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

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bringing back heresy

Last week, Bishop Robert Vasa of Portland, Oregon (left) wrote a hard-hitting pastoral letter suggesting that the "pro-choice" position on abortion is actually heretical for Catholics. I agree entirely; even if you don't, the letter is well worth reading in full. All the same his position faces several difficulties, none of which I anticipate the American bishops’ lifting a finger to address.

The first is that of the use of the term ‘heresy’. Bishop Vasa is clearly aware how hard it is today to use that word and be heard. Exploiting the past sins of the Church, Enlightenment propaganda filtered through the secular media has virtually guaranteed that nobody can be convicted of heresy either personally or juridically. That is because using the term—even and especially in a conceptually correct way—convicts the user, not the object, in the audience’s mind. Hell’s “Philological Arm,” to use CS Lewis’ marvelous if dated phrase, has done its work well in this respect. Given such a rhetorical handicap, the Church has her work cut out for her if she wishes to regain control of the pertinent vocabulary.

The second problem, however, is that the will to do the needed work is largely absent in the hierarchy. Until Rome calls off the Truce of 1968, which has removed any price tag for dissent from Church teaching on birth control, the bishops will not feel free either individually or collectively to excommunicate those who are delicately termed “dissenters” from irreformable Catholic teachings on any subject pertaining to faith and morals. That is exactly what allows the present disorder and confusion in the Catholic Church today to persist.

A third problem is technical and awaits resolution of the other two. Bishop Vasa implies that the “pro-choice” position is heretical, and a case can certainly be made for that. But there exists no historical or canonical precedent for using the term ‘heresy’ for obstinate error about moral precepts as distinct from articles of faith in the traditional sense. Since the kind and scope of moral dissensus we see today did not exist in the Church until Vatican II, people have rarely if ever been formally excommunicated just for such dissent. That is why, on the specific question of abortion, the Church prefers to rely on Pius IX’s prescription of excommunication latae sententiae for procured abortion, which requires no formal juridical action against individuals, rather than excommunication ferendae sententiae, which does. But people by and large just don’t get the message that way. Until some other way is found and actually prescribed by Rome, bishops such as Vasa can fulminate all they like without really accomplishing anything.

Underlying all the above difficulties is confusion about the Catholic teaching on the “primacy of conscience.” Cardinal Pell in Sydney has recently had to face a formal complaint to Rome from prominent Catholic heret…I mean dissenters about his insistence on the clergy’s upholding controversial Church teachings. The complaint was that Pell himself is being heretical by denying the primacy of conscience as set forth in Dignitatis Humanae and the CCC. Pell has rightly reacted to that by calling it “a bit of a hoot.” But the dissenters are only invoking an interpretation that has not been directly rebutted in any authoritative document.

They take the doctrine of the primacy of conscience to mean that dissent from Church teaching on virtually any subject is a right that Catholics may exercise while remaining in full communion with the Church. That is nonsense, of course, as Ad Tuendam Fidem and then-Cardinal Ratzinger's Doctrinal Commentary thereon make plain. While it is true that one is obligated to follow even a mistaken conscience, the fact remains that a Catholic conscience is formed well only in conformity with the irreformable teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals. So if somebody believes, in conscience, that the Church is mistaken on some important point of faith or morals, the only honest path for them is to refrain from the Eucharist or even leave the Church until such time as they are able to render the necessary assent. But that is lost on progs. And until the hierarchy from Rome on down brings it home to them, nothing will change as it ought.

I keep hoping that B16 will do just that, but I must say my optimism is waning. He seems to have other fish to fry. I'm not sure whether that's strategic or just temperamental. We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

O tempora, O mores!

On February 15, according to CNS, "Spain’s House of Representatives passed [a] new law on assisted reproduction, which allows a woman to have up to three embryos implanted in her uterus in order to increase the possibilities of a successful pregnancy. It also allows couples to decide whether to keep the left over embryos, donate them for research or to other couples, or to have them destroyed." This is in a country that, on January 1, banned all smoking inside public buildings. So here's the message: we're so concerned about people's health that we will fine people who smoke anywhere but on their own property, regardless of what they want; but we care so little that the embryo is a human life that we will allow people to flush it down the toilet, if that's what they want.

I call that contrast an irony; Bishop Jose Manuel Lorca Planes of Teruel called it "hypocrisy." I disagree with the bishop about that. Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue; there is no homage here. Anti-smoking Nazism is about fear of disease, not virtue. But I do agree with the bishop in calling the new artificial-reproduction measure a "monstrosity." To be sure, such a measure is logical in a country that recently made abortion-on-demand easy to get. But I've often wondered why people so concerned about reducing cancer risk are so little concerned about protecting the most innocent and vulnerable. I think I have the answer.

Spain now has the lowest birthrate of any country in the world. That country also recently introduced same-sex "marriage." (I insist on the scare quotes; God instituted and defined marriage, not the state; same-sex marriage is therefore a perverted ersatz.) Is it any wonder that a people who refuse to reproduce themselves see nothing untoward about umooring marriage from procreation? Moreover, the response of that country to the Madrid bombings by al-Qaeda, which killed scores of people, was to elect a government that promised to, and did, pull Spain's troops out of Iraq. Not what I'd call machismo. Unlike the Netherlands, of course, Spain has not yet licensed doctors to kill people deemed in bad-enough shape; but I'm sure we'll see that before long too. What do all these things have in common with anti-smoking Nazism? Simple: people who care nothing for the future of their civilization are generally very concerned to make their own lives as comfortable as possible, even if that doesn't mean as long as possible.

That will work only until they're doddering in nursing homes. In another twenty or thirty years, the native population of Spain will be in steep decline while its Muslim immigrants multiply like rabbits. It will be the Reconquista—in reverse and by demographics. Spain is one of the clearest, if not the clearest, example of the suicide of the West. Will we cut the noose before we hang limp from the rafter? I wish I knew. All I can do is raise consciousness about what is going on. Prayer is indispensable.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

When a martyr shouldn't be called one

You gotta hand it to Joan Chittister. Amid the worldwide furor about a Danish cartoon of Muhammad, a 60-year-old Catholic priest, Andrea Santoro, is killed by a Muslim in Turkey just for representing Christianity, and is accordingly acclaimed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar of Rome, as a martyr. So, what is her reaction? Does she finally take the occasion to applaud the Catholic hierarchy? Of course not—save to applaud another cleric's caution about Santoro's cause for beatification. The martyr bit isn't PC, after all. Temptation against the PC norm must be resisted. Such is true fortitude in spiritual combat.

Instead, she says:
From where I stand, this does not seem the time to elevate the present political situation to the level of religious warfare by incorrectly declaring our own dead, like those of Islamic fundamentalists, to be "martyrs." All we need is to trigger another century of Crusades by beginning a competition of martyrs. It's time to watch our language. This obscure little article may be all the warning we get.
Geez, we wouldn't want to begin a martyr competition now, would we? That would just make things worse. And anyhow Fr. Santoro wasn't really a martyr; he was just the victim of a nutjob caught up in "tensions" generated by—the West, of course. It's really our fault, you see. No martyrdom here, except perhaps to our own boorish insensitivity.

The only orthodoxy Chittister does not question is that of the secular political Left. I have pointed out her true theological colors in an article published elsewhere. She is institutionally Catholic, of course, and why shouldn't she be? She was raised Catholic and became a nun; she has good reason to remain both, because the Church, in Rosemary Radford Reuther's words, is "where the copy machines are." But theologically, she is not Catholic. It remains a mystery to me why the hierarchy does not make that clear, as it has done in the case of other nuns such as Jeannine Gramick. Perhaps they just don't want to make a martyr out of somebody as ubiquitous as Chittister. After all, if they took action, she would certainly pose as one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Women with money, and men

With today's piece entitled "Why are Men so Afraid of Money?", the glizty yet politically savvy columnist Arianna Huffington has added her own witty variation on a theme introduced last year by the (in)famous Maureen Dowd in her book Are Men Necessary? The theme in question is worth exploring because women are not only approaching professional and financial parity with men; a substantial majority of full-time college students in the United States are now women, so that the corps of educated professionals in the rising generation will be predominantly female. That probably means that, on average, women will make more money than men before too many more years pass. We'd better start thinking about that and making the necessary adjustments. It will have a profound impact on marriage and family life in this country.

Dowd's thoughts on men can be summed up thus: "I am a highly successful woman who doesn't need a man. Why can't I land one then? I know: even the blessed minority of highly successful men are mostly boors or wimps who feel threatened by successful women and won't marry them." In summing up her shtik that way, I am being charitable; the woman is at the very least irony-deficient. It never occurs to poor Maureen that her lonely nights might have something to do with her acerbic tongue and her ill-disguised female supremacism. And even though her own wit is much more humane, with a correspondingly developed sense of irony, Huffington doesn't get it either.

She thinks she's identified a paradox with the following anti-syllogism:

Men love women. Men love money. But men don't love women with money.
Without a resolution to offer, Huffington mostly contents herself with raising the issue. But the resolution is that there is no paradox. I shall explain why with a personal example that I think can be safely generalized.

A dozen or so years ago, I had a serious relationship with a rich woman, a convert to Catholicism, who was a divorced single parent like me. She also happened to be a leggy, long-haired blonde whom men could not keep themselves from leering at when we went out on a date (the car was her Mercedes, but her preference was that I drive; naturally, I didn't object as I might have if her car had been a Ford.) After a time she made clear that she'd marry me if I asked. But I never did; in fact, I seriously considered doing so for only about five seconds. Having observed how she and her similarly well-off girlfriends got on with men generally, I knew that if I married her I would be her servant.

I had virtually no money of my own; all I had was a job with a modest salary. If I married her, my daughter and I would be living with her and her three kids in her big house in the ritziest part of one of the richest cities in America. On top of that, she wanted to set me up in business so that my schedule would be more flexible than it was with the job I was having to report to. And the purpose of such flexibility would be my increased availability for parenting. In short, she would be my landlady and my banker, in exchange for which I would spend time parenting her kids as well as mine. Now who do you think would have been the head of the household in such circumstances? The question answers itself. I shall return to that.

Some people might wonder why I didn't jump at the deal. To be sure, it's becoming acceptable to praise househusbands for their courage and flexibility. And I even know a couple for whom the arrangement works nicely. But that's because he's a lot older and wiser; though too physically disabled to work at his lucrative yet dangerous old career as an oil rigger, he is a good father as well as a stabilizing influence on his young wife. He works part-time at a home-based business that modestly supplements her full-time salary as a corporate-office manager; when their two daughters come home from school, he's there to receive them and ensure that the appropriate routines are followed: homework, chores, playtime, and dinner, which he has ready for everybody when his wife arrives home at about 7:00 pm. It all makes sense. But it's exceptional. I have never seen a successful marriage in which the woman was rich and the man poor. Such marriages may and do work for a while and after a fashion; but in my observation, eventually she either loses respect for him or he loses respect for himself, and they drift apart. I was sure that would have happened to my marriage if I had married that rich girlfriend of mine.

Despite what it's now fashionable to pretend, the fact is that most men don't really like their wives to be their rulers, and most women don't respect husbands who gladly let them be the rulers. For good reason: that isn't the way God meant for things to be. For a better account of what God does want, see Ephesians 5. While all major decisions should emerge from mutual consultation, and the decisions actually made are ideally mutual, husbands should be the leaders with the last word. Not tyrants, but servant-leaders. Obversely, wives should be followers; not slaves, but counselors and helpers. In our culture, whose sensibilities have been so warped by past times of ugly male domination and the current time of female-supremacist backlash, people have largely forgotten what God's plan for marriage is. But not everybody: the Church continues to proclaim it and a minority of couples, most Protestant evangelicals, actually live it. But their example is often drowned out by the liberal MSM.

Still, if women are going to be making more money on average than men, what is to be done? That's the question I don't have the answer to. Maybe I've just identified the true paradox that looms.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My baptismal birthday

If they are fortunate, most people celebrate their birthdays, or at least have them celebrated for them. That is a well-nigh universal cultural constant it would be "idiotic," in the sense of the original Greek, to criticize. But as a Catholic and a man unafraid of being considered slightly eccentric in many ways, I prefer celebrating my baptismal to my natural birthday. Today is that day for me.

I was baptized as an infant on February 13, 1955, at a country church in central New Jersey. (Yes, there was still country in central New Jersey back then.) I have celebrated today by praying more, and more joyfully, than usual; if I had a few extra bucks, I would ask a friend to join me in a bottle of wine. Since I don't, I haven't. Yet celebrate I do. Perhaps my explanation why might get a few people thinking enough to enrich their lives by celebrating their baptismal birthdays, even if they don't happen share my preference.

Since reaching the big four-oh, my immediate reaction to thinking of another impending natural birthday is to hear a clock ticking in my head. Every year that passes is a year I get that much closer to death, whether or not I happen to feel like celebrating my life on a particular anniversary of my emergence from the womb. And while I can think of no reason other than a life of sin to fear death, such a fear is to some extent inevitable all the same. We have our physical origin in the animal kingdom where the survival instinct is very strong, perhaps even primary; not to hate death and wish to avoid it would be unnatural. And since I'm no saint yet, I don't have quite enough confidence in what will come after death not to approach it with judicious apprehension.

My baptismal birthday, on the other hand, has gradually become an occasion of almost unalloyed happiness for me. Baptism is our death-and-rebirth in the Lord. By that sacrament, we are symbolically immersed in waters that wash away the old self, born alienated from God, and vivify us with the very life of God. Thus, whether it happens when we are mewling infants or adults with checkered lives, we become new and glorious members of the Body of Christ, the Author of Life, in whom there is eternal life. The very signifying of that process by the act of baptism, as understood and practiced by the Church since the Apostles, initates its occurrence. That's what it is to be a sacrament: a visible instrumental cause, by divine decree, of invisible grace. I am profoundly grateful for the self-sacrifice that made it possible for such rituals to bestow the divine life on us. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

By baptism and its traditional completion, confirmation, we become members of the Church, which just is the Mystical Body of Christ. Indeed, as Augustine said, the whole Christ is the individual, risen Christ and his Mystical Body the Church. But that inconceivably great privilege also brings a great responsbility, if we mature enough to begin choosing our life paths for ourselves. That's not something to take for granted: many conceived children are spontaneously aborted; some, deliberately; some are born dead; others die before reaching adulthood; some are too mentally handicapped to make major life choices for themselves. Indeed I sometimes whether the majority of human persons ever make it to both chronological and psychological adulthood. But those of us who will make or have made it, and also get baptized, are members of a "royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart." If we don't live accordingly, our punishment will be greater than it will be for the merely ignorant who live similarly unedifying lives. Of course, many who are baptized never really learn what that means. Such are the "baptized pagans" whose representation in the Church, it must be said, is not small. The responsibility for them lies in part with people like me. I shudder when I think of how poorly my life reveals Christ to them. Even if not blackly wicked, it has been at best mediocre—at least, I suspect, from the only Point of View that's going to matter in the end.

So I all can do is take the occasion offered by this date in my life to renew my baptismal vows and open myself more joyfully to the grace that will transform me if I would but have it so and cooperate. I suggest every baptized Christian do the same.

A little wine wouldn't hurt either.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Please offer your prayers

Today is the birthday of my younger daughter, Adrianna. For reasons I should not and will not get into publicly, please offer your special prayers for her and her siblings today. I would consider that the greatest act of charity any stranger could do for me.


V-Day meets P-Day

The blowback was, thank God, inevitable. As Valentine's Day approaches we face the now-expected spectacle of various institutions of higher education—including some Catholic ones, I'm disgusted to add—staging and promoting productions of Eve Ensler's ephebophile, male-hating play The Vagina Monologues. Some women on such campuses have taken things a step further by publicly celebrating "Vagina Day" in lieu of Valentine's Day. Well, what's sauce for the gander.... As that courageous critic of feminism, Professor Christina Hoff Sommers (left) describes, we are now seeing a past-due assertion of gender equality on campus: Penis Day.

It is of course a tongue-in-cheek attempt by conservative men on campus to get the V-Day business stopped. And it is replete with as much vulgarity as you'd expect. I don't have to tell you what the reaction of administrators has been: do everything possible, including bringing charges, against the perpetrators of P-Day. That's fine: I'd probably do the same. Yet it almost goes without saying that they do nothing to suppress the antics of those celebrating V-Day. In fact, they at least tacitly encourage it. Why the double standard?

Unfortunately, the answer is almost as obvious as the standard itself: in liberal cosmology, women are victims and men are perps. Accordingly, the former should be allowed to celebrate their sexuality in whatever manner they see fit, no matter how vulgar, offensive, or discriminatory. It's a way of compensating them for their victimhood, after all. Men enjoy no such right, but never mind: perps have no rights. And we wouldn't want to encourage date rape either.

Of course the phenomenon of females raping males is not unknown, even on campus. Examples:

  • I had a friend in college who let himself get so drunk at a sorority party that two of the girls had their way with him without his being able to do anything about it. I know so because they themselves, confirmed by several witnesses, bragged about it even though he himself remembered nothing the next morning. He was very angry about what was done to him, but the witnesses indicated that his efforts to resist were futile. I am told by every college student I've asked that this sort of thing, and worse, occurs today as well.
  • South Africa is now seeing women raping men in order to transmit AIDS. This is pure revenge on the male sex.
  • The phenomenon of female teachers having sex with their underage male students, while perhaps as old as schools themselves, seems more common than in the past. Perhaps it seems so only because it has been increasingly reported throughout the media. I don't know. And I wouldn't really find that form of rape worth mentioning in this context, except that The Vagina Monologues actually celebrates the same thing when done by a female teacher to a female student.

And so the ironies continue. Indeed it is reasonable to assume that the rape of males by females is underreported, just as the admittedly more common rape of females by males is underreported. Therefore, the simplistically dualistic designation of women as victims of sexual violence and men as perps doesn't hold up. What possible justification for the double standard could therefore remain?

Sommers doesn't say, and I'd love to know what she thinks her feminist colleagues would say. But in the meantime, as she does say:

P-Day may be the only effective means of countering V-Day with all its c***-fests, graphic lollipops, intrusive questionnaires, outsized effigies of vaginas and its thematic anti-male play. The prospect of public readings from P-Monologues on campuses around the country just might be the reductio ad absurdum that could drive the vagina warriors to the bargaining table. The student activists opposed to V-Day will gladly cancel P-Day the moment the V-warriors abandon their vagina–fests.

I sure hope so. But in the short term, I don't see anything changing for the better. And that speaks volumes about the effects of radical feminism on the American mind—or at least on American education.

Discrimination against Christians is now American law

At least I know of no better way to put it. A federal court in New York has ruled that it's impermissible to display Nativity scenes on public property during the Christmas season even as it is permissible to display the Jewish menorah symbol during Hannukah and the Muslim star-and-crescent during Ramadan. The 2-1 majority argument is that the latter two symbols are "secular" even as the former is "religious".

Just whom are they kidding? Not the dissenting judge, Chester Straub, who "said it is clear to him that New York City's current policy violates the Establishment Clause by sending the message that Judaism and Islam are favored while Christianity is disfavored." Indeed, the majority's reasoning is even more specious than it was in Roe v Wade. The plaintiff's attorney is licking his chops at the prospect of bringing the case before the US Supreme Court, whose two newest members are conservative Catholics. I share his enthusiasm.

Friday, February 10, 2006

That double standard again

You'll note that I've added a "Support Denmark" banner and link in the upper-right corner of this blog. Here's why.

In a post on radical Islam ten days ago, I wrote: "it's a measure of what we're up against that there's nowhere near as much outrage among Muslims about the death of non-Muslim innocents at the hands of terrorists who want to kill them as there is about the death of Muslim innocents at the hands of American forces who don't want to kill them. We're dealing with a double standard here, and it poses for us an inescapable choice: we can be seen as good guys, or we can defend ourselves." That was before the worldwide Muslim eruption about a Danish newspaper cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist (left). Now we have further confirmation of the double standard that must be resisted.

By law, Christians in the West tolerate all sorts of blasphemies against their religion. I remember well the controversy over Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, which excited strong passions on all sides. But hardly anybody suggested that public depiction of Our Lord in such fashion should be punishable by law. Indeed, it can now be argued that discrimination against Christianity, or at least in favor of non-Christian religions, is a respectable legal position in the West; see. e.g., the recent New York court decision upholding the display of Jewish and Muslim symbols in public schools but banning Christian nativity scenes. (I shall write about that in my next post.) Why, then, have Muslims reacted to the Danish cartoon by rioting, attacking consulates, and calling for death to Denmark, whose prime minister has rightly pointed out that the laws of his country forbid his government's censoring such depictions? It's not enough to say that depiction of Muhammad, in the offending or indeed in any fashion, is against Islamic law. Non-Muslims are, after all, not Muslims, and countries not ruled by Muslims are not subject to Islamic law. Indeed, even some countries ruled by Muslims, such as Turkey and Indonesia, are not fully subject to Islamic law. So why all the fuss?

Say what you want about the emotions aroused by violation of religious sensibilities. Nobody would give Christians a free pass for doing such things, and Muslims shouldn't be either. And some Muslims even say so. But almost to a person, Muslims really want it to be illegal, even in non-Muslim countries, to do things that so deeply offend Muslim sensibilities. From a moral standpoint, I could accept that if the same consideration were extended to every religion—even though such a law would arguably be unconstitutional in the United States. But of course such consideration isn't extended equally to all religions, nor could it be. Muslims cannot be reasonably required to refrain from publishing anything deeply offensive to non-Muslim sensibilities; that would mean, among other things, forbidding them to publicly affirm some things in the Qu'ran. That would be persecution, which nobody wants. So how can non-Muslims reasonably be expected to refrain from publishing anything deeply offensive to Muslim sensibilities?

There's only one answer: the double standard arising from the natural Muslim belief that their religion is true and all others are inferior if not thoroughly false and contemptible. That is the double standard that must be resisted. Failure to resist it would be dhimmitude, which is morally unacceptable by humanist as well as Christian moral standards. That's why I support Denmark and urge you to do the same.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Yikes...I've been memed again!

This time by invitation, thank you. The illustrious Pontificator, who has been memed by Palamite, has memed me to answer the following. I do so with delight since nobody asks me such things except on dates, and my last date was...well, too long ago...

4 jobs you have had in your life:
  • Deli clerk
  • Proofreader for Macmillan's The Encyclopedia of Religion
  • Philosophy professor
  • Parish adult-education coordinator

4 Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:

  • The Adventurers
  • Cross of Iron
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

4 Places You Have Lived:

  • New York, NY
  • Cambridge, England
  • Houston, TX
  • Greensboro, NC

4 TV Shows You Love To Watch:

  • Desperate Housewives
  • The Sopranos
  • 24
  • Battlestar Galactica

4 Places You Have Been On Vacation:

  • Santa Fe, NM
  • Lake District, England
  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Asheville, NC

4 Websites You Visit Daily:

4 Of Your Favorite Foods:

  • Anything Tuscan
  • Pizza
  • All-you-can-eat Chinese buffet
  • Moussaka

4 Places You Would Rather Be Right Now:

  • Rome
  • Oxford, England
  • New York, NY
  • Big Sur, CA

4 Bloggers You Are Tagging:

Come on, guys!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Yet another sex issue for the Church

Around the blogosphere this week, I've been confronting the sort of claim that many Catholics bring up as justification for dissent from the definitive teaching of the Church. The claim is that, since "the Church" at various points in the past has taught things "we now know" to be false, there is no reason for Catholics, let alone anybody else, to accept certain doctrines she now teaches in the face of widespread opposition. In defense of the Church, my series on "Development and Negation" at Pontifications addresses some issues of that kind, though by no means all; I do have to earn a living, after all. The issue of that kind with which I'm concerned at present has to do with sex. I know, it gets tired. But there is a good reason for it.

Nowadays, by far the most unpopular doctrine of the Church is that all volunary genital activity muct be of the procreative sort, even if one isn't aiming at procreation and even if one or both parties are sterile through no doing of their own. In other words, sexual activity must culminate in vaginal intercourse with male ejaculation in the vagina and without any steps taken to interrupt or block the generative process (if any is possible) either before, during, or after the act. If that doctrine is false, then the Church's condemnation of homogenital sex and contraception, which is consistent for as far back as we have records, is as mistaken as the majority of people now believe it to be. And if that is so, then there is no particular reason to accept the Magisterium's distinctive claims for itself at all. One claim sometimes made for taking that stance is that the Church once taught that all sexual activity is somehow morally defective; even marital intercourse meeting the above criterion is at least "venially" sinful because, in our fallen state, it cannot but occasion the sin of lust. And since we "now know" that to be false, the Church's having taught such a thing is good reason not to accept the above criterion either.

Well, here is my reply made at Pontifications to one good Catholic who, while not going quite that far, does see a problem here:

Among Catholics at any rate, I have found the kind of problem you’re raising is probably the most common for the assent of faith, as distinct from this-or-that particular point of faith. But I have also found that the best way to deal with it is to attend carefully to what is actually being proposed on this-or-that particular point. When one does, it almost always becomes clear whether or not one is faced with (a) a matter pertaining to the deposit of faith and (b) a matter of that kind on which the Church has taught definitively.

Consider your favorite example, which I don’t think is the most difficult. We must first ask whether the claim that “sex is always sinful” is a claim about what sex intrinsically and necessarily is in itself as distinct from what it is in the condition of fallenness. If Augustine and Gregory had been claiming the former, they would have been Manichaean heretics, not Christians, who believe that a perfectly good God created the material world and all he created is necessarily good. But none of the Latin Fathers were Manichaeans. Augustine did have a Manichaean phase which some claim carried over into his view of human psychology, and there is some truth to that criticism. But what he really claimed was that, given the effects of original sin, all our faculties are corrupted to some extent—the spiritual no less, and perhaps even more, than the animal. Therefore, even for the person being transformed in Christ and thus sanctified, venial sin is inevitable in every sphere of life. That holds especially of sexuality inasmuch as that faculty can so easily override reason and it is the medium by which human life, and therefore original sin, are transmitted. But the question to what extent the residual effects of the Fall make sin inevitable is not one pertaining to the deposit of faith. One can say that some-or-other venial sin is inevitable in the exercise of any given faculty without thereby claiming that each-and-every exercise of that faculty is venially sinful. The former is a logical consequence of the irreformable teaching of the Church; the latter is and must remain a matter of opinion. Accordingly, the latter forms no part of the subject matter on which the Church as such either can or proposes to teach definitively. One may disagree with Augustine and Gregory by claiming that a married couple do not necessarily sin venially every time they have sex. Especially in our overeroticized and contraceptive culture, they can and do sin venially sometimes. But sometimes they make love not lust.

There are many other examples of teachings that were once common opinions of churchmen but have since been abandoned. I treated some of them in my article series on Development and Negation. If this is the sort of issue that deeply concerns you, there is no alternative to the kind of analysis I’ve been doing—case by case by case.

Readers might find the entire thread of interest.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


"Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil..." Such was the promise with which serpent seduced Adam and Eve into rebellion against God. It is the primal motivation for sin. In the first sin's effects, we all share; it is from them that God himself suffered torture and death to redeem us. The first sin is also what the modern, secular West is about: under the name "freedom," the grab is for autonomy. That word comes from the Greek for being a "law unto oneself." That's what a god is. That's what the real enemy of humanity, in the mythic guise of the serpent, claims to be. Eve joined the party and Adam went along, evading responsibility as men are wont to do. What they didn't know is that striving to be gods ends up making us beasts. I call it "devolution," both to distinguish it from evolution and to remind, by allusion, where evolution without God brings us.

Every generation includes storytellers and preachers who repeat the lesson. They have done so because it is constantly forgotten. But today, forgetting is no longer an alternative. Things have gotten so egregiously bad that the alternative to absorbing the lesson is willful blindness.

Devolution's most pointed manifestation is the defense of abortion. The legality of that crime is considered essential for women's "autonomy," understood as the very heart of personal dignity. But that's just the ideological figleaf. With rare exceptions, the reality of abortion is killing whose purpose is to eliminate what is seen merely as an otherwise substantial cost of indulging lust. To paraphrase Tina Turner, what's personal dignity got to do with it? This is bestiality far worse than what is still (but doubtless not for long) disapproved under that name. The murder is covered by a lie; such a combination is the serpent's specialty. See John 8: 44. But as a pure spirit, Satan is motivated by pride alone, not lust. He seduces us into pride through lust: "she saw that the fruit was a delight to the eyes..." Hence the "autonomy" exercised in abortion.

Millions of abortions are only the clearest instance of such "autonomy." And the defense of them is only the clearest revelation of its cause. But the result is far more general: the impending suicide of the West.

The native populations of the developed countries are now in a decline masked only by the immigration of spiritually healthier people. Mediately, that imbalance is due more to contraception than to abortion. But though not an act of homicide, contraception and abortion have a common premise: the assumption that we are the masters, not merely the ministers, of life. Viewed alongside the rates of "no-fault" divorce and cohabitation in lieu of marriage (never mind gay "marriage," that harbinger of no-fault gay divorce) and it is evident that we are destroying the family. For the most part, we don't care to see it. We are gods, after all, knowing good and evil and disposing our future accordingly. Very well then: if present trends continue, our future will be no future at all. Devolution indeed.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What's at stake in the war with radical Islam

For understandable political reasons, not even President Bush among Western leaders presents our war with "Islamist" terrorists as a war with "Islam." It is incompatible with our modern, Western self-image to be intolerant of any major religion. But let there be no mistake: unlike some Muslims, the House of Islam as a whole has no room for such tolerance itself. Accordingly, there can be no permanent compromise between the House of Islam and those outside it. Ultimately, one or the other will effectively surrender.

I know that sounds like a radical throwback to the era of the Crusades and the Reconquista. And I'm not justifying the brutality of the Crusaders against non-combatants. But the Reconquista was, well, justified; and initially at least, the Crusades were launched for very good reason too. After centuries in which Muslim armies had conquered much of the ancient Christian world, including Spain, and were pressuring the rest of Christendom, the West was not only fed up but finally able to do something about it. There was jus ad bellum. That the thing ended up being done poorly, with some horrible crimes committed along the way, only shows that there was not always jus in bello. Such is fallen humanity in this vale of tears. And we are once again faced with the same sort of challenge.

Most Muslims are of course not terrorists; but in the House of Islam today, there is a doleful and inexorable logic working in the terrorists' favor. Given its resentment of the West and the energy of the violent radicals, it's as if the moderate majority have no effective argument against the terrorists. Al-Qaeda, in Iraq and elsewhere, seems able to draw on an inexhaustible supply of suicide bombers. Iran is now ruled by people who have made no bones about wanting to destroy Israel and the United States and are proceeding apace to develop deliverable nuclear weapons. Hamas, a terrorist organization that has killed many non-combatant Israelis, has just won power in the Palestinian territories. Hezbollah, another terrorist organization, is politically respectable in Lebanon and effectively rules the south of that country, where it borders on Israel. Even the toppled Taliban in Afghanistan continue, from their mountain redoubts, to bleed their enemies, including American soldiers. And in many other countries where Muslims are a significant presence, home-grown Islamist movements emulate the tactics of al-Qaeda, to which they increasingly look for logistical support as well as inspiration.

As we confront such people, we end up sooner or latter killing or otherwise victimizing many innocent people. Unlike the Crusaders, we don't feel free to do that; but as in any war, the death of innocents is to some degree inevitable even when not intended. In today's world, that only fuels our enemies' propaganda. But it's a measure of what we're up against that there's nowhere near as much outrage among Muslims about the death of non-Muslim innocents at the hands of terrorists who want to kill them as there is about the death of Muslim innocents at the hands of American forces who don't want to kill them. We're dealing with a double standard here, and it poses for us an inescapable choice: we can be seen as good guys, or we can defend ourselves. There is no third way between dhimmitude and war.

Western Europe seems most reluctant to see that. Perhaps it never will. If it doesn't, Europe will become Eurabia, if only demographically. I do not want that to happen to my own country. As disappointing and occasionally infuriating as it sometimes is, I love the United States of America. But even we will go down in the struggle if we don't recover our spiritual roots.

Those roots are "the laws of nature and of nature's God." The natural law recognized in the Declaration of Independence. Islam as such cannot recognize natural law. Its conception of God is purely voluntaristic; accordingly, it conceives law and morality simply as inscrutable divine commands. See Professor Anthony Esolen's compilation and observations. One of those commands is that of jihad: struggle to bring the world into the House of Islam. The Qu'ran indicates that sometimes violence is necessary for that. We are seeing it today.