instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

When you've heard one Dominican's opinion,

you've heard one Dominican's opinion.

The post below is not entirely in accord with the Dominican Family's International Commission of Justice, Peace and Care of Creation's recent letter to the Order, about fifteen percent of which was dedicated to the subject of "gender equity as a justice issue." (As a percentage of the letter, the "Issue of Gender Equity" was greater than any other single subject, including "Situation in Iraq" and "Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Someone reading this letter in a thousand years could be excused for thinking 2003 was a golden age of justice, peace, and care of creation.)

Among the commission's recommendations are "make sure that inclusive language is used" on a personal level and "be aware of language in our documents" on a national level.

These recommendations I understand, at least, even if I'm not particularly inclined to follow them. Some of the others, though, are baffling to non-gender-issue-trained outsiders like myself:
On a personal level, the following recommendations were: make sure that inclusive language is used; ensure that tasks are gender balanced; place the issue of gender on agendas for discussion; link gender issues with other issues; listen without prejudice; live differences with equality.

On a national level, share positive experiences; request that formators and others be aware of and provide a forum for discussing the gender issues; include elements of the gender issue at our assemblies and chapters; be aware of language in our documents; encourage dialogue between men and women; include the issue of homosexuality.

On the level of continents: promote gender analysis in congregations, provinces and institutions; make connections between the issue of gender and the preaching promoters; establish a minimum standard for formation in peace and justice; encourage theological formation for all members of the Dominican Family; encourage formation in justice and peace spirituality for formators; create links between gender and culture.

On an intercontinental basis: share experiences across continental lines; make statements about gender equality in ministry.
If anybody can tell me what it means to recommend that I "link gender issues with other issues" and "live differences with equality," I'd be much obliged. (And what does it mean to the commission to "include the issue of homosexuality" on a national level when dealing with gender equity as a justice issue? Maybe I don't want to know.)

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Sexing up language


I've had it with cleaning up after you and your boozehound football buddies.


Here's what I don't get: The people who say "All men are created equal" is sexist are the same people who say "She is a great actress" is sexist. "Man" cannot be used with inclusive intent; "actor" must be. (Linguistically, I think, their rule is that "man" is always a "marked form" and "actor" never is.)

If I understand him correctly, I think Jcecil3 would say that, as a noun, "sexist" is exclusive; it can only refer to men. This because men have power over women. I'm not sure what that buys us, besides needing a word that means "is to women as 'sexist' is to men."

I suspect the key is power. What is sought by inclusive language advocates -- maybe not all, but many -- seems to be, not that women and girls be included in a particular community, but that they be included in a particular power sharing structure.

Which is fine, I suppose. I think, however, that if power is the goal, they should make that clear by avoiding the language of justice.

(Link to Fr. Mankowski's article from The New Gasparian. Particularly insightful was the observation, "The project that is termed 'inclusive language' is in fact an etiquette," and the point that attempts at "de-sexing the English Language" (to use the title from an essay from the first issue of Ms.) wind up over-sexing it.)

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More health care issues

Sursum Corda quotes a Commonweal editorial on the Terri Schiavo case:
The questions Schiavo’s guardians must answer are, What benefit will she gain, and what burdens is she being subjected to, in being kept alive in her condition? Is the preservation of the life of someone in a permanent vegetative state actually a benefit to that person? Is it a just allocation of limited resources? Traditionally, Catholicism has answered no.
Without getting into the particulars of this case, it is absurd to state that Catholicism has traditionally said the preservation of the life of someone in a permanent vegetative state is not actually a benefit to that person and is an unjust allocation of limited resources.

The medical technology to preserve the life of someone in a permanent vegetative state is about fifty years old. I assume the medical definition of permanent vegetative state is no older, since before feeding tubes people didn't survive three months in a persistent vegetative state.

The questions the Commonweal editors say must be answered would have been meaningless to anyone fifty years ago, so whatever traditional answer Catholicism has doesn't have a very long tradition behind it. (Commonweal itself is fifty percent older than feeding tube technology.)

It's true that a lot of people claim the tradition (back to the Sixteenth Century at least) supports an answer of "No." A lot of other people claim it supports an answer of "Yes." The bishops say the answer is not yet clear. Any way you look at it, though, new medical technology demands a development in Catholic health care tradition, not a rote application of the state of the tradition c. 1950 (or 1590, or 1270).

Incidentally, my bishop reaches a different conclusion than Commonweal.

Sursum Corda also has an excerpt from an America article on the spiritual significance of hand feeding.

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Monday, November 17, 2003

No help from the USCCB

So I make some humor-tempering comments, then the USCCB cuts loose with this headline. As though enough people don't already think the bishops spend all their time in meetings.

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Humor cuts both ways

Michelle of And Then? posts on "scathing humor":
I have a friend, my spiritual godmother (not my first godmother since I didn't know her at the time), who ... would be heartbroken at the public display of scathing humor heaped upon Bishop Robinson and his homosexual partner. She would be no less distressed by the Episcopal church's actions in ordaining him to their episcopacy, but can't bear any display of uncharitableness....

Anyway, it probably says something about my lack of spiritual sensitivity that I was less offended by the humor in the Encore discussion box than Cin was or than I imagine my friend would be.
I have a habit of using irony for humorous purposes. When the humor is directed at another person, the irony easily slides into sarcasm.

St. Thomas Aquinas so revered the truth that he taught even a jocose lie -- an untruth told to amuse the listener, not to mislead him -- was sinful.

To me, that seems excessive. In fact, getting through a week without telling a jocose lie seems impossible, impractical, and a pretty silly goal.

Or at least it did. I'm beginning -- just beginning, mind you -- to wonder whether St. Thomas is closer to the truth than I am. He, after all, is the one whose daily sins were those of a five year old. (Mine are those of a two year old.)

It's true that cutting humor is often used to expose some evil. But exposing some evil doesn't justify cutting humor if cutting humor itself isn't morally right. I wonder whether we aren't simply using effective rhetorical tools, rather than good rhetorical tools.

In the absence of clear moral guidance on the use of humor, I suppose we fall back on the prudential question of whether its use in a particular circumstance makes us more Christ-like. That's a question I don't often ask myself before making a joke at another's expense (or, for that matter, at my own).

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A heads up to journalists

In last Friday's "Word from Rome," John Allen writes:
I asked [Cardinal Francis] Arinze[, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship,] about the forthcoming document on "liturgical abuses," meaning violations of the rules as spelled out in the church’s various liturgical books, being prepared by his office and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said it will not be a dry catalogue of abuses, but an exposition of the faith that underlines the liturgical regulations.
This means the document will have a particularly high Ginger Factor; most of it will make no sense at all to the journalists reporting on it.

This, in turn, means the journalists reporting on it will represent the document as a dry catalogue of abuses, catalogues of abuses being the one thing journalists understand about Vatican documents. They will, in short, fail in their vocation as journalists when they report on the document.

The usual corollaries will obtain: significant numbers of Catholics, who wouldn't read a Vatican document for a dollar a minute, will be led to think it's a dry catalogue of abuses, and so will be led further from understanding the faith that underlies the liturgical regulations, as well as having their anti-religion vice strengthened; Church officials, knowing or anticipating this, will attempt to digest the document to bite-sized chunks ignorant Catholics might be coaxed to investigate; this attempt to digest the document will produce a few paragraphs of text with an infinite Ginger Factor, followed by a dry catalogue of abuses, which the National Catholic Reporter will make readily available to its readers.

This whole sad cycle could be avoided if journalists would only not ask the Rev. Richard McBrien to explain the document to them.

(Incidentally, I don't agree with the general principle, "When in doubt, blame the writer for a high Ginger Factor," expressed on the page defining the Ginger Factor. It's a subjective measure (how much I understand) of objective data (the words in the document). I may well bear most or all of the blame for not understanding something I read.)

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Friday, November 14, 2003

Subcontracting grass roots

I'd seen mention of a concrete suppliers' boycott of the construction of an Austin, Texas, Planned Parenthood abortion clinic -- sorry, of a building
which would include a medical facility that will provide abortions. It would also provide myriad other medical treatments for women and men, including gynecological services, HIV testing, vasectomies and cancer screening.
I'd seen a follow-up mention that Planned Parenthood would be acting as its own general contractor. ("Yes, the building on the corner, with the crushed baby skulls for walls. You can't miss it.")

But not until today had I come across the following email from supporters of Planned Parenthood:
You may have heard about the national campain begun by anti-choice activist Chris Danze to stop the construction of Austin's new Planned Parenthood facility. In the last few weeks, Mr. Danze mobilized anti-choice extremists around the nation to harrass and bully the contractor on the Planned Parenthood site into pulling out of the project.

Among other tactics, these radical pro-lifers left more than 1200 threatening messages on the contractor's home phone and several hundred on his work line; callers were instructed to leave a message saying, "You're going to burn in hell. We will pray for you."

For more on Danze's harrassment project, see [here].

Those of us who believe in a woman's right to affordable reproductive health care, birth control, and all the other invaluable services provided by Planned Parenthoods across the nation cannot let this minority of extremists shut the project down. I propose that we begin our own massive grassroots campaign.

As luck would have it, Chris and Sheri Danze's home phone number is a listed number.... We need to blitz their phone line with as many calls as possible as soon as possible to let them know that Austin and the larger pro-choice community supports Planned Parenthood and will not stand for this kind of intimidation.

My calls will refrain from Danze's breed of small-minded harrassment and be as respectful and firm as possible. If you're having difficulty deciding what to say, feel free to use some version of the following:

"Chris Danze, Austin and America will not be intimidated by you and your small minority of extremists. You cannot and will not stop Planned Parenthood from providing affordable access to healthcare for poor women in Texas. It's time to stop your intimidation tactics and unlawful harrassment campaign."

Thank you for your support and help!

Misty McLaughlin
Austin, Texas

Incidentally, Planned Parenthood will continue contruction of its new facility as its own contractor. Danze was quoted in today's paper as saying that he and others will continue their harrassment campaign. "We will fight this from tomorrow until three years from now, if that's what it takes," he said. "I'm getting letters every day, our email list is growing daily, and we're getting national recognition in the news. We have tremendous momentum and will fight this every stick of the way."
There's a lot that can be said about this email. The first is, of course, that if Misty McLaughlin is the brightest ally Planned Parenthood has, Planned Parenthood is doomed.

What, exactly, will flooding the home phone number of a local concrete contractor accomplish? Will Chris Danze say, "You know, we had tremendous momentum, but now that a lot of people have called my house, I expect everybody on my side to stop calling Austin subcontractors about this, and I'm going to start supplying concrete to Planned Parenthood today"?

See, that's the problem with "radicals" like Danze. They aren't in it for the money, or for future business, or for the convenience of having a listed phone number. That gives Misty and friends exactly no leverage, unless they stoop to "small-minded harrassment."

Which brings us to the matter of factual innacuracies in this email, like the difference between a contractor and a subcontractor, or the difference between the subcontractor whose work phone got all the calls and the subcontractor whose home phone did, or the difference between threatening messages and non-threatening messages, or the difference between what is lawful and what is unlawful. There's also the potentially slanderous implication that Danze told people to threaten the contractor (well, subcontractors, but we know what she meant) with burning in hell.

But facts are for blogweenies.

Another interesting thing about the email is its characterizations of Danze & Co.: "anti-choice activist... anti-choice extremists... radical pro-lifers... small minority of extremists." It's kind of odd, I think, that they can at the same time be such a "small minority" of extremist anti-choice activist radical pro-lifers, and yet require Planned Parenthood supporters to "begin [their] own massive grassroots campaign" to adequately respond. Couldn't they make do with a small minority of extremist pro-choice activist radical pro-deathers? Do pro-lifers have more hit points or something?

As an aside: Imagine someone using the term "radical pro-lifer" as a term of opprobrium.

Well, not so much as an aside; it leads to my final point. This email gives insight into how radical pro-choicers see their radical pro-choices. Not just as standing up to a tiny number of spittle-flecked lunatics like Chris Danze, but as believers "in a woman's right to affordable reproductive health care, birth control, and all the other invaluable services provided by Planned Parenthoods across the nation," which are "providing affordable access to healthcare for poor women."

My guess is there's not much point in trying to show Misty McLaughlin et al. why abortion is not health care, reproductive or otherwise, although it probably wouldn't hurt to say, "Abortion isn't health care," everytime someone says it is. (I'd bet a lot of people have never really thought about it.)

I suspect, though, that what most people -- possibly even Misty McLaughlin -- really want is not abortion clinics -- sorry, I mean buildings which include a medical facility that provides abortions -- but "affordable access to healthcare for poor women."

So while those of us who want an end to abortion do need to emphasize the distinction, in fact the opposition, between abortion and reproductive health care, at the same time we need to be, and be seen as, working for affordable access to health care.

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Quis carpodiet ipsos carpodes

So another semi-annual meeting of the USCCB has come and gone. The conference conferenced, the secular reporters reported secularly, the carpers carped.

I've seen two principal carps from the "more Catholic than the USCCB" folks:
  1. The USCCB issues all sorts of statements on subjects they don't understand and that no one cares about.
  2. The bishops think they've done their job by issuing documents.
This meeting's poster statement for subjects no one cares about is "'For I was hungry and you gave me food': Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers." (It's not on-line, as far as I can tell.)

Of course, I don't care about food, farms, and farmworkers. For all I know, house elves conjure up all my food in supermarket stockrooms. But there's something very foolish -- and I mean that literally; it's practically a canonical example of a lack of wisdom -- in thinking, "If I'm not interested in something, no one is."

And you know what? I didn't care about medically assisted nutrition and hydration in 1992.

I have to note, too, that I haven't yet seen any comments about the bishops' "Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines" statement. I would think this affects every American Catholic with investments, which would include almost every American Catholic with a job with benefits. It might, in fact, force us to choose between making money and acting morally, which is not exactly a pie-in-the-sky matter. (I say it "might," because I haven't found the courage time yet to read it.)

A perfect sample of the second carp is this:
The bishops can write these documents till their wittle fingers fall off. They mean exactly nothing if the bishops aren't out in the culture engaging it, passionately preaching the message, and exhorting their priests to do same.
The "wittle fingers" sneer is lagniappe, but even without it this demonstrates what I would call an adolescent relationship between the laity and the bishops. You know, a "When I was 14, my spiritual father was the stupidest man alive" sort of thing.

Now, adolescents can't be blamed for being adolescent. When adults are adolescent, though -- which is to say, almost all adults, almost all the time -- it's not a pretty sight. American Catholics, of all temperaments, need to move past the "you just don't understand"/"my old man's an idiot" stage into a mature relationship with their bishops. (And "he started it" is not an excuse to wait until your bishop changes his ways.)

Of course, there are also plenty of adult American Catholics stuck in the childhood stage, expecting their bishops to do everything for them, at the very least taking them where they should be and telling them what to do when they get there. When, to the astonishment of all, the bishops fail to do this, they begin to wail and wish they had somebody else for a daddy.

What gets missed in all this is that it is the role of the laity to be "out in the culture engaging it." And I do think this point is missed, even if the missers say, "I know that, but the bishops have a role, too." Of course they have a role in engaging the culture, as public figures and even, perhaps, "opinion leaders." But as bishops, their primary role is to serve their flock. I don't believe people who criticize them for failing to live up to the critics' ideas of how they should exercise a secondary or tertiary role really understand that.

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If Zogby ran a railroad,

no one would be happy with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent for departure times.

I just added a new post to Praying the Post, about elephants, bishops, and a new Zogby poll. (Link via HMS Blog.)

Feel free to add your own "if the bishops were elephants" jokes in the comments here.

(Praying the Post is one of the many things I've done where the idea outmatched the execution. Every few months, I check the access logs; most people visit the blog via a Google query on "Mormon undergarments.")

(P.S. Welcome to everyone who arrived at this page via a Google query on "Mormon undergarments.")

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[Still not yet] At the movies

Bill Cork, as you might know, doesn't like Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ. Or rather, he doesn't like the reverence in which it is held and the defense offered against its critics. He has an unfortunate habit of linking to particularly offensive defenses and implying, with post titles like "Mel's defenders show Christian love ...", that all defenders are offensive, or at least show bad judgment in being on the same side of an issue as unapologetic anti-Semites.

On the other hand, he also points out when he thinks criticism of the movie goes too far.

One of the offensive defenses is that critics aren't just opposed to the movie, but to the Gospels. This may be true of some critics, but not all.

Bill has been making this point by referring to acceptance of The Gospel of John. The film's script is the Good News Bible's translation of John's Gospel, and so, Bill argues, is necessarily closer to the Gospel than is Gibson's movie.

Does that make it a good movie? Not necessarily. Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday writes:
As well-meaning as "The Gospel of John" is, and with all the care and historical research that have obviously gone into its production, it still comes off like a stiffly moving diorama, with Jesus sporting perfectly white teeth and a British accent and every thread of every robe in perfect place. Strictly adhering to the Good News version of events, "The Gospel of John" brings no metaphorical or otherwise interpretive texture to its adaptation; instead, it's simply a live-action illustration.
While someone who doesn't object to such a "live-action illustration" can't be accused of being opposed to the Gospel of John -- which I take to be Bill's main point -- I don't think we can go so far as to say that there is no extra-scriptural material in the movie. The review continues:
As such, it will certainly strike a familiar and beloved chord with many viewers. To others, the movie's honeyed light, special effects and dramatic editing -- watch Jesus's eyes when He spies the moneylenders at the temple -- will only reinforce unbelievers' views that the Bible is little more than a comforting bedtime story.
I don't recall anything in the Gospel of John about honeyed light or Jesus' eyes when He spies the moneylenders at the Temple. Furthermore, I'd say Mark, not John, is the master of dramatic editing. John runs more to lengthy, deeply symbolic set pieces.

The thing is, Gospels and movies are not similar art forms. The Gospel According to St. John is not a transcription from a documentary; The Gospel of John is not a book-on-tape of the book in the Bible.

Yes, yes, Mel Gibson talked a lot about the historical and Scriptural accuracy of his movie. Perfect accuracy, though, is impossible, and we can as easily accuse the makers of The Gospel of John of inaccuracies as Gibson.

If, that is, our intent is to criticize.

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Devotedly yours

Here's the thing about popular devotions: It's what Catholics do.

It's what Catholics do, because Catholics are sacramental and incarnational and very much aware of the close ties between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, of Christ Crucified and Risen and in our presence.

It's what Catholics do, because liturgy cannot fill our time and doctrine cannot fill our hearts.

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Bishops Preach Catholic Faith; Women, Minorities Hardest Hit

Well, the Times. What do you expect?
The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, acknowledging that American Catholics pay little heed to their Church's ban on contraception, undertook an effort Wednesday to reinforce it, and linked it to the anti-abortion campaign.
But you see, it's not a question of "reinforcing a ban." It can't possibly be. Did Daniel J. Wakin, the reporter, stop to ask himself exactly how the nation's Roman Catholic bishops could inforce a ban? By mustering the Knights of Columbus to keep watch on the nation's pharmacies?

What the nation's Roman Catholic bishops can do, and apparently will do, is reemphasize the teaching, which as we all know has been rejected by the majority of lay Catholics (to the extent the teaching has even been heard by them). But we don't expect a Times reporter to report on the Church in any terms other than power -- which, after all, are the terms in which far too many Catholics understand their Church.
The contraception question was introduced by the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, the bishops' anti-abortion body.
I suppose Times readers -- or perhaps editors -- don't see the term "pro-life" very often. The list of activities the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities is involved in, though, is given here:
Abortion
Assisted Suicide
Capital Punishment
Cloning
Contraception
Embryo Research
Emergency Contraception
Euthanasia
Fetal Research
In Vitro Fertilization
Partial-Birth Abortion
Post Abortion
RU-486
Stem Cell Research
Women
To characterize this list, and indeed the entire pro-life movement in the Church, as nothing more than "anti-abortion" is plain lazy reporting.
In linking abortion and contraception, the bishops "will undermine their public policy goals in terms of opposing abortion," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America.

"What they've always tried to do," Father Reese added, "is say: 'Abortion is very different than contraception. It's a human rights issue. It's not a sexual morality issue.'"
Good old Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America. The thinking man's Rev. Andrew Greeley.

I might suggest that achieving public policy goals is not the highest good of a national council of Catholic bishops. Since contraception and abortion are really and for true linked in the world we live in, I do not share the concern over whether the bishops pointing out this truth "could strengthen the sense among many Catholics that the Church is out of step with their daily lives."

I might also suggest many Catholics could stand to have their sense that the Church is out of step with their daily lives strengthened. They might learn something. They might even grow up.

Here's the quotation from Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput that's the cause of my bothering with this article at all:
"The Church's teaching on charity is ignored by virtually all of us also. The Church teaches us a lot of things we don't practice."
Preach it, your Excellency!

Imagine: bishops teaching the Catholic faith whether people like it or not.
Amazed at this language, the prefect said, "No one has ever yet spoken thus, and with such boldness, to Modestus." "Why, perhaps," said Basil, "you have not met with a Bishop...."
(In defense of the reporter (or his editor), I should mention that he (or his editor) did not end the article with a lame quote from a professional protestor across the street, as did Alan Cooperman in The Washington Post.)

(NYT link via A Catholic Blog for Lovers.)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A spontaneous prayer

God bless T. S. O'Rama!

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Purity of motives at the limit

Rob is rightly suspicious of "anything that makes our moral lives just a tad 'easier' on us."

I share that suspicion, but I must reject outright anything that makes our moral lives impossible, as the purity of motives fallacy does.

So what do we do about impure motives?

I'd say the process is to choose the good, observe any bad motives, and pray for the grace to be purified of the imperfections that cause the bad motives. Repeat as necessary.

What about acts for which I have good motives on behalf of both another and myself? In the fallacy's strongest form, which I've heard argued by a few atheists, nothing anyone does is meritorious, because anything meritorious is motivated by the merit received, and being motivated by any personal benefit erases all merit.

In the case of good but secondary motives, I'd say we should strive to refer them more and more to our final and highest good of union with God. So if I give money to the poor in part because it makes me feel good about myself, I should refer that feeling to actually being good insofar as I am being like God. Then I give money to the poor in part to be good, which I do to become perfect in order to be with God.

In short, I pray to be purged of all vicious motives and to develop all virtuous motives into their fulfillment in God's love for Himself and His creation.

Perfect holiness implies perfect unity: God is One. When we are perfectly holy, we will be participating in the one act of God, the One Act that is God.

It seems to me, though, that the means we have of attaining this perfect holiness is through imperfection. Impure, or even mixed good, motives imply imperfection, but perfection is not demanded of every human act we perform. What is demanded is that we become perfect. We can't become perfect, though, by refusing to act until we are perfect any more than by indulging our imperfections with a shrug of acceptance.

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Postlapsarian purity

An effect of adopting the purity of motives fallacy -- in its strong form, it says, "Acting to achieve good for another is not good if the same act achieves good for the actor" -- is moral paralysis.

Most of us are not pure moral agents, and none of us is in a pure moral environment. Nearly every significant human act has many motives; it's a consequence of our lack of integrity, of our fractured grasp of the good. Becoming integrated, becoming holy, is a process during which we make a whole series of choices for the good. Until we become pure ourselves, we can't help but make these choices in impurity.

In short, for most of us purity of motives is impossible, and what is impossible cannot be required.

One truth behind the purity of motives fallacy is that, in doing a good act, we merit less from God the less pure our motives are. (Similarly, in doing an evil act, we are less culpable the better our motives and intentions.) Still, if there is anything good at all in our motives, we do merit something, and that something, however small, brings us closer to holiness.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Purity of Motives Fallacy

There's a story about a samurai whose master was killed by treachery. The samurai seeks and at last corners the murderer, but just as he is about to avenge his master's death, the murderer spits in his face. The samurai lowers his sword and walks away, lest he kill in anger at being dishonored rather than vengeance for his master's death.

Now, I don't know whether that story represents samurai thinking, but if I am ever cornered by an avenging samurai, I plan on spitting in his face. What could it hurt?

Survival tactics aside, I think the samurai in the story might have been too scrupulous in his moral reasoning. Although intent is one of the sources of the morality of a human act (the others, as you know, are the nature of the act itself and the circumstances), I've come to the opinion that we cannot insist all our motives must be virtuous in order to perform an act that itself and in the cirumstances is moral.

To say otherwise is what I call the purity of motives fallacy. It would require that I have none but good motives for an act. Before I jump into a pond to save a drowning child, for example, I would have to purge my mind of any thought that I was being heroic, lest the motive of being hailed a hero sully the act of saving the child.

I think the purity of motives fallacy is an improper application of the moral principle that the means don't justify the end, that you cannot do good to achieve evil. The error seems to be due to a failure to distinguish between motives and intentions.

In the act of choosing, a motive is a kind of efficient cause. It's a desire that, during prudential deliberation, inclines one toward choosing the act.

An intention, though, is a final cause (an end, in other words), a desire the act is chosen to satisfy.

As I mentioned when discussing the principle of double effect, the way to tell whether something is an intention is to ask, "If the thing does not occur (or is not obtained), then the actor will not be satisfied with the act." So in the case of a drowning child, if I am satisfied that the child survives despite my not being called a hero, my desire for being called a hero may be a motive but it isn't an intention.

Note that the moral principles involved -- "You cannot intend evil" and so on -- all speak of ends and intentions, rather than motives. That's why we can act out of mixed motives (even out of only bad motives, perhaps?), and still act morally. I may be motivated out of hate to report a crime committed by someone I despise, but that in itself doesn't make the act of reporting his crime immoral.

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Metablogging: On the medium

Just a quick note of reminder that this site is a personal web log. My personal web log, in fact. It's not a mailing list, newsgroup, chat room, or open forum. As far as I know, no one is being forced to read, much less agree with, anything that is written here. A commenting feature is provided to allow the discussion to develop in instructive, enlightening, and entertaining ways. Given all this, grandstanding in a comment box about what it will mean should I fail to address your concerns in an adequate manner is not likely to cause me to address your concerns in an adequate manner.

Update: Some people don't understand that to participate in the comments here, they have to contribute more than they detract. My apologies to those whose comments have lost their context.

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Monday, November 10, 2003

Questioning judgments and judging questions

All human acts -- acts freely chosen by rational human persons -- are objectively either good or evil, but there are many ways by which a particular human person may choose an objectively evil act. He may be indifferent to the morality of the act. He may try to choose the good, but employ invalid judgment (e.g., reasoning that the end justifies the means). His judgment may be valid but unsound (i.e., based on false premises).

The moral culpability for an objectively evil act varies with the circumstances in which the act is taken. Invalid judgment can reduce culpability, but not if the actor ought to be able to make a valid judgment. Unsound judgment may not reduce culpability if he should have tried harder to confirm the truth of his premises. On the other hand, an actor must follow his conscience; acting in accord with a well-formed (though obviously not impeccable) conscience would seem to greatly reduce culpability.

Given all this, we need to be careful if we start talking about whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a just war. Do we mean to ask whether it was objectively just? Whether the Bush Administration's judgment was valid? Whether its judgment was sound? To what extent the Administration is culpable, if the war be objectively unjust?

Depending on which question we're considering, we may also need to take care not to project external reasoning and judgment on the Bush Administration. An argument may well convince an individual that the war was just, but if that argument was not convincing to (or even considered by) the Administration, it doesn't really touch on the Administration's validity of judgment, soundness of judgment, or culpability -- unless it somehow ought to have been convincing or considered.

It's also reasonable, I think, to question the reasonableness of asking some of these questions. Sometimes they cause more heat than light, and too often are exercises in shared ignorance and unfounded supposition.

The idea, however, that asking any such questions at all is somehow giving aid and comfort to the enemy is laughable. (And that's fact, not opinion, since I in fact laughed when I first came across the idea.) The Bush Administration continues to make prudential judgments every day, and not just about Iraq or the broader war on terrorism. Asking questions about the validity and judgment of our government is a part of "the duty of assuming responsibility for the well-being of society" the Pope spoke about the other day.

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I'm not saying the Pope reads this blog

I'm just saying he sometimes gets uncomfortably close to criticizing me:
The complaints often made against political activity do not justify an attitude of disengaged skepticism on the part of the Catholic, who instead has the duty of assuming responsibility for the well-being of society. It is not enough to call for the building of an just and fraternal society. There is also a need to work in a committed and competent way for the promotion of perennial human values in public life, in accordance with the correct methods proper to political activity.
This past Saturday, I happened to hear a very fine speech by Richard Dowling, Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which "was created by the bishops of Maryland to advance the mutual public-policy and pastoral interests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington."

What impressed me most about the speech was that Mr. Dowling made it clear that Catholics are called to be active in the public square, not so much to guard the interests of the institutional Church or the individual Catholic, not even to seek social justice as an end in itself, but as a direct consequence of the love Christ has shown for us.

Fr. James Sullivan, OP, generalized the point by saying that, when we perform spiritual and corporeal works of mercy, we aren't simply doing good things, we are actually passing on the gift of mercy God has given us.

Now, I've suggested the act of voting is not worth all the hand-wringing we sometimes do over it. Still, I suspect the act of voting is a reliable indicator of political involvement, in that whoever does not vote is unlikely to be working "in a committed and competent way for the promotion of perennial human values in public life, in accordance with the correct methods proper to political activity."

According to Mr. Dowling, Catholics are just like the rest of Americans, in that only half of voting-aged citizens are registered to vote, and only half of registered voters vote. Upwards of three quarters of American Catholics, then, may not even do the bare minimum required -- note, required -- by their faith in assuming responsibility for the well-being of society.

It's almost impossible to bring up the subject of participation in the political life in a Catholic church. American Catholics simply don't let their priests, or even bishops, tell them who to vote for, and even a voter registration drive can be interpreted as implicitly politicizing a parish.

Still, as Mr. Dowling pointed out, the clergy have the spiritual duty to instruct the faithful in our political duty, and the faithful ought to support clergy in their efforts at spiritual instruction.

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The Vigil of All Saints

My friendly neighborhood Dominican House of Studies has been presenting a Vigil of All Saints program -- including hymns, readings, and Night Prayer from the Office -- for several years. It's a very well received, and well attended, evening, I've heard.

I wonder, though, why they always have it on Halloween, when we parents of young children are sure to be otherwise occupied.

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Friday, November 07, 2003

Brother Know-it-all Answers Your Questions

Q: How does one go about becoming a virtuous man?

A:Have you tried prayer and fasting?

Virtue is the habit of choosing well. You develop a habit by doing something until it becomes habitual.

The simplest way may be a strict regimen of morning offering and nightly examen of conscience. It's likely not hard to find the seven times you've fallen on any particular day. Prayer will help you receive the grace to recognize the occasion of sin the next day, and to choose well when it occurs.

Pretty soon you've stopped pushing old ladies in front of busses, and you can start working on developing new virtues in addition to losing old vices.

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Sometime parishioner makes good

Congratulations to Tim Drake for receiving the Cardinal Newman Society's 2003 Ex Corde Ecclesiae Award, for his reporting in the National Catholic Register on the state of the mandatum in U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.

There may be some sound reasons for U.S. Catholic theology professors resisting the mandatum -- which, as far as I can tell, consists of stating an intent to teach what the Church teaches and not teach as Church teaching what isn't -- but I haven't heard any from anyone credible.

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When rules fail

There was a time in Christendom when morality was largely talked about in terms of virtue. The general framework of virtue-based morality (in particular the moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) entered Christianity, as far as I can tell, from the pagan Greeks, but the system was baptized by recognizing faith, hope, and charity -- the theological virtues -- as the greatest of virtues, and in particular charity as the most excellent.

Then came a time when moral theology was dominated by "manualism," which differed from the traditional approach in three ways (according to Fr. Servais Pinckaers, by way of Fr. Michael S. Sherwin):
First, the manuals analyze the moral life in isolation from the study of grace and the great truths of the faith, which are now treated in dogmatic theology, as well as in isolation from aspects of the Christian response to grace and one’s growth in it, which now belong to the domains of mystical and ascetical theology. Second, instead of beginning their analysis with the question of happiness or human beatitude, the manuals begin with the study of individual human acts. Lastly, instead of focusing on the virtues that dispose us to live in harmony with our vocation to beatitude, the manuals focus on law and on how to apply the law in individual cases through the forum of conscience.
As I blogged last month, Fr. Sherwin goes on to suggest that manualism was appropriate for the time of the Counter-Reformation, since it "functioned as a compress that stopped the Church’s spiritual hemorrhaging." There comes a time, however, when a compress must be removed if it is not to do more harm than good.

I am firmly convinced that what I call "rule-based morality" ought to be replaced by a virtue-based morality wherever and whenever possible. There are many reasons for this, mostly based on the ideal of a mature Christian as someone formed by Christ's presence in his soul.

It also has some very practical advantages. There has been some strain recently between Minute Particulars and Flos Carmeli on the suitability of straining at gnats when immediate action is needed. When immediate action is needed, the virtuous man acts virtuously. How does the rule-driven man act? Hard to say.

Notice what can happen, though, when the rules are unclear, unknown, or unsatisfactory, and a man who understands morality in isolation from grace, human beatitude, and virtue chooses to act in a way that makes the most sense to him -- perhaps even appearing to him as the obviously right way for anyone with a moral conscience.

Why would we expect his to be the moral choice? The habit he has cultivated is the consultation of rules, not prudence, justice, or charity. It's not that he has no virtues (nor, for that matter, that traditional moral theology has no rules), but that, when the rules fail him, he finds himself ill-prepared to make the right choice.

At the same time, he has a certain reasonable confidence in his moral rectitude, based on all the proper moral choices he has made under the guidance of the manuals. This confidence may well transfer, improperly, to his choice made without that guidance.

I suspect exactly this has happened in the matter of the war against Iraq. There was no unanimity (among U.S. Catholics, at least) on how to apply Just War Theory as a heuristic for determining whether the war was just. For some, I think, JWT simply came up with the wrong answer, proving that JWT needed changing. The correct answer was the one that came forth spontaneously -- and besides, there were plenty of theologians (among U.S. Catholics, at least) who could do the JWT heavy lifting if anyone insisted.

The problem is that the correct answer can be expected to come forth spontaneously only from the virtuous man (it's sort of the definition of "the virtuous man"), and I think the general understanding of the Catholic life (among U.S. Catholics, at least) is too fractured to reliably produce virtuous men.

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Let's not bicker and argue about 'oo killed 'oo

Mark Shea seems to write two different styles of substantive posts, what might be called reactive and reflective. I often disagree with his reactive posts; I rarely disagree with his reflective posts.

"My difficulties in a nutshell" is a reflective post I agree with. It helps that it's written at least in part in answer to some of his site's ... ah, more reactive commenters, whose arguments seem to amount to, "The end was good, so never mind about the means already."

Incidentally, Mark quotes one of the riper bits from Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, a scene derived, I think, from a passage in William Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More. Roper jokingly complains that being the son-in-law of the Lord Chancellor brings him no material gain, since St. Thomas's willingness to meet with everyone and scrupulousness in applying justice, while commendable, means Roper can't accept bribes from people who want to meet the Lord Chancellor "without doing them great wrong." St. Thomas replies:
"I do not mislike that you are of conscience so scrupulous, but many other ways be there, son, that I may do both yourself good, and pleasure your friend also... Howbeit, this one thing I assure thee on my faith, that if the parties will at my hand call for justice, then were it my father stood on the one side and the devil on the other side, his cause being good, the devil should have right.
Ah, but St. Thomas was a saint. What did he know of the realities of international politics?

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Of distinctions and hope

I've come across another article related to caring for PVS patients, with the suggestive title, "On Not Starving the Unconscious," by Anthony Fisher, O.P. While focusing on the case of Tony Bland in the UK a decade ago, now-Bishop Fisher touches on a lot of the issues as, but with a much different conclusion than, his confreres Frs. O'Rourke and Norris.

[Now watch as I drop the honorifics.]

Fisher makes what I think is an excellent distinction: between inserting a feeding tube and using it:
Because of the different standards applied to the provision of "basic humanitarian care" and "medical care," a major issue in the Bland case was whether tube-feeding is a "medical treatment." Catholic Church authorities have repeatedly said it is not, although theologians are divided. There really are two separate issues here. The first is the feeding tube itself; the second is the provision of food through the feeding-tube.... The tube itself, or at least its insertion, might be regarded as medical treatment, in that it requires medical skill and context. (Its maintenance is nursing care.) The tube is, of course, entirely passive once inserted, somewhat like contact lenses. It allows a natural bodily function to take place, rather than actively taking it over.

But is the provision of food through such a feeding-tube medical treatment? ... Just as we do not define hunger and thirst as pathologies or clinical conditions, so we do not normally define the giving of food and water as treatments, even if it requires some medical assistance. Their teleologies are different. Giving food and water is not aimed at preventing or curing illness, retarding deterioration, or relieving pain and suffering (to use the courts' own definition of the objects of medicine). Thus unlike "medical treatment" as it is ordinarily understood, no consent is required when providing clothing, shelter, hygienic and sanitary care, nutrition and fluids in a medical context.
I think this distinction makes it much simpler to properly consider the question of "burdensome treatment." The treatment that might be burdensome is explicitly the installation and maintenance of the tube, and explicitly not the delivery of food through the tube. In fact, the delivery of food through the tube becomes precisely the benefit which needs to be outweighed by any burdens for the tube to be removed. At the same time, the distinction makes explicit the fact that there is medical treatment, which in principle can become excessively burdensome, involved in ANH situations, contrary to the rigorist "assisted nutrition always" position.

Meanwhile, I think I've spotted an error in the analysis of O'Rourke and Norris:
St. Thomas Aquinas gives the foundation for declaring that friendship with God requires cognitive-affective function when he distinguishes between a human act (actus humanus) which requires the activity of the intellect and will, and acts of the body (actus hominis) which are accomplished by our autonomic nervous system (bodily functions), not under the direction of our intellect and will. Our ultimate goal, the purpose of life, is acquired only through human acts, not through acts of the body which are independent of the intellect and will.
Their error, I think, is in concluding that human acts -- acts requiring intellect and will -- are the only means of growing in friendship with God. It seems fair to say they are the ordinary means you and I are expected to use to become holy as God is holy, although even then we depend upon God's grace to make good use of them.

It's a dicey proposition, though, to insist that no other means exist without impinging on God's freedom to bestow grace where and how He wills. The Holy Innocents, for example, might be surprised to learn it was through performing acts of cognitive-affective function they were martyred for Christ.

Thus, the claim that a PVS patient has no hope of benefit from a prolonged life -- even if we grant all claims regarding his medical condition (no consciousness, no pain, moral certainty of no recovery) -- is doubtful.

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I didn't really call you "Eddie Baby", did I, sweetie?

It's the little things, isn't it?

Fr. Todd Reitmeyer and Miss Barbara Nicolosi each have a post on addressing priests that has drawn numerous comments. Fr. Todd's primary concern is with people who insist on calling him "Todd," Miss Nicolosi's with a priest who insists on being called "Joe." (I've never met a priest who said, "Everybody calls me Joe." I might be tempted to reply, "As long as you're going by nicknames, can I just call you Sluggo?")

Father. Father Joseph. Father Joe. Father Smith. Father J. Father S. Joseph. Joe. Smith. Sluggo.

Me, I try to call people what they want to be called, though all things being equal I am a step more formal with priests than I am with layfolk. I rarely skip the honorific "Father," even in the body of a private email message, despite being ill-bred enough to go straight to first names in most cases with most people. Without specific instructions otherwise, I would address them as "Father Reitmeyer" and "Barbara" after being introduced in a social setting to the two bloggers mentioned above.

Similarly, I almost always use the honorific "Saint," even in the middle of a drawn out factual discussion over what St. Augustine wrote on some topic. In this case, of course, the honor is attached to the person -- not always the case with "Father Smith" -- and it's a way of reminding myself (and any readers) that it's not merely an academic discussion, but one that should ultimately have some religious significance. (A notable exception is "Aquinas," which I use some times for variety, other times to emphasize the academic nature of my point, and still others because "St. Thomas" can sometimes sound too twee.)

On the other hand, I have an astonishing capacity to forget names -- no, that's too generous; I don't even hear them as I'm told them. So it's not like I'm following any elaborate socio-theological scheme when, in practice, I call another person "ah... you."

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Explicating the inexplicable

"The Honour of Israel Gow" is one of G. K. Chesterton's less subtle Father Brown stories. If you've read it, you won't be shocked by a commentary suggesting the theme of the story is, "Bad looks can be deceiving."

Still, I like it, not least for the sequence of solutions to the mysteries of Glengyle Castle that Father Brown rattles off:
"... By no stretch of fancy can the human mind connect together snuff and diamonds and wax and loose clockwork."

"I think I see the connection," said the priest. "This Glengyle was mad against the French Revolution. He was an enthusiast for the ancien régime, and was trying to re-enact literally the family life of the last Bourbons. He had snuff because it was the eighteenth century luxury; wax candles, because they were the eighteenth century lighting; the mechanical bits of iron represent the locksmith hobby of Louis XVI; the diamonds are for the Diamond Necklace of Marie Antoinette."

Both the other men were staring at him with round eyes. "What a perfectly extraordinary notion!" cried Flambeau. "Do you really think that is the truth?"

"I am perfectly sure it isn't," answered Father Brown, "only you said that nobody could connect snuff and diamonds and clockwork and candles. I give you that connection offhand. The real truth, I am very sure, lies deeper."
What do we do when we are faced with the inexplicable? Too often, I think, we try to explain it. As Father Brown shows with this and two other offhand (and equally false) explanations, when put to it the human mind (particularly in groups) is very good at inventing patterns from nonsensical arrangements.

And not just nonsensical arrangements, either. If Father Brown's associates failed to see how any connections could exist, many people today fail to see how particular connections could not exist.

Suppose, for example, that Bishop Jotterbury of the Diocese of Malaize does something dumbfounding. Let's say he suppresses the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary in his diocese, forbidding its members to gather in any formal way associated with a church.

The natural question is, "Why would he do such a thing?" The unnatural -- but almost always for almost everyone correct -- answer is, "I don't know."

As Father Brown said, "Ten false philosophies will fit the universe; ten false theories will fit Glengyle Castle." Just so, ten false theories will fit Bishop Jotterbury suppressing the Rosary Confraternity. Yet we have no way of knowing which is the one true theory (particularly since, both Jotterbury and suppression being inventions, there is no one true theory), and if we have no way of knowing, we should admit it.

"Come on," some might answer. "We don't need documentary evidence to reach the prudential judgment that the bishop suppressed the confraternity because he's a liberal modernist hippie-dippie heretic who thinks honoring Mary is pagan superstition."

To which I might reply, "What do you mean, 'we'? I appreciate your offer, but I still have to make my own prudential judgments for myself." If the only evidence I have that Bishop Jotterbury is a liberal modernist hippie-dippie heretic who thinks honoring Mary is pagan superstition is that he suppressed the Rosary Confraternity, I can hardly explain the latter by the former.

Then, too, there's the distinction between what is obvious to any decent person and what is obvious to me.

My point is that there has to be something between failing to see how anyone could do such a thing and insisting that his reason could only be such-and-such. Especially if we don't learn anything new about the person or the thing done between our failure and our insistence. Ignorance isn't bliss, but when we concern ourselves with things happening far from our ken, we're going to have a lot of it to deal with.

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Just in time for Christmas

Want to impress others with your encyclopedic knowledge of Catholic devotions and practices? Then order your copy of Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices today!

(And while I did contribute one 600 word article (distilled to an impactful 50 words by the editor), I have no further pecuniary interest in the book.)

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St. Martin and the Rats

TSO notes the rats in the St. Martin de Porres medallion posted below.

Here's the story of the rats:
It seems that the Priory of the Holy Rosary where St. Martin lived in Lima, Peru, was infested by rats, so much so that they were eating up all of the food and supplies that were reserved for the Dominican community. The prior of the community approached St. Martin and asked him to get rid of the rats. St. Martin agreed to kill the rats, but as he was rounding them up for the big slaughter, he engaged in a conversation with them and told them that the community was unhappy with their destruction in the priory and the prior wanted them dead. St. Martin, as the story is told, compromised with the rats, telling them to leave the priory and not to return, and if they would do so, he would supply their food from that day forward. It seems that Martin was able to persuade the rats to abandon "their" home, and the priory community was able to return to living a regular life.
The medallion, by the way, was sculpted by Thomas McGlynn, OP, whose most famous work is probably the statue of Mary at Fatima.

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Bishops and leaders

Commenting on the "Applying #5" post, Mark Windsor asks:
But if the bishop is supposed to be a teacher, does that role not confer upon him a special obligation to lead? And in such situations as the Terri Schiavo case, should they not have lead a bit more forcefully and energetically to defend a basic premise of church teaching?
What basic premise of Church teaching should the bishops have led a bit more forcefully and energetically?

I think a lot of American Catholics have an American notion of the leadership proper to a bishop. Lee Iacocca's tag line, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way," has even been invoked against the bishops in another failure to distinguish, this time between a bishop and a CEO. (And isn't much of the "conservative" criticism of the bishops that they behave too much like CEOs?)

Pastor gregis does refer to a bishop's "leadership in the community," but I think the Pope means the community of faith, rather than the political and social community.

More extensively, the Pope mentions "every Bishop's duty to lead the holy people of God as a devoted father and to guide them – together with his priests, his co-workers in the episcopal ministry, and with his deacons – in the way of salvation."

Note the duty to lead in the way of salvation, not in the way of court challenges and custom legislation.

Again, I take Kevin Miller's point that, in the Schiavo case, "the facts just seem very obvious," and so we might reasonably expect something more from the bishops. But that in itself doesn't mean we can demand something more, or are right to feel indignant that we aren't given something more.

As for who takes leadership in a case like this: whoever can and judges he should. Despite the protestations of many, this is not a case in which basic premises of Church teaching are being challenged. The bishops, then, would not be acting in their capacity as teachers, still less as sanctifiers. And they are governors of their Churches as Churches, not as politically organized blocks of voters.

So if a bishop did choose to take the lead on this -- and from what I know (which isn't much and mostly comes from utterly partisan sources) I think this would be great -- he would be doing so not as a bishop so much as a public figure who commands a certain level of respect, or at least media attention.

He might, of course, exercise leadership through his episcopal office -- by, say, having all the priests in his diocese read a letter urging parishioners to write letters in support of the Schindlers. If he does, though, I would suggest he is acting as a prudent man with specialized means at his disposal, rather than as a bishop governing his flock.

I would also point out to those who wish the bishops were more foreceful leaders that a bishop might well have all the priests in his diocese read a letter urging parishioners to write letters in support of Michael Schiavo's rights as husband. It is, after all, a matter of prudence to interpret the facts of the case.

If the Schiavo case is too immediate a concern to see this, go back to last February and change the subject of the bishop's letter to a preemptive attack against Iraq.

Anyone who insists his bishop be a leader must also be prepared to go where his bishop leads him. If he isn't, he doesn't want his bishop to be his leader, but his mouthpiece.

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Applying #5

Before berating the bishops for not doing what you want them to do, be sure to ask yourself whether you've made all the proper distinctions, especially the distinction between teaching moral principles and applying them.

A lot of people who say they're angry with the Florida bishops for failing to be bishops seem rather to be angry with the Florida bishops for failing to be public figures engaged on a particular side of a particular debate. It's true, of course, that a bishop is of necessity a public figure (in much of the world, at least), but his successes and failures as a bishop are in general distinct from his successes and failures as a public figure.

Confusing a bishop's two roles leads to a common form of clericalism. Such a clericalist might declare, "Forget about the bishops!" regarding something that, as a matter of prudential judgment, shouldn't bring the bishops to mind in the first place.

This, in turn, can produce a certain form of stubborn pride in one's own ability to see through this hapless bench of bishops, and to properly judge when they may safely be ignored -- such as, perhaps, when they issue a document on socially responsible investment. In fact, one might even find the idea of the U.S. bishops issuing a document on socially responsible investment to be laughable, this time taking the teaching of moral principles as a prudential application of them, instead of the other way around.

Here is a distilled version of the errors I've mentioned:
Our deacon in his homily on dealing with death tried to tie in the Schiavo case but unfortunately made a big ole mess of it by saying she was "dying" and on "life support" (exact quotes). I'm waiting to hear back from my parish pro-life coordinator before I write him a polite but pithy correction. I mean, if our own leaders can't get it right, how will the sheep?
Notice how the writer extends the demand for correct prudential judgment all the way down to the office of deacon, then wonders how the laity will "get it right" if the clergy does not. As though ordination conferred the grace to read all the right websites!

Here's my point:
  1. It's not the bishops' job to make our prudential decisions for us.
  2. We shouldn't feel smug about making our own prudential decisions without waiting for the bishops to make them for us.
  3. To those who do want the bishops to make our prudential decisions for us: be careful what you wish for.

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Five all-purpose replies

Variations on the following interjections can often be used to move a discussion along, even if you have no idea what the discussion is about:
  1. "Have you tried prayer and fasting?"
  2. "Have we defined our terms?"
  3. "Can we say 'both/and,' rather than 'either/or'?"
  4. "Are you justifying the means by the ends?"
  5. "Have you made all the proper distinctions?"
This last one is a bit risky, since they can always come back with, "What distinctions do you have in mind?" If you don't have any distinctions in mind, you can always try, "Well, between subject and object, for starters," and see where that takes you.

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A matter of balance



Today is the Feast of St. Martin de Porres, the lay Dominican friar whose life offers an important counterbalance to St. Thomas's heavyweight theologizing.

It was only out of obedience to a direct order from the prior of the Dominican house where St. Martin served as gatekeeper and doctor that he agreed to become a friar. Out of humility, he would have preferred to remain an unvowed associate.

The miracles during and following his life were prodigious. The evidence gathered for his cause would surely have led to his canonization in the century following his death had it not all gone down with the ship carrying it from the New World to Europe.

There's a lot to St. Martin's story that might make him fashionable today -- he was a black man whose parents weren't married and were of different racial and social classes, he planted orchards to provide food for the poor, he took care of sick dogs and cats -- but the reason we know his name today isn't his appearance or his work for the poor, but because he was a holy man who reserved nothing of himself for anything but Christ.

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Perennial validity

Bill Cork reports on a discussion at the American Catholic Philosophical Association's conference on the question, "Does the Catholic Church Teach that There Is No One True Philosophy?"

If they weren't philosophers, you'd think this would settle the matter:
The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others. [Fides et Ratio 49]
The Pope goes on to explain, "The underlying reason for this reluctance is that, even when it engages theology, philosophy must remain faithful to its own principles and methods." And:
Yet history shows that philosophy—especially modern philosophy—has taken wrong turns and fallen into error. It is neither the task nor the competence of the Magisterium to intervene in order to make good the lacunas of deficient philosophical discourse. Rather, it is the Magisterium's duty to respond clearly and strongly when controversial philosophical opinions threaten right understanding of what has been revealed, and when false and partial theories which sow the seed of serious error, confusing the pure and simple faith of the People of God, begin to spread more widely.
As I see it, philosophy is by definition distinct from revelation, from which it follows that no "One True Philosophy" can be included in the deposit of faith which the Church preaches.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there isn't one true philosophy, or at least a certain "perennially valid philosophical heritage" (to use an expression from canon law) philosophers ignore at their own peril.

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Friday, October 31, 2003

With a twist

I love the stories of the Desert Fathers. Like stones polished in a tumbler, they're small gems of wisdom obtained through many hard knocks.

Plus, I can admire myself for admiring the wisdom, without doing anything much about it, because you know I'm not a desert monk or anything.

Still, there's a certain much of a muchness about many of the stories. There's the young monk doing the right thing wrong or the wrong thing write, and the old abba whose heroic humility corrects him.

Karen Marie Knapp, a reliable source of stories from the desert, offers a Desert Mother story that's different. It's not the true fable so many other desert stories are; it's an actual story, with characters who interact in unexpected ways. Graham Greene or Flannery O'Connor could have turned it into a work of art.

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Let's not make things too complicated

Amy Welborn's concerns over a gnostic revival seem well founded. T. S. O'Rama comments:
I know young people who are fascinated by the Gospel of Thomas but have never read or shown interest in the canonical gospels. I think we can all fall prey, of course, to what is beguiling rather than what is real.
So why doesn't the Catholic Church add the Gospel of Thomas to the canon, and make room for it by removing the Gospel of John? Then no one will read Thomas, and everyone will pore over John just to stick in in the eye of the Church.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.

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More on culpability

An evil human act -- an act a person ought to choose not to do -- produces two kinds of evil effects. You might call them "intended evil" and "reflected evil."

Intended evil is the intended result of the act: someone dies; someone's reputation is destroyed; someone's opinion of you is falsely inflated. It corresponds to an injury to society or to creation; St. Thomas would say it's the privation of a good due some creature. And if it refers to something withheld or taken away from another that is due the other, it's a matter of justice. The moral actors who, under justice, must make amends for the injustice of the intended evil are those I'm calling "morally responsible" for the evil human act.

Choosing to do an act one ought not do has another effect, though, which happens within the soul of the actor. Human are created to reach a specific end; our final and highest good is to participate in the Divine Life. When we choose to do evil, we are moving away from our good -- or better, we become smaller moral beings.

I say the image of "becoming smaller" is a good one because evil is in essence the absence of good. Our final end really is to be all that we can be, and when we choose to do evil, we really do become less than we were. There is a reflected evil that corrodes my spiritual being, depriving my soul of the good it should have by refusing to do the evil act.

"Moral culpability," as I'm using the term, refers to the degree to which a particular evil act corrodes the soul, reduces its goodness, and makes the person worse than before. Basically, it's a measure of the reflected evil, of how bad this effect actually is for the actor.

As such, although I may share moral responsibility for the intended evil of my act -- if we're in a bank heist together, you're not free and clear morally speaking just because I'm the one who stuffs the money in the sack -- I cannot share moral culpability. Culpability is a measure of how much worse off an evil choice leaves a chooser; if you didn't perform the act, you can't have chosen to perform it, so you can't be culpable for it.

According to the principle of double effect, a good human act may have an evil effect; more precisely, a human act that has an evil effect may nevertheless be a good human act. What can we say about moral culpability and responsibility for an unintended evil effect?

First, there is no moral culpability. Culpability refers to evil acts, and in this case the act itself is not evil.

Responsibility, though, is a different matter. It seems to me that a moral actor in many cases bears some morally responsibility for making amends when there is an unforseen (or even unforseeable) evil effect of his act. If I accidentally injure someone in some way, I probably (if not always) have a moral obligation to contribute to his recovery.

Still more, then, do I have a moral obligation to contribute to the recovery of someone injured as a forseeable effect of my morally good act. This is a form of moral responsibility for an evil that is "objective" -- it actually exists -- but not intended -- no one willed or desired it.

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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Culpability and responsibility

The business of morality is figuring out what we ought to do. If you believe there is such a thing as morality, you believe there are things you ought to do. (And, incidentally, whatever you ought to do has to be something you can do; otherwise it's just wishful thinking.)

As a soul informing a body, meanwhile, you are able to do two different kinds of things: things you choose to do, and things you don't choose to do. You choose to read this blog; you don't choose to digest the food in your stomach.

Combining these two ideas, we can say that there are things we ought to choose to do -- but can we say that there are things we ought to do without choosing them? Or things we ought not do that we can't not do?

Sure! Why not? Who wouldn't agree that it's bad if their stomach doesn't digest the food they eat?

But that isn't really a matter of morality. That's a matter of the proper operation of our bodies. Having a certain kind of nature -- human nature -- means there are certain kinds of things our bodies ought to do if they're operating properly.

Morality, though, is really concerned with those things we ought to do that we must choose to do, with that part of human nature not covered, so to speak, by spontaneous or reflexive or unthinking operations. The choices we make are made by our rational faculties, which is another way of seeing why rationality is the traditional distinction between humans and lower animals. Our human acts are those acts we choose by our rational faculties. We share acts of mastication and digestion with other animals, but other animals are not capable of performing human acts.

Human acts -- things we choose to do -- that we ought to do are called good acts; human acts that we ought not to do are called evil acts. We ourselves may be said to be good or evil, or a mixture of both, based on the human acts we choose to do. "Culpability" is a term referring to how much of the objective evil of an act is imputed to the actor, a measure of the damage a person does to his soul by committing an evil act.

An interesting question is, how culpable might I be for the evil of a particular act you commit?

One answer is that I might be extremely culpable. I may have talked you into the act, I may have so warped your judgment that the act can be said to be more mine than yours.

This answer, though, confuses "moral culpability" -- how much a person harms himself by choosing to commit an evil act -- with "moral responsibility" -- how much of the debt incurred under justice by an evil act a person is responsible for. No person can have any culpability at all for another person's evil act. It's not possible: the evil done to a soul is done by choosing to do an evil act, and no one can choose that someone else do an evil act.

But one person can be responsible for at least part of the evil committed by another. If I talk someone into committing a robbery, I am partly responsible for the robbery and owe the victim a debt in justice if not in law. (I am also culpable for the evil act of talking someone into committing a robbery; that culpability is mine whether or not the robbery is actually committed.)

How can I bear moral responsibility for evil caused by someone else? Only by having done something I ought not have done, or having not done something I ought to have done. In other words, by some human act I committed or omitted. This is so because, again, only human acts have a moral dimension.

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Seeds of contemplation

Camassia notes a curious sequence in Mark 4:
  1. Jesus teaches a very large crown the parable of the sower, concluding with, "Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear."
  2. The Twelve question Jesus about His parables when they are alone with Him. He replies, "The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables," scolds them for not understanding, then finally explains the parable.
  3. Jesus tells the Twelve, "For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light."
It is an odd educational theory, isn't it? If Jesus is teaching in parables rather than plain words, so that those He's teaching don't understand him, why bother teaching at all?

That there is nothing hidden except to be made visible suggests it will be the Twelve's job to explain Jesus' parables to the world. That makes sense, I suppose, but again, why not skip the instruction to the crowds? It's not as though the Twelve are making such great strides with their private instruction He's run out of things to teach them.

I think we can consider Jesus' use of parables as itself parabolic. His instructing the crowds in parables is a parable of His earthly mission. The pattern of Jesus telling a parable in public, His disciples failing to understand Him, His explaining the meaning to them, and their subsequent revelation of His meaning to the crowds exactly matches His crucifixion, His disciples' despair, His appearances to them, and their subsequent proclamation of Him as the Christ. Everything in Jesus' life, as Mark records it, is parabolic.

The sequence may also serve a catechetical purpose. Adherents to this new faith would be drawn to it for all sorts of reasons, as Messianic hopes, curiousity, and the need for healing drew the crowds to Jesus. Much of what they would learn, though, would be utterly baffling. God's Son is crucified? And that's a good thing? And He's here with us right now?

Such questions are not unexpected, in Mark's experience, but they can be answered, apart from the crowds, on Jesus' authority. And once a Christian has the answer, he is bound to make it visible, to bring the secret that we have been redeemed to light.

Finally, I think we can take Jesus' words literally without insisting on a double-predestination interpretation. Whoever has ears ought to hear. If you aren't merely a curiosity-seeker, if you believe Jesus is more than a miracle worker, you ought to hear His words, to ruminate on them to discover their meaning. If you insist that whatever comes from God be tailored to your tastes, you are not suitable to hear the Good News. Speaking in parables, then, provides the good a chance at virtue, and exposes the wicked in their vice.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Venerable in context

The Newman quotation in the previous post comes from Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Appendix 1, Part 8, "Lying and Equivocation."

He is discussing the various moral theories that have been made about lying. The passage begins with:
Almost all authors, Catholic and Protestant, admit, that when a just cause is present, there is some kind or other of verbal misleading, which is not sin.
He goes on to list several common views on how such a just cause can be exercised:
  • silence
  • "saying the thing that is not" is "not a lie, when there is a 'justa causa'"
  • "when we have no duty of justice to tell truth to another [as with children and madmen], it is no sin not to do so"
  • "veracity is for the sake of society," and so can be sacrificed for the sake of society
  • equivocation (distasteful to Newman's English sensibilities)
  • evasion
  • "the unscientific way of dealing with lies": a lie is always a sin, but must sometimes be done anyway
And of course, there's also the position denying any "just cause" exemption.

These position have varying amount of authority behind them. Some are put forth with more conviction than others; some seem to be argued as a weak accomodation to what people do anyway.

But it's only the "unscientific way" of declaring evil to be good that is patently absurd and "cannot for a moment be defended."

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For the thousandth time, no

My epitaph will probably read:

Here lie the mortal remains of Brother John of Fiesole
No means were justified by his end

Considering the fundamental importance of the moral principle that the ends do not justify the means, I am surprised by how often this needs pointing out, even to good Christians.

A comment on a post below illustrates a common misunderstanding of the principle:
Everyone agrees that some ends justify some means.

No one would object to forcibly separating a good and loving mother from her child -- if the mother was ill and delirous with a contagious disease, and the child was too young to understand.
The minor error here is that, to the extent the mother was ill and delirious, she was not a good mother.

The major error, though, is in misunderstanding what it means for something to "justify" an act.

The Catechism has a nice, short article on the morality of human acts that gives a clear exposition on what the Church teaches. In particular, see the "In Brief" statements:
The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the three "sources" of the morality of human acts.

The object chosen morally specifies the act of willing accordingly as reason recognizes and judges it good or evil.

"An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention" (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.

A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together.

There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.
The morality of a human act, then, is drawn from three factors: its object, its intention, and its circumstances. All three must be good for the act to be good.

As a moral principle, "The end does not justify the means" means, "The good of the intention does not make the act good if the object of the act is evil."

Whenever I hear someone argue that a person can (or even should) commit a minor evil to avoid a greater evil, two things come to mind. First, that their notion of evil is different from mine, since by my definition evil is something that may never be committed.

Second, one of my favorite quotations from Newman, which I repost from time to time. Newman is writing about lying in an appendix of Apologia Pro Vita Sua, but with a little added emphasis it generalizes nicely:
To these must be added the unscientific way of dealing with lies — viz. that on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie, and he would not be a man, did he not tell it, but still it is very wrong and he ought not to do it, and he must trust that the sin will be forgiven him, though he goes about to commit it ever so deliberately, and is sure to commit it again under similar circumstances. It is a necessary frailty, and had better not be anticipated, and not thought of again, after it is once over. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.

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The other problem of personal dignity

I posted yesterday on what you could call the practical problem of personal dignity.

Neil Dhingra continues to be concerned with what you could call the speculative problem of personal dignity:
Here are a couple authoritative Catholic discussions of human dignity:

"Moreover, God created man 'in His own image and likeness,' endowed him with intelligence and freedom, and made him lord of creation." (Pacem in Terris 3)

"But what is man? ... Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created 'to the image of God,' is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures that he might subdue them and use them to God's glory." (Gaudium et Spes 12)

You'll notice that these discussions describe human dignity rather traditionally - in terms of the capacity for cognitive and affective behavior (although they don't necessarily exclude other descriptions). Now, that means that they aren't terribly helpful when talking with those people who think a human being ceases to be human when she loses awareness and any capacity to exercise her intellect and will. That is, they aren't terribly helpful when thinking about the so-called persistent vegetative state.

Well, then, how do we describe human dignity when arguing against those people?
I wrote in the post below my thoughts about the difference between "human by individual capacity" and "human by shared nature."

To continue with the "we are all kings" metaphor, I'll adapt my definition of "personal dignity" to "that quality of personhood which demands that other persons reverence this person as created for beatitude."

I don't have a solid definition of "reverence," but I'm not sure there's much point of making it too different from "treating a being as a subject rather than an object."

There are times, the Church teaches and I believe, when we revere another by withholding disproportionate means of keeping him alive. The "life at all costs" approach -- which most people say they reject -- would seem to revere human life in the abstract, and treat the person as the object by which human life is sustained. The "death at discomfort" approach would seem to revere physical comfort, and treat the person as an object whose end is to be comfortable.

But to Neil's question: How do we describe human dignity when arguing against people who think a human being ceases to be human when he loses awareness and any capacity to exercise his intellect and will?

I think personal dignity is the wrong arrow to pull from our quiver for that argument. Obviously, if a being isn't a person, the being doesn't have personal dignity.

(Although human bodies possess some sort of dignity -- some demand for reverence -- after death. I'm not sure what can be argued from that fact.)

But to my mind, a human being doesn't cease being a human person simply by losing awareness. While life lasts, the being has a soul, and I am hard-pressed to make sense of the notion that a human soul can be (much less ever is) instantaneously swapped with a vegetative soul if a person's brain suffers a certain form of trauma.

O'Rourke doesn't claim this happens, either:
Some people object to the description of patients as "vegetative" as though it indicates they are less than human. While the term could be understood with this connotation, it more exactly refers to the person's ability to function only at the biological level, not to a lack of personhood of the individual person. Cognitive-affective function, the foundation of any spiritual activity, is not possible for a person in PVS. According to the concept of the human person common in Catholic theology, the spirit or the soul of the person still maintains the radical power to perform human acts of cognitive-affective function but the actual performance of these acts is impossible due to dysfunction in that part of the body which is necessary for cognitive-affective function: the cerebral cortex.
His position is not that "a person in PVS" lacks personal dignity -- that's logically impossible -- but that he lacks the individual capacity to perform human acts, which capacity is the source of the value of his biological life to him.

I'm not sure I disagree with O'Rourke on the speculative level. But because I'm not sure I agree with him, and because I'm not sure how much weight to give to "the degree of moral certitude possible in medicine" in doubtful matters, I think AHN should not be discontinued "because it offers no benefit to the patient."

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Without feathers

Smockmamma comments below:
i'm a little concerned that something i read not too long ago said that our ability to reason and that we have free will makes us human. that's a scary thought, isn't it?
Not to me. As far as I can tell, it's kind of a central tenet of Thomistic anthropology, which, while it isn't the last word, is a far, far better word than many others that have been spoken.

That our ability to reason and exercise free will is what makes us human does, however, have a scary misinterpretation: that if a being is unable to reason, that being is not human.

But that's a false corollary. It isn't, "I, as an individual being, am able to reason, and so am human." It's, "I, possessing human nature, am a being by nature able to reason." A person in PVS -- or, more traditionally, asleep or drunk -- remains a being by nature able to reason, even if by circumstance he is unable.

The words "by nature" are absolutely critical here. If we do away with them, we in effect do away with the notion of human nature as anything more than a description of observables.

The result of this isn't limited to the devastation of medical ethics. If there is no human nature, then you and I have no natural relation to one another. The deepest meaning of the word "human" becomes "a word applied to a set of beings whose actions provide evidence they are capable of reason." In which case, what value is it to any of us that the Son of God "became man"? He might as well have become a dolphin, for all the difference it would make to His ability to mediate between the Father and "us men."

And while we're at it, we'd have to admit that dolphins -- or, to use Peter Singer's evil canonical example, pigs -- are more "human" than human babies.

So before we start talking about what makes humans different from non-humans, we need to understand that what makes us human is not individual capacities, but a shared nature.

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