"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, July 25, 2005

Do you get this one any more than I do?

Over at CWN's Off the Record, Diogenes has posted the following along with his reactions: "Here's a heart-warming story from the LA Times about Fr. Arturo Uribe, a Redemptorist priest who, while a 33-year-old seminarian, fathered a child." Read it. You gotta believe...but what?

I don't have a problem with the Church ordaining a man who had fathered a child out of wedlock. After all, the never-married St. Augustine had done the same, and that didn't stop the people of Hippo from pressing him into service as their bishop any more than it stopped him from becoming the greatest Father of the Western Church. But Uribe, unlike Augustine, has never showed any interest in his son and has his child support paid by his religious order, which requires from him a vow of poverty. Apparently the amount paid is insufficient, so the boy's mother has been having recourse to the courts and had even been having such recourse before Uribe was ordained. Yet Uribe is posted to active parish work and his parishioners defend him. How can this be?

I myself pay child support for legitimate children of a marriage annulled by the Church. It's more than Uribe's, but not so much more as to make a significant difference to their mother's lifestyle. I have a hard time getting my employer, who is obliged to withhold the support from my paycheck, to remit it on time to the state; whenever he gets behind by more than a month's worth, I have the authorities to deal with, and they are duly dealt with. And so it makes sense that I have been told in no uncertain terms, by several dioceses near and far that, for all those reasons, I have no chance of admission to seminary study—let alone ordination to the diocesan priesthood, which carries no vow of poverty. And that is why the Uribe case does not make sense to me.

I'm inclined to say that his case is just an aberration. But given what I've already said on this blog about the American bishops, I would not venture to assert as much. It might be one of the few aberrations of its kind, but it's only one kind among many. I just shake my head. How many bishops are still asleep at the switch?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Still playing the chit

Among American Catholic religious women, there is no better-known personality than Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, the aging enfant terrible of “progressive” theological dissent. The media, Catholic as well as secular, have seen to it that she sustains that role long after its pertness has worn off. Ever since Pope John Paul II slammed the door shut on women’s ordination with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), Chittister has been holding the candle for it even higher before many audiences—ones sprinkled, I notice in the pictures, with the same generous proportions of gray hair as she and most of the herd of independent progressive minds. Her latest salvo has been launched into the current C of E flap about the looming prospect of women bishops, over which many traditionalist Anglican clergy are threatening, rather to her bemusement, to bolt to Rome. Freshly written for the Natholic Catholic Reporter (known among non-cafeteria Catholics as “The Distorter”), Chittister’s piece is an object lesson in theological fatuity.

Those who care to read beyond what's provided here should go to Pontifications...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Just as I suspected...

I remember last year when many Catholics, even those of unquestionable orthodoxy, were pooh-poohing any theologically motivated criticism of The DaVinci Code. After all, it was "just a novel," and a pretty good page-turner at that; so what, they wondered, was all the fuss about? Well, now we know.

In a TV interview over the weekend, author Dan Brown (pictured) has come right out and said he actually believes that Jesus and Mary Magdelene were married and started a royal bloodline that spread into Western Europe. Much else goes with that myth, but there's no need to delve into the tawdry intricacies here. Amy Welborn (see the book ad in the sidebar), Carl Olson, Sandra Meisel, and others have done a good job of that. The only thing that matters now is that the cat has been let out of the bag. Brown is no longer offering DVC's central plot line as fiction but as fact. Of course it is not fact but theory—a pretty "bonkers" theory, to quote Professor John Haldane. But one wonders what other outrageous subplots and claims in the book Brown also believes. Many, I'll wager—certainly some of the most offensive ones.

The DaVinci Code really is theological propaganda after all. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Thanks to the Pontificator!

Yesterday I was appointed as co-writer, along with Orthodox priest Steven Freeman, for the splendid theological blog Pontifications. Its owner and moderator, Fr. Al Kimel, recently resigned his position as a parish priest in ECUSA to join the Catholic Church, into which he was received a few weeks ago by Fr. Jay Scott Newman (note the serendipitous name) of St. Mary's, Greenville, SC. The blog is metamorphosing from a record of Kimel's struggles with and exodus from ECUSA into something of broader and still quite ecumenical interest.

In fact, I have found it to be the only place on the Internet where one can daily discuss real theology in a consistently civil manner with highly intelligent and committed adherents of “mere Christianity.” That is why I became a regular commentator there. Although it is confessional with a confession I favor, it is not a confessonal ghetto. It enables people to cross boundaries without blurring them. That does not merely please me but is important for all the churches. Discussions can get polemical at times—alas, like those of any online forum—but the polemics do not go over the top and certainly do not deflect the common search for truth. That alone makes Pontifications worth maintaining, and I'm proud to be an integral part of it.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Sower of the Tares

The following also appears at Pontifications

Today throughout the Catholic Church, the Gospel reading at Mass was Matthew 13:24-30: the parable of the wheat and the tares. As Jesus pointed out later in the same pericope, the sower of the tares is Satan. Yet I doubt most Catholics would be surprised to learn that the homily given at my parish this evening on that passage was the first I’ve heard from a Catholic priest in nearly twenty-five years on Satan as a genuine personal force in his own right.

What was said on that theme, regarding both the world and the Church, hit the bullseye. It was said that Satan, who has irrevocably turned his back on God, is jealous of us. He knows that we are destined for the glory and power that were once his. That’s why he induced our first parents to fall away from their original justice, darkening the intellects and damaging the wills of their descendants too. His jealousy elides into pure hatred, a desire to destroy us; and our pitiful weakness in face of that desire is why God has gone to such apparently absurd lengths to save us. The forms Satan’s efforts take in the world need no elaboration here; but the field of his most “insidious” efforts is the Church herself, where the divine sower has sown his wheat.

In their early stages of growth, the “tares” or “weeds” Satan sows in that field are virtually indistinguishable from wheat at the same stages of growth. (Transliterated, the Hebrew for such grassy weed is darnel, which the homilist said is almost certainly the word Jesus actually used.) Only when both are mature enough for harvest time to impend can one tell them apart well enough to pull up the tares without also pulling up the wheat. The life of the Church is like that both ontogenetically and phylogenetically. Both in our own hearts and collectively, we the people of God mix good and bad and they often seem alike until all has come to fruition. That is why pulling up the tares until such a time has arrived manifests only the impatience that destroys. Therefore, as Greg Bourke has said, following the Good Sower’s program takes the “stupendous patience” that is his. But it’s what saves. So even as we stay vigilant to distinguish fake virtue from true, and orthodox teaching from heretical, we must not move too quickly against all that is false in the Church’s midst and within each of our own hearts. We must patiently cultivate the divine life planted in us until all that misleads in its indistinctness comes to light.

I was stunned but deeply gratified that such thoughts came from a priest twenty years my junior who was ordained in my diocese only last May: Fr. James Ebright of Our Lady of Grace, Greensboro, NC. He is not just one of those “young fogies” that 1960s-vintage Catholic priests often complain about to my amusement. He is a man who did not forget reality after entering the seminary and appears to have learned there what many far more experienced priests have forgotten, or at least no longer think important. I invite all to rejoice with me. From all I’ve been hearing, it seems that unadulterated substance along with pastoral sensitivity is a combination that could come back into vogue among the new generation of Catholic priests.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Is the threat real, and what is at stake?

According to the BBC, "hundreds of traditionalist [Church of England] clergy may leave for the Roman Catholic Church if women are ordained as bishops." I hope they really, really mean to. Their most prominent spokesman is the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham (pictured), who together with Richborough's Bishop Keith Newton have issued the official statement on the issue for the traditionalist C of E organization Forward in Faith. I'm sure the Pope is (quietly) delighted by such news as he vacations in the Alps: the line is not only being drawn somewhere but might actually be crossed in the right direction en masse. But I admit to some puzzlement as to why it's being drawn only where it is and only now, years after women have admitted to the "priesthood" in the Anglican Communion.

As a Catholic, not an Anglican, I cannot pretend to speak for Anglicanism—which is just as well, since most Anglicans can't either. But it seems to me that once one allows that women can actually become priests, there is no logical obstacle to allowing women as bishops. After all, bishops have the fullness of the priesthood; what special, fuller aspect of priesthood can people who approve female priests identify that female priests are unable to share? I can find no rationale for a glass ceiling here, and it appears that Canterbury and York can't either. So even as an outsider in this controversy, I would venture to ask why it takes the impending ordination of women to the C of E episcopate to induce the traditional Christians in that communion to say "Basta!" and bolt for Rome.

To orthodox Catholics as well as to some Anglo-Catholics, the logic of the situation has been clear for many years. Perhaps the traditional Anglican inclination to "fudge" potentially church-dividing issues is all the explanation that's needed. If so, it would appear that the fudge is becoming ever less workable. That is mainly because this is just one subplot in a saga unfolding throughout Christianity—except among the Orthodox, for whom women's ordination remains admirably inconceivable.

It has often been noted that the sharpest religious divide in our era is not interchurch but intrachurch: that between the "mere Christians" striving to adhere to the ancient faith and morality, and the progressives who want to reinvent Christianity in a postmodern idiom. That contrast is almost as clear among Catholics as among Anglicans or indeed among members of the mainline Protestant denominations. Thus it is no accident that many people who favor women's ordination see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage but that those who oppose the former almost uniformly oppose the latter. If you can't see what's wrong with female priests, then it's that much harder to see what's wrong with men marrying men or women marrying women: "It's all a matter of human rights, you see. Genitalia have nothing to do with that."

Wrong. This is not a matter of human rights but of the nature of divine revelation itself. Nobody has a "right" to ordination, and not everybody who wants to be sacramentally married can be married in that sense. As I implied in an earlier post, the ordained represent one pole of a spiritual polarity in the Church, the "Petrine" charism, of which the other pole is the "Marian" charism of "receptivity to God, submissive fidelity to Jesus Christ, and fruitfulness in bearing him into the world." The latter "is fully shared by every member of the faithful, from the bottom to the top; it just is the superordinate, multi-layered gift of grace empowering the Church to be the Bride of Christ and thus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bear his children into the world. The Petrine charism of teaching and governing authority, invested primarily in bishops and derivatively in priests and deacons, exists to facilitate and serve the Marian by efficaciously signifying Christ as the self-immolating Bridegroom and Head of the Church. Hence the hierarchical nature of the Church—her hieros arché or “sacred order”—is an unpagan kind of hieros gamos, a sacred marriage. Just as Jesus is the male Bridegroom of the Church [cf, e.g., Ephesians 5], all the faithful together as his Bride are female. That is the sacramental sign by which the ecclesia, the assembly of the faithful, is effectively related...to her Lord as he intended." That is why only men can be in the sacrament of Holy Orders and why the sacrament of marriage must be heterosexual and indissoluble. Insofar as it pertains to specific vocations among the baptized, the sacramental economy of the Church—which not even the pope has authority to change in any but minor details peripheral to Tradition—is predicated on the revealed symbolism of the man-God Jesus Christ's relation to the Church as that of Bridegroom to Bride.

Advocates of women's ordination and gay marriage reject all that as "culturally conditioned" and now tragically outdated. They are among the new Gnostics of the age, who believe that the obvious and not-so-obvious differences between male and female make no spiritual difference. If God the Son chose to incarnate himself as a man in a patriarchal culture—well, sexism was too strong even for God back then, and we're no longer obliged to accommodate his weakness. If marriage was for so long assumed to be inherently heterosexual—well, human reproduction used to be much more important than it is now, so of course people were more prejudiced against the otherwise perfectly harmless activity known as sodomy. Well. People who think like that are no more Christian than the Gnostics whose writings the Church rejected during the formation of the New Testament canon. It's the same struggle today as then. The difference now is that a lot more knowledge and responsibility are involved.

Bishop Burnham and his allies are a bit late, but they're coming to see what's at stake.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Caption contest!

For those of you who need the hint, the figure in the photo is that of Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. If you know things about him, please offer a caption over at Karen Hall's blog Some Have Hats. I'm sure you'll have as much fun as I did!

The Church & evolution again

The only good news in the latest buzz about Catholic teaching on evolution is that people are no more confused than they've ever been. In a July 7 Op-Ed article for the New York Times, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and lead editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, indicated that while "[e]volution in the sense of common ancestry might be true," the fact remains that, according to Church teaching,
...evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science (emphasis added).

But of course: what else could he say? Leave aside that Schönborn is a former student and close ally of the present pope. To hold that genetic variation, and therefore the raw material of natural selection, is "random" is to deny providential design in the the development of life on earth. A church that has always confessed God as the intentional Creator and Sustainer of the universe could not deny such design and remain self-consistent. So why the hubbub in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere?

My examination of the usual suspects suggests that it's because the materialists think the Cardinal is taking back something that the Church had once conceded. As early as 1950, Pope Pius XII had allowed that

...the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter...

Pope John Paul II went further in his 1996 letter on evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, where he briefly supported the view that evolution in the above sense is "more than a mere hypothesis." But this is not news, folks. It's been a long time since the Catholic Church had a problem with the idea of the physical emergence of species, including our own, out of earlier ones. That is a matter for scientific evidence to determine. The problem is that the materialists take too much for granted. They are convinced (see below) that, once physical emergence is conceded, the rest of their etiolated worldview somehow follows. But the Church does not think so. And that is intolerable to them. They truly believe that the triumph of "enlightened" philosophical materialism would be ineluctable were it not for those blasted clerics and bible-thumpers. That's ideology at work.

The Church insists on two points: everything in the universe is intelligently designed, and the human soul is created by God without any secondary causes. The latter entails that the human soul is not even secondarily a product of natural causes. Such claims are not scientific; they are metaphysical. They can neither be established nor overthrown by natural science; they are in fact irrelevant from the standpoint of scientific method. But by the same token, neither does the claim that there is no design belong to the scientific method. The most the scientist as such can say about such claims is that they are beyond his professional purview whether he personally believes them or not. Hence he can neither prove nor disprove the aforesaid doctrines of the Church. To be sure, Schönborn cited "overwhelming evidence" of design, and the word 'evidence' has given some critics the impression that Schönborn was talking (bad) science. But such evidence is not the sort that figures in science—and everybody who studies these things knows it. It is the sort St. Paul cited in Romans 1:20: "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made." That's evidence of a cognitive order altogether different from that of modern natural science. The Church does not deny that; she says only what she's always said, which is no less worthy of consideration for that. Yet the neo-Darwinists ideologues don't care to hear that. It's just too convenient to paint the Church as doing bad science.

Mind you, it's not that they can't know otherwise; the record is not exactly secret. But they don't care because they think the whole thing is a dodge. For they believe that what cannot be predicted by the methods of natural science, such as genetic variation, is unpredictable by its very nature. That is because they believe, more generally, that what cannot be learned by natural science is not even potentially knowable. If so, then the very notion that there are truths of ultimate importance which cannot be known scientifically is at best weak-minded and at worst quite dangerous to humanity. Such is the ideology of "scientism," in which the forces of enlightenment—chiefly the subscribers to the ideology—are pitted against the forces of obscurantism, chiefly religious believers and their leaders.

So that's why the Church, in the person of Cardinal Schönborn, is being jeered as a vacillating, confusing, and unproductive interlocutor. But even as that happens, the rumblings are afoot in the enemy camp. Neo-Darwinism has critics of impeccable scientific credentials, such as Michael Behe, and the literature on "intelligent design," while of quite uneven quality, just won't go away. So the struggle continues. But that's old news, is it not?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Joke of the Day

Sorry, I couldn't resist: "The Fabric of Our Lives".

The program of Pope Benedict XVI

I think I understand now.

During the interregnum between the death of John Paul the Great and the election of Benedict XVI (above, as Cardinal Ratzinger), I was impressed and heartened by an article about papabile Ratzinger's "program" for the Church by Sandro Magister, one of the few ecclesiastical journalists I respect enough to follow regularly. After the election, Magister followed up in the same encouraging vein, with wider ramifications. But in his first few months, Benedict struck me as more into the role of reassuring grandfather than that of thorough reformer. I was a bit confused though hardly surprised. Last night, the eve of today's liturgical Memorial of St. Benedict, the new Benedict's Sunday homily made clearer to me what he is really up to.

He preached:

Amid the ashes of the Roman Empire, Benedict, seeking first of all the Kingdom of God, sowed, perhaps even without realizing it, the seed of a new civilization which would develop, integrating Christian values with classical heritage, on the one hand, and Germanic and Slav cultures on the other...Benedict did not found a monastic institution oriented primarily to the evangelization of barbarian peoples, as other great missionary monks of the time, but indicated to his followers that the fundamental, and even more, the sole objective of existence is the search for God: 'Quaerere Deum."

OK, what's the lesson for today?

...when the believer enters into a profound relationship with God, he cannot be content with living in a mediocre way, with a minimal ethic and superficial religiosity..In this light, one understands better the expression that Benedict took from St. Cyprian: "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ." Holiness consists in this valid proposal for every Christian that has become a true pastoral imperative in our time, in which one perceives the need to anchor life and history in solid spiritual references.

Though inevitably short on detail, therein lies the germ of "the program." That's what Ratzinger's choice of the name 'Benedict' is about. It hearkens back to the stated thesis of the Subiaco lecture that Ratzinger gave the day before John Paul's death and that Magister so strongly emphasized: What we need most at this moment of history are men that, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world.

In other words, the way to restore the Church's credibility today, for believers and unbelievers alike, is for Catholics in general to become genuine Catholics again: to form a more "intentional community" by anchoring life and history in "solid spiritual references." That is why the still-new pope is so interested in improving both the celebration of the Roman liturgy and ecumenical ties with the Orthodox. Solid indeed—and ancient in pedigree. That is why, beyond all motives of ecclesiastico-political self-interest, he is so uncompromising in his opposition to EU secularism and the ever-widening "culture of death." That is why he has appointed to his old job an American archbishop intimately familiar with all aspects of the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandal. It begins to make sense. Benedict wants to re-interiorize Catholicism by redirecting the Church's sources from the polluted waters of progressivism and materialism, drawing her sap anew from the healthiest old roots.

We now have the template for this pontificate. I eagerly await more detail. Not everybody will be pleased—which is just as it should be.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

No alternative to the stiff upper lip

Christopher Hitchens, an author with whom I often vehemently disagree, has got the latest terrorist outrage in London just right. Of the infernal arhabi, he says: "They demand the impossible - the cessation of all life in favour of prostration before a totalitarian vision. Plainly, we cannot surrender. There is no one with whom to negotiate, let alone capitulate."

Just so. Negotiation is no more possible than surrender. There's nothing for it but to bandage our wounds and carry on the struggle. We can be vanquished only if we cease to love ourselves and all the good we have wrought. The catastrophically low birthrate in the developed countries makes me suspect that's a real possibility. But we can love ourselves duly if we would only see that we are loved unconditionally: not because we deserve it—we don't and can't—but because He who created us only so as to communicate his infinite goodness also suffered our rejection so as to save us from ourselves. Our enemies neither know nor care about that. And that will be their undoing, whatever our fate may be.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, that we may not perish in the dreadful judgment.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Doffing the mask

Religious believers—especially those in universities, and those whose faith influences their politics—are complaining more and more that the "tolerance" and "diversity" which are shibboleths of secular liberalism are not extended to them. Typically, such complaints have been dismissed by their targets as whiny, self-serving, political posturing. And sometimes that is what they are. But I think we'll see fewer and fewer dismissals of that sort in the years ahead. The mask is coming off.

Howard Dean's bigoted attack on Christian influence in the Republican Party is only the tip of a steadily forming iceberg. Today I came across a book review of Sam Harris's recently published The End of Faith. Not having read the book itself, I can only quote it second-hand and shall not engage Harris's arguments themselves unless somebody who has the book puts one to me. But consider these choice tidbits:

"There is no more evidence to justify a belief in the literal existence of Yahweh or Satan than there was to keep Zeus perched upon his mountain throne or Poseidon churning the sea ... we as a species have grown perfectly intoxicated by our myths."

"How can any person presume to know that this is the way the universe works? Because it says so in our holy books. How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because the books themselves say so. Epistemological black holes of this sort are fast draining the light from our world."

"Given the link between belief and action, it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene" [emphasis added].

"It is time we recognized that all reasonable men and women have a common enemy. It is an enemy so near to us and so deceptive, that we keep its counsel even as it threatens to destroy the very possibility of human happiness. Our enemy is nothing other than faith itself."

The above statements appear in a book by a graduate student in neuroscience who majored in philosophy in college—the ideal profile for an acolyte of secular liberal orthodoxy. That seems to be why, even though they're not exactly solomonic judgments from a seasoned specialist, the book is being taken quite seriously in academic and literary circles, where secular liberalism is indeed orthodoxy. The almost uniformly positive reception it's getting in those circles suggests that the pretense of tolerance is wearing thin in what were once bastions of humane values. As that process accelerates, the battle lines in "the culture wars" will be ever more sharply drawn and contested, whereupon intellectuals and professionals who also happen to be religous believers will be effectively locked out of élite institutions.

I cringe at the thought of what the effect on popular discourse will be. In Europe, believers have been thrust to the sidelines by "hate-speech laws" and the overweening secularism of the EU. The difference between America and Europe, though, is that in the former the bulk of the population is on the side of the angels. It's going to be very interesting indeed.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Can the U.S. bishops see all their tongues?

Everybody knows about the sex scandals that have been rocking the American Catholic Church for quite some time now. And it's not only priests abusing minors. Over the last three years, the Vatican has forced half-a-dozen US bishops to resign on account of their own sexual improprieties. Two of them had been carrying on with married women; the other four had been dallying with seminarians, ex-seminarians, or would-be seminarians. And that's aside from Cardinal Law's voluntary resignation for his inexcusable negligence in handling the priestly perverts under his authority in the Boston archdiocese. The bishops as a body only did something about all this when the media exposure created a PR disaster and the civil lawsuits created a financial disaster. Commendably, if a few decades late, the sex-abuse policies governing priests and lay employees have been made very tough. But what are the bishops doing to police themselves and address the root causes of the problem?

Not much, really. Since bishops are severally sovereign in their own dioceses, the US Bishops' Conference has no formal, juridical authority to discipline them. That falls to the Vatican, which for several reasons can only do so much and was rather out of touch until quite recently. The previous president of the conference, Wilton Gregory, handled a nearly impossible task well given the constraints under which he had to operate. But it's not nearly enough. One might expect that the USCCB would at least reform its public face by electing a successor who would force the sort of collective self-examination that, in turn, would prompt a step or two further toward radical reform. Alas, no such luck.

Take a look at the Diocese of Spokane. It has been so burned by the sex scandals over the last decade that it has just been forced, by past and pending civil actions, to file for Federal bankruptcy protection. Vocations in the diocese hover near zero even as several large parishes lack resident pastors. And the theologians at Gonzaga University are not required to take the mandatum, i.e., a promise of orthodoxy in teaching and publication that is required by the Pope's apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990). Yet who has just been elected President of the USCCB? The Bishop of Spokane, William Skylstad.

Upon getting such news, all I could say was what the French know so well: the more things change, the more they stay the same. But something more disquieting is manifest here, and something simply has to be said about it.

The bishops as a whole just don't seem aware of the message the election of their new conference president is sending. By tradition, Skylstad was the presumptive candidate for president because he had been elected vice-president when Gregory was elected president. Some bishops saw fit to break with tradition and vote for somebody better suited to doing what must be done. But not enough so voted: Skylstad got in by a comfortable, though far from unanimous, margin. That tells me that, even though some bishops get it, the majority don't. They don't get that many of us who know and care enough about the Church to know and care about this election hear its result as the bishops saying "business as usual" even as they proclaim otherwise. And that betokens an entrenched unwillingness to acknowledge and confront what truly subtends the American Church's enormous problems.

In future entries I'll delve more into those problems. For now, I'll just conclude by noting that the US bishops have now proven themselves corrupt as a body. Although many are good men as individuals, they are simply not capable at this time of acting collectively so as to make the reforms that are necessary if the problems are going to be tackled at the necessary depth.

In Gods We Trust?

There's a good-selling book out now, of the same sort that comes out every few years and that seems always to get the same sort of misguided attention. It's called In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, by psychologist Scott Atran, yet another (soft) scientist trying to discredit the cognitive claims of any and all religions—or at least of what he recognizes as religion. One reviewer got the thesis about right:

Atran describes religion as (1) a community's costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people's existential anxieties, such as death and deception. Later in the book, he adds that 1, 2, & 3 lead to (4) they demand ritualistic & rhythmic co-ordination of 1, 2, & 3, such as "communion". He later describes religion (paraphrased) as a thought process which involves the exaggerated use of everyday cognitive processes to produce unreal worlds that easily attract attention, are readily memorable, and are subject to cultural transmission, selection, and survival.

Atran's premise and aim are clear: since religion so described is, cognitively speaking, false, the scientist's job is to explain why it's so powerful and ubitquitous, so that we're better equipped to think about how to supplant it with something that helps us deal with reality just as well and also has the merit of being true. The book has gotten a good deal of press; see Time Magazine's recent cover article The God Gene, which cites Atran and several other authors in a similar vein. All very good for business. But what I want to know is: why should anybody care anymore about this sort of book?

Starting with Lucretius and Democritus in the ancient world, moving through the 19th-century work of Ludwig Feuerbach, and continuing today with the crude polemics of Richard Dawkins, thinkers who exalt natural science as the normative template for all human knowledge have always sought to Bulverize religion by explaining it away in non-religious terms. The difficulty is that the entire exercise is not only dubious by the very epistemic criteria it favors but also question-begging by any broader standard.

It's scientifically dubious because there is no one theory that is both testable in a scientfically respectable sense and sufficient to exclude other scientific explanations. Different thinkers have "explained religion away" in different terms—economic (Marx), psychological (Freud), evolutionary (Atran and Dawkins), and it isn't clear how to sort out the wheat from the chaff. But from the looks of the whole thing, it's not important to today's scientific Bulverizers that any one theory be correct. The important thing is the convergence of otherwise competing theories on the one conclusion they want.

That should tell us right there that we're dealing not so much with science as with metaphysics. It doesn't matter that one can't test these theories the way one can test those of subatomic physics or even of medicine. What matters is that some-or-other version be a plausible corollary of the secular worldview according to which religion, in the supernatural sense, is illusory. That shows that the fundamental question is being begged. If one assumes that supernatural religion is illusory, then it makes sense to assume further that something natural will eventually explain why the illusion is so persistent and extensive. But of course, the defenders of supernatural religion could just as well rejoin that the natural propensity of humans toward supernatural religion is evidence that the natural manifests and points to the supernatural—if, that is, some-or-other version of supernatural religion is true. Both assumptions beg the question if and when made in debate.

If either side wishes to avoid begging the question, what they really need to do is show how, within their own respective worldviews, some proposed explanation of religiosity makes more sense of it than any other explanation. That would require more work and more fairness than polemicists on the scientistic side, at any rate, are likely to show. It is up to defenders of supernatural theism to do better. I haven't studied yet whether they have.

Why tutiorism is now unsafe

In Message 56 of the thread "Catholics for Contraception (???)" over on MSN Catholic, the following was asserted: The Church does NOT teach that embryos are people with souls from the moment of conception. It does not teach that abortion is always murder. In its context, that assertion reflects a view in moral theology that is both blinkered and outdated.

First, here's what Pope John Paul II authoritatively wrote:

....we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20). Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as "interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth. The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life....
That's from Evangelium Vitae 58 ([1995]; emphasis added and needed). It should be enough to rebut the assertion I began this post by quoting. But the way liberal theologians try to get around the rebuttal is to make the following argument:

(1) No particular opinion as to the moment of the conceived child's "ensoulment" is part of the definitive teaching of the Church.
(2) Ergo, granted that a human embryo is a human being, it does not follow from the definitive teaching of the Church that every such being is a human person and thus a subject of inherent human rights, such as the right to life.
(3) Ergo, the Church's definitive teaching is not that any and every procured abortion is a homicide and thus morally wrong, but at most that we should treat them as gravely as homicide in order to be "on the safe side."

Now (3) is one thesis of that venerable theory in moral theology which is known as "tutiorism": when in doubt, do the safer (tutior) thing. The standard liberal view is, accordingly, that what's wrong with abortion is not that we know it's murder; rather, given that we don't know it isn't murder, we shouldn't risk it and we do so only by diminishing our respect for life. But as already indicated, the Pope's view is stronger than that. Some theologians consider it "extremist." Perhaps so; but it no more extreme than Extreme Truth Himself. For the reasons why John Paul II took the view he did also show what's wrong with the tutiorist view.

Its vision is blinkered because, once it be granted that a human embryo is a human being—not merely a part of a human being such as a gamete or an organ—it would be incompatible not only with the definitive teaching of the Church, but also with sound philosophy and modern natural science, to deny that every human embryo is a human person with the inherent dignity and rights of human persons, starting with the right to life.

Let's start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body:[234] i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

From that, it follows that whatever is a living, human body is a human being with a single human nature characterized by a profound unity of body and soul. Clearly the human embryo—and for that matter, the human zygote—is such a living human body, albeit at early, relatively unarticulated stages of development. Therefore, if the above-quoted teaching of the CCC is true—and it is the definitive teaching of the Church—then anything counting as a living human body is a human being with a soul every bit as spiritual as yours and mine.

Now, to insist nonetheless that some such an entity might fail to qualify as a human person, with all the inherent rights thereof, requires assuming that personhood is not a kind of being but rather a functional state. In other words, what makes a human being a person, not just a biologically human life form, is not that it is an individual substance with a spiritual soul, but rather that it has attained a stage of development in which its natural functioning is characteristic of persons as such—chiefly, rational thought and free will. One is thus a person not in virtue of what one is but in virtue of what one is in a position to do—or at least in virtue of what others are willing to count as sufficient potential. Yet the moral consequences of such a view are utterly chilling, even aside from its obvious incompatibility with the teaching of the Church. I doubt I need to explain why; at least, I don't know any Catholics prepared to come right out and defend, like certain secularist philosophers, the purely functionalist view of personhood. If they are, then Mein Kampf would be better suited to their worldview than the New Testament.

It would seem, therefore, that the only way for Catholics to steer between the Pope's view on the one hand and heresy on the other is simply to deny that we can know whether each and every normally developing human blastocyst/zygote/embryo/fetus is a living human being. Well, one can certainly avoid the Pope's view that way; but avoiding heresy as well comes only at the price of denying what natural science has made obvious since the 19th century. Rather than belabor the point here, I refer readers to the relevant passage and context of Prof. Robert George's excellent article "God's Reasons".

Tutiorism is therefore outdated as well as blinkered. Given the advances in our scientific knowledge, it is too weak philosophically, theologically, and morally. The late pope's view shows that the Church is moving beyond it. True, it was much more plausible at a time in intellectual history when natural science really didn't have much to say about prenatal development beyond what could be seen with the naked eye. It was actually the standard view among Catholic theologians for that time; and even today, tutiorism might be safer than some of the alternatives for non-Catholics. But for informed, honest Catholics today, it is neither "safe" nor worthy.

The project continued

In the latter third of the previous century, the Vatican issued three major documents about human life that were mostly focused on sexuality and procreation: Humanae Vitae (1968), about birth control; Donum Vitae (1987) about artificial procreation; and Evangelium Vitae (1995), about the sanctity of life in general and the horror of abortion in particular. Their message and their arguments continue to escape most people; on birth control and artificial procreation at any rate, they continue to escape even most Catholics. So if Catholics are going to evangelize today's secular culture—starting with themselves, to the extent they have imbibed it—the message about such issues must sink in far more deeply among them than it has been doing since Vatican II. So much has been said before, but few seem to have a clear proposal for bringing it about. I propose to sketch an approach to redressing that lack.

I do not propose to expound the arguments of said documents in detail; even if most Catholics don’t read them, there are plenty of popular expositions of and academic colloquia about the subject matter. But I have yet to see these things put into a compelling intellectual context that could get theologians and clergy, who don’t seem to have helped matters much as a class, thinking about them in a more inspiring way. The pivot is John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” which George Weigel has (approvingly) called a “theological time-bomb” still ticking in the Church. That theology could form the basis of a new teaching document entitled Sacramentum Vitae; since I doubt that Pope Benedict will make an encyclical out of that title, I'll just write a book with it as my own pontification. What is needed for such a project is a renewed yet economical emphasis on what is distinctive of Catholic theology itself and in general.

That it is “the pelvic issues,” more than any others, which corrode faith among Catholics today has become such a media commonplace that it is no longer the embarrassment to the bishops that it should be. After the sex-abuse scandal, of course, one wonders what could or would embarrass anymore; but the often-cynical dissent about abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, homosexual acts, remarriage after divorce, priestly celibacy, and the restriction of ordination to men makes it too easy to believe that the problem people have with Catholicism these days is just that it doesn’t sanction opportunities for sensual pleasure and personal self-fulfillment that contemporary Western culture has made readily accessible to the masses. That is indeed a serious problem; but it is not a theological problem and is no more peculiar to our age than to that of the Roman Empire—when all the above-mentioned activities, with the exception of artificial procreation, were common and accepted along with priestesses. (I can only imagine what the ancient Romans would have done with babies-to-go in a Petri dish.) Such a problem signifies only the appeal of the world and the flesh, which has always made it harder to behave than to believe, especially regarding sex; when adopted, the solution comes at the level of individual holiness rather than that of discursive theology. Yet the problem I have in mind is at once deeper spiritually and more amenable to theological treatment: most Catholics do not begin to understand—any more than people in general do—the necessity and the very catholicity of Catholic teaching on the pelvic issues.

That is only incidentally because of generally execrable adult catechesis, which is as spottily rectified as it is broadly lamented in the Church. At bottom, it is because the spiritual climate of the West today, generated by the media, the universities, and the courts, fosters a default ideology of personal autonomy. The very ways in which spiritual matters are broached in public discourse encourages people to define spiritual reality for themselves rather than conform themselves to an utterly objective spiritual Reality writ small in the human person herself. That is less about the world and the flesh than about the devil. And that is why it was so ominous that Justice Anthony Kennedy, nominally Catholic and quite possibly oblivious to what is at stake, propounded said ideology as American law in his majority Lawrence opinion over the incisive objections of his fellow Catholic, Justice Antonin Scalia. The confrontation of the enduring faith of the City of God with the City of Man’s ideology of non serviam now takes place, more than ever before, among and within Catholics themselves. Yet I am convinced that part of the solution, at least at the apologetical level, is to frame the Catholic teaching in a way that confronts the ideology of personal autonomy with the beauty of the truth as much as with the truth itself.

The place to begin, heuristically, is with what is often called “the sacramental principle.” That there is no single principle which scholars in general accept as “the” sacramental principle is inconvenient but hardly prophylactic. Sometimes the phrase is used simply to mean that the physical universe has spiritual significance because it expresses (to some extent) the nature of its Creator. That claim is true and fundamental but not specific enough for the purpose at hand. At the other end of the spectrum lies the Catholic teaching that the seven official sacraments, visible signs of invisible grace, actually offer grace ex opere operato: when celebrated as the Church prescribes, they offer grace irrespective of the other dispositions of the minister and recipient. I accept that teaching, and it is pertinent to a degree; yet it is too specific for the purpose at hand. For that purpose I posit the following intermediate working principle: a given concrete reality is sacramental just in case it is a normative means of bringing about the spiritual reality it signifies. Some such principle could do philosophical as well as theological work, and similar formulations may be found in some writers. But there is no need to dilate on that here.

What is usually overlooked, even though evident once stated, is that some of the most distinctively Catholic doctrines instantiate the sacramental principle thus formulated. I allude only in passing to sacramentals, which unlike the seven sacraments only convey grace if used with all the right dispositions. Sacramentals as such are not distinctively Catholic even granted that some sacramentals are. I mean such widely reviled doctrines as those of indulgences, the papacy, the Marian dogmas, and even that of the Church herself. Mutatis mutandis, the same goes for Church teaching about sex, procreation, and gender. I shall take all the aforesaid doctrines in ascending order of relevance.

By papal specification, a member of the faithful can attain an indulgence—a partial or full remission of temporal punishment for sin— only if, among other things, they are “free of all attachment to sin.” So much for buying indulgences as fire insurance. One is tempted to say that an indulgence, like a bank loan, is attainable only if one doesn’t really need it—or at least that most of us won’t get an indulgence when it would be most useful. For as the doctrine of purgatory implies, the primary purpose of temporal punishment is purgative; yet for those unattached to sin, no purgation seems necessary. But all that would miss the point, which is that the sincere performance of such pious acts as are prescribed for indulgences helps to bring about the very inner disposition that is necessary for such acts to be relevantly efficacious. Because the human heart is almost as mysterious as God himself, we can rarely say exactly when and in whom such helps suffice in concreto to gain an indulgence. But if Catholicism is true, then surely they sometimes do suffice. That is sacramental in the sense I have specified. But rare is the Catholic these days, let alone the Protestant, who truly appreciates it.

Grantor of indulgences, the papacy itself claims divine authority to loose or hold bound not only sin but much else. Now Eastern Orthodoxy is willing to grant a certain primacy of honor to the Bishop of Rome, and even primacy of jurisdiction to him as Patriarch of the West, but not primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church. Though it would be a distraction to recount the reasons for that, it is worth noting a corollary: the Orthodox generally believe the universal Church can do without a single bishop who anchors the Petrine charism of the bishops themselves by exercising Petrine jurisdiction over them. On the Catholic account, such a bishop is precisely what the Church was never intended to do without. Thus, individual bishops exercise authority in their respective dioceses rightly only if they remain in a communion with their brother bishops that entails being in communion with the Apostolic See of Peter. More specifically, the principle of unity that a bishop constitutes for his diocese is mirrored and facilitated by an analogous unity writ large with the head of the episcopal college, who is himself the bishop of a diocese and enjoys no higher a degree of holy orders than any other bishop. Whatever the concrete forms of collegiality are or ought to be, bishops can fully be what they are severally called to be for their people only while collectively maintaining unity under a head who is just as visible as they are and thus constitutes a kind of alter Christi for them. Embodying in a special way the Petrine charism of authority shared by all the bishops, the papacy is a normative means of transmitting and sustaining that charism for the good of the universal Church precisely as such. Indeed, papal primacy is sensible and useful only as a genuinely efficacious sign of what bishops, both individually and collectively, are for. At least as understood by the Catholic Church, then, papal primacy is sacramental in the sense I have specified.

Then there are the Marian dogmas, which often dismay potential converts from Protestantism. As Lumen Gentium stressed, Mary is not sui generis but rather the “type” of the Church herself; the ways in which that is so illustrate the sacramental principle I have posited. Thus the two Marian dogmas unilaterally defined by the papacy—those of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption—are best seen as articulating and developing the insight of the sensus fidelium that Mary is the living paradigm of the fidelis, “the faithful one” among the redeemed. Her Immaculate Conception entails that she was par excellence, by virtue of her Son’s foreseen merits, from the very first moment of her existence what each Christian becomes at baptism; her Assumption entails that, at the end of her earthly life, she immediately became par excellence what each definitively saved person will become when her Son returns here in glory. Indeed all the Marian doctrines do something similar. Highlighting various aspects of her role in what Byzantine theology calls “the economy,” they exhibit Mary as the one who helps her spiritual children to become in our own lesser modes what she already is in the highest mode. She “serves” to bring about universally that “subjective” redemption—made possible only by her Son’s once-for-all “objective” redemption—which is already maximally accomplished in her individually. As the best example of what her divine Son wills for us as individuals within that collectivity which is the Church, she is the efficacious sign thereof.

What the late, great Hans urs von Balthasar called the “Marian” and the “Petrine” charisms within the Church form a spiritual polarity that symbolically recapitulates the intimate relationship between Christ and the Church and thus serves, sacramentally, to cement her unity with him. The Marian charism of receptivity to God, submissive fidelity to Jesus Christ, and fruitfulness in bearing him into the world is fully shared by every member of the faithful, from the bottom to the top; it just is the superordinate, multi-layered gift of grace empowering the Church to be the Bride of Christ and thus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bear his children into the world. The Petrine charism of teaching and governing authority, invested primarily in bishops and derivatively in priests and deacons, exists to facilitate and serve the Marian by efficaciously signifying Christ as the self-immolating Bridegroom and Head of the Church. Hence the hierarchical nature of the Church—her hieros arché or “sacred order”—is an unpagan kind of hieros gamos, a sacred marriage. Just as Jesus is the male Bridegroom of the Church, all the faithful together as his Bride are female. That is the sacramental sign by which the ecclesia, the assembly of the faithful, is effectively related qua collectivity to her Lord as he intended. Extending that truth to the horizon is the teaching of Lumen Gentium: "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of such union and unity." As the sacrament of such union, the Church is also the sacrament of salvation (I prefer the Eastern term theosis) for humanity.

That is why the restriction of priestly ordination to men makes sense as a doctrine; why the sacrament of marriage must be heterosexual and indissoluble (cf. Ephesians 5); why the restriction of priestly ordination to avowedly celibate men makes sense as a discipline; indeed why the prescribed celibacy of all religious and many priests, if lived in response to God’s call, is a uniquely grace-bearing form of self-immolation that affirms the spiritual value of marriage even as, according to the Council of Trent, it is spiritually superior to marriage. It is no mere cultural accident that God the Son chose to incarnate himself as a man who applied to himself and the Church the Old-Testament motif of Israel as bride and Yahweh as bridegroom. The Deity didn’t have to choose a highly patriarchal but rather insignificant people as the context for its definitive self-revelation—but it did. The Deity, in itself beyond gender, didn’t have to create a race around the poles of “male and female” as a way to “image” the Deity—but it did. We could not have known, and do not know, any of that a priori. We know of it only by divine revelation—to whose structure, the Church confesses, it belongs ineradicably and definitively. Though such a thematic doesn’t seem logically necessary to begin with, it exhibits an incalculably rich symbolic coherence as well as that gloriously gratuitous fittingness which is a mark of perfect Love.

To the thoroughly post-modern mind, all that is at best arbitrary and at worst incomprehensible save as fodder for the hermeneutic of suspicion. It sees the basic context of human flourishing as neither a natural nor a sacred order simply given by a higher personal Power, but as interlocking, narratively developing choices whose content is fashioned by autonomous individuals and validated by the very acts of choice made by such individuals (acting separately or together). From that point of view, the easy availability of divorce and the legality of abortion are indispensable conditions of self-fulfillment, especially for women; limiting the locale of sexual consummation to one (female) orifice is the solemnization of outdated and hateful prejudice; male-only ordination is invidious job discrimination; canonically prescribed celibacy for priests is an invitation to neurosis; forbidding contraception is a nakedly self-serving power play that would ruin countless lives if taken seriously; and forbidding artificial procreation is anti-scientific obscurantism. What is to be the Church’s answer, beyond repeating the opposite with an authority more widely rejected than accepted even within her own house?

To be continued....

Who is the authority?

In the longest thread ever generated over at Dr. Phil Blosser's main blog, somebody posed the following question to a "progressive" priest: What does the term 'orthodox Catholic' mean to you? Without waiting for the rather beseiged priest's reply, I posted a comment on that question. I want to re-post it here.

"That's pretty much the salient question for all thinking Catholics today. Hence it is worth asking not only Fr. O'Leary but everybody across the spectrum. Indeed it is but the specification, periodically revived in Church history, of the broader question constituting the basic controversy of creation itself: "Who is the authority?"

In illo tempore, Lucifer's pride led him to answer that question wrongly, thus leading to his rebellion and downfall. In his envy, rage, and self-deluded hope, he caused our first parents to fall too. That inaugurated the problem to which the solution is the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of God the Son. We await only that return to bring all to glorious fruition. In the meantime, however, the presence of Christ in the world is focused in the Eucharist, his actual body and blood, and extended outward through those who gather round to celebrate it: the Bride of Christ, the Church, which as his bride is one body with him. The visible authority in that Church, to whom the invisible divine authority has been delegated, is the college of bishops in union with their head, the pope. They have such authority not just to govern but to teach. To be an "orthodox" Catholic is just to submit to that authority by trusting implicitly whatever it teaches definitively and irreformably. That is the only acceptable answer, in both theory and practice, to the question: "Who is the authority?"

The scandal of ambiguity in the answers of Christians to that question manifests itself both in the divisions of Christendom and in how the conflict of today's ideology of personal autonomy (non serviam) with the countervailing, salvific truth plays out between and among Catholics themselves. One stark illustration of that among American Catholics is the opposed philosophical views of Justices Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, and Scalia, dissenting, in the Court's Lawrence v Texas (2003) decision striking down state anti-sodomy laws. Another is the difference between a Fr. Richard McBrien and a Cardinal Avery Dulles. Catholics in general, as distinct from the new pope, no longer speak with one voice to the world but with a cacophony of essentially old disputes that have already been resolved in principle. Many either don't care or don't listen because they have answered the specific question wrongly even if they profess the right answer to the general one. Thus they unwittingly follow the primordial lead of the Enemy. The only solution is to make clear what is at stake so that more people will be motivated to do the opposite."

Starting over

To those who've already commented or just visited, I apologize for the changes and the loss of comments. Last weekend, new posts started failing to appear on my old blog. Using Blogger's recommended troubleshooting techniques availed not. I can't explain what happened and I have the feeling I'd rather not know. So I deleted the old blog and have started this one with the same name and pretty much the same posts. The appearance is more pleasing to the eye—mine anyhow.

Thanks for coming here!

The project, or part of it anyway

The distinctive theme of Catholic thought is what has often been called "the sacramental principle": the invisible reality of grace, which is really God's self-communication to us, is embodied by visible things in such wise that the reality is constituted partly by its expression. That principle has its origin in how the one God is constituted by the Father's eternal self-manifestation in the Trinity. The triune God is thus necessarily constituted by a perfect intercommunion of mutually self-donating Persons. As the present pope has made plain, human sexuality is meant to image that—in sacramental marriage or in sacrificial lives characterized as much by love as sacramental marriage. The use of the sexual faculty must embody that divine purpose to be authentic and healthy. Such is the mystical way to see why contraception is wrong: contraceptive sex says one thing with human bodies and another with human artifice. It translates the language of divine love, which superintends a trialogue between the couple and God, into a dialogue that starts out as mutually regarding but tends to degenerate into mutual use. It thus de-sacramentalizes sexual intercourse.I am certain that the sacramental principle, properly analogized and extended, can be used to re-synthesize and re-energize Catholic theology today, not only in the moral arena but across the board. I see it as my task to make that clear to those who could appreciate it. In line with the Vatican's theme of human life and its sacrality, I am beginning work on a book to be called Sacramentum Vitae. I intend to publish conventionally an article that will serve as a template for the book, and I shall use this blog partly to garner feedback on the ideas as they develop.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence, but from what?

On this day in 1776, the Founding Fathers signed a Declaration of Independence containing the following statement: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

To those who so boldly risked their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" to found this republic, it was actually "self-evident" that there is a Creator who is also a Lawgiver! Such is the religious and moral foundation of the United States, whatever the other religious and philosophical differences among the Founders may have been. That is why the direction of the Supreme Court for the last few generations, validated in the mainstream media and the universities as well as the legal profession, consists in an ever-more firm rejection of the very spiritual foundation of this country.

Consider the following passage from the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992), which prevented the overturning of Roe v Wade. It was quoted with approval by Justice Anthony Kennedy, an ostensible Catholic, writing for the majority in Lawrence v Texas (2003), striking down state anti-sodomy laws:

These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

What's the upshot? It is now a premise of constitutional law that government may no longer embody in positive law any "concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe"—i.e. any religion or philosophy—that rules out "intimate and personal choices" embodying a different concept. What the signers of the Declaration took to be the universal basis of natural rights is now viewed as a violation of such a right when applied in positive law to the most basic issues of human life. The result: the holocaust of abortion continues and gay marriage looms on the horizon.

The horror and filth is all around us. I pray that the President and his party in the Senate use the impending Supreme Court nominations to start turning that around. Mary Immaculate, Patron of the Americas, pray that God's mercy change us.