instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Of the recommending of books there is no end

There's been a rash of books mentioned by others in the comments below over the past day or so. I list them here for easy reference:
  • All You Who Labor: Work and the Santification of Daily Life, by Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski
  • The Moment of Christian Witness, by Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Catholicism and Secularization in America: Essays on Nature, Grace and Culture, edited by David Schindler
Because, you know, there's that space between the couch and the window that doesn't have a book in it.

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Some observations

I saw most of Diane Sawyer's interview with Mel Gibson last night. On the whole, I thought it was fair, by my "for a fat girl you don't sweat much" standard for network television, and that Gibson acquitted himself of the more extreme charges that have been made against him (including a Messiah complex, so I won't go so far as to say I find no guilt in this man).

The producers of the movie Hidalgo have been buying a whole lot of commercial time, including at least one spot during the Gibson interview last night. Say what you will, few movies get a free one-hour, prime-time network ad. (The local station also ran some promos saying, "Stay tuned to our eleven o'clock news for where to see the movie and join the debate.")

From this follows two observations:
  1. Sincerely-held Christian belief is endlessly fascinating to Americans, even post-Christian Americans.
  2. Sincerely-held Christian belief, expressed sincerely but unsubtly, sounds like lunacy on prime-time network television.
This last point touches on what I wrote yesterday about the contradiction between Catholicism and American culture. If, as American culture would have it, there are no really true truths and what counts is us all getting along, then holding truths that seem offensive to others makes no sense.

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Monday, February 16, 2004

Ministers of Christ

I've been invited to expand on how to be "publicly Catholic," to be "someone whom people look at and know to be acting according to his faith."

That's a bit too practical a matter for this blog. I'm more of an ideas man myself.

So instead, I'll expand on being publicly Catholic per effectum, by the effect it has on others.

Luke 6:26 -- "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way." -- is of course a parallel with Luke 6:22-23:
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
Note two things: first, Jesus is speaking here to His disciples (v. 20); second, He compares the treatment they (which is to say, we) can expect to the treatment prophets, true and false, have received in the past.

I think, taken together, these are significant. In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus does not speak of poverty, hunger, and grief as blessings in general, but as blessings within the context of Christian discipleship. He teaches that those who suffer because they follow Him are better off than those who don't. This alone is worth pondering. What kind of a Messiah says, "If you're poor, hungry, and griefstricken, you're doing something right!"?

On top of that, Jesus compares his disciples to the prophets. Scripture refers to lots of just and upright men who were mistreated by others. Perhaps the reason Jesus referred to prophets, rather than simply to the just, is that His disciples are called to be, not merely just, but prophets.

The threefold ministry of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King is well known, and we give at least some recognition to our participation, by baptism, in His ministry:
"The holy People of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office," above all in the supernatural sense of faith that belongs to the whole People, lay and clergy, when it "unfailingly adheres to this faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints," [LG 12; cf. Jude 3] and when it deepens its understanding and becomes Christ's witness in the midst of this world.
Again, how we exercise our share in the prophetic ministry of Christ is beyond my scope here, but look again at Jesus' words on the effect our actions might have on others: If people hate, exclude, and insult us, we are to rejoice; if all speak well of us, we are to mourn.

Now, these are only signs or indications of how well we're doing our job as disciples. They aren't guarantees. I can be hated, excluded, and insulted without being a good disciple. I can be spoken well of by all without being a bad disciple. But if I am hated, excluded, and insulted, I shouldn't conclude I am doing something wrong, and if I am spoken well of, I shouldn't conclude I am doing something right.

Perhaps more importantly, I shouldn't avoid the former or seek the latter as ends in themselves. I might even ask myself whether by coming closer to the former and moving away from the latter, I would be a better disciple of Christ.

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The tension between integrity and reputation

"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way."
Anyone who thinks all speak well of him need only spend a few weeks in St. Blog's contributing comments to be disabused of that notion. Still, let me propose this accomodation of the verse:

There are ways in which American culture and Catholic culture contradict each other. I have in mind, not the old know-nothing ideas like American Catholics taking their marching orders from Rome, but, in a word, division. In American culture, people are divided into different parts: the professional; the social; the political; the religious. That's nonsense in Catholicism; religion isn't something you do on Sunday, and you are literally the same person at work as at home.

Since there are conflicts between Catholicism and American culture, a Catholic should expect to be conflicted in American culture. He should also expect to be a source of conflict. If he is neither conflicted nor a source of conflict, he should ask himself whether he's doing something wrong.

If he's not conflicted, has he disengaged from the culture? Has he bought into the culture?

If he's not a source of conflict, has he divided himself into a private Catholic part and a public secular part? I think this might be a particularly subtle problem. If I am in my private life a good Catholic, or even a great Catholic, then it might be hard for me to see that, in my public life, I am not particularly "publicly Catholic."

By "publicly Catholic," I mean one who serves as a public witness of the Faith. Not necessarily a vocal witness, still less an outspoken one, but someone whom people look at and know to be acting according to his faith.

Consider the popular whipping girl of traditionally-minded Catholics, the habit-less religious sister. She spends however many hours a day in private prayer, then goes out into the world to advocate for various social justice causes. All well and good, but what if she neglects to connect in public her advocacy to Christ? There's no fear she will be spoken well of by all, but by leaving the Christian foundation of her actions implicit -- and I mean the foundation renewed daily, not a dusty old foundation cobbled together from a few Scriptural passages thirty years ago -- she permits those who look only for Christian foundations to dismiss her social work and those who look only for social work to dismiss her Christian foundation.

Can we say woe to such a one? Not in terms of judgment or future reward, but in terms of missed opportunity and overlooked signs.

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Friday, February 13, 2004

"If you make any sentient creature jump,

you render it by no means improbable that it will jump on you." -- GKC

In a comment below, Matthew Sullivan writes:
It seems to me that Tom always recommends prayer and fasting to all problems because it is both safe and effective.
Actually, I always recommend it because I'm always forgetting it.

I wonder, though, just how safe prayer is.

Suppose I pray for something, and God gives it to me. Now what? I'm like a tourist in Yellowstone who whistles at a grizzly bear, only to have the grizzly climb into my car and say, "Here I am." I can try to get the bear out of my car, or I can pretend he isn't in the car with me, or I can face the fact I'm not the biggest and most powerful thing in my car any more.

My current preferred epitaph:
You Pray,
I'm Fasting.

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Do the right thing

On the complex question of justice for workers -- in particular, of course, workers in the Third World, but all humans operate under the same justice -- let me ask, What is the end I should be working toward?

And I will answer, The good of the workers and the good of the owners.

The good of the workers is (roughly) a living wage, safe working conditions, relative job security, and generally being treated as a subject of work rather than an object.

The good of the owners is a just profit and treating the workers justly. (Although our fundamental option may not be for the owner, it's worth recognizing that a justly-operated business is good for the owner's soul.)

What can I do to effect these goods?

I think the first step has to be to make sure I am not culpably cooperating in injustice. (For my own soul's sake, as much as for helping others obtain goods my cooperation in injustice is preventing them from obtaining.)

So, having moved into a cave where I survive by eating of the blind fish who dwell in the icy black pools, what's next?

For the worker to have a just wage, he must have a wage. For the owner to make a just profit, he must make a profit. This suggests there must be an environment -- social, political, economic, legal -- in which a business can operate, and I would do well doing what I could to see that such an environment exists.

An environment in which a business can operate does not necessarily offer justice to workers (or to owners). One form of injustice could be called "systemic injustice" -- the injustice caused by the environment surrounding the business, the injustice workers would experience if St. Katharine Drexel herself were running things.

Another form of injustice we might call "discretionary injustice," or "owner-added injustice," caused by the owner's personal failures in justice.

I have a lightly-informed impression that a lot of the concern with worker exploitation is directed at this owner-added injustice. It is an injustice, by definition, so it should be resisted, but I wonder whether its importance as compared to systemic injustice is exaggerated due to its relative tractability. An owner who underpays his workers to pad his own profit -- that's a problem easy to understand, and the desired change is easy to state: get the owner to pay his workers what their work is worth while keeping no more profit than is just. (The fine details of means are left as an exercise for the reader.)

Should those concerned with worker exploitation focus more on systemic injustice? After all, there has to be a system before there can be a just system. Making a just system may reduce owner injustice, as well. A well-ordered economy in a country without much corruption is not an ideal environment for venal owners.

At the same time, I wonder whether the complexity of the problem makes some Christians too passive. Thomas Sowell claims the "underlying problem" of poverty among Third World workers is that "the people in such countries got a raw deal from fate, history, geography or culture." Well, what are you going to do about a raw deal? Wait for the next hand, seems to be the answer. (In his essay, at least, Sowell doesn't suggest doing anything, and might imply doing nothing.)

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An observation

The natural human genius for creating patterns gangs aft agley.

A common example of this is when two people -- call them A and B -- have an argument on a certain topic -- call it X -- which is not resolved to their satisfaction. When the topic arises again later (as it always seems to do), should a third person -- say, C -- say something that reminds Person B of something Person A once said, Person B picks up the earlier argument where he left off, placing Person C in the role of Person A and assigning to Person C all of what Person B believes Person A believes. Person B, in this case, notices a similarity and completes a pattern that isn't necessarily correct.

It can be a bit disconcerting to play the role of Person C in such a situation, especially if you wouldn't know Person A from Adam or A's and B's earlier argument from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but it's usually easy enough to notice when Person B is arguing at someone else but with you.

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Irony alert

Bishop talks about silence. Will anyone listen?

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How not to "How to Vote"

Catholic Answers offers "A Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics." (Link via And Then?.)

The guide identifies five "non-negotiable issues" -- abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem cell research, human cloning, and "homosexual 'marriage'" -- which together correspond to the "focus issue" in my full-color model.

The guide defines a helpful "How to Vote" process:
  1. For each office, first determine how each candidate stands on each of the five non-negotiable issues.
  2. Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.
  3. Choose from among the remaining candidates, based on your assessment of each candidate's views on other, lesser issues.
As it happens, this is pretty much how I vote. It's pretty much how everyone votes, except everyone's "non-negotiable issues" tend to vary. ("Not the incumbent" seems to be a perennially popular non-negotiable issue.)

Regarding the guide, I have a few questions:

Who died and made Catholic Answers the Magisterium? This is a question based on style more than substance, I suppose, but beginning with the title -- "I can't say how non-thinking Catholics go about things, but this is what thinking Catholics do" -- the tone of the guide is one of command.

Why five non-negotiable issues, and why these five? I don't object to making these five issues as non-negotiable, but there is no attempt in the guide to justify these five an no other. One might reasonably ask whether, say, "pre-emptive war" should be a non-negotiable issue and whether fetal stem cell research and human cloning really need to be separate issues.

When you say non-negotiable, do you mean negotiable? Let me quote three sections of the guide, in the order they appear:
Candidates who endorse or promote any of the five non-negotiables should be considered to have disqualified themselves from holding public office, and you should not vote for them. You should make your choice from among the remaining candidates.

Eliminate from consideration candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues. No matter how right they may be on other issues, they should be considered disqualified if they are wrong on even one of the non-negotiables.

In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or more of the five non-negotiables. In such a case you may vote for the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or who seems least likely to be able to advance immoral legislation, or you may choose to vote for no one.
Emphasis added.

So after repeatedly saying you should not vote for candidates who are wrong on any of the non-negotiable issues, the guide says you may vote for a candidate who is wrong on the non-negotiable issues. This seems to lack a certain intellectual rigor.

Looking through the guide, I think a better title would be "A Voter's Guide for Newly Serious Catholics," as in Catholics who are, for the first time, trying to vote with the mind of the Church. That would explain (if not wholly excuse) the didactic tone and some of the staggeringly obvious observations. (E.g., "Do not cast your vote based on candidates' appearance, personality, or 'media savvy.'")(Not that I'm in a position to criticize the making of staggeringly obvious observations.)

Still, the core of the guide is its list of focus issues ("non-negotiable," unless you've already lost the negotiations), and the list is presented without comment on how it was created. A supplement to the guide on how to construct a set of necessary and sufficient non-negotiable issues (and how to negotiate among them) might be helpful for those serious Catholics who have moved beyond "vot[ing] for candidates simply because they declare themselves to be Catholic."

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Exploiting a comment

There's a remarkable comment in a discussion sparked by a post at Catholic and Enjoying It! Mark Shea, in his laconic and measured way, writes:
Conservatives have as much trouble with Catholic teaching as liberals, just in different places. Sweatshops? No problem! Just invoke different cultural standards.
Steven (late of Removing All Doubt) replies:
Mark - since we've established that 3rd world labor is inherently exploited, what would you propose as the alternative? A minimum wage that removes the profit motive of creating third-world factories? So instead of working 12 hours for, say, $2/day, they're working 0 hours for $0/day. Not to mention the happy side-effect of removing what little developmental steps they've taken.
I can read this comment in one of two ways. One is, "Evil will be done. Shouldn't we do the least amount of it?" The other is, "Evil will be done. Shouldn't we recommend the least amount of it is done?"

The first way is a version of doing evil that good may result. We are the ones doing evil, or at least cooperating with evil in a morally culpable way. The only answer to this question -- and I don't mean the ideal Catholic answer, or the traditional Christian answer, I mean the only rational answer -- is, "No, we shouldn't do any evil whatsoever."

If the answer were, "Yes, we should do evil to someone if it betters his standard of living," then why not enslave destitute foreigners? The money paid for them would help their families, and they themselves would be materially better off sleeping in the basements of suburban American houses and eating day-old suburban American bread than living in their own countries.

The second way of reading the comment seems to be a version of counseling the lesser of two evils, which holds that, when someone else is morally certain to do some evil, we may counsel him to do a lesser evil instead. (I recently read that not all Catholic moralists believe counseling the lesser of two evils is morally acceptable, but that's a discussion for another time.)

What are the two evils we are to counsel others -- specifically, an American corporation -- regarding?

One evil, clearly, is exploiting Third World laborers. Stephen seems to be suggesting the other evil is not opening a just factory in the Third World. But "not opening a just factory in the Third World" is not an evil act for an American corporation. We can't tell a corporation, "You should choose to exploit these workers in this foreign city rather than allow them to starve," because the corporation isn't allowing them to starve if it doesn't open a factory there. A given corporation has no specific moral duty toward the poor of some arbitrarily-chosen city. It shares -- or rather, its stockholders and directors share -- a moral duty toward the poor of the whole world, but that does not imply a moral failure if it doesn't open a factory in a particular Third World location.

Still, if we grant that recommending factories exploit laborers is counseling the lesser of two evils (whatever the other evil might be), we need to consider our own culpability. Most of us aren't formally culpable; we aren't making (or failing to make) decisions that directly cause exploitation. We may not even be immediately cooperating with the exploitation. But our moral distance from exploitation -- especially for rich Americans who read all sorts of stuff on the Internet -- isn't necessarily great enough for us to reasonably argue we're counseling others to do the lesser evil.

I suppose my wrap-up is to deny that Third World laborers are "inherently exploited." If indeed they are exploited, they are exploited by other humans. If those other humans are us, we need to stop it. If they aren't us, we need to counsel the exploiters to stop it, or at least to limit their exploitation, without inventiong moral burdens they do not actually bear.

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A successful argument

Jcecil3 reports that his essay, "Abortion?", has changed the mind of "a Catholic Democrat who was pro-life, but thought abortion should be legal;" now "she would consider a Constitutional amendment to protect the unborn in the context of other life issues."

Anyone trying to reach the mind and heart of a Catholic Democrat who favors legal abortion should probably see what he has to say.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A new paradigm

I think yesterday's speech given by Javier Lozano Cardinal Barragan of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers at Lourdes as part of the World Day of the Sick celebrations -- titled "The New Paradigm: Bioethics That Is Closed and Bioethics That Is Open to the Transcendent" -- would repay close study.

So far, all I can find is a Zenit summary. (Without disparaging their many virtues, I have to say Zenit summaries can make for painful reading. All those tortuous dialog tags -- "According to the cardinal," "he added," "the papal envoy continued".... Is it against Italian telecommunications law to transmit ellipses or something?)

Extracting from the summary, Cardinal Barragan sees a "new paradigm," which preaches a "global ethic," being imposed on the world by the World Health Organization and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization -- with the Women's Environment & Development Organization, Earth Council Green Peace, and International Planned Parenthood Federation among its most important promoters:
"[T]he different religions existing in the world have not been able to generate this global ethic; therefore, they must be replaced by a new spirituality that has as its objective global well-being within sustainable development....

"The religions existing to date have been concerned with the other life; this spirituality is concerned with this earthly life. It is a spirituality without God, at the secular level. Its ultimate objective is the viability of the present world, and man's well-being in it."

"[It's most important 'anti-value' is a] new spirituality that replaces all religions, as the latter are inept in preserving the ecosystem...."

"Practically speaking, it is a new secularist religion, a religion without God, or, if one wishes a new god, that would be the earth itself, to which the name Gaia is given. This divinity would have man as a subordinate element....

"The series of values upheld by the New Paradigm are values subordinated to this divinity, which is translated into the supreme ecological value that it calls sustainable development. And within this sustainable development is the supreme ethical objective of well-being." [emphasis added]

"[T]he New Paradigm is not accepted [by Christianity] because of its denial of God and its denial of the other life....

"[Christianity] accepts the equality of the sexes, but not in the sense of homosexuality and destruction of the family. It accepts the control of birth, but not its destruction as planned in the culture of death, applied especially in the Third World....

"The New Paradigm faces one of its greatest problems when it realizes that it must base everything on a consensus that does not stem from objective truths, but from subjective opinions; then it makes an effort to forge artificial consensus.

"Such consensus is absolutely vain. This is why an ethic or bioethics based on the New Paradigm has no consistency."
The "bioethics open to transcendence" has two principles:
  1. "[H]uman life is created by God."
  2. "Human life is received by humanity, not as property but as administration. Human life is inviolable from its conception until its natural end. The dignity of the human person is inviolable."
So on the one hand, you've got sustainable development and well-being as the supreme values, on the other hand you've got human life and the dignity of the human person as supreme values.

A rational mind might notice the former depend on the latter, and so can't be supreme. I suspect those pushing the closed bioethics resolve this conflict with the simple trick of letting it go without saying that their own lives and personal dignity are to be presumed.

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A minor point, an important distinction

There are no Church teachings on how Catholics have to vote. In fact, there can't be any Church teachings on how Catholics have to vote, now or ever.

What the Church can and does teach (to some extent) is how Catholics should vote, or more generally how they should go about voting. The Church doesn't say, "All Catholics must...," but, "Everyone with a well-formed conscience will...," which teaches us what having a well-formed conscience implies and whether we have one.

It's true that, at various times and in various ways, Church authority is invoked to direct or order Catholics to do certain things. But directions and orders are not teachings.

In an attempt to "vote with the mind of the Church," as it were, I think this distinction is important. Not for its own sake -- the effective difference between "you should" and "you must" isn't very large for someone inclined to listen regardless -- but for the sake of answering the... ah, inexperts who consider statements like, "I don't let the Pope tell me how to vote," sound arguments.

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Note to self

Remember to found at least two religious congregations.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

More on the model

I should add another type of voter represented by the focus issue model: the sine qua non voter, for whom all possible candidates must score over a certain threshold on the focus issue but, beyond that, being better on the issue is of relatively slight importance. This is indicated by an equivalent candidate line more nearly horizontal than one for a dominant-but-not-determining focal issue voter. (The solid line starting at the dashed threshold line T, vs. the dotted line running through p, q, r, and s.)

Note that this is a descriptive model. It describes how people actually vote, or at least how they say they plan to vote; it doesn't prescribe how anyone ought to vote. (Not that people plot the candidates on a 2-dimensional color-coded grid, but they do say things like, "He may be better on domestic issues, but he's pro-abortion," which can be modeled as q vs. r.)

So, what can you do with this model? Give qualitative descriptions of candidates, for one thing. "Are you crazy? He's lower left!" "Yes, he's over my threshold, but he's down at the bottom." "Sorry, but given the nature of politics, I think a high-upper left candidate is better than a middle-right candidate."

It can also help explain and examine voting strategies.

There is no shortage of socially conservative American Catholics who say things like, "I can't in good conscience vote for a pro-abortion Democrat for president." This makes them threshold voters, refusing to vote for candidates below a certain level of pro-life policy.

What's interesting is how many of them define their threshold to lie between the "best" Democratic candidate and George W. Bush. Granted, there's a lot of space between the best Democratic candidate and Bush on life issues, but I suspect for many their threshold is highly influenced by practical considerations.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Still, I've been struck by the thought that some absolutist single-issue voters, who in effect say they must vote for the most pro-life candidate, would if they're serious have to vote for Jcecil3 if his name got on their ballots.

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Focal issue voting

More noodling with the process of deciding how to vote.

Here's a diagram modeling various schemes for evaluating candidates based on a "focal issue" -- some single issue (or, for that matter, set of issues) which the voter considers of dominant importance. Think abortion, obviously, or life issues generally, or the war on terror, or socialized medicine.



I think interpreting the model is straightforward enough. For those who disagree:

The basic idea is that the voter somehow rates each candidate, from however bad to however good, along two scales or axes. One is the focal issue, the other is an aggregate of all the other issues. Given these two scores, the position of each candidate can be plotted on a graph like the one shown (e.g., points p,q, r, s, and t).

Now, by definition a single-issue voter doesn't care about the other issues; to him all candidates who fall on the same vertical line (e.g., A, B, C, D) are equivalent, and the candidate on the right-most line is his preferred candidate. Given candidates at p, q, r, s, and t, then, a single-issue voter would vote for the s candidate every time.

Some single-issue voters impose a threshold on candidates (e.g., the dashed line T), refusing to vote for any candidate whose score on the focal issue isn't higher than the threshold. If the choice facing such a voter were candidates at points p and q, the voter wouldn't vote. (A single-issue voter without a threshold would, of course, vote for the q candidate.)

One would hope a single-issue voter, given a choice between candidates who have the same focal issue score -- say, candidates at points r and t -- would choose the candidate with the highest score on the other issues (t, in this case), but I suppose if someone were literally a single-issue voter, he might just toss a coin. (This might even be rational, if he knows he knows nothing about any other issue, and so can't tell which candidate is better, although next time he should prepare better.)

Some voters consider a single issue to be a dominant, but not determing, factor. For these voters, a candidate who is a little worse on the focus issue but much better on the other issues -- who is at t, say, rather than s -- will be preferred. A straight line in the graph represents points such voters assign equal worth to, so a particular voter might find candidates at points p, q, r, and s all equally appealing (with one at t clearly better). The steeper the line, the more the voter values the focal issue over all the other issues.

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The lesser of two evils

Several commenters have noted below that all the cool moral theologians say you can vote for a bad candidate against a worse candidate. That's significant for a probabiliorist like me, so let me poke at this idea a bit.

What pops out first is the diciness of the colloquial way of expressing the idea -- viz., "to vote for the lesser of two evils." Now, you can never licitly choose to do evil yourself, so clearly moral theologians discern some moral distance between the act of voting for a "bad" candidate and the bad acts the candidate would commit if and only if he were elected. Moral theologian Kevin Miller puts it this way:
...the evil act is voting for the candidate qua evil. But no one is absolutely evil. If you're voting for the candidate qua better than the alternative, then you're not voting for him qua evil.
Here I'll grant that voting for a candidate qua better than the alternative is possible. Once that's granted -- or more precisely, once it's granted that voting for a candidate is not necessarily voting for a candidate's bad positions – we can dust off the Principle of Double Effect apparatus.

By the Principle of Double Effect, an act is permissible, despite having a morally certain bad effect, if a) the act itself is not immoral per se; b) the bad effect is not intended; c) the bad effect is not the means to the intended good effect; and d) the good effect outweighs the bad effect.

On the question of voting for a bad candidate to prevent the election of a worse candidate, I've just granted that a) the act itself is not immoral per se. Is the bad effect intended? It is if the bad effect is the election of the bad candidate, so we should cast the bad effect as the implementation of the bad candidate's bad policies. (This will be important for understanding what the moral act of voting really is.) This bad effect is not intended, which we can see because we would be perfectly happy if it never occurred, so (b) is satisfied. The implementation of the bad candidate's bad policies is not the means of preventing the worse candidate's worse policies, so we're fine with (c).

Now, does the good effect outweigh the bad effect? Here, I think, we need to be careful.

The bad effect, as I've said, is the implementation of the bad candidate's bad policies; the good effect is the prevention of the implementation of the worse candidate's worse policies. But we can't simply subtract the one from the other and say, "The net result is less badness with the bad candidate than with the worse candidate." The Principle of Double Effect doesn't speak about net results, it speaks about effects.

If we return to my example of the Dystopian Party candidate vs. the Atheist Dystopian Party candidate: the bad effect of voting for the former is the execution and consumption of everyone over 30; the good effect is those accused of possessing religious faith are not executed and consumed until they reach 30. While it's clear the Dystopian Party candidate is better, it's not so clear that the good effect of his election outweighs the bad. (To remove all lack of clarity, we could make the second choice an Anti-Parrot Dystopian Party, identical to the Dystopian Party except it also calls for the extermination of parrots in the wild.)

So while it may be possible to vote for a bad candidate over a worse candidate, a straightforward application of the Principle of Double Effect doesn't suggest it's always permissible.

Corners cut in this post include a failure to address what it means for a candidate to be "bad" in a morally significant sense and a failure to observe that the election of a candidate is not a sufficient cause of the implementation of his policies.

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Bible quiz

Q. What is the primary theme of the Book of Ninevites?

A. There is no Book of Ninevites in the Bible.

Q. What role did Roman political and judicial authority play in the death of Jesus?

A. Who cares?

The Book of Jonah is not about the Ninevites. Obviously, they play a role -- a larger role in Jonah than the Romans do in the Gospels -- but they aren't really important to the story. Nineveh is just a place whose proverbial wickedness warranted a prophet to preach against it. It's the prophet's reactions, both to his call and to God's response to the Ninevite's conversion, that convey the spiritual senses of the book.

I'm starting to suspect the same is true of the Romans who crucified Jesus.

There's been a lot of talk lately on the question of "Who Killed Jesus?" Much of what I've seen strikes me as a fundamentally silly discussion: people saying, "You know, it was actually the Roman who crucified Him," with the sort of wide-eyed who'd've-thunk-it also used with, "You know, the Bible doesn't actually say there were three wise men." (This is opposed to a not-at-all silly discussion on the fact of human deicide.)

I'm starting to think the role of the Romans in Jesus' crucifixion was, from the perspective of the New Testament writers (and therefore, of the Church in the First Century), primarily a historical accident. Yes, there is theological meaning in the exercise of authority depicted, but mostly the Gospels record Roman involvement as a matter of historical, not spiritual, fact. If it hadn't been Pilate acting for Caesar, it would have been Herod, or Philip, or some other political power acting for itself. The New Testament is concerned, for the most part, with things far more important than political power.

Revelation is about God's relationship with man, in particular with His people Israel and those who come to know God through He Who is Israel's Glory. Pilate's sin was a failure of natural justice; we don't need Revelation to teach us about natural justice (although it helps). The sin of the one who handed Jesus over to Pilate -- a sin greater than Pilate's -- was a failure of faith, and teaching faith in Jesus Christ was the reason the Gospels were written.

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Sunday, February 08, 2004

Beyond the pale

Can there be a candidate whose positions are so evil that no one with a well-formed conscience could ever vote for him?

The obvious, and even correct, answer is, “Sure.” We can imagine a candidate running on the Dystopian Party platform, the sole plank of which is passage of a law to kill everyone over the age of thirty and use their bodies for food. There is no way to justify voting for such a candidate.

Ah, but is the physical act of marking a ballot in a certain way equivalent to the moral act of “voting for” a candidate? After all, the “risk management” and “symbolic” views sometimes see a vote as being primarily directed against another candidate.

Suppose there were two candidates for an office, one from the Dystopian Party and the other from the Atheist Dystopian Party, which advocates killing and eating, not just everyone over thirty, but everyone accused of having a religious faith as well. Isn’t it reasonable to vote against the Atheist Dystopian by casting a ballot in favor of the Dystopian, especially if polls show a statistical dead heat going into Election Day?

Well, it may be reasonable, but it’s also immoral. By construction, a Dystopian Party candidate can never be voted for. Since the ends do not justify the means, the existence of a worse candidate does not suddenly make a per se immoral vote moral, nor does it change the nature of the moral act whose physical expression is marking a ballot.

If you can never vote for an evil candidate, you can’t vote for an evil candidate ever. And, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reminds us:
[A] well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.
Which is to say, you can’t vote for an evil candidate ever.

So…how do you recognize an evil candidate? Or, in CDF terms, what constitutes a political program which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals, and what, in a representative democracy, constitutes voting for a political program?

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A novice blogger

Andy the Novice in the Order of Preachers is on the Web. Let us pray he learns to spare his future audiences the bad puns. (The Order started at "Domini canes," and has been going downhill ever since. "Domin-I-Can" might even be worse than "DominICON".)

(Andy's link via a cosmic service of Fr. Sibley.)

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"Put out into the deep"
Then I said, "Woe is me, I am doomed!"

"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
Why are we afraid of what we're afraid of?

From one aspect, when what we fear acts on us, we are changed in ways that frighten us. A fear of heights is really a fear of splattering on the ground after falling from the heights. That's why, pace Steven Wright, no one is afraid of widths; they can't change us in bad ways.

How do things we fear change us? The same way all things change other things. A lesser thing lessens what it changes; a greater thing makes what it changes greater.

Most of the things humans fear are lesser things. Heights are physical things; they change our physical bodies from well-ordered to poorly ordered (and possibly inanimate). Man-eating tigers are animals; they change us into, at best, more tiger. Tax audits are social things; they change our social standings from one of relative security to one of relative doubt.

But it wasn't a lesser thing Isaiah encountered in the Temple, or Simon by the Lake of Gennesaret. It was a greater thing, the Greatest Thing, something so great it isn't even a "thing" in our order of being. They met the Living God (though of course Simon didn't know he was in the presence of something that great).

Since greater things make us greater, why would anyone be afraid of encountering God?

Let me mention two reasons. First, greater things don't always make lesser things greater in themselves. Ask a chicken whether it feels any greater after it's been made into a human by way of a chicken and dumplings recipe. "Look on the face of God and die" about sums up the expectations sinful man has of a direct encounter with the Divine Essence. It's not that God smites people out of indignation ("How dare you look upon Our Majesty!") or spite ("Take that, puny wretch!"), but that, in the presence of His life, we are as death; in the presence of His goodness, we are as evil.

The good news of Jesus Christ, though, is that we can look on the face of God and live -- that, in fact, God sent His Son to us so that we might look on the face of God forever and live forever with Him. This is a change in us, to be sure; not an evaporation of us in the Divine Presence, but a transformation of us into something somehow divine as well. Why would anyone fear that?

Perhaps for the same reason we might fear being eaten by a tiger. It would turn us into something we are not. It would, in fact, destroy what I usually consider myself to be, the "false self" mystics speak of. Even when we know, on one level, that all we have is a gift from God, that everything we do should be done for love of God, that the way of perfection is self-denial... even then, we often think, believe, and act to put our own selves first. We value our selves as though they were things of substance, and we know that, in the presence of God, these things will cease to be. We can say that's good and proper, but if at any level we believe we really are these things, then to us the presence of God means the death of us.
Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid."
(This is a rip-off, and a riff off, of today's homily by Fr. John Corbett, OP. Whatever is good and clear in this post comes from him.)

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Friday, February 06, 2004

More fun with voting

Kevin Miller continues
to maintain that it's incoherent to suggest that it's worth trying to influence the Dem presidential nomination, but only if Lieberman is available.
Let's see what we can do with this:

Assuming that the purpose of government is to serve the common good, let's first pretend we can estimate the service a candidate would offer the common good if he were elected president. Call SL the service of President Lieberman, SB that of President Bush, and SF that of the Democratic field (i.e., the product of a Liebermanless nomination process). We'll assume the field is worse than Lieberman, who is worse than Bush, so SF < SL < SB.

Now, given a Lieberman-Bush race, there's a certain probability Lieberman will win; call it PL. The probability Bush will win is 1-PL. Similarly, in a {Democratic field}-Bush race, the probabilities of winning are PF and 1-PF, respectively.

The expected service to the common good of the winner of a Lieberman-Bush race is
EL = PLSL + (1-PL)SB
For a {Democratic field}-Bush race,
EF = PFSF + (1-PF)SB
We expect the common good to be better served by a Lieberman-Bush race when EL > EF, which is to say when
PL < PFR
where
R = (SB - SF) / (SB - SL)
We know R > 1, because we've already assumed SF < SL.

What all this says, in short, is that if Lieberman is better for the country than the rest of the Democratic field but worse than Bush, then a Lieberman-Bush election is expected to be better for the country even if Lieberman has a better chance of winning than the rest of the Democratic field.

Suppose Bush would be ten times better than Lieberman, and any other Democratic president would be worthless. Then SB = 10SL, SF = 0, and R = 1.11111. So Bush can be 11% more likely to lose to Lieberman than to any other Democratic candidate and we would still expect a Lieberman-Bush race to be better for the country. (That's an 11% better percentage, not an 11% higher percentage; for example, if the field had a 50% chance of winning, Lieberman could have a 55.5% chance (11% of 50% is 5.5%), not a 61%.)

You may not think Lieberman is better for the country than the rest of the Democratic field, but I don't think it's "incoherent" for those who do to recommend influencing the Democratic nomination process if and only if he's available.

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What hope did they have?

Barbara Nicolosi quotes from an article she wrote for St. Austin Review:
Out of the entire troupe of Our Lord’s apostles, even after three years of front row seats at miracles and sermons, only John was able to stand up and watch the actual events of the Passion. The others fled the sight, and it was undoubtedly a mercy for them to be able to shield their eyes.

Perhaps the horror of the Passion would have obscured for Andrew and Thomas and Peter the joy of the resurrection. Perhaps it would have irrevocably shaken their faith. Perhaps it would have led them into an anger and hatred that they would not be able to overcome....

But certainly, those same apostles who did fail to watch with him, lived and died with the certainty that theirs was a falling short. It was a failure of courage, and the consequence of a weak faith that kept them away from the images of Jesus on the Cross. Above all, it was proof of an imperfect love that ultimately placed their own safety and sensibilities over following Jesus....
People like to pick on the Apostles. I don't just mean people like Barbara; the Fathers of the Church picked on the Apostles, too. Heck, St. Mark makes them look about as sharp as a sack of wet mice, and he [most likely] knew some of them personally.

But although the Gospel is the story of a love beyond all dreams of excess, the Gospels themselves waste nothing. In the flight of the disciples from Gethsemane, the Fathers saw hope. St. Remegius wrote:
In this act is shown the Apostles' frailty; in the first ardour of their faith they had promised to die with Him, but in their fear they forgot their promise and fled. The same we may see in those who undertake to do great things for the love of God, but fail to fulfil what they undertake; they ought not to despair, but to rise again with the Apostles, and recover themselves by penitence.
But there's a deeper theological point to their frailty.

Yes, they had "three years of front row seats at miracles and sermons." This should have given them faith. But this faith was not sufficient because the miracles and sermons were not sufficient. It was only through Jesus' death and resurrection [and ascension] that the Holy Spirit, Who is sufficient, descended upon the disciples.

The lesson for us is this: If we attempt to be disciples of Jesus by our own power, we will fail. Our only hope for success -- literally, our only hope -- is to act by the Spirit we receive through Jesus' crucifixion. If we do, we will succeed. (Which, of course, entails a high probability of martyrdom.)

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Voting prologue

People haven't been voting in enough numbers for long enough for the Church to have much to say about it. There's some motherhood and apple pie in the Catechism about voting being morally obligatory, and pronouncements of varying degrees of authority have been made about specific elections or specific issues, but as far as I know there is no developed, authoritative Catholic teaching on voting as a moral act.

Consequently, Catholics have a lot of different ways of looking at it.

One view is to vote for the best person for the office. Accordingly, I would vote for the same person I'd name if someone asked me, "Who do you want to serve the term?" Setting aside the question of how to determine who is "best," this is a very simple scheme that regards voting as equivalent to giving one's opinion.

Another view adopts a risk management approach when a viable candidate is judged to pose a risk to the common good. On this view, one would vote for another candidate to prevent the bad candidate's election.

A third view treats a vote as, in some circumstances, symbolic. One holding this view might vote for a candidate who symbolizes a certain idea or issue, despite believing the candidate would be a disaster as an office holder.

These views aren't exclusive. A person could use each of them on three different races on the same ballot without being inconsistent in his overall views on voting. But given a particular set of circumstances, is there any single view that represents "best Catholic practices"?

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Thursday, February 05, 2004

A sequence of arguments

Thomas the ecclesial wanderer writes:
Tom of Disputations offers two posts wherein he argues against folks who adopt what he calls a rigorist position with regard to the use, at Georgetown University, of fetal stem cell lines derived from aborted children.
Actually, my intent was really to counter rigorist arguments from authority. In the process, I've challenged (as one unconvinced of an position rather than one convinced of a counter-position) other rigorist arguments.

I see Zippy as offering rigorist arguments from principles, while Thomas's position is an argument from prudence:
We [in the Lutheran or Reformed tradition] do, however, have a principal known as status confessionis, which, obviously, means a state of confessing. Basically, when things get so bad (as, for many of us, they are in the ECUSA and the ELCA), we find ourselves against the wall, and there can then be no compromise.... I would argue that with regard to abortion we are indeed in statu confessionis. We can therefore give no quarter to those in our communions who spread the culture of death by twisting the Gospel to support the killing of children both before and after birth.
The sequence from authority through principles to prudence presents a sequence of progressively weaker claims (the Church says..., it is true that..., in this situation we ought to...) and consequently of progressively stronger arguments.

Now, I play a probabiliorist on the Internet, which means I'm inclined to allow something if it is most likely permissible, rather than certainly permissible like the rigorists. (In less archivable environments, I've been known to slip into laxism.) To be frank, I don't know enough about the GUMC situation to say whether it's most likely permissible, although there's sufficient evidence to say it's at least somewhat likely to be permissible (satisfying the probabilists among us). My opinion on this matter, then, isn't worth very much.

I'm writing about it not to leap into the medical ethics debate on one side or another so much as to point out the kinds of arguments being used in the debate and how well they work. The better we understand our own arguments, the more likely we will be able to arrive together at the truth.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Much prayer

In honor of her solemnity (within the Precious Blood Community), Fr. Jeffrey Keyes has posted several quotations from the writings of St. Maria De Mattias, canonized this past May. I will pull out two sentences, and refer you to the rest.

First:
Often tell Jesus that you love him very much, and that you wish to die for love of him.
This strikes me as an excellent recommendation, even for those of us who did not awake this morning thinking about our wish to die for love of Jesus. Until we're a little more perfect, we might try this prayer in words like, "I love, Lord, help my lack of love!"

Second:
I exhort you to speak little and to pray very much.

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How rigorist is the Church?

I received an email, with the subject "Re: Georgetown," consisting of the following, with a link to the full document:
ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
TO THE MEMBERS
OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
Monday, 10 November 2003


I have on other occasions stated that stem cells for purposes of experimentation or treatment cannot come from human embryo tissue. I have instead encouraged research on adult human tissue or tissue superfluous to normal fetal development. Any treatment which claims to save human lives, yet is based upon the destruction of human life in its embryonic state, is logically and morally contradictory, as is any production of human embryos for the direct or indirect purpose of experimentation or eventual destruction.
I assume the purpose of the email was to counter my statement below that Georgetown University Medical Center's use of the cells derived from aborted fetuses is, as far as I can tell, not contrary to explicit Catholic doctrine.

The excerpt from the Pope's speech asserts the following as morally unacceptable:
  1. Using stem cells from human embryo tissue for purposes of experimentation or treatment.
  2. Treatment based upon the destruction of human life in its embryonic state.
  3. Production of human embryos for the direct or indirect purpose of experimentation.
If what I've read is correct, GUMC researchers are not using stem cells from human embryo tissue, nor are they producing human embryos for experimentation.

Is GUMC researching treatment based upon the destruction of human life? Certainly not formally (they aren't actually destroying human life, as far as has been reported), and certainly not immediately materially (they aren't providing necessary assistance to those who are or have destroyed human life).

The Children of God for Life seem to be rigorists on the question of mediate material cooperation. To them, any use of cells derived from aborted human bodies is immoral, and there is no point in asking whether the good effects outweigh the bad effects when the means themselves are immoral.

But if the question is whether this rigorist position is explicit Catholic doctrine, we can't assume it is in trying to decide whether GUMC is researching treatment based upon the destruction of human life in the sense condemned by the Pope.

If the research by its very nature requires the destruction of human life, then clearly it is immoral. If, on the other hand, it incidentally happens to use cell lines derived from the destruction of human life, then if we are not rigorists we cannot say it is clearly immoral.

I know essentially nothing about medical research, still less about the research using aborted fetal cell lines being done at GUMC. But I did find a web page describing the research of Dr. Yingxian Xiao, assistant professor of pharmacology, which uses HEK 293 cells, one of the morally problematic lines:
Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) are acetylcholine-gated cation channels that are widely distributed in the central and peripheral nervous systems....

We have expressed the different nAChR subtypes in HEK 293 cells. The stable clonal cell lines generated from the heterologous expression provide cell models for each of the nAChR subtypes. We are using these cell lines to study the molecular biological, pharmacological, functional and pathological characteristics of nAChR subtypes.
Relying on a twenty-year-old Biology 101 course, I'd say it sounds like HEK 293 is simply a convenient cell line for this research, and any treatment that might result from it will not depend on the direct use of the cells. In other words, this sounds like research that could be done using cell lines derived in an unquestionably moral manner. If all their research is of a similar nature, it would, in my understanding, mean GUMC is not researching treatment based upon the destruction of human life.

There are a lot of places where I may be wrong. I may be wrong about Dr. Xiao's research, I may be wrong about other research at GUMC, I may be wrong about the rigorist position not being required by Catholic doctrine and about a more probabilioristic position being licit for Catholics.

But asserting the rigorist position as Catholic doctrine -- however popular both the position and assertion are in certain circles -- won't convince me I'm wrong.

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Rigorously pro-life

As a moral system, rigorism in essence holds that, if an action might be forbidden, it is forbidden, unless everyone agrees that it is not forbidden. You might say a rigorist teaches, "Better sorry than unsafe." (There are better, but more wordy, definitions available.)

A lot of pro-life American Catholics seem to be rigorists on life issues, judging by what I've read of attitudes toward incremental improvements in abortion laws, artificial hydration and nutrition, and medical research ethics.

The risk of rigorism is that it might forbid what is permissible. A rigorist might find himself condemning as sinful something God does not regard as sinful. A Catholic rigorist, if he is more rigorous than the Church, might find himself condemning as contrary to Catholic teaching something the Church does not regard as contrary to Catholic teaching.

I think, in the general case, the Church permits a variety of viewpoints, and She permits holders of those viewpoints to tell each other they're wrong. What the Church doesn't permit is for holders of different viewpoints to tell each other they're not Catholic.

There may well come a time when the Church pronounces on a topic, forbidding certain viewpoints either morally or prudentially, and those holding a viewpoint can certainly urge the Church toward their preference. But what is obviously true to a proponent is often not so obviously true to the Church, and we should recognize that the mind of the Church moves more slowly than our individual minds.

For now, the Church is still working out the implications of her teachings on faith and morals in the medical and political arenas. Those who insist on a more rigorous application than the Church should recognize that, simply because their position is consistent with Church teaching doesn't mean it is Church teaching, to the exclusion of all other positions.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

That's all?

Peter Nixon writes, of two prisoners he knows:
All I have to offer Ray and Mark right now are my prayers.
I think we can generalize this to:
All we ever have to offer each other is God's love.
True, there are plenty of times when we can, when we must, offer someone some material aid. But what is the spirit with which we search for ways to help another in his need? Do I rummage about my collection of means, and only pull out my shabby old prayers, apologetically, if I can't find anything better? Do I feel like I'm doing more if I can give a person in need some money, or a job, instead of only prayers?

There are several aspects to this. First is the value of prayer relative to material assistance.

Even considering material assistance, though, there is the question of who provides it. In my pride (and my tax returns) I claim that I am the one who provides. But of course, no one can give what he doesn't have, and everything I have comes from God. What I provide -- in the way of prayers as well as material assistance -- was given to me by God for the express purpose of giving to others. The only pride I should take from any of this is that I happen not to be too foolish or too sinful at this moment to resist God's will.

Finally, what is material assistance provided by God through me but a sign of God's love? It's the definition of love to give good things to someone, and it does no one any good to draw false distinctions between spiritual and material goods. Material goods do serve spiritual goods, but both have the same end of participation in God's eternal life.

We should guard against improperly deprecating either the material or spiritual goods God has given us to give away. In our fallen state, hoarding material goods makes a certain perverse sense. But "I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back," makes no sense at all when the talent is prayer for others. What's the point of keeping that to yourself?

So do pray for Ray and Mark, and for Peter and those who work with him in prison ministry, and for whatever other intentions come your way. Speaking of which, the Pope's intentions for this month are "For Peaceful Coexistence among Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land" (general) and That in Oceania priestly and religious vocations for evangelization in the local Churches may receive special care" (missionary).

Your prayer may be as shabby as mine, but if we cultivate the habit of prayer for others, who would dare to say what good God won't give through them?

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Sufficient but not necessary

I've written before about the reluctance to ask the question, "But is it true?" Often this reluctance is due to doubts of the existence, knowability, or value of the truth.

Sometimes, though, it's due to a preference for what seems like a stronger argument than, "This is true." Among Catholics, the stronger argument is often, "This is what the Church teaches."

Obviously, if what the Church teaches is true, then a demonstration that the Church teaches something is implicitly a demonstration that it is true. As obviously, though, what is true is not necessarily taught by the Church.

There are two tricks to using a "The Church teaches it, so it is true" type argument. First, recognize it is an ad hominem argument, in the sense that it only works on people who believe that what the Church teaches is true. Second, make sure the Church actually teaches it.

The two tricks are related, since the manner in which "the Church teaches" something determines the willingness of people to accept that it must therefore be true. Some Roman Catholics feel free to doubt anything outside the Nicean Creed; some Roman Catholics accept as dogmatic every speech given by this Pope (but perhaps not by that pope).

I write all this in response to the rigorist responses to the news that Georgetown University Medical Center will continue research using cells derived from cells harvested from fetuses aborted with the intent of harvesting cells.

There are several claims against the university and everyone involved. The weakest claim is that using these cells is imprudent and potentially scandalous. A stronger claim is that using them is immoral per se. The strongest claim is that using them is contrary to explicit Catholic doctrine.

The first claim can be true without the others being true. The second claim can be true without the third being true. This matters because, as far as I can tell, the third claim is not true.

By their very nature, matters of "mediate material cooperation in evil" -- an act in which the cooperator has a different moral object than the evil with which he is cooperating and which is not required for the evil to occur -- resist being settled doctrinally. Statements by theologians, Curial bodies, and even the Pope serve as evidence for a particular viewpoint, but they do not constitute the explicit Catholic doctrine some people appeal to as a means of anathematizing those they disagree with.

As with Peace and Justice Catholics, I urge pro-life rigorists to carefully distinguish between actual Church doctrine and prudential policies derived from doctrine. Others are not necessarily less Catholic than you simply because they do not agree with your prudential policies.

In other words, a petition to a bishop along the lines of, "You do know how evil you're being, don't you?," is unlikely to help.

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Monday, February 02, 2004

One of the beers not to have

Yesterday, I bought a twelve-bottle sampler of Blue Ridge beers and a six-pack of Schaefer in cans. The former to share at a Super Bowl dinner, the latter as a tribute to that now-unthinkable jingle of my youth: "Shaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one."

Even by the undemanding standards of American malted rice water, the can of Shaefer I drank yesterday was... let's say the can held more beer than I really wanted it to.

Still, I'm struck by the contrast between the old Shaefer commercial -- which, as I said, would be unthinkable today, with its invitation to drink more than one beer -- and the Bud Light commercials shown during the Super Bowl. Nothing says "low calorie refreshment" quite like flatulence, bestiality, and unprovoked physical assault. [How's that sentence for Google bait?]

I don't drink light beers on purpose anyway, so Bud Light hasn't lost much from me by its ad campaign. But it's interesting (to me, at least) that I happen to prefer beers from smaller breweries, which lack TV ad campaigns, at a time when large breweries (Budwiser and Coors -- and, for that matter, mid-sized breweries like Samuel Adams and Rolling Rock) are doing all they can with their advertising to get me to promise never to buy their products again. I might well buy another six-pack of Shaefer before I buy another six-pack of Bud Light.

By the way, most of the Bud Light commercials were very well received among those I watched them with.

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Be careful what you ask for

Jcecil3 has accepted my invitation to start a Catholic political party. He's named it the Catholic Peace and Justice Party, which should give you some idea of its platform, if you have any experience with "Peace and Justice" Catholics.

As a draft platform, it clearly shows the problem with creating a political party "good on all aspects of Catholic social teaching." You can be unassailable on moral principles, but as I wrote below political policies are derived from other kinds of principles as well. If your economic principles are unsound, your policies based on them will be unsound. The Church tries not to pronounce on the soundness of economic principles (except insofar as they have moral implications), so two Catholics can legitimately accept mutually contradictory economic principles, and therefore legitimately support mutually contradictory policies. (Steven Riddle points this out using the example of gun control.)

Here is my hypothesis: Most American Catholics have their opinions regarding politics and government formed with little or no reference to what the Church has to say about politics and government. Politically liberal American Catholics tend to think government ought to do more than the Church says government ought to do. Politically conservative American Catholics tend to think government ought to do less than the Church says government ought to do. The former need to guard against a quasi-Pelagian belief that man can, through wise government, establish a natural paradise. The latter need to guard against a quasi-Calvinistic belief that citizens are predestined to a certain level of success or failure.

I think we could use a coherent, Catholic political philosophy. ("Catholic" in the sense that the philosophy is informed by Catholic teaching on faith and morals, and so neither too rosy nor too bleak, rather than the sense that it is the Official Political Philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church.) The scraps of political philosophy I've come across come across as having whatever is "Catholic" about them forced into a pre-existing framework.

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Friday, January 30, 2004

Moral principles and prudential policies

I've decided that, from now on, whenever I see or hear someone write or say, "We need a political party that is good on all aspects of Catholic social teaching," I will reply, "So start one."

If eveyone starts doing this, maybe someone really will start one, and we can all join it and find something else to complain about (like, "We need to win an election once in a while.") (Actually, in Maryland we'd just need to win 1% of the votes for the highest office on the ballot (on the order of 20,000 votes) to remain a recognized political party.)

The rub, however, comes in the form of the questions: What are "all aspects of Catholic social teaching"? And what does it mean to be "good" on them?

The USCCB produces its "Faithful Citizenship" document every four years, which at the very least should inform the party's platform review. (I'm assuming a party good on Catholic social teaching isn't going to be schismatic or monarchistic.)

I've noticed, though, a tendency to move from quoting a magisterial or episcopal document on social issues straight to a particular policy. To invent an example:
As "Faithful Citizenship" says, "The Church calls on all of us to embrace this preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, to embody it in our lives, and to work to have it shape public policies and priorities." We support a workfare program to raise the poor out of poverty; our opponents do not. Therefore, we are closer to Catholic social teaching than they are.
What is missing is the recognition that such a prudential policy is not an exact translation of the moral principle, but an application of that principle combined with other principles, some from fields other than morality, to yield a prudential judgment on the best way to embody the principle in our lives, public policies, and priorities.

I suppose, then, if you want to evaluate a party against Catholic social teaching, you need to do the following:
  1. Construct a list of the key "themes at the heart of our Catholic social tradition."
  2. Determine whether and how the party addresses each theme.
  3. Determine how far the party's stated or implied moral principles guiding how the theme is addressed match those of the Church.
  4. Compare the importance the party assigns to the theme to the importance assigned by the Church.
At this point, you should have a good sense of how well the party aligns itself with Catholic principles. Notice this can be done without evaluating the party's specific policies, except insofar as they embody the principles. Whether a particular policy has a chance of working is a separate question from whether it is an expression of a preferential option for the poor.

Too often, I've seen the inference made that, because a particular policy is judged by the inferrer to be ineffective, the policy itself is evidence the party doesn't really accept the moral principle on which the policy is based, when the real disagreement is over other, perhaps economic or political, principles.

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Dominicans. Again.


While other groups made valiant attempts at banners, all paled in comparison to the noble beauty of the standard carried aloft by the Dominican brethren.


There are more pictures of Washington's Dominican House of Studies' student brothers' participation in the March for Life at their website.

Some of the captions are a bit goofy, given the enormity of the matter, but the brothers are, on the whole, young, and a sense of joy in being about our Father's business is always appropriate.

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Putting the "Fun" back in fundamental theology

Mr. Riddle of Flos Carmeli writes, of A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist:
And I will note that while Tom of Disputations is reading this book, it is not nearly so daunting a prospect as that fact would suggest. I, too, am reading it, though I'll grant you probably much more slowly, and understanding it well. Vonier is a fairly lively writer with a good sense of rhythm and some excellent examples and metaphors. So don't let the title deceive you--this is a most excellent book for the average Catholic who is seeking to understand the faith.
I agree with him about the quality and accessibility of the book, but I am brought up short by the idea that the fact I am reading a book makes it a daunting prospect. I am also, at this time, making my way through The New Adventures of Dick and Jane (pub. c. 1960)....
"Oh, Jane," said Dick. "A sacrament is a gift.
A sacrament is a wonderful gift.
It is a gift from God."

"A sacrament is a sign," said Jane. "It is an outward sign.
A sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace."

"It is efficacious, too," said Sally. "A sacrament is efficacious.
It is Christ Himself Who acts in a sacrament.
This is why it is efficacious."

"Bow wow," said Spot.

"Oh, Spot," said Sally. "You cannont have a sacrament.
Dogs cannot have sacraments.
Sacraments are for the sanctification of men."
Anybody got the name of a Catholic book editor with an opening in his publishing schedule?

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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Speaking of the Shrine

People within striking distance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception might want to keep September 24 and 25 open. That's when the Shrine hosts a Eucharistic Congress, "Heaven Unites With Earth," sponsored by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Speakers include:
Francis Cardinal Arinze - Prefect, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
James Francis Cardinal Stafford - Grand Penitenziere -This is the office that conceded the Indulgence during the "Marian Year"
Bishop Daniel DiNardo, named Coadjutor, Galveston - Houston Diocese
Reflections by:
Justin Cardinal Rigali - Episcopal Liaison to the CMSWR
Bishop William E. Lori - Bridgeport - Diocesan Pilgrimage
Father Peter Girard, OP
Ann Van Thuan (Sister of the late Cardinal Van Thuan)
Sister Nirmila.M.C.- From Calcutta, India, Sister Nirmila, M.C. the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity
Attending the closing Mass of a Eucharistic Congress is good for a plenary indulgence, and if you were to do that after praying the Rosary at the Shrine, why, you'd be so remitted of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, you'd practically glow!

(Note to non-Catholic readers: No, you wouldn't. But it couldn't hurt to try it.)

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Cut-rate pilgrims

Mark Windsor is arranging a pilgrimage to Lourdes and other French shrines next September, hosted by Mark Shea and Fr. Rob Johansen. I'm not sure what all is involved in hosting a pilgrimage, but being a non-host involves a substantial investment in capital and time.

Not everyone has the deep pockets and wide open schedules of a freelance writer or a parochial vicar, though, so we won't all be able to go to Lourdes.

I'm thinking that those of us left behind might feel better if we had our own pilgrimage, quick and on the cheap. Maybe something like a St. Blog's Pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Why the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception? Because it's a twenty-minute drive from my house and it has plenty of free parking.

But also because next December is the 150th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and in anticipation of that event Cardinal McCarrick has obtained a grant for a plenary indulgence for all pilgrims who visit the Basilica:
The Apostolic Penitentiary, by the command of the Supreme Pontiff, gladly grants that a Plenary Indulgence, provided that disposition toward any sin is excluded and under the customary conditions (sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Supreme Pontiff), is to be attained by the Christian faithful in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from December 8, 2003 to December 8, 2004, whenever they will travel there for a pious pilgrimage or in a crowd and they devoutly attend any sacred function or at least recite in common the Lord's Prayer and the Symbol of Faith and even just once, on a day freely chosen by each member of the faithful.
And also because there are enough NoVa/DC/MD folks around these blogs that I suspect we could get at least half a dozen people together for Mass and lunch.

Just to pick a date, we could say May 15, a Saturday. But I'm pretty flexible.

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Catholics for Lycanthropy

I figured out why I have such a visceral dislike of "Catholics for [Insert Kill The Babies Democrat]" organizations. It's not the weakness of their arguments, as I used to think, but the wrongness.

Pro-life Catholics who think Catholics, as Catholics, should support a Kill The Babies Democrat offer arguments along these lines: "My candidate is at or nearer than everyone else to the Church's position on almost every social issue. Yes, the obvious exception is legalized abortion, which regrettably he favors, and we must continue to work to change his mind on this most critical issue, about which the president can do little in any event. Nevertheless, summing over the whole of his platform, it is clear that his presidency would be more 'pro-life' in all its aspects than that of any other candidate."

An argument like this is susceptible to attack on many fronts, and I've been sketching out some attacks to myself for a while. Now, though, I realize that, before worrying about the various weaknesses of the above argument, we should confront its fundamental falsehood.

The Democratic presidential candidates do not merely hold the wrong position on the grave matter of abortion. It's not, as their pro-life Catholic supporters want to believe, simply a matter of a red X in a table of Candidates' Positions vs. Catholic Teaching.

John Kerry makes a positive fetish out of legal abortion.

Howard Dean makes a positive fetish out of legal abortion.

I will not knowing vote for anyone, for any office, who makes a positive fetish out of legal abortion.

This is what is wrong with the "Catholics for [Insert Kill The Babies Democrat]" argument: The candidates don't support legal abortion. They love it. They revel in it. They positively glory in it.

A pro-life Catholic who offers an argument like the above is like a person who says, "Sure, John is a werewolf. But that's only three nights a month. When he's not out on the moors ripping out throats, he's a dedicated surgeon giving sick children hope. We should do what we can to keep him caged up when the moon is full, but on the whole he's the finest man in the village," but doesn't seem to notice that, on nights when John isn't a bloodthirsty wolf, he's in the pub bragging about how many throats he's ripped out and how sleek and strong and merciless he is under the light of the full moon.

So sure, we can point out that fatuity of saying things like, "Other than abortion, he's pro-life." We can question the truth of the claims of fidelity (or infidelity) to Catholic teaching. We can quote the bishops on the importance of the right to life of infants in the womb relative to other issues. We can distinguish between moral principles and prudential policies. We can point out the effects a president can have on the state of the question of legal abortion, which do not touch the yet-remote hope of overturning Roe and Doe.

But first, I think we should point out to the pro-life Catholic supporters of Kill The Babies Democrats that their position ignores what we've long known about the candidates: they don't simply have one monstrous policy, they absolutely worship it.

[Link from Deo Omnis Gloria, via My Domestic Church.]

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Lord, make me a humble idiot

Abstracting from the political and social context in which it was made, let me point out this argument of Kathy Shaidle:
...you are, what? 20? 21? Therefore you are an idiot.
That a 22-year-old philosophy major might fail to recognize this as an argument -- and, for that matter, as a valid and sound argument, more or less -- shouldn't be too surprising. For one thing, it's missing the major premise, if I've got my terms right, which is obviously, "All 20- and 21-year-olds are idiots." For another thing, all 20- and 21-year-olds are idiots, which puts all 22-year-olds in the neighborhood of idiocy, and it's very common for an idiot to be offended when he's told he's being idiotic.

That all 20-22 year olds are idiots is a practical truth apparent to most people who are no longer 22 years old. There's no more shame in this than in the fact that toddlers aren't good jugglers. It's simply the nature of us time-bound creatures to start out as idiots, and these days a college education only exacerbates it.

The real question, then, isn't whether we were, are, or will be idiots at 22, but, When did we or will we stop being idiots? As the Ven. John Henry Newman observed, the majority of boys remain boys all their lives. Are we, or will we be, in the minority?

I use "idiot" to mean "someone who talks about something he doesn't understand, without realizing he doesn't understand it." To me, then, idiocy is topic-related. I am an economics idiot, for example, but only when I talk about economics and forget I don't understand it.

Ceasing to be an idiot is a two-step process:
  1. Realize what you don't understand.
  2. Don't talk about what you don't understand as though you understand it.
Now, take a look at St. Thomas's rules for study posted below. Do you see how one side-effect of following his prescription is that you will cease to be an idiot?

Note also the fundamental need for humility. If you are not humble, how can you realize what you don't understand? How can you avoid spending time on things beyond your grasp, or wishing to jump immediately from the streams to the sea?

From all accounts, St. Thomas himself practiced heroic humility. This is remarkable, not so much because he was such a gifted man -- denying one's gifts is a false form of humility -- but because humility, as he puts it, is a virtue "to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately," and he spent his whole life tending to know Who or What God is.

But this may just show St. Thomas living out his own doctrine. For him, human nature perfected by grace tends toward the highest thing: the Beatific Vision of God. And so, if we are prepared to begin by swimming the streams, there is nothing too high for us to reach.

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How to study

St. Thomas has a reputation for thinking deeply about... let's say, matters the immediate relevance of which is not everywhere and always acknowledged.

For my part, I'm inclined to believe the stories showing him as a person driven by "nonisity," a word I made up meaning "the state of being satisfied with nothing less, and nothing other, than God." If so, then everything he wrote served at least an ancillary role in drawing him close to God.

If I were fanciful, I might even suggest the way to understand his famous words, "All I've written is like straw," is that his writing was the tinder through which the flame of Love roared to life in his soul.

All this isn't to say everything St. Thomas wrote will draw us, who still find his words more valuable than straw, close to God. I'm not convinced, for example, that every paper written about the precise meaning of an obscure passage in the Summa is written in St. Thomas's spirit of concern with what is true rather than with what other people say.

There is a lesser known work of St. Thomas, a reply to a fellow Dominican who'd written him asking how best to study, which gives a characteristically brief rule for following in St. Thomas's nonisitic footsteps. (And yes, one of St. Thomas's characteristics is brevity, in terms of words per concept.)

St. Thomas begins his letter to the young Brother John with this warning:
Do not wish to jump immediately from the streams to the sea, because one has to go through easier things to the more difficult.
Then comes the following list of instructions:
  • Be slow to speak, and slow to go to the conversation room.
  • Embrace purity of conscience.
  • Do not give up spending time in prayer.
  • Love spending much time in your cell, if you want to be led into the wine cellar.
  • Show yourself amiable to all.
  • Do not query at all what others are doing.
  • Do not be very familiar with anyone, because familiarity breeds contempt, and provides matter for distracting you from study.
  • Do not get involved at all in the discussions and affairs of lay people.
  • Avoid conversations about all, any, and every matter.
  • Do not fail to imitate the example of good and holy men.
  • Do not consider who the person is you are listening to, but whatever good he says commit to memory.
  • Whatever you are doing and hearing try to understand. Resolve doubts, and put whatever you can in the storeroom of your mind, like someone wanting to fill a container.
  • Do not spend time on things beyond your grasp.
Some of these I'm better at than others. I'm not very good, for example, at avoiding the discussions and affairs of lay people, but then, the original Latin phrase was de factis et verbis saecularium, so for my purposes as a Lay Dominican I might take it to mean "of the world."

No one who reads or writes a blog can claim to avoid conversations about "all, any, and every matter," but here the word St. Thomas used was discursum, which can be translated as "idle conversation," and it's hard to make a case in favor of idle conversation as such.

Overall, this letter reads like it came from the hand of a faithful son of St. Dominic, of whom it was said he spoke only of God or with God -- and, if I may suggest, from the hand of a close spiritual kinsman to St. John of the Cross, and probably every other great spiritual director.

But how many people would have guessed St. Thomas as the author of the line, "Love being in your cell, if you want to be introduced to the wine cellar"? And no, it's not what you think; the "wine cellar," the cellam vinariam, is a Scriptural reference, to Song of Songs 2:4:
"He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me." Douay Rheims

"He brings me into the banquet hall and his emblem over me is love."NAB
The NAB's note states, "The banquet hall: the sweet things of the table, the embrace of the bride and bridegroom, express the delicacy of their affection and the intimacy of their love."

Over and over and over, in his books and his letters and his life, St. Thomas teaches us that the purpose of study, of the ascetic life, of everything we should do, is loving God. "Nothing but Thee, Lord."

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A reminder on the vigil

Don't forget to stop by the store today to pick up your ox tails.

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It's Gerard

The first name of the Catholic Blog for Lovers and Some Catholic Blogs guy is Gerard.

Not Gerald. Gerard.

Sure, it's despicable the way he's always going off on cruises while I'm driving through freezing rain, but that's no reason to call him Gerald. His name is Gerard.

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Beyond parody

Yesterday, I thought of creating a "Catholics for Moloch" parody webpage. You know, "Other than roasting infants alive, Moloch's positions are all but direct citations of the Catechism."

This morning, though, I decided the "Catholics for [insert KILL THE BABIES Democratic candidate here]" sites are beyond parody. "And once he's elected, we can work to change his mind about abortion" is simply too, too lame to even joke about. (Plus, the "Pretend Howard Dean is God" post is funnier than anything I could write.)

Then I saw this, on the front page of The Washington Post:
In New Hampshire, A Testy Primary Eve

On the threshold of the nation's first primary, the Democratic presidential candidates raced across the frigid New Hampshire landscape Monday, offering closing arguments to large and attentive crowds and undermining their rivals with barbed exchanges on issues from abortion rights to the Iraq war.
Abortion rights?, I thought to myself. Somebody's distinguishing himself from the pack on abortion rights?

Alas, no:
Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), who is hoping to match his come-from-behind victory last week in the Iowa caucuses with a stay-on-top victory Tuesday, ignited one of several closing-hour skirmishes Monday morning with his assertion that he is "the only candidate running for president who has not played games, fudged around" on the issue of abortion rights.

"I laughed when I heard that," scoffed former Vermont governor Howard Dean. In a television interview, Dean said Kerry has equivocated and "couldn't give a straight answer" on the issue of parental notification when minors seek abortions.
So there you have it. The day before the New Hampshire primary, Kerry and Dean are shoving each other for the prize of Most Absolutely Unfudgedly Devoted to the One True Good of Abortion Above and Before All Else.

But yeah, other than that, it's like they're channelling St. Gregory the Great.

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Monday, January 26, 2004

An Open Letter to J.—B.—, A Young Gentleman with Desires

I am reminded that I wanted to post Fr. Vincent McNabb's, O.P., list of "Fifteen Things a Distributist May Do."

I am not a distributist myself, although I am sympathetic to its ideals. A major knock against distributism, though, is that it is all ideals with no pragmatics, so it's instructive to see what one of the major thinkers behind distributism recommended a distributist do:
  1. If you have a mantelpiece, remove everything from it except perhaps the clock. If you are fortunate enough to have no mantelpiece, remove from the walls of your home all pictures and such like, except a crucific. This will teach you the Poverty of Thrift. It may be called an empiric approach to Economics.
  2. Clean out your own room daily. Clean it if possible on your knees. This will teach you the Poverty of Work....
  3. For forty days or more—say, during Lent—do not smoke (and neither grouse about it nor boast about it)....
  4. Buy some hand-woven cloth. Wear it. Buy some more. Wear that too... Your home-spun will instruct you better than the Declaration of Independence will instruct you on the dignity and rights of man.
  5. Buy boots you can walk in. Walk in them... you will discover the human foot. On discovering it, your joy will be as great as if you had invented it.
  6. Find another young Distributist... with brains and feet. Invite him to use his feet by tramping with you across any English county... Invite him to use his brains by standing on his feet, but not on his dignity, in market-places, telling the village-folk what is the matter with Staffordshire. This will lead him to tell them what is the matter with himself....
  7. [S]pend your summer holiday as a farm-hand. You will not be worth your keep; but it will be worth your while. If Babylondon has not befogged your intellectus agens—your active intellect, in the noble phrase of Scholasticism, you will gradually see the Poverty of Work. This is the other empiric approach to Economics.
  8. If through the machinations of Beelzebub or his fellow-devil Mammon, your house is in suburbia, plant your garden not with things lovely to see like roses, or sweet to smell like lavender; but good to eat like potatoes or French beans...
  9. ... For twelve months, if possible, or at least for twelve days, do not use anything ‘canned’, neither canned meat nor canned music....
  10. I will now appeal to the artist that is within every one of us. Art, as you know, is the right way of making a good thing... make something—a cup of tea, a boiled egg, a hatpeg (from a fallen branch), a chair!...
  11. Talk your young architect friend into spending two weeks of his holiday making an abode (formerly called a house).... Give him a wood axe, a hatchet, and adze, and a few tools. Tell him from me that if in two weeks and for less that 100 pounds you and he cannot make an abode more spacious and sanitary than ninety per cent of the dwellings in the Borough of Westminster or St. Pancras, you should be certified.
  12. Set down for the information and inspiration of young Distributists one hundred answers to the usually despairing question: "How can I get out of London?" Begin with the simplest answer: "Walk out."...
  13. ... If you make up your mind to marry, do not marry merely a good wife: marry a good mother to your children. A wife that is a good mother to your children is the Angel of the House; the other sort is the very devil.
  14. Before asking her hand and her heart, tell her how to test you. Advise her to ask herself not whether you would make her a good husband, but whether you would make a good father to her and your children....
  15. If you do not feel called to the state of marriage vows, there is another state of vows—where mysticism and asceticism prove themselves the redemption of Economics.
Read the whole thing if you want a better idea of McNabb's ideas.

So what are McNabb's ideas? The Poverty of Thrift, the Poverty of Work, an active and healthy body. (Following in the footsteps of St. Albert, now called "the Great" but called "Boots" by his flock in Regensburg, Fr. McNabb walked everywhere, to the point where an atheist once begged him to accept cab fare home, for decency's sake.) Make what you can yourself -- and, by the way, you can make a lot more yourself than other people want you to think. The importance of the family, the importance of the religious life.

Put this way, distributism sounds like a perfectly sound rule of life for a Christian interested in what is sometimes called an "authentic life." But it still doesn't sound like a prescriptive economic system....

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