the liturgy, because it does come from human hands, after all, has a subjective quality. But this subjectivity is not a subjectivity of taste, and therefore not an individual subjectivity; but rather a subjectivity of culture and expression; a communal subjectivity. The liturgy is directed to God and has God as its origin and motivation, but it depends upon the work of human imagination, and thus will always and rightly be subject to local custom and systems of meaning. The congregation is not the audience, but it is one of the 'performers'. If the liturgy is a letter to God, it is written in a particular language and handwriting. Thus a community should never exercise a liturgy with less than its very best, holy, and important artistic and musical traditions--much less music designed for more juvenile ends--but neither should it be forced to exercise a musical/artistic style which is not its own.

A final point for this section (and this blog post). People might make much of the fact that God, because he is God, can never be given his "due" by any liturgy, thus making all liturgies inherently ugly. This is true, to an extent. However, two points must be made: (1) God is merciful, and looks upon our finitude with loving pity and condescension, and so is very much pleased even with our meager efforts at beauty which are only dirt compared with his own beauty. See: parable of the woman's gift of two coins (Mark 12:41-44). (2) One must remember that, by virtue of Christ's incarnation, an incarnate liturgy and liturgical beauty have a new power which transcends human efforts.

More later (I hope).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Taxonomy of Conservatives

From time to time I like to do a "taxonomy." I guess there's a little streak of Aristotle or Darwin in me. Recently I was having a discussion with someone about liberal-conservative disputes within the Church, and it made me think of how much differently we would think of those terms if only we made the proper distinctions.

Mythologically, 'liberal' and 'conservative' are descriptors of two sides of a spectrum of thinking, applicable analogically to various spheres of human life where disagreement is common: politics, economics, psychology, and of course, religion. Without making value judgements, generally speaking the 'liberal' side of any subject is associated with prioritizing autonomy (of a person or a thing) over and against authority, novelty over and against tradition, and the individual/part over and against the community/whole.

Sometimes this dynamic takes unsuspected shapes. For example, the Republican Party is characteristically politically conservative (valuing traditional and visible authorities in common life, emphasizing the integrity of local communities), yet economically liberal; moreover, they tend to appropriate 'liberal' language when defending states' rights against the federal government. Economically, the Republican platform emphasizes the autonomy of markets and businesses from foreign influences of authority; hence why republicans can (and do) spend a good deal of their time harping on the 'oppressive authority' of 'big government'.

The difficulty is that, although these words are in fact descriptors of certain patterns of thought of religious people, they describe nothing religious. By the very fact that the word "conservative" involves an attitude toward human authorities, human history, and human communities, it definitively does not transcend any of these things. It is something of an insult to call John Paul II or Benedict XVI "conservative," and leave it at that. Sometimes the worst people in the Church are conservatives.

I am going to suggest that the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' be taken off of the mythological spectrum. Starting from spectrum-models is bad for ecclesiology (although we do talk about other Christians sharing theological community in matters of degrees, but this has a very specific function).

Instead, let us consider Catholic 'conservatives' and what makes them such. On the surface, we might say that one thing they have in common are the preferences mentioned above--authority, tradition, and community. But consider that two such 'conservatives' might hold those preferences for very different reasons. Thus I distinguish already between two fundamentally different conservatives: a cultural/notional conservative, and a religious/assenting conservative.

Disclaimer: I am writing here about Catholics that are particularly self-aware of their worldviews and who are likely to engage in disputes. I am not writing about Catholics who are unreflectively Catholic and for whom controversial Catholics issues are not frequently in the forefront of their consciousness. More on that later.

A cultural/notional conservative (heretofore CNC), has a faith which is coincidental with his or her pre-existing dispositions. That disposition may or may not have a religious character. For such a conservative it may be more relevant that the Church's priesthood is male or that it teaches against homosexual acts, than that the Church is the Body of Christ or that Mary intercedes for us before her Son. I was told of one super-orthodox Catholic seminarian who left the seminary AND the faith in order to become an orthodox Jew. The key feature of this kind of conservativism is that the Catholic's assent to the Magisterium is conditional, not absolute; he/she has a pre-existing opinion or philosophy which precedes, and sometimes overrides his/her faith commitment (e.g., patriotism, traditionalism, fundamentalism, sexism, free-market capitalism, etc.). In this respect, a CNC is different from the liberal only superficially--he/she merely believes different things than does the liberal, but not in a different way.

The religious/assenting conservative (RAC), I would argue, is another animal entirely. (Quick disclaimer: again, 'sometimes the worst people in the Church are conservatives', and this brand of conservativism is no exception). Simply, an RAC gives assent, on principle, to everything they understand to be the teaching of the Church. This is the sort of person for whom, in a dispute, an argument from authority works. On at least a superficial level, "because the Church says so" is a meaningul, belief-forming clause. The RAC places the Catechism, conciliar doctrine, encyclicals, and teachings from the Curia--and sometimes much more--in an epistemological category distinct from and priviledged over other sources for their beliefs. These things hold an epistemological priority, if not an overt theological one, over even personal readings of the Bible, which does not 'live' outside of the Catholic Church.

It would be a mistake to envision for oneself a stereotypical RAC; though perhaps a statistical minority within the whole span of Catholics, RACs come from an unlimited set of motivations and histories, and take as many diverse forms in their religious approach, emphases, spiritualities, and even theological opinions. But the key difference between an RAC and everyone else--unreflective Catholic, CNC or liberal--is that the RAC consciously and willfully believes Catholic doctrine and follows Catholic discipline out of a foundational and firm trust of the hierarchical Church--a veritable hyperdulia.

More later, maybe (that's a promise I often break).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Advertising and secularism

I've ranted about the media and secular culture before. One good whine deserves another! I was discussing with a friend about Poland joining the EU and whether this would impact the strong Catholic faith found in Poland. IMO, of course it will. A country doesn't have to be overtaken by communists to dwindle into secularism--in fact, just the opposite result tends to happen, there. The liberal capitalism of the EU itself will devour Poland just like it has the rest of western Europe.

It all comes down to advertising. Three points.

  1. In an ideologically capitalistic society, the rights to free-speech and free-commerce are hijacked and become the two great cogs of a machine of mass-manipulation. The essential characteristic of this problem is that the systemic ground of the distribution of material resources in a community becomes the creative use of media to manipulate the desire and will of individuals irrespective of their dignity or freedom. Effective advertising is the art of exploiting all elements of the human psyche which are not under the conscious control of the individual's reason, i.e., of bypassing your freedom. The the person's mind, personality, and habits resulting from near perpetual advertising, apart from being encouraged to buy some product or idea, is a mere bi-product of the demand-factory. The more successful an advertising campaign is for a product, the greater the pollution caused, which in this case, rather than chemical or atmospheric waste, is psychological and cultural pollution.
  2. Most people are at least implicitly aware of this situation, and cynicism regarding advertising is widespread and trendy. People understand that virtually every ad lies to them at least partially (a redundancy--all lies are partial lies; otherwise they would not be effective). The reason why most people feel perfectly safe watching movies and television saturated with product-placement and billions of advertisments is that they believe they are innured to the effects and manipulation of marketers. People are simply used to being lied to; in fact they take for granted that those they do not personally know are not generally trustworthy because these strangers have 'always' have an ulterior motive for conversation--usually money. This becomes the great secular mythos, not only regarding authority, but in fact all instances where a person or group seeks to make any message public property. Churches, whose Gospel is personal rather than scientific and difficult rather than easy, are the first sacrificial offering to this new god.
  3. The terrible irony is that both points described in #1 and #2 above are usually true in the same person. The collapse of the credibility of the Gospel due to secular cynicism makes advertisements glow with a new flourescent light which was previously indiscernable in the prior light of the Sun. Secular society is society that lives by the light of glow-in-the-dark plastic.

Opinion concerning Ophrases like "priests are sexual beings" and "celibate intimacy"

I have a bone to pick with the language of "sexual" and "intimacy" applied to priests—that all men and priests are "sexual beings" and are ordered "not to deny their sexuality". I understand that this language was constructed to stress the humanity and completeness of life lived in celibacy—celibate life is not, as Coleman says, “sadly incomplete and unfulfilled.” Yet using the language of sex, sexual-ness, and intimacy to describe the authentic maleness and male identity of the priest, or the close friendships that the priest has with women and men, arising out of his relational human personhood, seems to me to obscure and soft-peddle something. This is the unique, strange, difficult, transcendent, testamental, counter-cultural, and sacrificial dimension of celibate life. Why water down the stark fact that this man, or this woman, has given him/herself totally to a God who is transcendently mysterious yet intimately immanent, and for this reason alone is available to give themselves to all people in a unique way?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I was asked by a news columnist to give a response concerning the recent Church document, Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders.

Being very suspicious of news reporters, I requested that the interview be conducted via e-mail so that I could make my answers more deliberate and reasoned. The reporter obliged, although she later informed me that she was changing the story altogether and did not have direct use for my response. However, it did spark a conversation that resulted (as things typically do with me) in this lengthy defense of the document.

Her questions:

What do you think of the document? If you want to be honest about your sexual orientation, that would be good, as well. Are gay seminarians more of a "problem" in seminary than the straight guys? i.e., do they dismiss the chastity rules more easily? Do you think the document would make gay priests feel dehumanized? Why do you think the document is necessary, if you think it is necessary? Do you think it will actually make a difference?

My initial response:

I think the document is very moderate. Bishops seem to have a lot of freedom to work pastorally with their seminarians and seminaries. I do not know any seminarians who openly admit they are gay--at least, not to other seminarians (if seminarians hide their homosexuality, it would be nothing new). But people are never a "problem"--that is dehumanizing language. The document would only offend those gay priests who do not already understand or remember the Church's wider teaching which affirms everyone's sacred dignity as a person. I think the document is necessary, even though seminaries have already been implementing similar practices in the last five years.

A lengthier, 'off-the-record' addressing of the questions:

First, the notion that the document is merely a reaction to the sex abuse scandal is only very marginally correct. Church teaching is always related to what is important to people. But to say that the document is based on a false correlation between homosexuality and child abuse is just silly. There is nothing in the document that wasn't already taught by John XXIII back when clerical abuse of minors wasn't even on the radar. Also, in seminaries, there is workshop after workshop geared toward preventing sexual abuse that have nothing to do with homosexuality. In other words, even if there was absolutely zero correlation between homosexuality and ephebophilia--and the jury's still out on that one--the document would be justified by older principles (which I'll get to). Arguments against the correlation between homosexuality and abuse don't get at why the document was written.

Nor, secondly, do arguments about how good and beloved are many gay priests. Nobody reasonably argues, in the face of obvious exceptions, that a homosexual orientation alone (even a permanent one) is going to make a priest deficient. If a man is taught that his homosexuality is an impediment to entering the seminary, it need not be because the Church has indisputable proof that he would not succeed in a material way (even including fidelity to her teachings in sexual morality). It may also be only because the Church makes the common-sense judgment that seminary life would be especially *difficult* for him, and poses a special risk to him and others. In this sense the instruction is not unique from other mundane, morally neutral reasons men are declined from entering the seminary--struggles with alcohol, or celiac disease for example, or anything that impairs one's freedom for study in a seminary environment, or to exercise ministry. Obviously there are counter-examples to these--I know a few wonderful priests that are sober alchoholics. But in the best centuries of the Church's history, the prerequisites for men entering formation for priesthood were very strict, and one's not qualifying for priesthood was never meant to imply he or she had a defect that affected his or her personal dignity or journey to salvation.

Third, there is the issue of being "called". People are quoted in news articles saying that, since God has called priests who are gay (as evidenced by their good fruits), therefore a general policy of non-admission is a direct affront to God's will in certain matters. I see two things wrong with this.

First is the easy and often unqualified statement that all the fruits are good. Certainly a priest can be talented and beloved. However, from a faith perspective (and "faith matters," [as the column is called]), if a priest purveys moral indifference regarding homosexual lifestyles, this could never be regarded by the Church as a good fruit, no matter if he was very popular and lauded by several members of the community. Now, if he were a loving and compassionate priest, who made the Gospel beautiful to his people and taught the fear of God and universal, self-sacrificing love--those are good fruits, but not necessarily evidence of a real vocation, especially if they are mixed with one big, obnoxiously bad fruit: fostering dischord and disunity by obstinate teaching against the Church. There are authentic calls, and then there are times when God is bringing great good out of human error.

Second, Christianity has never understood a call from God as a private thing that "I" can hold against others who disagree with "me". Way back in the early Church, (a) your call to priesthood was more or less determined by outside forces--i.e., the whole Church, and (b) your status as a Christian in good standing was validated by your unity in belief with the bishop. In other words, there is a distinction, but not a separation between a call from the Church (the whole Christian community), and a call from God. That is not to say that a call isn't personal (we so love to confound the words "personal" and "private"). But it is also, always both public and ecclesial, too.

Fourth and final big point: before I was accepted into the seminary, I was already very conscious of the fact that everything depended on God's will; not my own. I knew that if I were not called to be a priest, and I became one, I would not be a happy one; and that if I were called, and tried to run away, God would find me and get me anyway. I knew that, at any time, I could be asked to leave for some reason not in my control. So--very early--I promised myself that I would accept as pleasantly as possible whatever God put in front of me. If, by some freak accident I lose a hand and cannot elevate the Eucharist, or whatever, I will leave, find a way to pay my debt to the Diocese, and seek God's call elsewhere (but always in the Catholic faith). If I did not make that promise to myself, I would not really be trusting God, would I?

The last letter:

You asked why I consider the homosexuality document to be necessary. Well, it only makes sense if we grant that the Church at least has the right to have a priestly formation program consistent her teachings, though they are often rejected by society at large. We have to bracket that more fundamental impasse if we want to talk about the document.

Suppose the document wasn't released, and as a result some seminaries were disinclined to be attentive to "those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture." One consequence of that negligence would be the actual development of that bugbear of conservatives, the "gay subculture" within seminaries. Now, that phrase has all kinds of sinister and clandestine implications that I'm not sure are true--so far I haven't attended a seminary where I personally observed a "gay subculture," and I've been to three.

Yet one of those three--St. John's Seminary in Camarillo--at one time at least had one, not too long before I was there. I learned this in a conversation with a chance aquaintance, a former St. John's seminarian and homosexual, who was quite open about the whole thing. He told me that he and others would find ways to 'hook up' and that they were quick to find out who was gay so that they could part of the group (thus adding, in my view, a deliberate obstacle of seduction even for well-intentioned gay seminarians). It was almost like a trade union. And though they were basically secretive, the presence of this 'subculture' was generally known, though people generally did not ask questions or confront anyone about it. Now, I don't know about how that situation affected the campus at large. I have read Fr. Cozzens' book, but he has very little credibility with me as a serious authority on such matters.

But I also know, per an instructional account by a professor here at Mundelein, that sometimes an active homosexual does obstinantly remain in the seminary, in spite of being urged by his spiritual director to leave until he can develop the virtue of chastity. In one anecdotal case, the man believed that he could change his behavior after he was ordained; that turned out finally not to be true, and he left the priesthood. Of course, such cases are not unique to homosexuals--any actively heterosexual man would be just as equally urged to leave, and just as equally naive if he did not.

Finally, I like the simple analogy, used by some commentators, of any boarding school for men or for women. A school wishing to maintain a Christian virtue of chastity within the rule of community life would be bonkers to have a co-ed residence hall; the case of a women's dorm with only a few men, or vice-versa, would be fostering dramatic and unnecessary sexual tension.

I know it is a scandal for many moderns that such "pragmatic" considerations should have the force of law, especially within a Catholic theology of "calling". Again, the notion that God can and does work *in* such pragmatic considerations is totally offensive to the basic conviction that God calls people in some wierd, random, private way that has no correlation to structures or institutions or factual circumstances. Obviously there is something deeply attractive and satisfying about God's ways being "not our ways" and the (very Christian) theme of God's action being opposed to 'man-made' conventions and mores (an important part of any preacher's repertoire). Except that the *exclusive* emphasis on this theme does two very bad things.

First, it ignores the Incarnation, where God took human flesh and did lots of things "in our way" in order to save us; not to mention St. Paul's theology that the Church is Christ's body, a sort of 'double incarnation', with the entailment that the Church is not a 'mere' institution that God stomps on just like he offends all others. Indeed, it should be telling that the Church herself, with her controversial teachings, a scandal to so many other worldly institutions, whether her doctrine and action falls scandalously to the left or to the right of worldly convention, or cannot even be categorized as either.

The second bad result of emphasizing the total non-participation of God in any visible institution, is that it tends to fall right into the hands of boring, agnostic relativism, which is ironic, because this state of thinking is not without its own instutitions, authorities, and structures. It becomes a kind of despair at being able to participate at all in God's action in history, and is only part and parcel of the modern prejudice that God does not reveal himself nor is truly active in history.

So, in summary, the document is necessary to prevent the appearance of gay subcultures in seminaries, to minimize the risk of ordaining obstinant sexually active homosexuals to the priesthood, and as a common-sense measure of preventing a situation of a student being surrounded by people he is sexually attracted to across a time span of up to eight years.

Friday, November 11, 2005

God's love (It's not what you think)

Since I wrote yesterday morning's reflection, I tried to put it unto practice as much as I could. Frequently, I let my thoughts rest on other people, and I continually thought to myself about God's love for them. I had to do the same thing for myself as well, but as I wrote, not on myself as me, but myself as though I were other--simply another individual, like the rest, unknown to me, but loved ridiculously, absurdly, and totally irrespectively of anything good he ever did, or will every do.

But this practice was joined with another insight--the insights of the Council of Trent, regarding the judgment of God. And so I began to reflect on the very old question: how does God's absurd love coincide with his terrible judgment? And so comes the conclusion, not far off: the Love of God is a terrifying thing. It is a furnace of judgment, and not everyone can survive the Love of God.

It is not often that I hear this notion, that God's love and his judgment are not separate from one another, nor do they compete, but in fact the latter is the consequent of the former. That is because, as much as God loves each of us individually, that is as much power he grants us to throw ourselves into an everlasting fire. You see, God freely elected to give us this terrifying power: to resist him, to say no to God. And so one may say that all sins which condemn take ultimately the shape of theft. We steal ourselves away from God. And this is the true origin of divine wrath.

Consider for a moment the parable of the woman and her lost coin, one of ten (Luke 15:8-10). Consider that the coin, having been lost (or perhaps hiding itself), stirs the woman into a fit. She turns the house upside down looking for it. However much joy she had in finding it--imagine her wrath if it were not found! If she damaged goods in seeking it, imagine the destruction if she despaired of its return! If you had a winning lottery ticket, but lost it and, though you searched your house (and your neighbor's houses) madly, overturning furniture and hiring detectives, did not find it again until one day, the date its validity had past, you discover it hiding under the couch? Would you not tear this now worthless ticket into shreds?

These are natural analogies, and while helpful, they fail on multiple levels. On the one hand, it is true, God does not experience anguish, loss, grief, anger, or rage in the pedestrian sense that we do. Yet neither does he experience love in the pedestrian sense that we do. I have called his love absurd, whose etymological meaning--out of tune--comes from the sound made by someone who is surdus--tone deaf. In that respect God's love is absurd, because it is a love come from One who is utterly deaf and impassive to our squeamish complaints for autonomy and "balance." This terrifying love has as its direct consequence, and not as a consequence of a separate "emotion" of God, such as anger, the pains of eternal damnation proportionate only to the negation of its immeasurable self.

I think of the description of infinity lifted out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the BBC article I linked to... "Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real 'wow, that's big' time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here."

Such is the love and the judgment of God alike.

But do not be afraid. I am not finished with this topic. :)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Little morning thought...

So often I am told to reflect on God's love for me. Although there is some consolation in that, I have recently discovered that there is a much more amazing experience to be had in meditating upon God's love for someone else. The results are far richer: God loves this man standing in front of me; God loves that woman, over there. God loves him, or her, deeper than I ever have, and absolutely independently of anything good this man, or that woman, has ever done.

For someone whose self-image is twisted by the wierd mixture of pride and low self-esteem common to moderns, meditating on God's love for a friend or a stranger put a stunning perspective on things. Here is this person! This fellow, who I do not know all that well. And God loves him dearly! Like an only child, only more. And God wants to take this person into his arms, to give him eternal life, to make him like an angel... this fellow, who stands before me, who may be a hard worker or lazy, who might be kind or mean, handsome or hideous, brilliant or dense, healthy or maimed. This fellow is an apple of the Lord's eye! And his story, which I do not know--it must be full of the work of God, the struggle of this will with God, the joy of this person's finding God, and the sadness of this man's not seeing God from time to time. And God's almost insane affection for him hasn't changed a wink!

Fine, true, there is an inward turn with this reflection. Yes, God's love for me is no different. But more interesting, more exciting than this is: Hey, I want the same thing for this other fellow. And I want this man to be perfectly happy, totally irrespective of anything good that he has done. And I want this because God wants it. I want this, because God has permitted me, and given to me, the ability to want it.

And then, only then, is the inward turn interesting. Coming out of myself, I see this skinny, white, slightly pimply-faced kid, and I think, hey, I want this guy to be happy, too. Real happiness; laughter in the innocent friendship with God. And I want it totally irrespective of anything this skinny kid has accomplished, or anything he ever will.

Dear God, save us poor skinny pimply kids.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Where there's a 'What', there's a Will. (What?)

My buddy Jacob combed over the argument from the earlier post, and critiqued some of the points (in a snazzy commented PDF document, no less). Per his request, I have clarified the points, and reworked the whole thing into a coherent whole (without, as yet, getting to #10, heh).

1. There is being. Stuff exists. We see things. There is something. You know, all that jazz.

2. Nothing is infinite. The atheists should be totally with me on this one. The believers will just have to trust me--after all, if God does exist, and he is infinite, he cannot be considered any thing, can he? Perhaps it will be argued that space and time (as commonly, i.e. Newtonianly conceived) are infinite. My response is, first, that the scientific jury is still out on that one, thanks to relativity and quantum physics and string theory and all that; and second, that even if they were, they would only be infinitely extended, not sheerly infinite. After all, space would be limited to its definition as space (or space-time, as the case may be) and not as anything else. Anything with a definition is thereby limited. The fact that we can mentally distinguish between space and time; or between these two things and the objects which are in them, but are not them, shows their limits. We can even conceive mathematically of non-space; we have given it a name: the point; and so with time--the instant. And though a point as no actual being in space, nor the instant in time (as Aristotle proved), we would not go very far without these things. Thus space and time must share the reality pie with the point and the instant.

3. (Rewritten) Every limit implies what is beyond itself. Therefore, every limit also implies a substratum, an underlying something, that spans whatever is inside the limit and outside it in order to make the limit itself intelligible. The easiest example is spatial. You have a balloon, and an intelligent ant inside the baloon. The ant would be conscious of a world outside the balloon because it understands space. Space is the substratum underneath the limits of extended matter. Inside the balloon, outside the balloon, and the space that encompasses both. A non-spatial example: logical validity. The logical validity of a modus ponens (If P then Q) syllogism can be breached--just like the rubbery skin of a balloon--when the terms P and Q are reversed. There exists a limit between validity and invalidity which is grounded by thought as its substratum. So the argument here is, wherever there is a limit, there is a substratum 'beneath' and 'beyond' the limit.

[Segue, formally point #4]. Let's be reductionists. Everything boils down to... whatever you want. Quarks? Fine. How about strings? Or maybe, let's say, dreams and illusions. Berkeley's spirits and ideas! Matter in motion? OK. Phonotic energy of the Big Bang? I'm right there with you. Point is that, it is always possible for the human mind to think of the whole world as being just one kind of thing. But what it comes down to, when we have a one thing that is, and the story ends, is the last limited thing! But whatever that thing is, we can make one critical observation of it: it's limited! But what about time and space? I have not forgotten those either. Supposing they discover that this "last thing," and time, and space, are all actually the same thing, (which is the familiar pattern of the physical sciences, after all) but even then this great 'Thing' would still be limited.

4 [formerly 5]. There is necessary being. You all saw that coming. The atheists may still be with me, too. Nothing inherently offensive about necessary being. All it is, really, the unintelligible 'What' which is behind, not merely being, but the very distinction between being and nothing. Underneath the limit between the only thing that is, and its opposite, is the ground of the possibility of them both. Thus, unintelligible as it is, we can make certain conclusions about it. For example, it can have no limits, either outside or inside of itself. That means it is infinite, eternal, one, undifferentiated, unchanging, unaffectable, undetectable, self-subsisting, etc. and so on. [This 'What' is the Last Substratum, when reductionism has brought the thinkable universe down to its barest limit: that which is, and that which is not.]

It came to me, writing #8, that some will say that this 'What' is in fact "nothing;" total non-being. Yet finally this option looks plainly impossible, because it is the equivalent of saying that the beings which "rest on" this "nothing" are self-subsistent--except that they have limits. The difficulty here is that these well-meaning opponents might be restricting themselves to the spatial analogy here. Why can't you have the ultimate substratum be simply "nothing"? First, because the "nothing" they are thinking of is not really "nothing"--it's empty space, and empty space is a "something". But empty space still cannot be the last substrata; it itself is constituted, limited, and circumscribed by a deeper 'What'. Second, consider the phenomena in #3 that every limit implies a triad. Inside the Balloon-Outside the Balloon-Space; Validity-Invalidity-Thought. You can not make a balloon out of empty space, and you cannot form arguments out of pure invalidity. Therefore, "nothing" cannot be the ground of limits, but merely the second term in a penultimate triad. (I call it 'penultimate' not to confuse it with the Trinity)

5 [formerly 6]. This "what" is constituitive or generative of everything that is. Beings--whether big beings or little beings or mental beings or the quarks, strings (whatever), are always and only ever interiorly constituted by something. In the ultimate fringes of our thinking, the only thing possibly constitutive of all those quarks-or-whatever, is the 'What' itself. Now, I included two possible choices of words here: "constitutes" and "generates." If I know my theists and atheists well enough, I can bet dollars to donuts that the atheists are going to gravitate to "constitutes" and the theists are going to prefer "generates." For the moment it doesn't matter; I just wanted everyone to know I was thinking of them. Aren't I nice?

6. This is a new premise. If this 'What' has no will, then its generation/constitution of other being is simple, total, and uniform.

7. (rewritten) If there is Necessary Being, i.e. a 'What', that is infinite, eternal, one, undifferentiated, unchanging, unaffectable, undetectable, self-subsisting, etc. and so on (see #4), and this 'What' is simply, totally, and uniformally generative/constitutive of all other being (see #5 & 6), then finite being is impossible. What I am describing here is a consequence of the assumption that the generation is simple, total, and uniform. The point that I am actually trying to make is that there is an unbearable contradiction here. Premise #7 appears to contradict premise #2. But since the progression from #2 to #5 appears to be deductively valid, then to avoid coming to #7, we will have to question whether this generation/constitution is simple and uniform. Until we do that, we must plow forward to the further consequences of #6.

8. (rewritten) If finite being is impossible, then all is one, and all is the 'What'. It is the simple question of what do you get when you add two infinities together (or rather, two infinite infinities, heh). There is no non-being, and therefore no difference--only the One. Just as colors are the result of the deprivation of light of some of its frequencies, so our fun worldly plurality is the result of finitude and limits. And without non-being, there is nothing to distinguish anything from anything else. Now, I know that some well-meaning folks of a Bhuddist or pantheistic disposition will be quite happy with this conclusion. Mysticism always tends toward monism. The problem is that, if this were true, there would be no mystics or Bhuddists around to discover it. The true Zen insight, however, is that 'I' do not actually exist... even I am an illusion, along with everything else. Yet this begs the question: whence the illusion? The One has no business with dreams. But going further, we must observe that, if there is no non-being, then there are no beings. In fact, there is nothing. We have contradicted our first premise.

9. If premises #1-#5 are all true, then the 'What' must have a will. Look again at #6. It is a conditional statement. Now let's make it into a modus tollens argument: If the 'What's' generation/constitution of being is not simple, total, and uniform, then the 'What' has a will.

To make everyone certain that I am not doing any mental jujitsu here, I will be more explicit, with a classic example.

P1: If it is raining, the streets get wet.
P2: The streets are not wet.
C: Therefore, it is not raining.

This is a valid argument, but it is possible for either of the first two premises to be wrong. For example, if the streets were covered, the first premise would be wrong, because it could rain and the streets would remain dry. Let us look at my argument:

P1: If the 'What' has no will, then its generation/constitution is simple, total, and uniform.
P2: The 'What's' generation/constitution of being is not simple, total, and uniform.
C: The 'What' has a will.

The most persuasive attack here will focus on the first premise. If there is a way for the streets to remain dry, even though the rain is falling, then first argument is false. Similarly, if there is a way for an absolutely unlimited non-concious undifferentiated ultimate substratum to constitute/generate finite being, then my argument is false.

Thus I place the field of argument as what the 'What' actually consists in. Yet it seems that this three-millenia old question. The very object of classical philosophy seems to have been the struggle to reconcile the Many with the One, finitude with infinity, and so on. Plato's The Good and Aristotle's Unmoved Mover are both attempts to reconceive the 'What' in a form conducive to generating/constituting, or explaining in some way, finite being. Yet they both say things about these "deities" that preclude them from being truly unlimited. They turn the 'What' into a thing.

But why will? In the previous draft of this argument, I said that we can know that the notion of will is the only possible imaginable phenomenon that can account for finite being, by process of elimination. I do not retract this statement, but I will suggest that there are other ways to know that it is will, too. But more later. I must pray, and sleep.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A little proof of a personal God.

This is an excersize in one of the most reviled activities of either philosophers or theologians, atheists, agnostics, Catholics, whatever. Inevitably, the very words, "I think I may have a good argument for God," are bound to arouse reactions ranging from amused 'knowing' skepticism to open hostility--in the former case, when one, not having listened to a word of the argument, responds with, "My friend, as interesting as that was, you should know that we're long beyond that fad now; your argument is full of fallacies, and anyways wouldn't convince anyone" or in the latter case, when one prohibits any discussion, interjects, "You can't do that; why are you even trying?"

We have done such a good job of proving the impossibility of a "proof" of God that it has become a 1st Commandment of rational discourse. Whatever one may say about God--so long as he says it only amid his personal choir of agreeable friends--he may not suggest that anything could compell anyone to agree. And this is true totally of the orthodox Catholic, as well as the postmodern agnostic camp. The businesses of the sheer rational knowability of God's existence has been so long dominated by two full rows of immobile chess pawns, that for someone to break the ranks with a knight, he had better be a genius, or else sit the game out and let the greater minds defend the stalemate.

That. is. why. I. write. very. cautiously.

This is an argument. I doubt it is original; it certainly didn't come from nowhere. It's a barely empirical adaptation of Anselm, combining one single empirical observation with all of the rational deductions and necessities that Anselm implied with his ontological argument. It doesn't try to say very much--only that there is something (from here on, a 'What') which is necessary; and that this 'what', whatever its other qualities, has a free will.

I do believe that this argument is rationally valid, and that the premises are universally recognizeable to be true. To that extent, I am forwarding this argument--with every bit of expectation that it could be ripped to shreds by a smart atheist (or a smart Christian)--suggesting that those who bother to read it and understand it, may come to agree based on the force of the arguments alone.

Now. On with the premises.

1. There is being. This argument could take other grammatical forms: stuff exists; there are things; Being is, and so on and so forth. It's not too controversial.

2. Nothing is infinite. The atheists should be totally with me on this one. The believers will just have to trust me--after all, if God does exist, and he is infinite, he cannot be considered any thing, can he? Perhaps it will be argued that space and time (as commonly, i.e. Newtonianly conceived) are infinite. My response is, first, that the scientific jury is still out on that one, thanks to relativity and quantum physics and string theory and all that; and second, that even if they were, they would only be infinitely extended, not sheerly infinite. After all, space would be limited to its definition as space and not as anything else. Anything with a definition is thereby limited. The fact that we can mentally distinguish between space and time; or between these two things and the objects which are in them, but are not them, shows their limits. We can even conceive mathematically of non-space; we have given it a name: the point; and so with time--the instant. And though a point as no actual being in space, nor the instant in time (as Aristotle proved), we would not go very far without these things. Thus space and time must share the reality pie with the point and the instant.

3. Every limit implies what is beyond itself. Therefore, every limit logically requires something 'underneath' it in order to be intelligible, something that makes real both the 'inside' and 'outside' of the limit (even if the 'outside' is 'nothing'--after all, there is space, right?). Every orange circle requires paper (or something) underneath to see its edges, and the blank white beyond. This is true both of physical and extra-physical realities, as well as perceptual and unperceived realities. Every limit is unthinkable without something which makes the beyond thinkable. Every difference; which is to say, every physical travel, every moment in time, every mathematical formula, and every logical thought that follows the pattern of "not this, but that!"--or moreover, "not that, but nothing at all!" always and inescapably points down, down to the ground, the ground if this, that, or the other thing, or even the nothing. Something has to hold the something and the nothing together, so that a limit can exist.

4. Let's be reductionists. Everything boils down to... whatever you want. Quarks? Fine. How about strings? Or maybe, let's say, dreams and illusions. Berkeley's spirits and ideas! Matter in motion? OK. Phonotic energy of the Big Bang? I'm right there with you. Point is that, it is always possible for the human mind to think of everything as being just one kind of thing--the thing that is. You don't have to be very subtle or particular about it. But what it comes down to, when we have a one thing that is, and the story ends, is the last limited thing! This is the object of the feverish (and one suspects, Sisyphusian) quest of the physical sciences. But whatever that thing is, we can make one critical observation of it: it's limited! But what about time and space? I have not forgotten those either. Supposing they discover that this "last thing," and time, and space, are all actually the same thing, then that's great... but it will still be limited. Therefore...

5. There is necessary being. You all saw that coming. The atheists may still be with me, too. Nothing inherently offensive about necessary being. All it is, really, the unintelligible "what" which is behind, not merely being, but the very distinction between being and nothing. Underneath the limit between the only thing that is, and its opposite, is the ground of the possibility of them both. Thus, unintelligible as it is, we can make certain conclusions about it. For example, it can have no limits, either outside or inside of itself. That means it is infinite, eternal, one, undifferentiated, unchanging, unaffectable, undetectable, self-subsisting, etc. and so on. Of course, if these are all that it is, very few people are going to want to build churches about it and worship it.

6. This "what" is constituitive or generative of everything that is. Perhaps some people were tempted to consider this "what" to be just like a little table that everything else sat on. That's the problem with "ground of being" language--"yeah, sure, just the ground of all being, and the beings, co-existing for all eternity, happy together". Now that would be truly incomprehensible. Because beings--whether big beings or little beings or mental beings or the quarks, strings (whatever), are always and only ever interiorly constituted by something. In the ultimately fringes of our thinking, the only thing possibly constitutive of all those quarks-or-whatever, is the "what" itself. Now, I included two possible choices of words here: "constitutes" and "generates." If I know my theists and atheists well enough, I can bet dollars to donuts that the atheists are going to gravitate to "constitutes" and the theists are going to prefer "generates." For the moment it doesn't matter; I just wanted everyone to know I was thinking of them. Aren't I nice?

7. Limits are impossible.

8. [Woah, wait, hold on there!]

7. Limits are impossible. Yeah. It is kind of a necessary consequence of points #5 and #6. The 'what' generates/constitutes all being; but the 'what' itself is infinite, unbounded, necessary, and interally undifferentiated. Given this, how does one account for finite being? Is there a part of the 'what' which is not constituting other beings? Did it start to generate and then run out of steam? Who can figure out the fact that necessary being is infinite, but contingent being is not? If only some of the 'what' was constitutive/generative of being, then this would differentiate it from the rest of the 'what'; but this difference would necessitate a deeper 'what' to the two differently-behaving 'whats'. Let us be good Ockhamists--there is only one 'what'. And if it is unlimited, it can only generate/constitute unlimited being.

8. Being is impossible. Yeah. So how did we go from unlimited being to impossible being? The unlimited 'what' continuously constitutes/generates unlimited being. Yet this second unlimited being--unlimited as it is--in fact is always and everywhere equivalent to the first. The two are one--one 'what'. This might be very appealing to the mystical types. All is one. Everything is an illusion. We discover in spiritual mastery that, in fact, we are nothing, or we are I, the One. Yet there is one difficulty: there is no room for illusions anymore. Even illusions have their own being, but if illusions can be dissipated by meditation, then illusions have limits. Besides, illusions are always illusions of something, which raises the question of what an unlimited 'what' constituting/generating unlimited oneness has any business with dreams and illusions. Without limits, there is no plurality, no otherness, no difference, no-thing. In truth, there is no Being.

9. Because there is being, and there are limits, it follows that the necessary 'what' does not constitute/generate unlimited being. Rather, it constitutes/generates finite being. There is no logical explanation for this. By process of elimination, There is only one phenomenon accessible to us in all the possible rational, logical, empirical world we inhabit that could possibly account for finite being. Will.

10. To be completed at another time...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Dear Sweet, Tolerant, Secular Europe

I told you so.

Love, your Mother,

The Catholic Church

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Two more random thoughts.

  1. Thankfulness. Thankfulness is a unique and distinctively Christian ability. Of course I don't ignore that being thankful is a natural human phenomenon; in fact, anthropologists write whole books on the oddly universal nature of Gift and Return. (Wonderfully, the very idea of gift--something freely given without expectation of return, explodes categories of commerce so totally as to be an important core to the New Evangelization, but more on that later). Thankfulness has one element that not only separates theists from atheists, but in fact, sets apart Christians from the human race. The beautiful irony is that, inasmuch as it separates and distinguishes Christians, it unites the whole human family.

    What I mean is this. Christians are aware by faith of a God who is all self-giving. Thus as deep as our charity--our friendship with the divine--is, that strong our thankfulness will be. The Christian has a source, a wellspring for infinite self-gift and good works, and its name is thankfulness to God.

    Pretty basic. But inside there's more. The Christian is aware not only of the gift of God's continuous creation--that God gives us each breath of air that we breathe. He is also aware of God's ultimate self-gift in his Son, who truly makes our breathing worthwhile. Yet presented with so unsurpassable a gift, we should be totally powerless to thank God; were it not for the Holy Spirit, God's sacrifice of his Son could be an occasion for despair. But the Spirit teaches us to pray, for "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). This is not merely an invisible, individual teaching, but in the Church, the Spirit teaches us to thank God in a way that is truly pleasing to him... Eucharistein, the Eucharist.

    Thus Christians are set apart by this, and it is acting out of thankfulness which is the singular, inique, concrete way that God breaks in upon a world, offends the logic of sin, to "proclaim liberty to captives" and "let the oppressed go free." See: I, Robot, Sunny's explanaion of his dream: "This is the place where robots meet. Look--you can see them here as slaves to logic, and this man on the hill comes to free them."

  2. The freedom of God. God's own freedom is a notion in theology which tends to be shoved to the back. Part of the blame for this may lie on William of Ockham, who distorted God's freedom into a sort of a joke; he thought he could glorify God's freedom by describing God as if he had total freedom but no love, no honesty, no self-consistency, who had no purpose for creation. The God who saves through a scratch on Jesus's hand or through incarnation as a mule, is a God who says one thing and does another; who confounds his creatures, who indeed does not reveal himself. Ockham's description of God as free is the seed of creeping modern despair at the self-revelation of God.

    In my opinion, the beginning of modernity corresponded with a forgetfulness of the non-competitive otherness of God; a forgetfulness that God is that which is greater than that than which nothing greater can be thought.

    The result of this is the birth of two false gods: the god of the philosophers, and the god of process theology--either the impersonal, rationally necessary, ineffable One Beyond Being which has no will, does not command or reveal, or the personal, dynamic, changing, sympathetic, finite god(s) who are the objects of worship, and have demonstrable freedom, but always veer on the edge of absurdity, or else topple over it. I should say, not so much "birth" but rather resucitation--these are nothing more than Aristotle's "unmoved mover" and the deities of the Illiad, respectively. The only difference is that the "god of the philosophers", if it is spoken about at all, is sometimes called a fifth dimension, or else it takes on Heidegger's critique and becomes the ineffable "Ereignis". But whatever it is, it is never "personal"--such is an insult, either to the ineffable grouund of all being, or to the process of reasoning about it (which, funny enough, are sometimes hard to distinguish). Nobody reads Heidegger anymore but everybody knows his critique, and how to lobby it against believers in a personal deity. "Why do you insist on imposing your artificial, mythical categories on this great mystery? Why do you try to possess, control this great 'What' with the machinations of your puny language? You, who try to make god into someone like yourself--are you not just a metaphysical colonist? Have you not sabotaged our rational reflection with a human desire? While we are thinking, are you not merely emoting?"

    Yet this is the result of a forgetfulness. Because there is one question, perhaps a little mixed with human desires, but primarily rational, and it asks: is the god of the philosophers free? And the answer is no. When the philosophers exclude from God all of the anthropomorphisms of the Christian God, they have to throw out freedom. And perhaps they will say, whatever rational evidence there is of a God, there is no evidence for 'its' freedom. I will grant that proving such from Aquias's 5th Way is a little sketchy, and Anselm is tautological.

    But consider the consequences. First, if the ultimate ground of being is not free, then there is no such thing as freedom. If the god of the philosophers is that which is primordial, basic, ultimately simple; and the evolution of beings involves an increase of complexity of matter, then if freedom did not exist from the beginning as a real thing, then it could have never existed. No degree of complexity or dynamism of matter can yield freedom, only an illusory simulacrum thereof.

    This is not a controversial point; many atheists hold to it with delight. It is a tragedy of reason that so many people who do not think they are atheists, and believe that we are free beings, will also deny freedom to the ultimate Being, saying "It is stupid to think God is personal". They do no realize that freedom, will, intellect, and in the end, personality, come as an indivisible 'package deal'. If God is not a person, then God is not free; if It is not free, then there is no freedom; if there is no freedom, then we are hubristic animals, the Sophists are right, Nietzsche is right, and why the heck are we all discussing this anyway? (A doctoral student at Louvain said that Nietzsche would have been a lot more credible if, instead of writing books, he simply ran out and started hitting people.)

    Second, if the ultimate ground of being is not free, then it is not ultimate. I am not, here, making exactly the same argument as Anselm, but a version of it. I do not even presuppose that 'freedom' is a perfection, or that the ultimate ground of all being need to be perfect. But it is after all, ultimate--not only "first cause" but "continual cause"; the cause of the cause of the causes of all causes, ad infinitim. The "Because" of "Why is there something and not nothing?"

    Yet a non-free "ultimate ground" cannot be this "because". If it is not free, then it acts (not to be confused with "moves") either eternally, unconsciously, and continuously, or else not at all. If the latter, then nothing would be. If the former, then nothing would not be. (This last sentence has taken me a long time to come up with. I'm still trying to probe it for validity).

    ...more to come!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Monday, October 24, 2005

Four random thoughts.

  1. The "Age of Reason"--it denotes the 17th and 18th centuries, characterized by anticlericism and dominance of libertine philosophies, and also the seventh year of a child, the age at which he just barely has the mental faculties to do wrong. Coincidence? I think not.

  2. Genesis 14:18-20--"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be Go Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!'"

    This could be used as a good scriptural apologetic against the notion that the Church has the option to use rice as the matter of the Eucharist. The preeminence of bread and wine in both the New and Old Testament--and in the hands of Melchizedek no less, whose 'order' the Catholic priest is said to join (as distinct from the order of Levi)--demands that continuity--that sign of unity, not only geographically but across eons.

  3. "What are we swimming in?" - the half-sleeping thought that popped into my head before this afternoon's 20 minute nap. The being that underlies all being, the real behind the surface. I conjured an image of all three-dimensional being as two dimensional, and this "sheet" of being as the canvas of God's creation, who gives certain of his paintings more texture, more three-dimensionality than others.

  4. I hate "praise and worship" and other forms of Christian rock--it's bad rock and it's bad Christianity. It's bad rock, smacking of sacharine Disneyland pop-Christian Jesus-Freak "nicety nice" vapid flatulence that ruins the adrenaline rush of good secular classic and metal rock; and it's often bad Christianity, reducing the Gospel to nerve stimulation and flights of middle-class starry-eyed ephemeral sentimental optimism--the perfect target for sin and death to crush into a puddle of bored and narrow-minded despair. When Christian rock is tacked onto the Mass as a "kid grabber," it's worse. Christian rock hijacks the holy sacrifice of the Mass and turns it into the vehicle for a worldly agenda, deifying the lesser good; it reduces beauty to taste, covenant to relevance, charity to infatuation, universal to particular, history to modernity, and ultimately, glorification to Pelagian praise ("we do it"), and salvation to experience.

    A youth group should have two goals with respect to music, which have an analogy to the liturgical purposes of the Glorifying of God and the Sanctification of Man. First, teens should be exposed to, immersed in, and practicing well done, traditional, Catholic music--from multiple ages and cultures (from the most ancient accessible chants, to Byzantine, Gallic, to post Reformation, African, Latino, etc.)--and insodoing, they can see how a distinctive American worshipping music can be a development, and not a break from Catholic music past. Second, teens should be able to listen to all the contemporary stuff with the gift of discernment of spirits, to find where the paschal mystery hides in all of secular culture, in their favorite songs, and in the rest of pop culture; then they will have the freedom that comes from truth, and be able to enjoy secular entertainment in a way their friends couldn't even imagine

    The basic idea is that the Mass, the Source and Summit of Christian life, exports, rather than imports the Gospel that heals and perfects culture.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Funny image...

While on the subject of hunting, a guy at a lunch conversation mentioned that you can't even find a bear in the woods without a circle of hippies protecting it anymore. The thought made me think of the environmentalist protestors who would chain themselves to trees in order to stop the voracious appetites of logging companies.

So I said... hippies chaining themselves to bears?

And there was much laughter. ("Rooaaarrr")

Then I had a very philosophical thought, which I am inclined to do: maybe that image is very much an analogy of how European secular tolerance and irreligion is allowing Muslim extremists take gradually more and more control over the continent...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A quick, early morning thought

Ideology, as Hannah Arendt tells us, is the domination by the "logic" of an "idea." Any good idea--a model, a theory, a scientific "fact"--is accompanied by an inner pattern. When this inner pattern breaks outside of the original, "factual" content of the model, takes on a life of its own, and begins to enslave thought in foreign spheres, then it becomes ideology. Examples: Naziism as an outgrowth of Darwinism; Communism as an outgrowth of Hegelianism; Ideological Republicanism as an outgrowth of Adam Smith; Relativism as an outgrowth of sociology. See also: VIKI's totalisation of the "Three Laws" in the "I, Robot" movie--"My logic is undeniable."

Democracy is good, not because it has an especially keen eye for truth (it doesn't), but because it is the best natural bulwark against ideology. I.e., the best way to humanize the ideas driving government is to throw as many humans at them as possible.

However, we must remember that Hitler was "legitimately" elected in a democratic process. Why? Because the electors were, not persuaded by, but attracted to Hitler. Why? The mass media, image manipulation, and mob psychology.

The mass media--particularly that which is controlled by the few, i.e., television and radio--is the nemesis of democracy. It is a parasite on the system which prevents it from humanizing government as it ought. It is the means by which ideology subverts its only bulwark. Democracy, full of hope for the humanization of government in the 19th century, is now just as utterly defunct as monarchy.

What about the Internet as a democratizing influence? Several problems. (1) Not nearly as many people have it, or can take full advantage of it, (2) though useful as a tool of research, it can also be (and is, generally) used by individuals to reinforce already-held views bestowed upon them by media-controlled culture, (3) is only too often the "handmaid" of the media.

The new golden rule: the one who controls ideas controls the nations; ideas are manipulable via images and omission of information; governments are built to legitimize and promote lifestyles cooked up in the minds of sitcom writers.



Sitcoms and drama shows are miniature, super-controlled universes, where nothing happens except exactly what the writer wishes to happen; "Sex and the City," "Friends," etc., vividly show an actualized, possible "Age of Aquarius," at every turn and in every living room purveying a "hey-this-stuff-ain't-so-bad" fictional fracture between sex and the origin of life, family and identity, trivial choices and life-altering/breaking consequences. The clarion call of "Murphy Brown," "Viva la liberated single mother!" deliciously omits her profound agony, and her child's future inability to form deep relationships. And it does it, not for liberating women, but liberating men: "get out while you can, she can take care of herself just fine."


Addendum 2:

The sympathetic protagonist of modern televized fiction is always in danger of becoming an absolute center of value; the quasi-divine arbiter of right and wrong. There is an ominous truth to the title of "everyman" often assumed by characters like Frasier, Clark Kent, Raymond, etc. This character's worries become my worries; this character's joys become my joys; this character's enemies become my enemies; this character's solutions become my solutions. It will not matter if an individual can admit that there are "good priests and bad priests;" the more often priests are the antagonists in films--or that the "good priests" have, as their antagonists, the Catholic faith--the more habitually priests will be seen as either the bearers, the dupes, or the tragic slaves of "oppressive tradition."

Obviously it will be objected that people are not such sheep, and that this is a demeaning theory of the effect of television. But may I be so bold as to point out that the only film I can recall in the last decade not to assume that people in love must shack-up before they marry was, in all irony, "The 40 Year Old Virgin"? Consider also that, as many gullible or sheep-like individuals there may be, not a single one of them will admit to being such. In fact, this is the most telling sign of it: "I am no sheep; I am a radically independent individual. I form my own values; I am my own man/woman; I am free." Is this not the very thing promised and/or granted by every commercial advertisement, not merely in fact, but in method? Show me the one who is terrified to be influenced by television, and I will show you the radically independent thinker.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A good evening with friends

I had a wonderful night out tonight with my fellow 3-West cam members; a spontaneous little bratwurst and beer on our balcony. We joked about things, shot the breeze, and so on. It's a good way to end an evening of prayer and recollection, and a long day.

Today we processed around the lake with the Blessed Sacrament, stopping at significant intervals along the way. I had the honor of carrying a candle, but my winky little arms hurt something awful after 80 minutes of carrying the thing. I felt a sense of dread as we approached the site of the crash; I'm very happy that Fr. Canary, the rector, reconsecrated the campus.

Wow. I'm not much for long-windedness at the moment. I'm afraid that's the best I can do after a couple of beers. God bless.

Apologetics as Inculturation

Note: the last post was satire. This one is not. :)

Peter Berger wants to ease the mind of theologians. He tells them: do not take those nasty relativists too seriously, because after all, they are not true relativists. They have used their Darwin and their Frued and their sociology to reduce religion into Durkheimian plausibility structures. Yet they have only neglected to do the same to themselves. Berger believes that he has done so, and hence we enter into a bright future of the "level playing field", where irreligion and secularism must compete without any a priori advantages over of the great religious traditions.

That's the playing field, but what is the game? For Berger, the game is the inductive method. For his money, the true religion, bustling about in the midst of all the false ones, will irresistably sing to the discerning and rational seeking mind, who only takes the time to investigate.

[to be continued...]


Title: Apologetics as Inculturation (as Opposed to Berger's Empirical Induction)

Abstract: In this paper, I will argue that "inculturation," as a necessary activity of the Church, is an ideal framework for the business of apologetics. When apologetics is understood as a kind of inculturation of the Gospel directed at relativistic culture, two things happen: (1) the specific flaws of Berger's inductive method are corrected, and (2) the positive insights of Pascal and Ratzinger are actualized.

The point of the paper is not to shoehorn apologetics into the mold of inculturation, but to expand the sense in which apologetics makes use of reason in order to demonstrate the rationality of Christian faith. Namely, if, from the side of faith, reason cannot be asbtracted into a fully autonomous, "pure" instrument without doing damage to itself, then the 'reason' used by apologetics must have two features beyond its counterfeit double: (1) rooted in faith, and (2) directed primarily to the heart of its audience. Enter inculturation. Inculturation has always been constituted by these insights, whatever culture it addresses. Apologetics cannot be truly effective if it regards itself as making an appeal only to sound reason. It must incorporate an inculturating paradigm, and make an appeal to hearts which are de facto feverishly concerned with sound reason. What makes apologetics apologetics, is not so much its unique method, as its unique audience. The purpose of this turn is to heighten the apologist's awareness of the pre-rational (desire-based) foundations of rationalist/relativist claims, not for the purpose of attacking them as inconsistent with the professed rationalism, but to see them as seeds of the Gospel and reorder them towards it as their highest fulfillment.

I. Introduction
II. Apologetics as inculturation: Correlating Ratzinger's notion of culture with Berger's notion of plausibility structures.
III. Problems in the inductive method resolved.
IV. Insights by Ratzinger and Pascal incorporated.
V. How other things fall into place: Wretchedness of man + greatness of God; the limits of reason
VI. Conclusion

[Just to illustrate further...]

Inculterative apologetics is not a reductive approach to reconciling cognitive dissonance, though they share the concern with rationally making connections between Christian faith and the deepest desires of modern relativist culture. Apologetics rooted in faith, however, does not immediately grant credence to relativist culture's superficial concerns (any more than inculturation would grant that eating human hearts was the deepest desire of the Aztecs).

Inculterative apologetics is not a deductive approach to preserving Catholic identity, though it shares the goal of demonstrating to relativist culture that its superficial satisfactions are dross compared to the gold available only to a faith which is passive to the supreme providence of a loving God active in history via the Church. Apologetics does not assume the sheer disorder of relativist passions, and seeks inroads to the relativist's heart via reason and desire-fulfillment.

Inculterative apologetics is not Berger's inductive approach, though it does share the requirement that the members of relativist culture have an active exercise in rational, and experiential investigation. It does not assume that these tools, unaided by faith (even the faith of another person), are not wrapped in personal wishes and distorted by disordered desires, or that even if they were not, that they alone are not totally inadequate to "find" faith because they misjudge what faith is.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Shut Up, You're Stupid."

"Hello. My name is Doctor Ribble Namejokes. I have over forty years of experience in applied abnormal psychology and evangelical mission. I have been an advisor of dialogue and dispute for many prestigious Catholic pastors such as Marcel Levebre and Hans Kung, as well as authors like Michael Rose, and the journalists of the National Catholic Reporter. Years of training and study have taught me one important lesson, which I have made the center of a new approach to dialogue and apologetics in the Catholic Church. It is all summed up in the title of my new book, Shut Up, You're Stupid: Dialogue and Apologetics in the Catholic Church.

In my book, I outline a series of helpful strategies for engaging in various encounters between the Catholic faith and the outside world. Strategies like, "Tell them, 'Shut up, you're stupid',"


or my personal favorite, "Imply, 'Shut up, you're stupid.'"


Of course, sometimes with that last one, if subtlety is lost on the dialogue parter, it helps to return to one of the prior strategies, or better, find a crowd to help improve your credibility.


It is my true hope that, by teaching us to channel our efforts into their most natural expression, this book will usher in a new age of productive and exciting dialogue and apologetics. In the meantime, I also recommend my other popular books, Stop Your Stupid Whining: Pastoral Care and Counseling in the Catholic Church and You Can't Do Anything Right, Can You? A Beginner's Guide to Conducting the Liturgy."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Divided. Really?

While reading an assigned chapter for my sacramental theology class, I came across a throwaway line about the divisions among Christian denominations: despite our divisions, we are united. Probably because I was highly caffeintated at the time (I'm not, now--fancy that), I wrote on my white-board: "Are we united in spite of our divisions, or are we divided in spite of our unity?" I can understand the optimistic impulse in ecumenical dialogue--it's healthy for progress. At the same time, I have a deep suspicion of throw-away lines meant to sustain a polite veil over what really is an ugly situation.

I am not saying that we definitely are divided in spit of our unity; but the question should be looked at.

To explain myself: the term you want to emphasize is always the second term in the sentence. I.e., "In spite of our [superficial quality], we are [deeper, underlying quality]." To say that we are united in spite of our divisions, is to imply that the divisions, real though they may be, occupy a superficial category relative to our unity. This can be taken in the extreme sense that the superficial category is actually illusory or trivial; the "divisions" mean nothing, and we can get along fine if we exclude discussion of them entirely, and focus only on the deeper unity. There is a powerful impulse in that direction in ecumenical dialogue, as well as interreligious dialogue. The fatal flaw in it is that it takes a category of details--i.e., those which are "superficial" relative to another, deeper category; and it makes them "superficial", absolutely. E.g., if belief in Mary as Mother of God divides us, and it is relatively more superficial than our agreed upon belief in the Trinity, then it is "superficial" can therefore can be discarded.

There is a logical confusion here. Relative superficiality is not the same as superficiality. Eyes are superficial organs relative to the human heart; that hardly means life would not be devastatingly affected if we plucked them out.

But even when the "superficial" category, i.e., the alleged divisions amid Christians, is not regarded so flippantly, it is still considered of less importance of the "deeper" category. It's a post-Vatican II truism--not to mention a doctrine as laid out by Ut Unum Sint, that the things that bond all Christians together as One are more profound than the things that divide them.

"If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them" (UUS #22). (I can't believe I actually found that quote. Yay me.)

But bring the question into the philosophical realm (*note the weeping and gnashing of teeth in the background*), there remains a problem with speaking of more-or-less superficial categories of either division and/or unity" the referent.

Things are never simply relative to one-another. Why? Because to be relative to something else implies some level of distance (conceptual distance or phsyical distance); and wherever distance is implied, the limits of that distance are implied.

[I'm going to cut off this reflection, started last Friday, here. It was interrupted that night by a couple of beers with friends, thereby making analysis impossible. My mind has gone on to other things, and I no longer have motivation to finish. Yay, beer!]