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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Saturday, May 06, 2006So Long Notre Dame
It is my view that the University of Notre Dame (I hate to use the official name just as I hate to refer to that debauched entertainer Madonna by her given name) is no longer relevant to genuine Catholicism. Others may not state it so strongly, but they seem likely to agree with my assessment. Find the April 14, 2006, issue of The Wall Street Journal at your nearest library and look for David Solomon's "Houses of Worship" column in the Weekend Journal section. His column on Notre Dame is entitled "A President's Retreat" in which Solomon condemns the moral collapse of Fr. Jenkins, the Notre Dame President, in the face of faculty and student demands that the Vulgar Monologues and the Gay Film Festival continue at the school. Solomon is not an outsider to the school. He is the director of Notre Dame's Center of Ethics and Culture and a member of the philosophy department. Apparently, others within Notre Dame are also attacking the retreat of Fr. Jenkins.
Here are some excerpts from the column:
"Father Jenkins's decision is one more step in a long process of secularization: It has already radically changed the major Protestant universities in this country; it is now proceeding apace at the Catholic ones. . . . [T]he debate initiated by Father Jenkins exposed a great deal of hostility among faculty members toward traditional Catholic teachings as well as confusion about the nature of Catholic higher education itself. . . [The columnist earlier noted that "barely 50%" of the N.D. faculty is now Catholic with no sign the trend of decline "will be reversed"] . . . . Father Jenkins's retreat on 'The Vagina Monologues' and the Queer Film Festival raises questions about whether Notre Dame has the will to retain its Catholic distinctiveness in the face of a hostile culture and whether it can do so with a faculty that seems largely out of sympathy with Catholic tradition."
David Solomon, "A President's Retreat," The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2006.
I wrote earlier this week about the ferocity of denial. It is time for many in and out of Notre Dame to abandon denial and look elsewhere for a Catholic education. You are not going to get a Catholic education in a place where a significant proportion of the faculty rejects Catholic teaching. In my opinion, you would be wise not even to try it in that kind of place.
Friday, May 05, 2006It's Not That Murky
Our Rhode Island links reporter sends me this link to a Newsweek article on the difficult HIV/condoms controversy, namely whether it is morally evil for a married couple to use a condom if one partner is infected. At one point, the article hints at what is the real issue in my view: married women who are forced by their infected spouses to have sex. Yet, many don't want to focus on that real question. In my opinion, the reason for avoiding this crucial and central question of coercion is that the liberal agenda is to bless the use of condoms by anyone for any reason. Yet, the real issue won't go away: infected spouses endangering their spouses irrationally. If you are infected, may be that's a sign that sexual relations are just not for you any more. Maybe, you shouldn't risk your uninfected spouses's life for the sake of physical release. Unitive bonding can be accomplished in many other ways beyond sexual release. Maybe, those infected are called to witness to a higher and true kind of love to the rest of our sex-mad culture.
In addition, the article contains a passage I, personally, find astoundingly wrong-headed. It's a quote by, of all things, a Catholic moral theologian:
“One fundamental question is whether this [use of a condom within marriage] is something that is always wrong or not—what in church lingo we would describe as intrinsically evil,” says Williams, an American moral theologian. “It’s almost counterintuitive, because the church sees no added evil with the use of condoms in cases of prostitution, or casual relationships with multiple partners or homosexual relationships. Even though the church would never say this in principle, on a pastoral level anybody would say if you are going to a prostitute, it’s already a moral evil, but use a condom.”
From May 3, 2006, Newsweek article "Catholics and Condoms," by Christopher Dickey (bold emphasis added; see above link).
So the theologian says that "in principle" the Church would never say that condoms are not an added evil. Then comes the deceptive sleight of hand: "on a pastoral level" some unidentified "anybody" says that use of a condom is not an added evil.
My friends, it is clear from Church teaching that use of a condom in sexual relations is intrinsically evil. To try to change that clear teaching by referring to anonymous "pastoral" advice is deception of the worst sort. Moreover, the proferred pastoral advice is also wrong. If an extramarital sexual act is intrinsically evil, then further proof of its evil is the fact that a condom must be used say, because, the sexual act is so unnatural (anal or oral sex) that it endangers life and health, or because condom use is clear evidence that you are using someone as an object for your own selfish transient gratification (using a prostitute, or sex with someone else you don't want to have as a co-parent). So use of the condom is not only an added evil, it is proof of the original evil of the extramarital sexual act. A gun used in an armed robbery is an added evil because it further advances and facilitates the evil of the robbery. The use of a condom is an added evil because it facilitates the evil of the extramarital sex act. The Church has always taught that acts that aid or abet evil are also themselves evil. To forget this common sense reality in the condom debate is subterfuge.
Furthermore, the added evil in condom use is further evident in that it actually changes and attacks the God-created purpose of the sexual act: procreation. It makes a natural act into an unnatural act. That is a further evil. It is astounding that in an age where there is so much concern that mankind is destroying and distorting the natural environment with pollution and disfigurement that it is so hard for some to understand that using a condom destroys and distorts the nature of the human body. I guess for many protecting nature stops illogically when it comes to the human body. Yet, the human body and its procreative powers are the most magnificent wonder of nature.
In addition, what is also rarely mentioned is that condom use is an added evil because a condom is not 100% effective by any means. Thus, condom use creates the added evil of a real risk of infection just as the gun in the armed robbery creates the added evil of murder in the course of the robbery if the mere threat to use a gun is not effective. Likewise, if the use of a condom is not effective, you may end up infecting someone else with HIV--quite close to the murder-in-armed-robbery analogy, if you ask me.
In sum, condom use is an added evil: it is proof of the evil of extramarital sex, it is evil because it facilitates the evil of extramarital sex, it is evil because it changes a natural act into an unnatural act contrary to the designs of God, and, finally, it is evil because it runs the real and unignorable risk of killing someone with HIV/AIDS. The issue of HIV and condoms is certainly difficult, but the real evil of condom use is not as murky as the media wishes it to be.
Thursday, May 04, 2006Thinking Outside the Box
At times, among Christians, there is a tug of war between fatalism and activism, not just at the wider social or cultural level, but also--and maybe more commonly--at the level of personal circumstances. The issue is this: do we just accept unacceptable circumstances as our crosses, or do we seek to change the circumstances? What comes to my mind first is the famous Serenity Prayer popular with AA (italics added):
"God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference."
Interestingly, the origins of this popular prayer are shrouded in mystery (see this link).
Nevertheless, from the Serenity Prayer, the answer to our question seems to be wisdom or discernment. Where do we get the wisdom from? Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2; see Catechism, 1831). The source of wisdom is clear. And so we pray in the Spirit invoking the Spirit for illumination, promptings, and inspiration as to what we must accept and what we must change. Obviously, AA is an organization that does not espouse fatalism: its whole premise is radically attacking the curse of alcoholism which to many must understandably seem one of those things that just cannot be changed. Yet, AA's founder thought outside the box and decided that it had to be changed. His approach has yielded great wisdom in overcoming other forms of addiction and dysfunction.
So do not view our Christianity as one of fatalistic submission to what is bad. Christ himself submitted to the Cross but doing so was not in any way fatalistic submission to evil. Submitting to the Cross was precisely to attack and break the power of evil in a way that no Jew expected at the time. There was nothing fatalistic about the Crucifixion. As Jesus himself said in the Gospel of St. John, "No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (Jn 10:18a). Sometime we have to rub our eyes and look again afresh at the founding events of our faith in order to escape some of the pious dribble that has obscured the Gospel over the centuries. As biblical theologian N.T. Wright (and I am sure others) have written, when Jesus preached the kingdom of God, he was preaching a sort of military invasion of the world in which the power of the devil would be and was being broken. There was nothing passive or fatalistic about his ministry. It was an aggressive ministry against the power of Satan.
So we would do well to learn to think outside the box because many times the walls of the box that we see are really the product of a pagan or cynical fatalism and resignation that surely aid and abet the devil. We can likely change more than we can imagine for God's thoughts and purposes far surpass our own inhibited and fearful vision (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9) . No one can give us a precise formula for what we can or cannot change in our individual lives and circumstances. The only formula is this: read the Scriptures, pray, and listen. Receive the Sacraments. Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually, the Spirit will prompt you to action based on the true wisdom to know the difference between what must be accepted and what must be changed. That prompting is a promise we have received from Christ: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth . . . . " (Jn 15:13a).
Wednesday, May 03, 2006Immigration Opportunity for Conservatives
Political conservatives have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to capture the Hispanic vote for decades in the future. What is needed is a rational guest worker program combined with tough border enforcement. In this regard, see political analyst Dick Morris' column at this link ("Time for Latino Logrolling," 5/3/06, at thehill.com). Personally, I don't think the wall mentioned by Morris will work--it will merely become a laughingstock in a few years as the wall becomes porous and irrelevant. The best way to regain control of the border is to create a channel for legal and orderly immigration that can meet the unmet economic demand for labor.
Some rightly raise the point that the reason Americans don't want to do the work that Mexicans are more than willing to do is because the pay is not high enough. Although this point seems persuasive on the surface, a recent column by John Tierney in the New York Times makes the case that the point may be overstated and that some estimates show little or no effect on American workers ("Sense and Sandwiches," 5/2/06; unfortunately, limited to subscribers). My own view is that profit-oriented employers just can't pay the higher wages for certain tasks that some American workers demand. As a result, the jobs are never created. Mexicans are willing to work for less--so the jobs are created, not lost. In my opinion, it is not a matter of "losing jobs" to Mexicans; but rather a matter of jobs being created that otherwise would never exist because the wages demanded by Americans are too high for business. Yet, the same wages looked at askance by Americans are viewed as highly attractive to people coming from lands that have no jobs at all.
My bottom-line: political conservatives need to craft a compromise that includes both a guest worker program and tougher enforcement to garner Hispanic votes in the coming decades. Otherwise, we will have a replay of the tragedy of the Democratic lock on the African-American vote that has harmed both African-Americans and the rest of the nation for far too long. In addition, we need more common sense economic analysis that looks at the dynamics of job creation as a win-win game for everyone, instead of as a zero-sum game in which one group loses jobs to another group. A non-existent job can't be lost to anyone. We need a more supply-side perspective: the character of labor supply can actually create labor demand that did not exist beforehand! That is what I suspect the Mexican labor supply is doing.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006Vatican & AIDS Prevention Issue
I have made this observation before on this site. I make it again: better to get your information about current events at the Vatican from the New York Times than from the heterodox and falsely named "National Catholic Reporter." The latest speculation over the Vatican study of ways to prevent AIDS is a case in point. If you see the reporting, especially the initial reporting, from the National Heterodox Reporter's Vatican correspondent, you had a replay of the stirring up of the false expectations of the late sixties before Humanae Vitae: the Church was supposedly about to OK condoms! In later reporting, the correspondent backtracks a bit: he had to, given the strong statement issued by the Vatican's dampening the false hoopla. But the point is made: you are better off with the secular, liberal N.Y. Times than the National Heterodox Reporter.
Here's why. Here are two sentences from today's N.Y. Times article on the issue (see link):
1. "The news reports have been contradictory, except to confirm that the pope has asked for such a review."
2. "But the 'lesser evil' argument is not universally accepted among Catholic thinkers, and the theology is complicated."
Those two sentences capture the current situation perfectly, in my view. But you would not get that sense from what is, in my opinion, the sensationalistically irresponsible reporting from the National Heterodox Reporter. Why? The nickname I use for the publication says it all.
The "lesser evil" argument is blithely used by liberal Cardinal Martini in comments he made to an Italian journal. The "lesser evil" argument cannot be so casually used. You cannot choose, for example, abortion as a lesser evil if the woman giving birth will suffer the evil of becoming insane if she goes forward with the birth. Why not? Because abortion is an intrinsically evil killing of the innocent. Nothing can justify the direct intent to engage in abortion. Likewise, condom use is an instrinsic evil that cannot be justified by being weighed with some other evil. That approach is nothing more than a false proportionalism that has been the hallmark of liberal moral theology for decades. Weighing lesser and greater evil and good consequences arising from different choices comes into play only after you have determined that neither choice is intrinsically evil. In my view, the assumption of most liberals (not necessarily Cardinal Martini) is that condom use is not an intrinsic evil. That is why, again in my opinion, many liberals are so eager to engage in a balancing act that allows condom use. My intuitive guess is that some liberals (again not necessarily Cardinal Martini) refer to condom use as an "evil" merely as a rhetorical tactic to avoid undue alarm among those who really do accept the Church's moral teaching on condom use.
Here are some hard questions that the entire AIDS prevention issue raises but that I have yet to see mentioned in the media:
1. If the issue is self-defense of a married woman whose infected spouse insists on sexual relations, then aren't the real issues lack of love for the good of the uninfected spouse and the presence of coercion? Isn't such insistence more akin to rape than to marital relations as contemplated by the Church's Theology of the Body?
2. If the issue is the unitive bonding of the marital act, isn't the real issue the question of how that unitive bonding takes place outside of copulation? Again, the Theology of the Body does not reduce sexuality to copulation. Sexuality includes how men and women relate in mutual respect and friendship. There are more ways to skin the cat of unitive bonding than engaging in the life or death gamble of sexual relations with an infected spouse.
So, beware of your news sources and think of the real questions surrounding the issue of AIDS prevention. We should not swallow the false framework being force fed by some who may not even view condom use as an intrinsic evil to begin with in their heart of hearts.
P.S. The N.Y. Times link was courtesy of our informal Rhode Island correspondent!
Monday, May 01, 2006The Ferocity of Denial
"The greater the disaster, the more impregnable the denial." That seems to me to be a good rule of thumb in many cases. At first thought, you would think that the greater a disaster, whether personal or collective, the harder it would be to engage in denial. But that view assumes the psychological health and realism of those involved. Given humanity's fallen condition, manifested in varying levels of self-delusion in different individuals, the reality is that the greater a personal or social disaster, the greater the embrace of denial. You still see it today among those who still doubt the extent of the Jewish Holocaust. In Moslem countries today--just tune in to the comments of Iran's latest crazed leader--it is normal to doubt the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because for the Moslem countries of the Middle East, the survival and flourishing of tiny Israel is a collective disaster testifying to their own gigantic failures as nations.
On a more personal level, when the disaster of alcoholism strikes a family, the common response is denial: silence and pretense because the reality is too painful. Not surprisingly, kids who grow up in that environment have a hard time ever expressing or revealing their true selves to others, and so the family disaster perpetuates itself into the future in untold ways that ensnare others in the original family disaster. In a culture, where women and men violate themselves deeply by embracing the fornication/contraception culture, the denial takes the form of even more frenzied promiscuity, dirty talk, and fascination with pornography as if to prove that they cannot be hurt and are somehow "sophisticated," "happy" and "in control." And I think that is also why the pro-abortion forces are so ferocious in hallowing the right to abort: you need ferocity to deny the horrible reality of murdering one's own offspring or of assisting and encouraging others to do so.
Still on a personal level, we see persons with obviously deep personality and emotional problems that cry out for professional attention. But, in many cases, the deeper the problem, the greater the denial of any need for a remedy. That is why for some persons disaster has to get worse before they can get better. At some point, a lucky few finally wake up after they have hit bottom in an unignorable way and finally jettison denial. You hear that type of story from people who have converted after leading unrestrained lives of addiction, but it also happens in less sensational cases.
So, I submit, that one of the worst manifestations of the Fall is our human tendency to deny more ferociously the worse our situation is. What is the solution? Humility which is realism. Christians are realists who know that indeed there are evil spirits prowling the world to ensnare us, especially in our pre-existing weaknesses and flaws. Christian realists examine their lives frequently. Christian realists, as one confessor told me, try to go to the bitter root, as Scripture tells us (see Deuteronomy 29:18-19; Acts 8:23; Hebrews 12:15), not remaining on the surface merely confessing repeatedly isolated, discrete sinful acts without seeking to know what lies at the root of, say, our pattern of anger or envy, of materialism or lust. Catholics have the Sacrament of Penance and should learn to use it to dig deeper into our fundamental insecurities and psychological problems in order to be liberated from sinful responses to the pressures of life. In doing so, we have to be on guard because Screwtape knows the power of denial and is happy to leaves us in its clutches. Let us turn the energy that goes into denial into fighting the good fight for our souls and also our bodies so that every bit of us can enjoy the new heaven and the new earth promised for us (Revelation 21:1). For some, that may require seeking professional counseling from Catholic psychologists. For all, it means reading the Book more and praying more. In addition, there are plenty of good, insightful self-help books that can also assist us when chosen with care.