Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Table of Contents for June 2003
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Monday, June 30, 2003Table of Contents for June 2003
Christians and the Right to be Human (6/30); "Should Christians Convert Muslims?" (6/28); U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Law Criminalizing Gay Sodomy (6/27); The Anglican Gay Crisis and Ecumenism: The Fall of Canterbury and the Rise of Lagos (6/26); The Vatican on Gay "Marriage" (6/25); The Surprising Superficiality of John Dewey (6/24); Sensible Remarks on Our Catholic Moment in the United States (6/23); Christianity Does Not Recognize Gay Marriage Laws (6/20); The "Shack Up" Syndrome and Homosexual "Marriage" (6/19/03); Canadian Gay Marriages: The Unraveling of the Modern Western State (6/18/03); Why There Should Be No Doubt About the Existence of Hell (6/17/03); Authority and the Modern Mentality (6/16/03); St. Thomas Aquinas: Goods vs. "Values" (6/14/03); "Privileged Hearers of the Word of God" (6/13/03); Profile in Courage or in Confusion? (6/12/03); Has Weber's Protestant Work Ethic Been Proven? Is it Even Christian? (6/11/03); New General Instruction of the Roman Missal Mandates Priority of Gregorian Chant and Renewed Use of Latin (6/10); Newsweek Poll on Fetal Rights Finally Emerges (6/9); Update on Kneeling After Holy Communion and the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal (6/9); Sacrilege by New Hampshire Episcopalians (6/9); More on Newsweek and the Rights of the Unborn Child (6/7); Nigerian Anglicans and the Next Christendom (6/6); Where's the Rest of the Newsweek Poll? (6/6); Chadwick's Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (6/5); "Morally Wrong But Not a Betrayal of the Public" (6/4); Standing After Receiving Communion (6/3); Newsweek Poll on Abortion (6/2); Jenkins' The Next Christendom: Part 3 (6/2).
Christians and the Right to be Human
In the wake of the Supreme Court's unmistakable signal that it plans to make gay marriage a fundamental constitutional right in the future, Christians in the United States must revamp their self-image. Christian verities such as marriage between man and woman are no longer the default categories of American culture. As blogger and writer Mark Shea has noted, while America is focused on the individual, Christianity is focused on the family. The default category in American culture is radical, libertarian, atomistic individualism. In contrast to that radical individualism, Christians propose an ancient view of the individual as fundamentally and innately social or familial. Drawing on the best of pre-Christian Western civilization, Christians affirm, like Aristotle, that man is by nature a political or social animal. Drawing on the Old Testament image of God as Bridegroom and of Israel as Bride, Christians affirm the centrality of marriage between man and woman as an essential "hermeneutic" or means of interpreting reality. This image of Bridegroom and Bride reaches its apex in the New Testament where Paul equates the relation of Christ and the Church to that of marriage. And, of course, the Trinity, the very mystery of God's nature, is a family of divine persons reflecting that God is indeed love.
Christians as proponents of what I will call "complementary marriage" are radically at odds with a society that views the human being as fundamentally alone. When a society functions on the basis of the fundamentally lonely individual, it is understandable that it will refuse to recognize any limits to the subjective whims of the individual. That is the libertarianism at the heart of American culture today. Thus, Christians are the ultimate rebels in today's America.
We should not conceive our role as that of defending the cultural status quo or tradition. That would be self-deception. The culture is already predisposed to the destruction of the family and eagerly pursues it. A careful reading of the Vatican's document on marriage and "de facto" unions outside of marriage indicates that we are not merely defenders of the status quo:
The efforts to obtain legislation favorable to de facto unions in many countries with an ancient Christian tradition are of great concern to pastors and the faithful. Often it seems that one does not know what answer to give to this phenomenon, and that the reaction is merely defensive, thus giving the impression that the Church wants only to maintain the status quo, as if the family based on marriage were simply the cultural model (a "traditional" model) of the Church that it wants to keep, despite the great transformations in our era.
The Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage and "De Facto" Unions, 40 (emphasis added).
We are not merely defenders of a status quo cultural model. We assert a fundamental reality: human beings are created for the family union of male and female in marriage. It is not a matter of conventions or Victorianism, but of human nature. Ever since Roe v. Wade, Christians have increasingly found it necessary to be assertive protesters in American society. Rather than defenders of the status quo, the role of Christians is that of activists and protesters who are seeking to change the status quo. The basis of this Christian cultural rebellion is not a mere civil right, but fundamental human rights: the right to life and the right of human beings to live in an authentically complementary family. These rights are truly human rights because they are essential to the expression of human nature.
The sixties saw the aggressive rise of the so-called "sexual revolution" which has turned out to be instead the great "sexual deception." Christians are rebels against that deception and propose instead the truth that sex can only be the seal of marriage between male and female. As rebels, we must fight tooth and nail for the right to be human. Christians should not accept the stereotype imposed by our opponents who seek to paint us as ignobly blocking the expansion of civil rights. Christians are fighting for the human right to be human. We are not defending a mere cultural or traditional lifestyle. We are seeking to humanize a culture that has reduced human beings to mere shadows of their fullness.
That fullness or flourishing of the human being is familial. With this familial model of the human being, Christians propose the physical expression of sexuality as exclusively oriented to authentically complementary marriage, propose welcoming all new human life, and propose including the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, and, yes, even those with same gender attractions in our family to worship in spirit and in truth at Christ's banquet table. Theologically, this familial model means that Catholics see the all-male priesthood as a sign of Christ the Bridegroom serving his Bride, the Church, not as a mere traditional convention. Theologically, the familial model also means honoring Mary as the first disciple, the first and paramount Christian, who is the Mother and Model of the Church, not as an archaic expression of mere sentimentality. Catholics propose from the truth of family the entire "economy" of faith and salvation coherent in its complementarity.
Sunday, June 29, 2003Solemnity of Peter and Paul, Apostles: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, 17-18; Matt. 16:13-19
In Acts, Luke recounts how the angel rescued Peter from Herod's prison. It was God's will that Peter's martyrdom would be in Rome, not in Jerusalem at the hands of Herod. Thus, we already see divine providence determined to establish Peter as founder of the Church at Rome. The narrative of Peter's rescue reminds us of certain fundamental teachings of our faith. First, it is noted that during Peter's incarceration "earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church" (Acts 12:5, RSV). Another translation states the matter more forcefully: "All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly" (Acts 12:5, Jerusalem Bible). This verse affirms for us our belief that intercessory prayer in which we bring our petitions to God is effective, not just an exercise in self-comfort. In a genuinely mysterious way, God who is all-knowing and who is unchangeable uses our prayers to effect his will and providence on earth. Our freely made prayerful petitions participate in the unfolding of divine providence. Some have described this participation of our prayers in terms of "secondary causes." Some have said that God wills certain events through our prayers. However difficult to explain how our petitions participate in the mystery of divine providence, we affirm that participation because our salvation history recounts God's response to the petitions of His people, and Jesus Christ Himself urges us to bring our petitions to the Father.
But even more significant is that the angel's rescue of Peter from prison affirms the Resurrection of Christ as a real historical event. In the narrative, it is explicitly noted that Peter initially "did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision" (Acts 12:9). Only when he went out the city gate did Peter realize that he had really been rescued (Acts 12:10-11).
These narrative details show that Luke and the early Christians clearly made the distinction between a vision that was a merely subjective experience that did not change objective reality, and a divine intervention which really did change objective reality. This distinction between subjective vision and objective reality is seen in the New Testament's affirmation that Jesus really rose from the dead as confirmed by the empty tomb and by His appearance with a real body that was touchable, identifiable by its wounds, and capable of eating. Those who pursue an agenda of attempting to have us believe that the New Testament treats the resurrection appearances as mere subjective visions and psychological experiences without objective reality are the ones who are deluded in confusing their own ideological biases with the realistic experience of the Resurrection recounted in the text of the New Testament.
In Paul's Second Letter to Timothy, Paul pens the famous lyrical summary of his life as he senses that he is approaching the end of his earthly life. He looks forward to receiving "the crown of righteousness" and recounts how the Lord wil rescue him "from every evil and save . . . [him] for his heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:8, 18). Like Peter, Paul is aware of God's providential intervention in his life to preserve him for the fulfillment of his apostolic mission. Paul is firmly aware of his divine mission made possible by the intervention of divine providence:
"But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth."
2 Tim. 4:17.
Like Peter, Paul would also be preserved until his martyrdom in Rome. Thus, both great apostles, Peter and Paul, would be the pillars and founders of the Roman church. Already we see the warrant for the primacy of Rome in the early Church as the Church founded by the two greatest apostles.
Finally, in the Gospel reading of Matthew, we have Jesus explicitly declaring the primacy of Peter by calling him the Rock upon which Jesus will build his Church (Matt. 16:17). Jesus explicitly grants to Peter the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" and grants to Peter the power of binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19). The commentary in the Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version notes the significance of the powers of "binding" and "loosing":
"Binding" and "loosing" are rabbinic terms referring to excommunication, then later to forbidding or allowing something. Not only can Peter admit to the kingdom; he also has power to make authoritative decisions in matter of faith and morals.
Explanatory Notes, RSV Catholic Edition (Ignatius Press 1966).
Most of those who question the interpretation of this passage as creating the primacy of Peter in the Church focus on the use of the term "rock" and claim that the rock was not Peter personally but rather his confession of faith in Christ. Church history indicates that the early Church, certainly by the time of St. Augustine, appropriately interpreted "rock" as referring both to Peter's confession of faith and to Peter personally. In addition, those who question the primacy of Peter fail to focus on the following verses which grant to Peter the power of binding and loosing which, as we have seen, are explicit terms of art from the rabbinic tradition. The keys of the kingdom and the power of binding and loosing are not bestowed on a confession of faith, but on a person, Peter.
The readings for today's feast are thus rich in conclusions. We take away reaffirmation that our petitions to God play a real role in the working out of history. We also receive reaffirmation that the New Testament Christians were well aware of the difference between a vision and a real event in spite of attempts by modern skeptics to confuse the issue in an effort to undermine belief in the bodily Resurrection of Christ. We see the providential and complementary role of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles dovetailing with the providential role of Peter as the rock of the Church holding the keys of the kingdom of heaven. We marvel at how providence brought both of these pillars of the Church to end their earthly lives in Rome which henceforth would carry on the pastoral primacy granted to Peter and the role of teaching all the nations granted to Paul.
Saturday, June 28, 2003"Should Christians Convert Muslims?"
The cover story for the June 30, 2003, issue of Time magazine asks, "Should Christians Convert Muslims?" and proceeds to document the effort by American evangelicals to target for evangelization the majority Moslem nations found in the "10/40 Window." The "10/40 Window" is a reference to those nations between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude where it is estimated that 97% of the unevangelized in the world live (Time, p. 40). Not surprisingly, Time magazine as a mainstream national news magazine presents the story of the evangelical missionaries in a highly critical and skeptical manner. Nevertheless, the reality of these missionary efforts cannot be ignored. And that reality is a good thing.
What about the role of Catholics? The article mentions Catholics only to note that a Catholic archbishop in Lebanon condemned evangelicals who were denounced by Moslem leaders for "handing out Christian literature and evangelizing to [sic] Muslim youth" (p. 43). Without further details, it is hard to form a definite opinion about why the archbishop condemned the evangelicals. Yet, on the face of it, the impression created, whether accurate or not, is one of Catholic disapproval. Time also implies Catholic disapproval of these evangelical efforts when it lumps Catholics and mainline Protestants together as having embraced "a social gospel" and abandoned "preaching to the unenlightened" (pp. 39-40).
Well, if we look to the authoritative pronouncements of the Catholic Church, it is unambigously clear that the Catholic Church has in no way abandoned preaching to the unenlightened. In 2000, Pope John Paul II ratified and confirmed the well-known document Dominus Iesus prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document rejects viewing other religions as equal or complementary means of salvation: "[I]t would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God" (section 21).
The document also describes followers of other religions as being "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation" even though "it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace" (section 21). It is also noted that interreligious dialogue cannot replace the missionary enterprise: "In interreligious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes ["to the peoples"] 'today as always retains its full force and necessity' " (section 22, quoting Vatican II's Decree Ad Gentes, 7).
All of this means that the Catholic Church must be missionary, as missionary as the Protestant evangelicals, toward the Muslims and anyone else:
"But the Church, to whom this truth [the truth of salvation] has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them [all men] the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary."
Dominus Iesus, 22 (quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 851).
This missionary enterprise requires "proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (section 22) (emphasis added). Thus, Catholics must proclaim the Gospel to all people, even those of other religions, including Muslims.
Contrary to Time magazine's report, it must be repeated that the Catholic Church has not abandoned "preaching to the unenlightened" for the sake of a "social gospel" (Time article, pp. 39-40, June 30, 2003, issue). It is also part of Catholic theology that, while the fullness of the Church of Christ exists only in the Catholic Church, " 'outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth,' . . . in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church" (Dominus Iesus, section 16). The bold efforts by Protestant evangelicals to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims are examples of those elements of sanctification and truth in Christian bodies outside the Catholic Church. We Catholics should rejoice in the courage of these Protestant missionaries and emulate them. Let the Gospel be preached to all people, without coercion, as in apostolic times, whether Muslim or Jewish or of any other religious tradition. Respectfully, charitably, and without pressure, the Gospel must be proclaimed and proposed to all people. That is the official Catholic position.
Friday, June 27, 2003U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Law Criminalizing Gay Sodomy
In a 6-3 decision, that is, not a close 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on June 26, 2003, struck down a Texas statute that made homosexual sodomy a crime. (These remarks are a preliminary analysis based on the "syllabus" or summary of the court decision provided by the court plus extensive portions of the opinion appearing in the New York Times. The full text of the decision, Lawrence v. Texas, is available at the Supreme Court website under "Recent Decisions.") While the majority of the court focused on the liberty interest of homosexuals arising from the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment, it appears that a crucial element for one particular justice, Justice O'Connor, was the fact that the law prohibited only homosexual sodomy, not sodomy in general. As the court correctly noted in its decision, sodomy laws in the U.S. historically targeted all forms of sodomy, whether homosexual or heterosexual, in a "general condemnation of nonprocreative sex." But, of course, our society has long since come to accept heterosexual sodomy (anal or oral "sex") as quite normal, as can be seen in discussions in popular general circulation magazines. Again, widespread heterosexual vice has made it politically impossible in many, if not most, states to pass a statute that would prohibit all forms of sodomy. Certainly, the Texas legislature refused to pass a statute that would apply to heterosexual sodomy.
Interestingly, the court states that "stare decisis is not an inexorable command." Stare decisis, meaning in Latin "to stand by things decided," refers to the Anglo-American legal principle that prior court decisions on the same issue (court "precedent") should be followed in most cases and rarely contradicted. This respect for court precedent is the same principle always cited in upholding Roe v. Wade. Let us hope that one day the same court will recognize that respect for precedent in not an "inexorable command" when reconsidering Roe v. Wade's legalization of widespread abortion. That day may be far off with the current composition of the Supreme Court given that the court's opinion in the Texas sodomy case cites Roe v. Wade as supporting precedent on the privacy of decisions of a sexual nature.
In any event, in the Texas sodomy case which is now in the news, the court stated that respect for its own precedent is not inexorable. It did so as a way to justify the reversal of an earlier 1986 decision. In that earlier decision, known as the Bowers case, the court upheld a Georgia statute prohibiting all acts of sodomy, whether by homosexuals or heterosexuals. The reversal of its earlier Georgia decision was necessary for the new and radical reasoning used by five of the justices to invalidate the Texas sodomy statute which is now in the news.
The radical reasoning used to overturn Texas' anti-sodomy statute lays the groundwork for the Supreme Court to recognize gay marriage as a fundamental right under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment which requires that all persons in similar circumstances be treated equally by the law. The court explicitly places gay sexual relationships on a par with marriage when it makes the following comparison:
To say that the issue in Bowers [the 1986 Georgia case noted above] was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse.
What the court is saying is that a law prohibiting gay sexual conduct is really an assault on the personal dignity of individuals just as much as a law denying someone the right to marry based on race or some other extraneous factor. It is clear that the Supreme Court is well on its way to ultimately saying that to deny the right to marry based on the gender of the individuals seeking marriage is also an unconstitutional assault on the personal dignity of such individuals.
Furthermore, the court indicates that it will look to legal developments in other Western nations in deciding whether the law of an American state is offensive to human dignity. In striking down the sodomy statute, the court cited a decision by a European human rights court. It seems that the Supreme Court has now made us part of the European Union without even the courtesy of a referendum! Certainly, the court will not hesitate to cite in the future the much more proximate Canadian court decision ordering the recognition of gay marriage.
Volumes will be written on this decision touching on the above points and many others. But what preliminary reflections can we as Catholics make? First of all, it is clear, as St. Thomas Aquinas has noted, that we are in a stage in American culture where precepts of the natural law have been "blotted out from the human heart . . . by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom I), were not esteemed sinful" (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 94, 6, quoted in Peter Kreeft, Summa of the Summa [Ignatius Press 1990], p. 521). The cultural normalization of heterosexual fornication and sodomy leads inexorably to the cultural normalization of homosexual sodomy.
Secondly, I submit that the Supreme Court's recognition of the right to homosexual sodomy is not binding in conscience on Catholics, including public officials and judges. Certainly, a lower court judge would have to invalidate a state statute that was exactly the same in form and application as that just struck down. But duplicates are rare in the law. Another state may find a different way to express its disapproval of sodomy. And certainly a lower court judge can question the extension of the defective reasoning in the Texas case to other areas of controversy, such as adoptions or same-gender unions and "marriages" or laws prohibiting prostitution. (Another Western nation, New Zealand, recently legalized prostitution. Given the Supreme Court's reliance on the changing mores of other Western nations, little New Zealand will now be part of our evolving constitutional law.)
In my view, which, let me be clear, is a highly controversial view that would find few supporters in the legal profession, a Catholic judge is not bound to follow the Supreme Court's recognition of vice because the Supreme Court lacks the power to engage in judicial rulings contrary to the natural law. Thus, Catholic judges are fully within their rights to decide cases consistent with the natural law. Consequently, if a Catholic judge is considering a statute challenged on the basis of a right to sodomy as intrinsic to human dignity, that judge is free to use his legal knowledge and acumen to reject the reasoning used by the Supreme Court. To this suggestion, most judges will cry out in horror that they are bound by the rulings of the nation's highest court.
My response is that Catholic judges are free to decide a case differently than the Supreme Court if they can use legal reasoning and precedent to show facets of the legal issue and factual evidence ignored by the Supreme Court. In the legal world, this process of reasoning is used all of the time to "distinguish" one case from an older case. An intelligent judge can easily find gaping holes in the Supreme Court's logic that would more than justify upholding the natural law. No judge is bound by faulty and weak logic or by failure to consider compelling evidence even if it emanates from the Supreme Court. The truth is that the intellectual powers of Supreme Court justices and their opinion-writing clerks are highly overrated by an inappropriately overawed society. The idea that a lower court judge is inexorably bound by the specious reasoning of a higher court is a myth. If in the past talented judges had acted as if bound by such defective reasoning by a higher court, then much beneficial progress in the law would have been impossible. Respecting precedent, even from a higher court, is as much about departing from its faulty reasoning and gaps as it is about following its relevant reasoning. And, of course, the Supreme Court is always free to evaluate and reverse on appeal any lower court rulings it disagrees with.
The abortion controversy provides a good example. In my view, given the dramatic progress in scientific evidence concerning the undeniable humanity of the unborn child, a Catholic judge is free to rule contrary to Roe v. Wade precisely because Roe did not and could not have considered such scientific development. While the lower court judge could not technically "reverse" Roe v. Wade and would have to leave that technical ruling up to the Supreme Court, he could merely conclude that Roe is inapplicable to the facts before him. In legal jargon, he or she would simply conclude that "Roe v. Wade is not controlling" in the case at issue.
The Supreme Court has shown that the law is infinitely malleable as a means of undermining duly and democratically enacted state statutes reflecting the natural law. Surely, then lower court judges can use that infinite malleability in favor of expressions of the natural law as enacted by democratic legislatures. In other words, Catholic judges should push the envelope. Progress in the law has always come from pushing the envelope. It is absurd for Catholic judges to put their intellects in abeyance in deference to Supreme Court opinions that are so intellectually weak and so easily limited to unique or inadequately developed factual circumstances. The virtue of fortitude demands that Catholic judges and other judges who are committed to the natural law take the same professional risks as those who reject the natural law are willing to take to advance their agenda. The difference is that those supporting the agenda of the natural law are in step with the sources of Western law and civilization and are appealing to the only authority binding on human conscience. And, after all, law to be law must be capable of binding the human conscience. And only consistency with the natural law can provide that essential ingredient. Catholic judges especially should strive to include that essential ingredient.
Let me end with a quotation from a lecture by the great American jurist Benajmin Cardozo (1870-1938), who served on the U.S. Supreme Court in the thirties:
Our survey of judicial methods teaches us, I think, the lesson that the whole subject matter of jurisprudence is more plastic, more malleable, the moulds less definitively cast, the bound of right and wrong less preordained and constant, than most of us, without the aid of some such analysis, have been accustomed to believe.
Benjamin Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process (Yale University Press 1921 ), p. 161.
The malleability noted by Justice Cardozo is still with us, and thinking judges should use it to mitigate the damage from the strange reasoning used by the majority to overturn the Texas sodomy statute.
Thursday, June 26, 2003The Anglican Gay Crisis and Ecumenism: The Fall of Canterbury and the Rise of Lagos [Nigeria]
Once again, the Anglican Communion is embroiled in talk of schism, this time about the integration of the gay lifestyle into the heart of its structure and practices. One event after another has led to the current frenzy of statements and press releases by clerics and others on both sides of the gay issue. First, this year a new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the honorific leader of the Anglican Communion, who acknowledges knowingly ordaining an actively gay clergyman was chosen. Second, an Anglican diocese in Canada officially begins to bless same-gender unions. Third, New Hampshire Episcopalians have chosen an actively gay cleric as their new bishop, subject to approval by the national Episcopal Church USA which has long been on shaky ground with traditional Anglicans. And, finally, an openly gay cleric and activist is appointed a bishop in England, with his official consecration by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury set for October 9, 2003.
The so-called debate is astonishingly absurd. The advocates of "baptizing" the gay lifestyle urge that irate Anglicans should focus on combating AIDS rather than objecting to the gay lifestyle! Others gay advocates urge their fellow Anglicans to focus on combating "paganism" and "secularisation" rather than opposing the gay lifestyle, as if the gay lifestyle were not itself a prime instance of paganism and secularization. Then, there are attacks on the Anglican Primate of Nigeria who has called the gay agenda a "Satanic attack on God's church" (see news story). These attacks refer to the Nigerians as hypocrites for tolerating polygamy and human sacrifice. You read it right: human sacrifice! The gay zealots even accuse traditional Christians of human sacrifice, an accusation reminiscent of that made in the pagan Greco-Roman world against the early Christian celebration of the Eucharist.
The response of the essentially powerless, honorific Anglican leader, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, is exactly the same as that condemned by the Vatican when it comes to the normalization of sexual relations outside of marriage by heterosexuals and homosexuals. The Anglican leader's statements call for calm and unity without addressing the question of truth. In other words, for the titular Anglican leader, everything is negotiable in the interests of maintaining the unity of his ecclesiastical community.
In condemning the relativism that approves of sexual unions outside of Christian marriage, the Pontifical Council for the Family quoted from John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):
When freedom is disconnected from truth, "any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures onto the shifting sands of complete relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining, even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life."
Family, Marriage and "De Facto" Unions, section 30 (Pauline Books 2000).
The conventionally recognized leadership of the Anglican Communion has long been venturing in "the shifting sands of complete relativism." Their pronouncements and hedging show that they have long since rejected Christ as the rock upon which all must be built. In my view, this trend, now culminating with the integration of the gay lifestyle into the heart of the Anglican polity, marks the end of serious ecumenical discussions with those Anglican leaders situated in Canterbury.
But with this end, there are signs of a new beginning. The large Anglican community in Nigeria, led by its outspoken Archbishop Peter Akinola, has broken relations with the Canadian Anglicans who are blessing same-gender unions and has expressed alarm about the gay bishops-elect in New Hampshire and in the United Kingdom (see Nigerian statement). Akinola has raised the possibility of schism if Canterbury goes forward with the ordination of the gay bishop-elect in the United Kingdom (see news story). The Anglicans in Nigeria form the largest single Anglican community in the world and note on their website that they are the "fastest growing church in the Anglican Communion." Our Catholic ecumenical dialogue with Anglicanism should go through Lagos, Nigeria, rather than Canterbury. In my opinion, there is no common ground with Canterbury worthy of further serious discussion. Genuine Christian Anglicanism has been expelled from the historic center of Anglicanism. We Catholics cannot ignore the truth of that statement without compromising ourselves. As confirmed by the trends documented in Philip Jenkins' recent book The Next Christendom, Africa should be the focus of serious Catholic-Anglican dialogue.
Follow up: For a reaction from Germany to this article, see Credo ut intelligam for July 31, 2003.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003The Vatican on Gay "Marriage"
In the year 2000, the Pontifical Council for the Family issued an official document entitled "Family, Marriage, and 'De Facto' Unions" which sets forth the Church's position on the efforts in some nations to make non-marital sexual partnerships equal to marriage. The Vatican uses the term "de facto union" to refer to all forms of sexual cohabitation, including the homosexual variety. The document focuses primarily on analyzing the rising phenomenon, especially in the developed world, of sexual cohabitation by heterosexual couples. Yet, the document also comments on the effort to legally recognize sexual cohabitation by persons of the same gender.
By treating the phenomenon of homosexual partnerships within the wider phenomenon of heterosexual de facto unions, the Vatican makes a major point already discussed in Catholic Analysis: the roots of the movement to recognize gay "marriage" lie in the deconstruction of traditional marriage that began with the spread of "shacking up" among heterosexuals. In a way, the gay activists are merely tagging along to exploit the opportunities created by the attacks on marriage carried out over the last thirty to forty years by heterosexuals. Every time another heterosexual couple decides to sexually cohabit there is another nail driven in the coffin of authentic marriage. Thus, a coherent response to the gay "marriage" movement must involve addressing heterosexual de facto unions. Focusing exclusively on gays misses the roots of the problem.
But the Vatican document goes even deeper in its analysis by focusing on the contributions of the divorce mentality to de facto unions:
Through pro-divorce legislation, marriage often tends to lose its identity in personal conscience. In this sense, a lack of confidence in the institution of marriage should be pointed out which sometimes comes from the negative experience of persons who have been traumatized by a previous divorce or by their parents' divorce. This distressing phenomenon is beginning to become important from a social viewpoint in the more economically developed countries.
The Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage and De Facto Unions (Pauline Books 2000), section 5 (hereafter referenced as "De Facto Unions" with section number).
This observation that the disintegration of marriage through a divorce mentality is a real and significant cause of de facto unions has been confirmed by independent research. The new normality of divorce has redefined marriage in Western societies from a permanent commitment to a provisional commitment. It has even redefined "adultery" by conventionally viewing separated persons as free to pursue other sexual relationships even prior to the final divorce. As a result, divorce has eviscerated the original social definition of marriage as permanent and as requiring fidelity during its existence. The trauma of the divorced, and especially of the legions of children of the divorced, has led to the acceptance of de facto unions as an emotional and psychological defense from the disillusion of further divorce.
The Pontifical Council also addresses another key factor in the demise of marriage by quoting from Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, 47, which pointed to "so-called free love" as a cause of the breakdown of marriage (De Facto Unions, 12). By "so-called free love," Vatican II was referring to the fornication culture that was already emerging in the early sixties. The Pontifical Council for the Family rightly concluded that "what the [Second Vatican] Council calls 'free' love, which opposes true conjugal love, was then-- and is now-- the seed that produces de facto unions" (De Facto Unions, 12).
With this analysis, we can see the chain reaction in which widespread fornication and a divorce mentality feed into each other and in which both in turn spawn widespread sexual cohabitation. All three social practices-- fornication, divorce, and de facto unions-- inevitably destroy the concept of marriage as a permanent and exclusive sexual union by legitimizing sexual activity outside of marriage. In the end, all three of these practices are grounded in "an underlying mentality that gives little value to sexuality" (De Facto Unions, 5). This mentality "is influenced more or less by pragmatism and hedonism, as well as by a conception of love detached from any responsibility" (De Facto Unions, 5).
In Western nations, this fornication culture matches the Western emphasis on individualism. In the United States, the fornication culture also matches the American emphasis on individuals as free consumers in a market economy. The freedom of the sovereign consumer in the economic market becomes the unfettered freedom of the consumer in the sexual "market" always experimenting with new sexual partners and living arrangements to suit the desires of the moment. The Pontifical Council refers to this libertarianism by speaking of the "undifferentiated exaltation of individuals' freedom of choice, with no reference to a socially relevant value order, [which] obeys a completely individualistic and private approach to marriage and the family that is blind to its objective social dimension" (De Facto Unions, 15). And, of course, this making of sexuality into a market commodity takes place with the assistance of the technologies of contraception and abortion which further the exaltation of choice even at the cost of human life itself.
All of the above frames the conclusions of this Vatican document on gay "marriage." The Pontifical Council quotes John Paul II as specifically noting that " 'de facto unions' between homosexuals are a deplorable distortion of what should be a communion of love and life between a man and a woman in a reciprocal gift open to life" (De Facto Unions, 23). The Pontifical Council then adds that "the presumption to make these [de facto] unions equivalent to 'legal marriage,' as some recent initiatives attempt to do, is even more serious" (De Facto Unions, 23). The document also states that "the attempts to legalize the adoption of children by homosexual couples adds an element of great danger to all the previous ones" (Ibid.). Again quoting from John Paul II, the Pontifical Council points out the reason why such adoptions are dangerous: "The bond between two men or two women cannot constitute a real family and much less can the right be attributed to that union to adopt children without a family" (Ibid.).
To make clear that the defense of marriage against these innovations is not motivated by hatred of homosexuals, the Pontifical Council adds these words:
To recall the social transcendence of the truth about conjugal love and consequently the grave error of recognizing or even making homosexual relations equivalent to marriage does not presume to discriminate against these persons in any way. It is the common good of society which requires the laws to recognize, favor and protect the marital union as the basis of the family which would be damaged in this way.
De Facto Unions, 23.
This pursuit of the common good views marriage as crucial to society from the point of view of "right reason" not limited to specifically religious or denominational beliefs (De Facto Unions, 13). Right reason requires "that the interpretation of reality and the judgment of reason must be objective, and free from conditioning, such as disorderly affectivity or weakness in considering sorrowful situations that inclines toward a superficial compassion, eventual ideological prejudices, social or cultural pressures, conditioning by lobbies or political parties" (De Facto Unions, 13). The Catholic opposition to giving legal recognition to non-marital sexual unions and to gay "marriages" is based on objective reason, not necessarily on specific theological beliefs. Thus, the claim that Catholics are trying to impose their religious beliefs on others is, as in the case of abortion, baseless.
A democracy like Canada that rejects right reason or objective "values" grounded in reason in the end " 'turns easily into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism' " which will require unjust discrimination and oppression against Christians and others duly enforced by the courts (De Facto Unions, 18, quoting John Paul II). Gay activists make wild and unfounded accusations that Christians and others who openly declare that homosexual acts are sinful are giving a license to violence. The truth is that the use of the courts and legislature to force Christians and others to recognize gay "marriage" is itself a form of violence as St. Thomas Aquinas would attest.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003The Surprising Superficiality of John Dewey
The on-line New York Times obituary section contains a running list of obituaries from its archives that are made available free of charge. The current list includes the obituary of philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952), a pillar of American philosophy or "pragmatism." Years ago, I was deeply impressed by the social philosophy of John Dewey because of his vigorous commitment to democracy as a way of life in contrast to the reality of crass elitist rule that permeates much of human society. Even today, as a Catholic, I can find Dewey's commitment to democracy a bracing call for social justice in which the common good, and not the privileges of self-perpetuating elites, is the raison d'être of all human society. In that sense, Dewey's commitment to democracy was in direct continuity with Aquinas' emphasis on political power being used for the common good and on the Aristotelian origins of that concept based on viewing man as essentially a social or political animal. Dewey was a prolific writer, a social and political activist, and from all accounts a highly decent, if somewhat politically naive, man. No one disputes his intellectual genius.
Yet, Dewey had a strangely narrow and superficial view of the enterprise of Western philosophy evident in some of his writings. Here is a summary view presented in the 1952 obituary:
In reviewing Dr. Dewey's "Problems of Men," published in June, 1946, Dr. Alvin Johnson, president emeritus of the New School for Social Research, said Dr. Dewey struck "straight at reactionary philosophers." In replying to his philosophical and educational critics, Dr. Johnson said that Dewey concluded: "Philosophy counts for next to nothing in the present world-wide crisis of human affairs and should count for less. It needs a thorough house-cleaning and the final, definitive abandonment of most of its traditional values. Those values are class values. They were established in a time when the masses of mankind lived in slavery, or near-slavery, and when a little body of the elect could occupy themselves with speculations on the divine and the absolute. The present world belongs to a democracy. And the democracy cannot waste time on recondite speculations that have nothing to do with life."
As someone who has read widely in Dewey's work in the past, this summary sounds accurate. Dewey presented a picture of Western philosophy as the plaything of an elite social class. Related to this depiction of Western philosophy was a sense that the concerns of natural theology and of revealed theology were irrelevant to the realities and exigencies of human life. In fact, the sense one gets from reading Dewey is that such concerns were either frivolous diversions or tools for class oppression.
In this way, Dewey foreshadowed some of the emphases of those claiming to practice liberation theology by emphasizing that traditional theological and philosophical ideas were and are tools of class oppression of the masses. Here, we can see the surprising superficiality of Dewey, even while admitting his genius and talents. To thus imply that Thomas Aquinas, the great emblematic philosopher of medieval civilization, pursued his studies and prolific work for the sake of catering to the whims of the ruling classes of medieval Europe is absurd. Those who accept Dewey's simplistic stereotype of Western philosophy should be aware that the ruling classes had no interest in the subtleties of Thomist philosophy and theology. Like all ruling classes, their primary and all-absorbing interest were in the accumulation and maintenance of financial and political power. Thomas began his young life as a rebel against the pressures of his powerful family to have him pursue a career of power in the Church. Thomas instead chose to join the relatively new and controversial Dominican order and pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge or, more precisely, knowledge for the sake of approaching the One who is the Truth.
When Thomas writes about unjust laws as perversions and as forms of violence, when Thomas writes about the essential aspect of governance as being pursuit of the common good, Thomas is creating the heritage that made the life of John Dewey possible. Without the Thomistic backdrop to Western civilization, the civilized life of university teaching, of democracy and free expression that marked the peaceful and long intellectual life of John Dewey would not have been possible. And, of course, Thomas is but one example of a philosopher who lived for the truth and not for power or to serve the class interests of an elite. In contending for such a superficial view of Western philosophy, Dewey reveals the strange ingratitude of his generation for the fruits of Western civilization. The great British economist John Maynard Keynes, a contemporary of Dewey, once wrote to the effect that his generation was living off the social capital created by the religious beliefs of prior generations. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Dewey was born in the same year (1859) as the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species which sparked widespread doubt about traditional beliefs. Dewey also lived off that social capital and its legacy of natural law and natural rights while expressing disdain for its alleged oppression of the masses.
Today, the ingratitude of great intellects like Dewey for the heritage of Western philosophy has created the conditions for the collapse of the legacy of natural law. Now, the hens are coming home to roost as all semblance of moral law is thrown out the window. Widespread abortion, uncontrolled mad scientific experimentation with embryos and cloning, the abolition of marriage between man and woman, a contraceptive mentality that is eviscerating European populations are the result of a relativistic "situation ethics" whose roots can be directly traced to John Dewey. It is ironic that so much that is bad has come from the superficial engagement of John Dewey and his generation with traditional Western philosophy. It is ironic that indeed the road to hell is paved with good intentions, even the good intentions of what to all accounts was a humane and decent man.
Monday, June 23, 2003Catholic Analysis Milestone
Catholic Analysis has now logged well over 10,000 "visits" since its inception on December 18, 2002. For the curious, the tracking meter defines a "visit" as "a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes between page views." A single page view occurs "every time you follow a link." (Thus, as I understand it, 10,000 visits is much more meaningful than talking about 10,000 "hits" because apparently one person can generate many "hits" by just viewing one page.)
In any event, I am grateful for those visitors who give me the satisfaction of carrying on this small and enjoyable apostolate.
Sensible Remarks on Our Catholic Moment in the United States
The late Raymond Brown, S.S., was to all appearances a devout man and certainly a highly regarded biblical scholar. Although I wince frequently at some of his speculations about the authorship of some biblical books, at his scholarly reconstructions of the context of some biblical books, and at his reliance on the consensus of unnamed "critical" scholars, his writings are certainly worth examining critically and some of his pastoral insights are thought-provoking. At the same time, it is necessary to note that Brown's habit of unnecessarily creating confusion and doubt in his writings about some core Catholic beliefs, but then beating a hasty retreat to an orthodox affirmation of Catholic belief is maddening and troubling to readers. His dutiful retreats to orthodox affirmation tend to be lost in the smoke of the initial confusion he creates. He was surely capable of expressing himself better on such crucial matters and ought to have done so. In my view, the fault appears to lie in Brown's excessive preoccupation, whether conscious or unconscious, with maintaining credibility with the academic fraternity of historical critical biblical scholars, probably due to his being a Roman Catholic priest in a field traditionally dominated by liberal Protestants. The unfortunate end result is that the biblical evidence for important Christian and Catholic beliefs is, in my opinion, needlessly underestimated in some of his writings.
In any event, in 1984 Brown published a book entitled The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist Press 1984), which seeks to illuminate how seven different particular churches described in the New Testament survived the passing of the apostles who founded and inspired them. This book is an intentional pastoral departure from his more technical and scholarly works, and thus allows Brown to be more direct and sensible in his analysis of Scripture free of the professional inhibitions of his scholarly fraternity. It is worth focusing on some passages that capture with remarkable conciseness the state of the Church in the United States and probably in a few other Western nations.
In commenting on the ecclesiology found in the Johannine Epistles, Brown writes about a modern version of what he calls "the loss of heritage" that he sees in the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism. Note that these are the words of a critical biblical scholar highly esteemed by those who consider themselves to be in the mainstream of American Catholicism. These words do not come from a fuming traditionalist. In describing the aftermath of Vatican II, Brown comments on the failure to pass on the Catholic heritage, a failure also noted more recently in a lecture by Francis Cardinal George of Chicago:
. . .Roman Catholicism suffered from the suddenness and dramatic quality of the changes, so that polemics followed the Council; . . . . The new developments that had affected the lives of the teachers were the substance of the message communicated to the children, but concomitantly this involved a neglect of much Catholic tradition that was not affected by the Council-- the distinctive presuppostions of Catholic life. As a result, the generation that grew up in the 1970s . . . were often painfully ignorant of much of their Catholic heritage . . . .
Brown, pp. 117-18.
This continuing decline in Catholic practice was brought home to me recently during the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in a way that confirms the flaccid nature of American Catholicism when compared to the robust Catholicism of Africa. The Nigerian priest who was the guest homilist at the Corpus Christi Mass I attended noted how in Africa and other places this solemnity is marked by a joyous Eucharistic procession through towns and villages. He made a point of noting the contrasting absence of such a procession in our particular American celebration of the same feast. The message was obvious to those with ears to hear: Catholics in America need to recover their Catholic identity. I was even happily surprised to read some comments by Andrew Greeley, a cleric whose work I dislike for very good reasons, also opining that American Catholics need to recover distinctive Catholic practices such as solemn processions.
Father Brown further and more specifically summarizes our tragic losses in the aftermath of Vatican II in a catalogue that will resonate with many:
But others, and I would include myself among them, while enthusiastic for what was introduced into Catholicism by Vatican II, see no need for the concomitant losses, e.g., of inner-Catholic loyalty, obedience, and commitment to the church; of dignity in liturgy; of Gregorian chant; of a knowledge of the Latin tradition reaching from Augustine through Thomas to the Middle Ages. To try now to recoup some of those losses while still advancing the gains of Vatican II would be an act of eminent good sense.
Brown, p. 118.
That programme of recouping the losses has been the programme for the past 25 years of John Paul II with the able assistance of Cardinal Ratzinger, although it is a programme which in spite of its "eminent good sense" is stubbornly misunderstood by extremists on the left and on the right. That ideological misunderstanding is especially evident in the obtuseness of publications like the National Catholic Reporter about whose mission Fr. Brown had some apt words: "The dubious service that the National Enquirer renders to the nation, the National Catholic Reporter renders to the church" (Brown, p. 56). This particular book by Raymond Brown has other valuable pastoral insights that will further enlighten and probably surprise the reader, especially when coming from such an "establishment" figure.
Friday, June 20, 2003Next Update
Christianity Does Not Recognize Gay Marriage Laws
The above statement is a proposition that will cause considerable legal controversy in the future and may open the door for full-fledged "legal" persecution of Christian churches, denominations, and affiliated institutions such as colleges and hospitals. Such persecution will also encompass Orthodox Jewish and Moslem institutions. Here is the scenario: a Western nation recognizes gay "marriage," but a Christian college or hospital refuses to hire someone who is in the eyes of the secular government married to someone of the same gender. Or a Christian college or hospital dismisses an employee who enters a "gay marriage." If, as is evident to me, an authentically Christian institution cannot in good conscience give legal recognition to such a relationship as "marriage," that institution will not grant the benefits required by law for persons in such relationships. If the institution won't grant these benefits, then it is obvious that the institution can avoid direct conflict with the state only by not hiring or by dismissing such persons in the first place. Yet, even not hiring or dismissal will result in litigation raising the issue of discrimination. Moreover, gay activists will seek to label any Christian attacks on the concept of gay "marriage" as a hate crime, and try to invoke the criminal law against Christian institutions.
It appears that in Canada there is talk of passing legislation to protect the religious freedom of institutions that reject the very idea of gay "marriage." Let's see how adequate or comprehensive such legislation is. Chances are that any nation confused enought to recognize gay "marriage" to begin with will find it difficult to exempt Christian institutions from prosecution for refusing to hire or for dismissing employees in such relationships.
In the end, a major collision is brewing: will secular Western governments recognize the rights of Christian institutions to discriminate against those in gay "marriages" or not? In my view, the failure of such governments to allow such just and necessary discrimination will be an act of totalitarian oppression that will tear Western societies apart. The teaching of the Catholic tradition on the attempt to impose the recognition of gay "marriages" on Christian institutions is clear. Here are St. Thomas Aquinas' justly famous words on the issue of unjust laws:
Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature . . . . Consequently, every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 95, 2, reprinted in Peter Kreeft, Summa of the Summa (Ignatius 1990), p. 523 (henceforth all references to Aquinas are from the Summa Theologiae as reprinted in Kreeft's book).
Aquinas makes the consequences clear:
[That human law does not bind a man in conscience] . . . is true of laws that are contrary to the commandments of God, which is beyond the scope of (human) power. Wherefore in such matters human law should not be obeyed.
Aquinas, I-II, 96, 4.
To this passage, Kreeft appends the comment that the "prevailing view, that believers in a natural law and/or eternal law are conformists and legalists, while unbelievers are bold rebels, is exactly upside down" (Kreeft, p. 529 footnote 281). Thus, Christians are morally bound to refuse to obey or recognize legislation recognizing gay "marriage" because such legislation is contrary to the natural law.
Natural law is nothing more than the "participation of the eternal law [of God] in the [very nature of the] rational creature" (Aquinas, I-II, 91, 2; the second parenthetical insert is by Kreeft). And in discussing the natural law, Aquinas is quite specific: ". . . certain special sins are said to be against nature; thus contrary to sexual intercourse, which is natural to all animals, is unisexual lust, which has received the special name of the unnatural crime . . . ." (Aquinas, I-II, 94, 3). Any human law that departs from the eternal law "has the nature, not of law, but of violence" (Aquinas, I-II, 93, 3). It remains to be seen to what extent Canada and other Western nations will impose such violence on communities of Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Moslems.
Thursday, June 19, 2003What We Need: A Plenary Council
Months ago, then Auxiliary Bishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit proposed with others a Plenary Council for the United States to reaffirm the fullness of Catholic teaching and morality in the United States in the wake of the terrible, largely homosexual scandals that have been fortunately exposed. Today, Bishop Vigneron at age 54 is the Coadjutor Bishop of Oakland, California, who will eventually take over as head of that diocese, and is still leading the effort to bring about a long overdue Plenary Council to speak the full truth about Catholic teaching to all within and without the Church in the United States.
It is fitting to take note of the need for a Plenary Council today when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is beginning its June meeting where decisions on a plenary council will be made. The Diocese of Oakland, California, website has a biographical profile of Bishop Vigneron which shows the intellectual and pastoral abilities he fortunately brings to the task of proposing and planning for a plenary council. Even more instructive is Bishop Vigneron's homily at the welcoming Mass held for him in Oakland earlier this year. In that homily, you can see a man full of joy to be a servant of Christ and His Church and who is not hesitant to affirm the fullness of Catholic teaching and truth. The homily is worth reading. You can find it at this link. You can also access Bishop Vigneron's biography. I am even willing to go out on a limb and say that, if, in my lifetime, there is an American pope, Bishop Vigneron is in my view the favorite. He has what it takes: complete devotion to Christ and His Church, without ambiguity or hesitation. Although there are certainly other bishops who share these qualities, I personally see an intangible "extra" as expressed in Bishop Vigneron's homily referred to above that is strikingly different in quality.
The "Shack Up" Syndrome and Homosexual "Marriage"
Morality and custom are a web of related concepts and practices. A change in one aspect changes other aspects and opens the way for previously unheard of possibilities. In many ways, the phenomenon of gay "marriages" now sprouting in Western nations points to a culprit outside the world of homosexuality. The culprit is what I call the "Shack Up" Syndrome. The "Shack Up" Syndrome is a heterosexual phenomenon that erupted in American society in the seventies. Prior to that time, sexual cohabitation, as the idiomatic term "shacking up" implies, was viewed as a down-scale admission of social failure. Today, it has become statistically normal, i.e., it is so common at all levels of society that there is no social stigma attached. Several sociological results are apparent.
First, the "Shack Up" Syndrome has revived the ancient custom of concubinage as a male prerogative. Christian civilization gradually undid the ancient Roman custom of concubinage and replaced it with the dignity of marriage. This advance in the status of women has now been reversed by a shack up mentality in which women provide around-the-clock sexual access and other related household benefits, such as rent payments, without any commitment by the male. Essentially, women in the modern West have reduced themselves to the levels of concubines in an era that claims to be one of women's liberation. By seeing through the false rhetoric of liberation, we can see the truth of a major social setback for women.
Second, the "Shack Up" Syndrome drains marriage of any special social significance. Those who have practiced the lifestyle of sexual cohabitation have taken the major public manifestation of marriage away from marriage. The public sharing of bed and board is no longer distinctive to marriage at all. Sharing a common household and meals is something done indiscriminately as part of deromanticized fornication. Even child-bearing has now become increasingly a part of sexual cohabitation. This emerging trend is not a return to common law marriage because in common law marriage the essential legal element was the intent to live permanently as husband and wife, albeit without a formal public ceremony. That intent to be married is no longer present, and is in fact viewed as precisely what the parties wish to avoid.
Third, the "Shack Up" Syndrome is generationally contagious. From younger people, divorced or widowed parents have taken the idea to heart. In turn, young people growing up in such households are socialized at an even earlier age to view sexual cohabitation as a normal and even as a permanent lifestyle option with partners changing as occasion warrants.
The impact on marriage is easy to see. Marriage becomes an infinitely malleable usage with no definite meaning. Some may choose marriage to bear children, but that is no longer essential. Others may choose marriage for financial reasons as varied as the economy as a whole. In the end, marriage becomes as optional as a hairstyle or any other choice of fashion. Marriage is emptied of its core meaning of permanent commitment and becomes a plaything, much as the white bridal gown has become a mere fashion statement instead of a meaningful symbol of purity.
Into this already accomplished deconstruction of marriage, comes the new issue of gay "marriage." Secular society stands defenseless in the face of the demand for gay "marriage." Western heterosexuals have decoupled marriage from procreation, marriage from sexual relations, and made marriage a matter of mere style or fashion. As a result, when gays demand the right to avail themselves of this merely cosmetic option, secular Western societies cannot say no.
The result is that the word "marriage" may remain, but the substance of marriage is being legally abolished in Western societies intent on jettisoning the social advances made by a defunct Christian civilization. In the future, outside of traditional religious communities, it will be hard to find the substance of marriage. The change in the marital intention from permanency and procreation to a mere cosmetic intention empty of substance is becoming more and more obvious. Surely, this change will have an eventual impact on traditional canon law which recognizes marriages among non-Christian and non-religious people as valid natural bonds. As time passes, what passes for marriage among those outside traditional religions will become so empty of meaning that canonists may have to define with greater specificity which legally recognized marriages outside the Church are in fact entitled to being treated as marriages. It seems that mere legal recognition by secular society will eventually not count for much. Much of what passes as legal marriage may very well end up being treated as mere concubinage.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003Canadian Gay Marriages: The Unraveling of the Modern Western State
Now, along with the minor countries of Belgium and the Netherlands, we have a major Western country legalizing gay marriages. To the African or Latin American bishop watching from the Third World, this event again confirms that the Western countries are indeed wide open mission territory encompassing a population and its political hacks who are incapable in large part of recognizing obviously unnatural behavior and who certainly find the concept of sin to be incomprehensible. As the unnatural practice of homosexuality is celebrated more and more in Western countries, you will see an increase in the number of young people who through socialization in this evil practice will identify themselves as homosexual-- young people who in another era or in another culture would proceed to lead happy and satisfying lives in heterosexual marriages. Eventually, some of these same young people will discover the terrible fraud that has been perpetrated on them by the spineless and corrupt culture they grew up in. But by then, many will have died from AIDS and many others will have suffered deep and lasting psychological damage. Those are the terrible consequences of unnatural practices that will haunt many in the future. You will also see a continued push for gay adoptions so that this socialization into an evil lifestyle can be supervised at close quarters. And, of course, the technology of in vitro fertilization with donor eggs will flourish among gays as many women, including lesbians, will be more than happy to do their part to advance the gay agenda for the future.
Let me repeat: homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. Genital activity is ordered to procreation, not to orgasm as an end in itself. The pleasure of genital acts is a natural by-product of procreative union between a man and a woman. To sever this link as many heterosexuals and homosexuals have done is to violate human nature. Violation of human nature carries a high cost in psychological and emotional damage and even in physical disease. We are entering a world in the West where there will be more stunted people deeply confused and ultimately embittered. All will eventually hit "rock-bottom." At that point, many will be open to the Good News of Jesus Christ to take up his cross and follow Him. At that point, they will be open to the truth that the essence of human nature is not lust and other forms of concupiscence but self-giving. A terrible price will be paid by many along the way. Those political hacks, like the current Canadian prime minister, who are responsible will face a terrible judgment at the hands of God for the young lives that will be lost along the way.
You can expect in Western societies that continue to degenerate into moral chaos an accompanying increase in substance abuse. It is not coincidental that Canada is also seeking to decriminalize marijuana; other now illegal narcotics are also likely to be legalized. The logic of libertarianism will carry the day. The link is that the emotional disorientation, the personal hell, created by unnatural acts necessarily requires an anaesthetic. Hence, drug and alcohol abuse will boom as a crutch for self-inflicted emotional damage.
Socially speaking, the radical libertarianism of countries like Canada will lead to the end of any remaining social cohesion. There will be no common values by which people can associate with large numbers of their fellow citizens in confidence. In this bleak scenario, a renewed and disciplined Church will shine forth as an image of genuine human society in which its members are bound together in intimate unity. More and more, Catholics will see that their only true fatherland, their only true and deep loyalty, will be to the Body of Christ, because the nation-state has become unworthy of any deep emotional attachment or loyalty. The Church survived the cruel and corrupt Roman Empire. The Church has survived numerous other empires and nation-states. Contrary to the revisionist history of those drafting the constitution of the European Union, the Church kept European culture alive when there was a political and social vacuum in Europe. The Church will also survive the disappearance of the modern West as we know it today. Long after the Canadian state and its parliamentary and judicial mediocrities are gone, the Church will remain. If we in the United States follow the same path, more and more Christians will see with greater force than ever that their true loyalty is to the Church, not to the state. For Catholics, that means teaching their children that their true capital is not in Washington, D.C., but in Rome. The price that confused Western nations will pay for encouraging evil will include the loss of the loyalty of their most stable and reliable citizens. The modern Western state will unravel, and all the Hillary Clintons and Jean Chrétiens of the West will not be able to put it back together again. In 1918, the German historian Oswald Spengler wrote about the decline of the West. Today, we can write as eyewitnesses about the unraveling of the West.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003Why There Should Be No Doubt About the Existence of Hell
The British biographer A.N. Wilson published a book called God's Funeral in 1999 in which he documented the lives of the nineteenth century intellectual and cultural figures who lost their faith in God. When I came across the book at a library, I turned to read the conclusion. Wilson noted that the survival and flourishing of religion in the twentieth century would have surprised the nineteenth century individuals he had written about. He also dwelt at length on the Modernists in Catholicism and concluded that Modernism had failed. He also made an interesting observation about Modernists that applies today to many neo-Modernists in the Church: they always expect that the next pope will somehow fulfill their modernist fantasies only to be disappointed, sometimes spectacularly. We see the same psychological projection today in the pages of liberal Catholic publications and columns; simply take a look at the mournful view of the current papacy and the wishful thinking about a future papacy in the pages of publications such as, what I call, the National Catholic Distorter (aka National Catholic Reporter).
But to get back to Wilson's conclusions, I noted that Wilson did give a victory of sorts to Modernism by noting that in his view not many church-going Catholics followed the official morality of the Church and that few, in his estimation, would care whether or not Jesus really instituted the Mass and that few even believed in hell. Well, the issue of whether Jesus instituted the Mass is an astoundingly simplistic question to be raised by such a knowledgeable writer. If Wilson means that it is unimportant to many Catholics whether Jesus legislated the ringing of bells or particular postures at Mass, then he is right in an obvious Pickwickian sense. But certainly most Catholics worthy of the name, and many non-Christian scholars, believe that Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and recounted in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. Wilson's statement about the Mass is again further proof that even brilliant intellectuals make brilliantly dumb statements, even in print.
Wilson's statement on hell is probably closer to the truth about the beliefs of not a few Catholics. I believe that in all my years of attending Mass I have heard "hell" mentioned at most twice. The reason is that sin has been mentioned not much more often. And the phrase "mortal sin" even less. Even apart from divine revelation, it seems extremely self-evident to any sentient human being, who cares to consider what he observes in this world, that the existence of the state of hell (as opposed to a geographic location or place called Hell) is extremely probable. If we observe the effects of mortal or grave sin, we see hell on earth already. We can see murder, mutilation, cruelty, hatred, alienation, division, sexual indignities, manipulation, betrayal, lying, sloth and neglect, all taking a tremendous and terrible human toll. Hell on earth is the inevitable consequence of sin, which leads to the insight that if you in fact do believe in such a thing as sin, then you must believe in a state of hell beginning on earth and continuing in the after life for those who persist in choosing sin. Given the reality of hell on earth, then belief in an after life certainly makes it highly likely that some form of this hell on earth will continue in the after life for some human beings who have helped create hell on earth. In sum, if you realistically observe the hellish realities on earth, if you believe that sin is responsible for most of these realities, and if you believe in life after death, the existence of the state of hell is not surprising. Thus, even a non-Christian can find the belief in the existence of hell a reasonable conclusion.
And certainly Christians cannot treat the existence of hell as an optional or quaint archaic belief. The Jesus in the Gospels, not the Jesus we have created in the image of a politically correct "sensitive" guru, speaks at length about hell. So either Jesus was deluded or a liar or he was stating the truth, as other apologists have noted. Count me as believing that Jesus was stating the truth. Now, there appears to be a side issue among those who accept the existence of hell as to whether there is or will be anyone in hell. Well, we do not know with certainty. But after reading the Gospels, I believe it is highly likely. And we can all certainly agree to pray, as in the Fatima Prayer in the Rosary, that we ourselves be saved from hell and that all souls be led to heaven.
Wilson's observation that few modern Catholics believe in the existence of hell does contain a kernel of truth: in churches where no one preaches about serious sin or its inevitable punishment, hell becomes an unnecessary belief. But when you leave the world of Catholics in the modern West (which is the group Wilson, like most Western intellectuals, is referring to), you come to the Third World where I assure you that Catholics know the reality of hell in a more unavoidable way than we do in our highly sanitized Western societies.
Monday, June 16, 2003Authority and the Modern Mentality
On the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, my experience at Mass was to hear a homily by a priest "slamming" a conveniently unnamed bishop for his having a well-known predisposition in favor of the need for strong authority in the Church. The homily began and ended, was "framed," in terms of attacking this bishop as somehow failing to grasp that expressions of respect for authority are contradictory to the Jesus we see portrayed in the Gospels. I guess the homilist in his own estimation would have made a better bishop. As is my right as a Catholic, I respectfully but firmly shared with him my own view of the particular bishop he was apparently referring to. What this minor incident raises is the role of ecclesiastical authority as envisioned in the Gospels. For that, I do not have to go to any wild-eyed "traditionalist" extremist, I can merely look to the calm academic musings of the late biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown in his book The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist Press 1984) (hereafter "Brown").
Even during the time of the writing of the New Testament, it was already clear to the early Christians that the human tendency to factionalism and to heterodoxy necessitated church authority that would correct false teaching and preserve in fidelity the truth of the Gospel. In commenting on the Pastoral Epistles, Brown points to the role of the New Testament era presbyter-bishops (presbyter referring to the "elders" of the early Church) as heads of a family:
[T]he presbyter-bishops are to be like fathers taking responsibility for a home, administering its goods and providing example and discipline. Stability and close relationship similar to that of a family home will hold the church together against the disintegrating forces that surround or invade it.
Brown, p. 34.
Needless to say, the first century conception of paternal authority was a strong one compared to the modern tendency to replace any clear exercise of authority with the negotiation of consensus prior to any decision. The unnamed bishop who felt there was a need to make clear the strong respect to be accorded to the episcopal office was in my view better attuned to the first century image of bishop as authoritative father than those who viscerally view strong authority figures as inconsistent with the Gospel.
In commenting on the Gospel of Matthew, Brown notes that Matthew 18 focuses on the issue of church authority. Brown remarks that "Matthew's failure to mention presbyters and bishops proves nothing, for that would be the type of blatant anachronism that Matthew avoids in his gospel" (Brown, p. 139). Brown rightly points out how Matthew speaks extensively of the "shepherd":
"Shepherd" was a set image in the late first-century for presbyter bishops (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2-4; perhaps John 21:15-17), and Matt 1812-14 does speak of the responsibility of shepherds.
Brown, p. 139.
Thus, at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew, we have Jesus himself emphasizing authority in the Church. It is undeniable that in the New Testament church authority is viewed as a natural necessity for the growing community of Christians. It is also clear that the New Testament view of the authoritative leader as correcting false doctrine and as speaking for Christ as a strong paternal figure contrasts strongly with the politically correct view of our culture that strong paternal authority is inherently suspect, unjust, and "not nice." As Peter Kreeft has pointed out in another context, Christianity is not about "being nice" but about standing up for the objective real goods revealed by natural reason and by God. Our culture's narcissistic obsession with our subjective feelings and self-image is alien to the confident and natural assertion of authority by Jesus and the apostles. Charity is not about "being nice"; charity is about speaking the truth. Of course, the Christian leader must be a humble servant, but for a bishop to serve he must exercise authority. And in a culture that rejects the paternal authority of the bishop's office, that authority must be respected in order for the bishop to be the servant of all. The unseemly sniping at that assertion of authority appears as either highly confused or as mere envy.
Saturday, June 14, 2003Next Update
St. Thomas Aquinas: Goods vs. "Values"
Peter Kreeft has some enlightening comments on the natural law in his annotated abridgement of Thomas' Summa Theologiae (hereafter "ST") that cut through a lot of the malarkey that clouds much modern debate. In commenting on Thomas' discussion of ethics and natural law in the First Part of the Second Part of the ST, Kreeft makes this remark:
[F]or St. Thomas, all ethics is fundamentally about goods; most modern ethics is about rights, obligations, duties, laws, or "values". The significance of the word "good" is that "good" is [among other things] . . . objective (unlike "values") . . . .
Kreeft, Summa of the Summa (Ignatius Press 1990), p. 515 note 268.
Think about how many times we ourselves use the word "values" as in "family values" or "traditional values." Think about how many more times we read statements, usually by politicians, about "values." Secular schools and colleges are very comfortable speaking about "values" because they denote in common usage a non-sectarian and highly abstract basis for judgment that recognizes that everyone has and is entitled to have different values. In the end, our common civil religion of cultural correctness celebrates everyone's values and condemns only those values that seek to make exclusive or hegemonistic claims on the truth. In many ways, the emphasis on values is a product of our moral and epistemic relativism, a radical perspectivism that refuses to recognize any privileged perspective. (Of course, this relativistic ideology is not behind every use of the term "values." The Catholic way of using the term "values" is in reference to objective moral goods, but in the United States we must be aware that in many of the most prominent cases the term "values" is reflecting the relativistic ideology that dominates our culture. The traditional and correct use of the term "values" is indeed found in Catholic writers, not the least being those of the Pope prior to his papacy, as pointed out to me by Robert Gotcher. I myself have used the term "values" in the correct Catholic sense as referring to objective moral goods.)
Now, those, who like St. Thomas, believe in the power of human reason to come to know the truth in contrast to error recognize that reason can give us real knowledge of the truth that is indeed superior to other perspectives. In addition, many of those who believe in the power of human reason to discover universal truths also believe in the binding claim that divine revelation makes upon man. From this Judeo-Christian background, Catholics affirm that, while there are many values, not all values indiscriminately reflect real goods for human nature. (Notice that I use the old-fashioned term "Judeo-Christian" instead of the new-fangled term "Abrahamic" which some Moslem groups are pushing to replace "Judeo-Christian." I see no need to adapt to this latest offensive mounted by political correctness given the undeniable historical fact that Islamic ethics at its best is a repetition of facets of the Judeo-Christian tradition.)
Hence, modern Western secularists view the Church as an intolerable presence in the public square which dares to claim a privileged perspective. The Church outlines that marriage consists of real goods such as procreation and mutual fidelity. The Church upholds that life, regardless of defects or dependency on others, is in all its forms a real good. The Church affirms that human sexuality is a real good between a man and a woman united in marriage, not merely an instrument for manipulation and compulsive escapism. The Church further affirms that social justice is a real good, not an afterthought or hobby for affluent sectors of society or of the world. Yet, the Church goes beyond mere claims or affirmations. If all of these are indeed real goods, then they must be pursued seriously. Or as St. Thomas would say, the first precept of the natural law is that "good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. (ST, I-II, 94, 2, reprinted in Kreeft, p. 515).
By defining a good and thereby mandating its pursuit, the Church therefore excludes other apparent goods or subjective values proposed by other perspectives. This exlusionary tendency is abhorrrent to the modern relativist who in self-contradiction proclaims any form of exclusivism as absolutely bad. Therein lies much of the tension, conflict, and persecution surrounding the Church in the secular West. For our part, we as individuals must always do a mental check, given our immersion in highly secularized societies, to see whether our talk of "values" really refers to goods. Because if we mean "goods," then we will have to forthrightly say that these real goods exclude false goods parading as alternative "values." At that point, we are already martyrs in the original sense of witnesses, and we open ourselves to becoming martyrs in the graphic sense that we all wish to avoid, if possible.
Friday, June 13, 2003"Privileged Hearers of the Word of God"
In 1993, the Pontifical Biblical Commission published the document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Pauline Books 1993), which "contains a well-grounded overview of the panorama of present-day methods [of biblical interpretation] and in this way offers to the inquirer an orientation to the possibilities and limits of these approaches" (Preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, pp. 28-29).
In skimming through a recent academic thesis published by Dr. Peter S. Williamson as a dissertation for the Gregorian University in Rome, I was struck by one of the principles that he summarizes under the heading "The Role of the Community of Faith" in his thesis commenting on the Biblical Commission's document:
The Scriptures belong to the entire Church (III.B.3.i) and all of the members of the Church have a role in the interpretation of Scripture (III.B.3.b). People of lowly status, according to Scripture itself, are privileged hearers of the word of God (III.B.3.f).
Peter S. Williamson, Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission's The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico 2001) (available at Amazon.com) (references are to sections of the Biblical Commission's document).
Today, we are flooded with books on biblical interpretation and the historical Jesus from academics and others that leave the average reader befuddled about the foundations of Christianity. That is why it is a great blessing that for Catholics "Church authority is responsible to see that interpretation remains faithful to the Gospel and the Great Tradition, and the Magisterium exercises a role of final authority if occasion requires it (I.C.1.g)" (Williamson, p. 342). To many of us who share the Western tendency to automatically defer to anything an "expert" says these words about the lowly are a bit surprising. In the age of "expertitis," it is especially stunning to see that the Biblical Commission singles out the lowly as playing a role in the interpretation of the Word of God.
Catholic Analysis has given much attention recently to the emerging and booming Christianity of the Third World both abroad and as represented by immigrants within Western countries. The Biblical Commission's insight about the lowly as having a privileged role in the community of faith as interpreters of the Bible is another reason to look closely and listen carefully to the work of the Holy Spirit among such people. And, of course, the "lowly" are not limited to those born in the Third World. The "lowly" includes the humble in our own midst who are Westerners by birth. The faith of the lowly has always been marked by deep trust in the Gospel and in God's interventions recorded throughout the Bible but especially in the healings and miracles of Jesus and in His Resurrection. Let us hope that our Scriptural "experts" learn the humility to listen to these privileged hearers of the Word of God. For, as Dr. Williamson summarizes at another point, it is the "light of the Holy Spirit [that] is needed to interpret Scripture correctly" (Williamson, p. 341).
Thursday, June 12, 2003Profile in Courage or in Confusion?
Boston University historian Robert Dallek has written a best-selling biography of the late President Kennedy entitled "An Unfinished Life" which was recently reviewed by Ted Widmer for the New York Times (6/8/03). You can find the review on-line in the N.Y. Times book review section. Dallek's book is best known for the historian's detailed documentation of JFK's serious medical problems. Not surprisingly, Widmer, a former Clinton White House speechwriter, pens a review that is an encomium for JFK. JFK emerges now more than ever as the icon of a genuine hero battling with stoic greatness his physical maladies:
Thanks to Dallek's findings, things make sense at an entirely new level -- the decision to run for president at such a young age; the cult of physical vigor; the mordant wit, laughing at life's insults. Everything Kennedy did had an existential urgency. Kennedy told his friend George Smathers, then a Florida congressman, ''You've got to live every day like it's your last day on earth.'' Obviously, there was a link between his keen sense of what it is to be mortal -- a favorite Kennedy word, used in some of his best speeches -- and his zeal for living, including his personal appetites.
The reference to JFK's personal appetites is of course a reference to his documented habit of engaging, to use an unavoidable word, in orgies at the White House and recreating with prostitutes on presidential road trips. (For documentation, see an ABC News Special Report and a reference to JFK in an article on Nixon at Time.com.) Now, we have from Widmer complete absolution from Dallek's evidence of deception about JFK's medical condition and about the deception and debauchery involved in JFK's dysfunctional sexual compulsions. Everything is absolved in the face of the burden of mortality as if JFK was the only person ever confronted with urgent evidence that life is short. Again, Widmer and legions of others cannot let go of Kennedy as the ultimate heroic icon, in spite of sobering evidence of a highly troubled individual.
Why the stubborn hero worship? My guess, with the perspective of someone born during the Kennedy Administration, is that JFK's intelligence and articulate speeches and press conferences match so much of what so many of us secretly cherish for ourselves. We too want to be at center stage, making witty and articulate presentations and rousing speeches, cutting a dashing and glamorous image. It is a natural human predilection, especially for intellectuals and academics and those enamored with politics and history. Yet, if we do not go beyond this adolescent infatuation with JFK the "pop star" of American politics, we miss the genuine lesson of his brief life. I submit that we should view the life of JFK as a serious moral tale about how to live worthily in a highly confusing world where we are beset with so many temptations and pressures to pursue the superficial.
The first obvious but extensively neglected fact about JFK, a fact that liberals especially never mention or, apparently, think of, is that JFK's life was about one big thing: privilege. It was a life of privilege that led to the mimicking of the WASP establishment by attending from high school onwards the elite Protestant or post-Protestant institutions of the Northeastern establishment. It was a life of privilege that led former Democratic President Harry Truman to remark that JFK bought the West Virginia Democratic primary in the 1960 election with his father's money. It was a life of privilege that led JFK to assemble a retinue of physicians to cater to his need to deceive the public about his medical condition. It was a life of privilege, that according to some accounts, had local police and secret service agents arrange for visits by local prostitutes as JFK visited various parts of the country while president. Dallek adds to this life of manorial privilege, in which the lord of the castle got everything he capriciously wanted, with the account of taking an extremely young "intern" on trips while President to service his sexual compulsions. Some of the servicing of these compulsions took place while the young, blonde intern was formally engaged to another man. Again, the young lord of the manor would have his way. Like all young lords of privilege, he was above the customary inhibitions that burden the rest of us.
What was the result of all this privilege? In one word, confusion and unhappiness. If Dallek is right in his detailed account of JFK's medical condition and his constant preoccupation with his own mortality, we have the picture of a man at the pinnacle of worldly power enslaved to the fear of death. The N.Y. Times book review writer discreetly ties this fear of death to JFK's excessive and compulsive indulging in the escapades recounted above. JFK's story is a story worth hearing, not because he is a role model but because he is a tragic character that drives home a major lesson of our short lives: we must outgrow the adolescent fantasies of worldly success, fame, and popularity if we are to find authentic happiness. Even the privileged lord of the manor in the spotlight of his witty press conferences and eloquent exhortations was just plain unhappy and confused. This unhappiness is the obvious inference to make when we consider the continuously expanding accounts of his frantic efforts at covering up his medical condition and his compulsively dysfunctional sexual habits.
To the book reviewer, JFK's behavior seems a perfectly obvious response to the "existential urgency" faced by the young president. Well, in the face of such existential urgency, in the face of looming death, the Christian ought to seek out the source of true satisfaction needed, as Augustine said, by our restless hearts. For a Catholic, like Kennedy, the obvious and natural response is to pray before the Eucharist where we find the Bread of Life and the Living Water. That is the appropriate response to our mortality. The tragedy of JFK is that, as far as we know from the emerging information about his behavior, he did not experience the true solace and serenity necessary to face mortality. For all of us, it is a moral tale about ambition, fantasy, fear of mortality, and compulsion that affect all of us to one degree or another. In the long run, JFK's greatest contribution may be that of a grand moral tale in which he becomes not a superficial political hero but a tragic protagonist in the face of the riddle of life. Given our adolescent culture, it may take several generations before we achieve that deeper vision of the Kennedy phenomenon that would do justice to the late President's suffering.
That deeper vision arises from a Christian perspective that is aptly expressed in The Imitation of Christ:
Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience . . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow . . . .
The Imitation of Christ, 1, 23, 1 (quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1014).
Wednesday, June 11, 2003Has Weber's Protestant Work Ethic Been Proven? Is it Even Christian?
Financial historian Niall Ferguson has an interesting essay appearing on-line in the June 8th issue of the New York Times (Week in Review) entitled "Why America Outpaces Europe (Clue: The God Factor)." Ferguson writes in anticipation of the centenary of Max Weber's famous thesis that "modern capitalism `was born from the spirit of Christian asceticism' in its specifically Protestant form." Ferguson points out that the biggest declines in working hours in European countries have occurred in European nations that were "once predominantly Protestant." The key word is "once." Ferguson links this decline in working hours to the secularization of these once Protestant nations. Thus, Ferguson contends that Weber's thesis has now achieved "the status of verity" because the statistics on idleness in European nations coincide with the loss of religious faith in once Protestant European nations. Let's analyze his argument in logical terms. Let "A" refer to Protestant asceticism; let "B" refer to working more. According to Ferguson, if A causes B (i.e., if Protestant asceticism causes you to work more), then statistical proof that "not B" (i.e., working less) manifests itself at the same time as "not A" (i.e., loss of Protestant asceticism) proves that A did originally cause B.
Clearly, any student of logic will immediately note the old fallacy of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" ("after this therefore on account of this"). In other words, it does not follow logically that merely because one event follows another event that the first event caused the second event. In fact, Ferguson's syllogism is even more tenuous because he does not even show that secularization in Protestant countries preceded the decline in work hours in those countries. It could be that both trends in historically Protestant European countries emerged simultaneously or that decline in work hours preceded the loss of faith. Ferguson does point out that the decline in work hours has been steeper in Protestant European countries than in Catholic European countries, implying that a dramatic decline in work hours is uniquely linked to the loss of a historical Protestant background. But again, the same fallacy is committed. Just because the decline in once Protestant countries is steeper than the similar decline in "once Catholic" European countries does not establish a causal link between Protestantism and amount of hours worked. Logically speaking, any number of other variables are equally plausible as alternatives. One highly plausible variable immediately comes to mind: affluent Protestant countries provide more benefits for the unemployed and more generous early retirement provisions than Catholic countries.
So, contrary to Ferguson's highly interesting but logically flawed analysis, we are back at square one: is the relative affluence of northern European Protestant countries due to their Protestantism? Weber says yes. (See note below for a more detailed logical analysis of why Ferguson merely restates Weber's thesis.) Some of us can be pardoned for wondering if weather and geography are not the factors most responsible for a different cultural view of work in more Protestant northern Europe as opposed to the view of work in more Catholic southern Europe. We are also right to wonder if this discrepancy in attitudes toward work preceded the Protestant Reformation and if it also occurred in Catholic regions such as northern Italy or northern Spain. We must also look closely at other historic factors, such as the role of sea power and trade in Protestant nations like Britain and Holland, the effect on Spain of a sprawling continental empire in the Americas and in the Philippines, and Spain's loss of naval supremacy after the defeat of the Armada in 1588. It may be that the affluence of historically Protestant nations may be more a function of nationalistic and imperial competition over sea power than of which church was attended on Sunday.
But, an even more important question is implicitly raised by Ferguson's essay: what is the Christian attitude toward work hours? I find no trace in the Gospels or in the rest of the New Testament of any emphasis on working longer. Certainly, Paul insists that his converts work for a living and not spend their time in idleness (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13). But this insistence is far from the Weberian work ethic where secular work becomes an all-absorbing badge of the Christian life and assurance of salvation. In fact, the apocalyptic and eschatological outlook of the New Testament relativizes secular work radically. Our individual world can end at anytime through our personal deaths, and the entire world can come to an end at anytime upon the return of Christ in the Second Coming. That is the biblical Christian outlook. As such, the Christian perspective emphasizes stewardship of talents bestowed by God in preparation for the day of judgment-- and God is not a glorified C.P.A. interested in our income statements. That stewardship is tied to the advancement of the kingdom of God and is focused on an inevitable day of judgment, not on the accumulation of money. So, even if the famed Protestant work ethic ever did play a significant causal role in European economic history, it is highly questionable if the sociological and economic definition of the Protestant work ethic used in the social sciences is even Christian in origin. It may be Calvinistic, but to call it Calvinistic does not necessarily mean that it is biblical or even Christian in origin. For that, it is better to go the Scriptures themselves.
Note: Ferguson's claim that a decline in work hours is caused by loss of Protestant faith merely raises again Weber's original thesis that Protestant faith causes an increase in work hours. Logically, this equivalence can be shown by the rule of inference called transposition. Transposition affirms that to say "If A, then B" is logically equivalent to saying "If not B, then not A." Thus, Ferguson is merely changing the way Weber's original thesis is stated by transposing the terms in negative form, but in the end he is not adding any new evidence for Weber's thesis. The significant causal question is what other factors might have contributed as much or more to the original increase in industriousness assumed by Weber.
An example can clarify the interesting but trivial nature of Ferguson's statement. It is indeed true that if I put my finger on a hot stove, my finger will be burned. This statement parallels the structure of Weber's thesis that if you are Protestant, then you will be more industrious. For the sake of arugment, let us grant that Weber's thesis is just as certain as the conditional statement about burning my finger if I touch a hot stove.
Now, let us analogously illustrate Ferguson's transposition: "If my finger has not been burned, I must not have touched a hot stove." This statement is undoubtedly true, but it is also true that I must not have put my finger in a furnace or that I must not have touched a flame with my finger. We could keep adding more perfectly logical possibilities as to why my finger is not burned. In Ferguson's words, the parallel statement is: if I am less industrious, then I am no longer Protestant. It is just as plausible to say that I must have lost my allegiance to materialism, or that I have dedicated myself to unpaid activities, or that I put greater value on spending time with my family, or simply that my government pays me to be idle in the form of generous unemployment benefits and early retirement. In the end, the evidence adduced by Ferguson in support of Weber's thesis is convincing only if you already accept the validity of Weber's original thesis. We are in the realm of tautology. Certainly, Ferguson's point is quite interesting, but it resolves nothing. At best, the statistics cited by Ferguson are an invitation to more empirical research on a country by country or region by region basis within the same country.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003New General Instruction of the Roman Missal Mandates Priority of Gregorian Chant and Renewed Use of Latin
As the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal is implemented in the United States and worldwide, if my experience is indicative, you will not see emphasized the call for Gregorian Chant and for the use of Latin for the ordinary (i.e., unchanging) parts of the Mass. But it is indeed there. The text, as adapted for the United States, is on-line at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is now on sale in pamphlet form from the Bishops Conference. Section 41 reads as follows:
41. All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.50
Section 41 is immediately recognizable as taken directly from Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) (hereafter "SC"). The content of section 116 of SC is reproduced in the first paragraph above. The content of section 54 of SC is reproduced in the second paragraph above.
How many times do these injunctions bear repeating until they are reality on the parish level? Gregorian chant, as I read it, is the rule, not the exception, for the Mass. The laity should be practiced in saying the parts of the Mass that do not vary by liturgical season and which pertain to the laity. It is undeniable that this rubric calls for Catholic congregations chanting in Latin parts of the Mass like the Gloria, the Creed, the Lamb of God, the Lord's Prayer. It is interesting that the General Instruction adds to Vatican II's call for Latin a reason not found in the Vatican II document: "[s]ince the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently." Now, that is a genuinely "Pentecostal" reason to favor the use of Latin in parts of the Mass: linguistic unity or fellowship. A common language like Latin in some parts of the Mass can be a sort of linguistic communion among the faithful from different countries that parallels the tangible communion brought about by the reception of the Eucharist. And today in many Western countries, many congregations are indeed international in flavor. This international flavor extends even to the celebrant who may come from Asia or Africa.
Any diocese serious about implementing the new General Instruction can't just skip over section 41. If they do skip over it, then the laity should raise it. While the rest of the culture descends into "dumbing down" everything that is remotely challenging, the Church in the liturgy should break ranks with the culture of mediocrity and strive for excellence in divine praise. Maybe, it is time for the laity to start quoting from the General Instruction at liturgy meetings and workshops. Maybe, it's time to order the pamphlet.
Monday, June 09, 2003Newsweek Poll on Fetal Rights Finally Emerges
The Catholic News Service (News Briefs for 6/9/03) has been able to dig up the Newsweek poll on fetal rights and abortion that Catholic Analysis has discussed recently. Although the Catholic News Service does not reproduce all of the poll results, it does state that almost half of the respondents believed that life begins at fertilization. That is good news, and an incentive to keep educating the public about the humanity and personhood of the unborn child from the moment of fertilization.
Update on Kneeling After Holy Communion and the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal
In a previous post (6/3/03), Catholic Analysis raised the issue of whether we were now required to remain standing after receiving Holy Communion until everyone else in church received Holy Communion. In my particular diocese, the diocesan liturgy bureaucrat I first contacted adamantly stated that standing until everyone else received was required. I then wrote a short and respectful letter to my bishop, enclosing a copy of documentation from Adoremus.org contradicting the bureaucrat's position.
Happily, I received a prompt reply from my bishop stating that I "may sit, stand or kneel after receiving Holy Communion and need not stand until all have received Holy Communion." Thank goodness.
Lesson: If something a "liturgocrat" is telling you seems odd, ask the bishop. The only interpretation of the new rules for celebrating the Mass that counts is that of the hierarchy, not of a lay diocesan employee. When in doubt, ask the bishop in writing politely, concisely, and with any available and pertinent documentation with relevant portions highlighted. Alleluia.
Sacrilege by New Hampshire Episcopalians
The media was awash over the weekend with reports of New Hampshire Episcopalians electing an openly gay bishop who lives with his homosexual partner. What exactly have they done? From a Catholic point of view, there is no real "bishop" because Anglican or Episcopal orders are null and void as declared by Pope Leo XIII over 100 years ago. So whatever they may do, they have a gay bishop in name only, not substance. Yet, I submit that what we have seen occur is old-fashioned sacriliege. Webster's defines sacrilege as "gross irreverance toward a hallowed person, place, or thing" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). By "hallow," the same dictionary means "to make holy." Continuing our linguistic analysis, we then turn to the word "holy" which is defined as "exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness." From these related definitions, we can conclude that sacrilege is gross irreverance toward a person, place, or thing dedicated to the One who is "perfect in goodness and righteousness." To the extent that we are holy, we acknowledge and share in that perfect goodness and righteousness.
Now, back to the putative gay bishop. For centuries now, Episcopalians (called until the seventies Protestant Episcopalians) and Anglicans have hallowed or made holy the persons of bishops through Christian prayer. They have dedicated certain of their number to a special call to holiness as overseers in their community. They have then clothed such persons in vestments and other badges of office as things also dedicated by Christian prayer to holy service. And, of course, they have made holy with prayer their liturgy, including their commemoration of the Lord's Supper, celebrated by such bishops. From a Catholic perspective, due to the lack of a valid priesthood or episcopate, the Episcopalian celebration of the Lord's Supper is not the true Eucharist. Yet, Episcopalians nevertheless enact a solemn commemoration of the Lord's Supper hallowed by centuries of Christian prayer. In this regard, it is worth quoting the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) of Vatican II on the separated Christian communities in the West:
Though the ecclesial communities [of the West] which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate his death and resurrection in the Lord's Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to his coming in glory.
Section 22, in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, edited by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé (Pauline Books 1999).
Thus, for centuries, generations of Anglicans have engaged in a holy commemoration of the Lord's Supper hallowed by their prayers. And, of course, as Catholics, we certainly acknowledge the full sacramental reality of Christian baptism among those Anglicans who continue to use the traditional invocation of the Holy Trinity, in contrast to modernist formulas that reject the terms "Father" and "Son" as culturally incorrect .
Because of these links, the Episcopalian action implicates Catholics and all other Christians. For the New Hampshire Episcopalians have taken long hallowed titles, liturgical symbols, and liturgical actions and entrusted them to a person who explicitly and intentionally rejects in his daily lifestyle the fundamental moral teaching of Christ that homosexual behavior is gravely sinful. To entrust a sacred title and sacred objects hallowed by Christian prayer over many generations to an individual who rejects Christ's call to holiness is gross irreverance to the sacred title of bishop, to his vestments and symbols of authority, and, most of all, to the liturgy he engages in, especially the Lord's Supper, even if only a commemorative, non-sacramental meal in the eyes of Catholic teaching.
As such, all Christians must condemn this act of gross irreverance. It is not just an internal matter for Episcopalians. It is our obligation to speak out clearly that this rejection of Christ's call to holiness by a Christian community is sacriliegious and unworthy of any Christian community. For by desecrating sacred titles and objects, the New Hampshire Episcopalians are implicitly desecrating the authentic use of those titles and objects in other Christian communities. Our common Baptism requires us to rebuke this desecration. Such rebuke is an act of charity and a work of mercy that warns those deceived by smooth rationalizations that they are in spiritual danger.
As recently noted in Catholic Analysis (6/6/03), the Anglican Church of Nigeria broke all ties with a Canadian Anglican diocese that has formally engaged in blessing same-sex couples. We can expect to hear more from Nigeria.
Sunday, June 08, 2003Pentecost:: Acts 2:1-11; I Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Now fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the Christian Pentecost, from the Greek meaning "fifty," just as our Jewish spiritual forefathers celebrated the thanksgiving Feast of Weeks fifty days after the Passover. For the Jews, this feast was a celebration of the grain harvest and later of Moses' receiving the Law from God (see John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Pentecost"). What do we then celebrate in the Christian Pentecost?
The pilgrims from foreign lands gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks were astonished that the apostles who received the Holy Spirit were able to tell them "in our own tongues the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11). Because the Feast of Weeks was a pilgrim festival, devout Jews and proselytes came to Jerusalem from all parts of the diaspora (cf. The Revell Bible Dictionary s.v. "feasts" and "pilgrimage"). If we focus on the content of the "tongues," we see that the "tongues" proclaimed the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ as attested to in Peter's Pentecost sermon in which he refers to "Jesus of Nazareth a man attested to you by God with mighty works . . . ." (Acts 2:22) (emphasis added). Thus, at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection, it is the Resurrection, the mightiest of the mighty works of God, that is proclaimed to all the known world by addressing the pilgrims "from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). It is this universal proclamation of the Resurrection that is at the heart of Pentecost.
In the Letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes our unity through the one Holy Spirit. Yet, the passage begins with a link to the kerygma or proclamation of Christ: "no one can say `Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 12:3). Again, the fundamental manifestation of the Holy Spirit is the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is most manifest in his defeat of death in the Resurrection.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus appears to the disciples and in proof of his Resurrection shows "them his hands and his side" (Jn 20:20). Thereupon, he breathes on them the Holy Spirit and empowers them to forgive and retain sins. For Catholics, Jesus at this point has instituted the Sacrament of Penance whereby the successors of the apostles in the ministerial priesthood are able to forgive and retain sins. The source of the power to forgive and retain sins in the Holy Spirit shows that this power is an inseparable part of the proclamation of the might works of God in Jesus Christ that emerged from the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost.
And so we have in these three biblical readings a summary of the content of the Gospel proclaimed by the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit. This Gospel is the proclamation of the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ culminating with the Resurrection which confirmed Jesus as the Lord of all creation who forgives and retains sins through the ministry of the apostles. That is the content of the Pentecost proclamation. It is the content of Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41).
Saturday, June 07, 2003More on Newsweek and the Rights of the Unborn Child
One of the highlights in the recent issue of Newsweek (June 9, 2003) on whether the fetus (unborn child) has any legal rights is a side-by-side presentation of the pro-life view by Princeton University Professor Hadley Arkes and the pro-choice (anti-life) view of SUNY philosopher Bonnie Steinbock. What a difference in quality! Arkes actually gives reasons in his presentation, while the anti-life philosopher's discussion is as superficial as cocktail party chatter. Clearly, the true philosopher is Professor Arkes.
Arkes plainly states that from the point of view of medicine there is no doubt that life begins at conception. He incisively points out that the rest of the debate is not about science but about "the social definition of a human being" (p. 46). He correctly states that arguing whether the unborn child is alert or articulate is beside the point, because a newborn child is not articulate and, I may add, certainly does not have the awareness we attach to a mature child or adult. Arkes emphasizes that there is no doubt that the capacity for full awareness and articulation is there for all: the newborn child, the zygote, and the embryo. [The zygote is the cell, the new human life, formed at conception or fertilization by the union of the sperm and the ovum, while the embryo is "the developing human individual from the time of implantation in the uterus to the end of the eighth week after conception." Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary; see also Catholic Analysis (2/27/03), on the changing definition of conception.] I would add that the capacity is still there even when there is some disability present, whether that capacity is fully realized in the future through special therapies and education or not.
Contrast Arkes' analysis with the empty rhetoric of the anti-life "philosopher." When asked how medical advances have changed the debate about fetal rights, she responds that the "minute people were able to actually see the fetus [in sonograms or ultrasounds], it affected them emotionally, even if it didn't affect them theoretically" (p. 47). So we have a philosopher saying that viewing the tangible image of the fetus with its obviously human traits should make no difference to us "theoretically." She dismisses the image as contributing only an "emotional" experience as opposed to "theoretical" knowledge.
Well, let's take a closer, truly philosophical look at this proposed distinction between an emotional versus theoretical experience of a tangible image or sense experience. To do so, let's go to a genuine philosopher, the late Frederick Copleston, S.J., a British convert to Catholicism and author of the standard history of philosophy used by philosophy students both on the graduate and undergraduate levels. In his book, Aquinas (Penguin Books 1991 ), Copleston writes about how St. Thomas viewed the process of abstraction from sense experience:
The human intellect has no store of innate ideas: it is in potentiality to possessing ideas or concepts. . . . And its concepts must be derived in some way from the data provided by the senses, exterior and interior. But the senses provide particular impressions of particular objects, together with the images to which these impressions give rise, whereas concepts are universal in character. We must suppose, then, that the intellect as active picks out, as it were, the potentially universal element in the image, the synthesized reproduction in the imagination of the data of the different senses.
Copleston, p. 182.
Thus, the human intellect depends on images from the senses in order to attain theoretical knowledge. Copleston goes on to point out that the "mediating point between the data of sense and the universal concept is for Aquinas the image" (Copleston, p. 182). Thus, the image of the unborn child brought to us in the ultrasound or sonogram is essential to attaining a theoretical understanding of the reality of the unborn child. It is absurd for the anti-life philosopher in Newsweek to dismiss the relevance of this image as merely "emotional." As Copleston later states, the mind "can know immaterial things [such as the concept of personhood] only in so far as material things are related to them and reveal them" (Copleston, p. 183).
The sense data (what we call in casual, non-technical conversation the "image") of the unborn child experienced in viewing the ultrasound is essential to coming to an accurate and reasoned theoretical understanding of the universal concept of personhood as it applies to the unborn child. What we have increasingly apparent among the anti-life forces is a superficial, anti-intellectual obscurantism that seeks to bracket any scientific evidence against their political stance as merely emotional. On the other hand, pro-life advocates call for honest and rigorous confrontation with the scientific evidence.
Another example of the obscurantism of the anti-life forces is the categorical assertion by the pro-abortion philosopher that the unborn child does not feel pain until "just around the time of viability" (Newsweek, p. 47). The obvious question is: how can she be so sure? In the famous Silent Scream ultrasound video showing the actual abortion of a twelve week old fetus by suction, the fetus thrashes about to avoid being sucked out. That sure looks like the quintessential defensive reaction of a living being sensitive to and aware of pain. The point of viability referred to by the pro-abortion philosopher is usually placed at about 20 weeks, significantly later than the twelve week abortion depicted in the video. Yet, the Silent Scream video narrated by Dr. Bernard Nathanson provides an image, again from ultrasound, that precludes any reasonable person from asserting with any confidence that the unborn child prior to viability feels no pain whatsoever. In the book ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments (Multnomah Publishers 2000), author Randy Alcorn collects the testimony of physicians that directly contradicts this assertion by Newsweek's featured pro-abortion philosopher (Alcorn, pp. 189-90). In addition, Dr. Nathanson himself discusses in a nuanced manner medical evidence that shows that no one can rule out fetal pain well before the twentieth week (Nathanson, The Hand of God [Regnery 2001], pp. 141-43). In short, it is a distortion of medical evidence for anyone to categorically assert that the fetus can feel no pain prior to twenty weeks.
In spite of these rhetorical deceptions by anti-life forces, we know that truth, precisely because it is truth, will by nature emerge victorious, however long it may take, whether in a few years or at some more distant point in the future.
Friday, June 06, 2003Nigerian Anglicans and the Next Christendom
In apt confirmation of the thesis of Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom recently reviewed in a three-part series at Catholic Analysis (5/30/03; 5/31/03; 6/2/03), the Anglican Church of Nigeria has cut all ties with a Canadian Anglican diocese that has officially authorized the blessing of same-sex couples. You can see the entire story at the Anglican Communion News Service. Jenkins documents in his book how the Christianity booming in the Third World is the traditional variety in contrast to the heterodoxy common among many Western denominations. Keep an eye on Nigeria. The Catholics have a lion in the bull pen: Francis Cardinal Arinze who may bring further good news from Nigeria in the future.
Where's the Rest of the Newsweek Poll?
On June 2nd, Catholic Analysis took note of a story on the Drudge Report stating that a Newsweek Poll allegedly showed that a majority of Americans believed that life begins at conception. This Newsweek Poll was related to the current issue of Newsweek (June 9, 2003) which is now on the newstands. The problem is that, as far as I can see, there is no reference in the two related cover stories to this poll result. The cover of this issue of Newsweek has a picture of an unborn child with the title "Should a Fetus Have Rights? How Science is Changing the Debate." The thrust of the coverage is the welcome news, long apparent to many, that the way that science can now give us images of the unborn child which obviously indicate its humanity is weakening the hold of a pro-abortion mentality based on willful or unintentional ignorance. There is also a related story showing how fetal surgery is making clear that the medical community already treats the unborn child as a patient every bit as human and living as a patient outside the womb. These cover stories are welcome news in recognizing that scientific advances increasing our knowledge of unborn children establish in concrete form the humanity and personhood of the unborn.
Yet, in spite of this welcome coverage, the main article exhibits the typical anti-life bias. The main article entitled "The War Over Fetal Rights" by Debra Rosenberg ends with the sentence: "The question is whether the law can protect fetuses without eroding the rights their mothers fought so hard to win" (p. 47). Again, the typical anti-life propaganda is present that somehow killing an unborn child is a glorious civil right secured in brave street protests by oppressed women. The truth of the matter, as anyone who reads the accounts by Dr. Bernard Nathanson can see, is that the abortion regime was imposed by elite groups who pursued any means available, including lying and misrepresentation, to change American culture and law. It is preposterous to suggest that protecting the unborn child and protecting the right to kill the unborn can somehow be reconciled. As in the era of slavery, a house divided against itself cannot stand. This contradiction cannot be fudged. The obvious humanity of the unborn child and the right to kill the unborn child are forever and inalterably at war with each other. They cannot be reconciled. That is a self-evident application of the logical principle of non-contradiction. Yet, the Newsweek writer is so biased in favor of abortion that she cannot see the absurdity of this statement. Moreover, adding this line as the final tag of the article is an effective and typically artful way, as other observers have also noted, of making a supposedly objective story into an editorial piece. What I call "the final sentence spin" is the signal to the reader as to the conclusion favored by the sophisticated and the well-informed. The journalistic dishonesty is that the story is not labelled as an editorial in spite of its pro-abortion spin on scientific developments that are so obviously fatal to the abortionist ideology.
Now back to the question: where is the Newsweek Poll? As far as I can see, the only reference to the Newsweek Poll in Rosenberg's story is on page 43 where we read in parentheses: "According to the Newsweek Poll, 49 percent of Americans think it's OK for an IVF clinic to destroy human embryos with the parents' approval." Instead of quoting the Newsweek Poll results apparently relating to Americans' attitudes on when life begins, as reported in Drudge and in other internet sites, all that I can find in the June 9th issue of Newsweek is this single reference to the vaunted Newsweek Poll citing a statistic that favors the anti-life crusaders. If any reader finds where these poll results are in the June 9th issue, I invite them to let me know. In the meantime, if indeed as my eyes tell me, this anti-life snippet is the only reference to the Newsweek Poll, we may have further evidence of anti-life bias in the selective use of the Newsweek Poll results and the suppression of those poll results showing a pro-life cultural shift. If we can get all of the poll results, then we can evaluate and verify the Drudge story. In the meantime, we are left with the sinking feeling that pro-abortion media bias may have struck again in the face of poll data unsettling to the abortion regime.
In the end, we must again ask: where are the rest of the poll results?
Thursday, June 05, 2003Chadwick's Augustine: A Very Short Introduction
Oxford University Press has a series called "Very Short Introductions" in paperback form that covers some significant thinkers like Augustine, Aristotle, St. Paul, and Socrates. The series also covers subject areas such as philosophy, theology, and logic. The only book I have read so far in the series is Cambridge professor emeritus Henry Chadwick's Augustine (2001 Series Edition) (originally published in 1986). With only 130 pages of text, it is a short book, yet I have to agree with the reviewer's quote on the cover that it is indeed "magisterial." Catholic Analysis (3/20/03) has previously reviewed Peter Brown's excellent newly updated biography of Augustine which is, nevertheless, as Chadwick puts it, Augustine's "biography without the theology." With Chadwick, who I presume from all indications is non-Catholic, we get the theology and philosophy of St. Augustine. And, although as a Catholic, it is not suprising that I would not agree with every singly description used by Chadwick, in my view Chadwick presents a fundamentally accurate presentation of the orthodox Augustine that is actually enlightening.
The difference between Brown's biography and Chadwick's short introduction can be seen in the treatment of the primacy of Peter and of his successors in Rome. Brown does not treat this issue in any detail at all; there are only some passing references to the role of the pope's involvement in controversies at the time of Augustine. On the other hand, in a few sentences, Chadwick presents a picture of the developing understanding of the papal primacy at the time of Augustine that is surely something the modern reader would be interested in when we are periodically subjected to anti-papal eruptions by pseudo-scholars like Garry Wills.
Here is an excerpt from Chadwick which certainly presents Augustine's understanding of the papacy as developing but which also confirms the ancient origins of a recognizable papal primacy taken for granted by Augustine. Chadwick describes Augustine's understanding of the papal primacy in the 5th century in the course of discussing the understanding of apostolic succession by North African Catholics:
Apostolic succession mattered to the African Catholics too, for it was the external form that helped to safeguard the sacred tradition of apostolic teaching and sacraments. But it was not stressed except when they were speaking of the succession to St. Peter in the Roman see with which they enjoyed communion while the Donatists (since 313) [schismatics who split due to their view that clergy morally compromised during times of persecution could not effect valid sacraments] did not. Augustine thought that the Donatists could not plausibly claim to be the one true Catholic Church when they were in communion with `neither Rome nor Jerusalem'. He did not think Peter personally was the rock on which the Church was built, though at the end of his life he noted that some interpreters took the text in St. Matthew that way, and allowed that it was very possible. . . . . Peter is frequently presented by him as a symbol of the universality and unity of the one Church.
Chadwick, p. 87 (emphasis added).
So we have in Chadwick a non-Catholic confirmation of the view that the popes were viewed as successors of Peter and the developing prominence of the view that indeed the Church's understanding of the Matthean text (Mt 16:18-19) in which Peter is called the rock includes the Petrine primacy, in addition to including as part of the meaning of "rock" Peter's confession of faith in Christ. As I recall, at no point does Peter Brown give any similar attention to the papacy in his standard biography. As such, Chadwick's short introduction, or something like it, is an essential supplement to Brown's work. Yet, even Chadwick fails to mention the famous statement by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who played a pivotal role in the conversion of Augustine, about the Petrine primacy: "Where Peter is, there is the Church" (Commentary on Twelve of David's Psalms, 40, 30 [350 A.D.]). Of course, Augustine has his own famous quote about Rome which both Chadwick and Brown mention. Chadwick notes intervention by Rome "was surely the end of the matter under debate-- causa finita est . . . ." (Chadwick, p. 87). The fuller traditional version of this saying is "Roma locuta est; causa finita est" as quoted by the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations from Augustine's Sermons, Book One. Stephen Ray, in his book Upon This Rock (Ignatius 1999), makes it clear that this traditional abridgement of Augustine's actual written words is an accurate reflection of Augustine's view of the Petrine primacy of Rome (see Ray, p. 233 and accompanying footnotes).
In conclusion, Chadwick is a serious scholar whose work is worth reading. For such scholars we have to be thankful in an age when so many pseudo-scholars use the trappings of scholarship to advance their transparently partisan, anti-papal agenda.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003"Morally Wrong But Not a Betrayal of the Public"
Those are the words the Associated Press (6/4/03) uses to summarize Sen. Hillary Clinton's view of the Lewinsky Scandal in her memoirs. In my view, the only reason most eventual readers of her memoirs will read them is to get the juicy details of her angry reaction when she found out the truth about the scandal from her husband, and, according to the AP story, she provides the juicy details minimally necessary to make the memoir a bestseller.
But let us consider the analysis she makes of the Lewinsky Scandal, an analysis of someone who is very likely to be the Democratic presidential nominee in the year 2008. Former President Clinton lied publicly and vehemently directly to the nation and to his cabinet. There is significant evidence that he engaged in witness tampering to keep the truth from the grand jury. When the chief executive entrusted with appointing judges and U.S. attorneys throughout the nation, blatantly lies to the public, his cabinet, and then proceeds to make efforts to conceal the truth from a federal grand jury, it is a public betrayal. The public had a right to the truth, and did not get it from someone sworn to uphold the Constitution, which includes the obligation of upholding the integrity of the judicial process. In addition, as an attorney sworn into the bar, former President Clinton also had an additional ground for upholding the integrity of the judical process. He betrayed the judicial process, and thus the public.
Moreover, the underlying offense that was the subject of the lies was the sexual exploitation of a young government employeee on government property. That is a public matter concerning someone on the public payroll on public property. If the average American had engaged in such behavior, whether as a government employee or as the employee of a private corporation, you can rest assured that the laws of sexual harassment would have been eventually invoked and led to the employee's likely dismissal. Today, in academia, it is standard policy that professors are not to engage in liaisons with students because of the disparity of power involved. The same disparity of power is especially true in the case of a President and a much younger intern. The blinking at former President Clinton's conduct contradicts the legal obligations imposed on the rest of us. Implicit in the Clinton analysis is that "betrayal of the public" by a politician is limited to something on the level of theft from the public treasury, not mere lying or perjury. That implication is not suprising given that in our wider American culture it seems that the only thing capable of stirring long dormant moral scruples are matters of money. It has always been curious to me how the most morally relativist among us are easily aroused to moral indignation once a financial aspect is introduced, while in other, more crucial matters there is widespread indifference. (In this regard, Catholics should notice how quasi-political groups like Voice of the Faithful focus their rhetoric and efforts on financial accountability and transparency, instead of focusing on the more fundamental scandal of homosexual clergy carrying on liaisons with male teenagers.)
In the end, where all of this presidential behavior occurred, with whom it occurred, when it occurred gave the public the right to know. The cover-up betrayed that right. It was indeed a betrayal of the public. But now we are met with the long familiar trope: "morally wrong, but not a betrayal of the public."
Well, I can see why Sen. Clinton finds that analysis quite familiar and easy to adopt. It is the same trope long used by legions of politicians, with so-called "Catholic" politicians in prominent lead, to justify legal abortion. In the abortion debate, the trope goes like this: "I personally oppose abortion as morally wrong, but I can't impose my personal morality on the public." In other words, the pro-abortion politician, like Sen. Clinton, assumes no fundamental link between morality and the public arena. In other words, morality is private and thus irrelevant to the general public. This conclusion can only stem from a fundamentally relativistic view of morality as a purely subjective preference. For her, the link between morality and policy is at best highly selective and contingent because for her morality itself is highly selective, contingent, and relative. Yet, these are the same people who diligently proceed to legislate policy for the public in order to direct and channel public behavior. Legislating is inherently a process of moral judgment: one course of action is deemed superior than another and is therefore imposed by law on the public, whether the issue is going to war or abortion or defining a new crime or deciding what activities the tax code will encourage or discourage.
So, in a sense, the lie continues: from the lie used by former President Clinton to cover up his illegal conduct to the lie now used by Senator Clinton, as a prelude to her own presidential candidacy, to whitewash the scandal as not betraying the public to the great lie at the root of the entire process that morality is irrelevant to public policy. That is the philosophy of government that Sen. Clinton plans to bring to all of us as early as 2008. It reflects her moral character and integrity, and, when it comes to politicians, moral character is a public matter. Just ask the unborn and partially born casualties of abortion. But, of course, we can't. And they don't vote anyway.
Tuesday, June 03, 2003Standing After Receiving Communion
With the implementation of some changes to the Mass due to the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), controversy cannot be too far behind. Apparently, some dioceses are telling people that they are required to remain standing after they receive Communion. Others, apparently most, are sticking to the traditional posture of kneeling after receiving Communion. Of course, the long-held custom in the United States is to kneel in prayer after receiving Communion.
Adoremus provides persuasive evidence at its website documenting that the U.S. bishops who voted on the issue of posture at their conferences did not intend to require standing after a person receives Communion. You can see the detailed documentation for yourself at the Adoremus website.
What is going on here? In my opinion, a significant number of those who are "liturgy professionals" are fastened to the notion of exploiting any arguable ambiguity in the liturgical rules to squeeze out as much kneeling as possible from the Mass and replace it with standing. According to Adoremus, this view is part of a trend that erroneously seeks to downgrade kneeling as a "medievalism." As we all know, or should know, kneeling is a prominent sign of reverence and devotion in the New Testament itself (Acts 7:60; 9:40; 20:36; 21:5; Philippians 2:6-11) . Cardinal Ratzinger has written perceptively on the need to retain kneeling in the Mass in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press 2000). In fact, the New Testament references above are from that book (pp. 191-192). Cardinal Ratzinger has forcefully written about the liturgical value of kneeling:
The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ HImself.
Ratzinger, p. 194.
In my own experience, the "liturgocrats" appear to focus the emphasis on standing at the expense of kneeling in order to foster "unity." It is beyond me why kneeling together in prayer is any less "unifying" than standing together. Each posture has its proper role at Mass, and one should not be pushed at the expense of the rightful place of the other posture, especially if the bishops have rejected that agenda. The transcript of the bishops' discussion about this issue, fortunately made available by Adoremus, makes clear that the bishops saw no need to impose a rigid uniformity on what is inherently a dynamic process: the "processing" together while standing to receive the Eucharist and then-- after the dramatic moment and turning point of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ-- the new posture of kneeling to mark that we have passed through that dramatic moment.
In reading about this issue, I came across someone (whose name escapes me) who compared the Communion procession to the journey of the children of Israel to the Promised Land. It is an enlightening comparison worth developing. When we receive Christ in Communion, we have crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. After crossing that point, it is natural and fitting that the posture change from standing to kneeling. The posture fittingly matches the new state of one who has received the Eucharist. There is a before and after. Those on the way to Communion are united in that journey as standing. Those who have "crossed the Jordan" are now united in having entered the Promised Land of milk and honey. I submit that we should be more nuanced in our calls for unity. Unity of posture makes sense only for those who are at the same stage in the process. Those who are anxious about unity should not worry. Ultimately, all receive and enter into the unity of having entered the Promised Land. Those who have already received are waiting for them on their knees.
A shared common experience naturally accompanies unity. When that experience dramatically changes from journey to actual presence in the Promised Land, there is then a new unity signified by a different posture. That is what the faithful who instinctively kneel after Communion are telling us: they have entered the Promised Land.
This image opens the way to even more fertile theological reflection. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of past disobedience (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). Likewise, for us the old man of sin must die before crossing into the Promised Land by receiving the Eucharist. This reflection about Moses' death in turn raises the image of Baptism wherein the old man is buried in water and the new man arises on the other side into new life (Cp. Romans 6:1-11). Thus, the act of kneeling after receiving the Eucharist can be understood as symbolic of dying to the old, of conversion due to repentance. Then, at the closing prayer of the Mass, we all rise symbolic of new life to receive the final blessing and to go forth to serve God in this new life. (Incidentally, this reflection also supports pastoral sensitivity to those who choose to kneel just prior to receiving the Eucharist; the General Instruction, while clearly making standing the norm to be encouraged pastorally for the reception of the Eucharist, also makes clear that the Eucharist cannot be denied to those who choose to kneel. Sensitivity to the devotion of those choosing to kneel to receive the Eucharist clearly led the Vatican to state that such persons should not be denied the Eucharist.)
In the end, when you read between the lines, it appears to me that the "liturgocrats" suffered a major defeat when the American bishops insisted on retaining kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer. For if you follow the simplistic logic that "only standing equals Unity," then we should be standing throughout the Eucharistic Prayer. Given that major defeat, I believe some in the world of liturgy workshops are trying to salvage their pet theory in any way possible, including twisting the language adopted by the bishops. My instinct tells me that some bishops are being poorly served by their liturgy staffs. I, for one, have not seen the serious theological reflection supposedly behind the emphasis on standing, while, as we have seen, there are indeed serious theological reasons supporting the custom of kneeling after receiving the Eucharist. As such, it might not be a bad idea to directly seek clarification from the bishop himself when it appears that his staff is pursuing an agenda that contradicts the documented deliberations and discussions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And then again, when all is said and done, like Paul the imprisoned Roman citizen (Acts 25:10-12), we can always appeal to Rome. Paul was a Roman citizen, and we are fortunately Roman Catholics.
Monday, June 02, 2003Newsweek Poll on Abortion
The Drudge Report has been reporting since yesterday that a recent Newsweek Poll shows that a majority of Americans believe that life begins at conception. If true, that is quite good news. Apparently, the poll results will be in the June 9th issue of Newsweek.
Jenkins' The Next Christendom: Part 3
Our extended book review of Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom has thus far undertaken to cover two of the three major challenges in the near future to Catholicism: Islamic religious intolerance and Pentecostal appeal to the poor. As to Islam, the Catholic Church must forcefully undertake a diplomatic campaign to require Islamic recognition of the fundamental human right to full religious freedom everywhere, whether in Nigeria or the Sudan or even in Saudi Arabia. As to Pentecostalism, the Catholic Church, whether in the First World or the Third World, must press the New Evangelization of Pope John Paul II by emphasizing the Scriptural basis of the Mass, Eucharistic and Marian devotion, and personal fellowship and community among Catholics. The third major challenge to be covered in this essay is the challenge of First World heterodoxy-- in other words, the persistent effort by "northern" theological liberals in Europe, the U.S., and Canada to revise the traditional beliefs of the Catholic Church.
The rise of what Jenkins calls "Southern Christianity" will aid in the continued marginalization of theological liberalism within the Catholic Church:
At present, the most immediately apparent difference between the older and newer churches is that Southern Christians are far more conservative in terms of both beliefs and moral teaching. The denominations that are triumphing all across the global South are stalwartly traditional or even reactionary by the standards of the economically advanced nations. The churches that have made most dramatic progress in the global South have either been Roman Catholic, of a traditionalist and fideistic kind, or radical Protestant sects, evangelical or Pentecostal. Indeed, this conservatism may go far toward explaining the common neglect of Southern Christianity in North America and Europe. Western experts rarely find the ideological tone of the new churches much to their taste.
(Jenkins, p. 7).
The above quotation clearly states Jenkins' conclusion from his research. The only minor quibble I would make with his statement is his descriptiion of "Southern" Catholicism as "fideistic." In Catholic teaching, the technical term "fideism" refers to an erroneous theological view that considers the faith as not being amenable to intellectual justification. That is certainly not a position that is part of the Catholicism in the South, although it may be the de facto point of view of Pentecostals in the South. Third World Roman Catholics more than anyone else view the faith as eminently reasonable and intelligible, especially to those facing persecution and hardship. The Gospel addresses the presence of evil and original sin, on a personal and social level, that their harsh circumstances bring to the fore. That explains their fervor. Jenkins may possibly be using the term "fideistic" in a less technical sense to merely describe this religious fervor.
Thus, unlike the challenges of Islam and Pentecostalism raised by the expansion of Southern Catholicism, the rise of Southern Catholicism actually contributes positively to the on-going marginalization of theological liberalism emanating from the dissipated West. This timely contribution by Southern Catholicism to the universal Church can be seen in the prominence of two "Southern" cardinals who are strong theological traditionalists, namely, Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria who oversees the Vatican congregation overseeing the liturgy and Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia who oversees the Vatican congregation for the clergy. Both have been mentioned as possible successors to John Paul II.
In passing, it must also be noted that, traditionalism rather than being a "party" or faction within the Church, lies at the heart of the Church. Catholicism is innately and inherently "traditional." Tradition is the handing over of the truth preached by Christ and the apostles. As such, the Catholic Church is the embodiment and guardian of tradition. To be a traditionalist is essential to being Catholic, notwithstanding the mislabelling used by those who view the Church as if it were a secular political state. Certainly, the Catholicism of the South views traditional and Catholic as synonymous.
In addition, Jenkins documents that conservative Christianity is growing not only in Africa and Latin America, but also in Asia, especially in Korea and the Philippines and likely in China. Asia's role is in contrast to the hopes of Western theological liberals that a new syncretistic brand of Christianity would arise in Asia that would mesh with the theologically liberal view popular in the West that all religions are equally valid ways to salvation with no exclusive claims to the truth. The Vatican's document Dominus Iesus issued in the late nineties clearly affirmed the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is the unique Savior of all mankind. Thus, Rome is making sure that the emerging Catholicism of Asia and elsewhere continues to affirm the uniqueness of the Christian revelation.
In sum, probably the greatest gift of rising Southern Christianity to Western Christians is the firm allegiance of Southern Christians to historic Christian belief. Rather than presenting a challenge in this regard, the Catholicism of the South presents a welcome and providential renewal that will humble the pretensions of theological liberals intent on dismembering traditional Catholicism. In my view, that is the best news that emerges from Jenkins' well-documented and significant book. The role of Southern theological conservatism within Catholicism is further magnified when we consider Jenkins' most recent book on anti-Catholicism which views Catholic theological liberals as essential allies of the new anti-Catholicism in the West. As a result, Southern Catholicism will be a powerful force that will weaken those Catholic theological liberals who give aid and comfort to anti-Catholics in the West. Deo gratias.
Sunday, June 01, 2003Feast of the Ascension of the Lord (7th Sunday of Easter): Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20
The Opening Prayer for today gives us a powerful prism to view the Scripture readings: "May we follow him into the new creation, for his ascension is our glory and hope." This deep link between the Opening Prayer and the three Scripture readings accentuates the deep biblical nature of the Mass: the liturgical prayers point to the Scriptures and the Scriptures point to the liturgical prayers, all forming an integrated biblical service.
In the first reading from Acts, the apostles ask Jesus if he will "restore the kingdom to Israel" at this time. Jesus in effect tells them that they are the ones who will establish the kingdom of God, the new creation, by being witnesses "to the ends of the earth" after they have received the Holy Spirit. By being witnesses in the Holy Spirit, the apostles will bring about the new creation on earth, "the kingdom of God" about which Jesus instructed them for forty days after his Passion. This preparation period of forty days recalls the forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving from God instructions on the Law (Exodus 24:18) and Jesus' forty days of temptation in the desert at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:1-2).
In the second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, Paul prays that God may bestow the Holy Spirit on the Ephesians to instruct and enlighten the Ephesians as part of the Church, the body of Christ. The Ephesians through the Church are part of the body and "fullness of him who fills the whole creation" (Eph. 1:23). The Church is the fullness or, in Greek, pleroma of Christ in the new creation.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus, prior to his ascension into heaven, orders the apostles to "proclaim the Good News to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Again, it is the apostles through signs arising from the power of the Holy Spirit who will establish the new creation by preaching the Gospel to all creation. By witnessing to the Gospel, we follow, as stated in the Opening Prayer, Jesus into the new creation.