instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, November 30, 2003


Regarding the idea of household blessings, the question is asked, "Are there things that the laity can bless?"

My answer: Have you ever said, "God bless you," when someone sneezed? Have you ever prayed, "Bless us, o Lord, and these, Thy gifts...." when there was no priest present? Have you ever heard the words, "Bless the Lord at all times," or found yourself saying, "Blessed be God forever"?

You'll notice the first two examples aren't so much of a layman blessing someone or something as of a layman asking God to bless someone or something. It's only when it is God Who is being blessed that we do the blessing directly.

This suggests there are two meanings of "to bless": a "downward" act, in which God blesses His creatures; and an "upward" act, in which creatures bless their God.

Without taking anything away from the special nature of priestly blessings, anyone can ask God to bless His creatures. In fact, everyone should.


Friday, November 28, 2003


Despite the doubtful taste of the USCCB publishing department recommending USCCB publishing items as Christmas gifts, I warmly second the recommendation of buying Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Or an equivalent collection of prayers for the home for all occasions and seasons.


Thursday, November 27, 2003

What I do to stay out of the cook's way

On this day, I am envious of the staff of the USCCB, who have their own publishing department, so they can recommend Christmas gifts that just happen to make money for the USCCB.

I am thankful, though, for PhotoMAXPro and, through whose good offices I can offer my own humble recommendations.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

That Name above all names

Ever New is posting a novena to the Holy Name of Jesus, written by St. Alphonsus de Liguori. Why now? Because she "thought it would be a good way to transition into Advent."

Coincidentally, perhaps, day 8 of the novena falls on December 1, the memorial of Bl. John of Vercelli, OP, who as Master General of the Order of Preachers received a letter from Pope Gregory X in 1274, containing this request:
Recently during the Council held at Lyons, we judged it proper to urge the faithful to demonstrate more reverence for that Name above all names, the only Name in which we claim salvation, the Name of Jesus Christ Who has redeemed us from the bondage of sin.... Wherefore, with a view of obeying that apostolic precept, 'In the Name of Jesus let every knee be bent,' We wish that at the pronouncing of that Name, every one should bow his head as a sign that interiorly he bends the knee of his heart. Therefore, We by Our Apostolic authority enjoin upon you and the members of your Order to use solid reason when preaching to the people, that thus they may be led to comply with Our desires.
Bl. John took this request and ran with it, despite a crippled leg, and soon it became customary for Dominican priories to have an altar dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, where Mass would be said for the local Holy Name Society.

The Holy Name Society, the most prominent lay Catholic organization in the U.S. eighty years ago, did not weather the second half of the last century well, but devotion to the Holy Name has probably fallen off even more sharply.

And yet, as you know, we are still called upon to bow our heads at the Holy Name during Mass:
A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated. [GIRM 275.a]
Blessed John of Vercelli, pray for us!


I'll take my three acres, but you can have my cow

T.S. O'Rama writes what I said to myself recently:
What I need to study is the "small is beautiful" ideas of Belloc and more about distributism.
I've read the occasional essay and critique of distributism over the past several years, and after thinking about it while weaving through traffic for a couple of days last week, I've come up with the following understanding, which almost no distributist would recognize as what he means by distributism.

There are three levels of distributism:
  1. The roots. The fundamental idea of distributism is, in the words of Rerum novarum, "every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own."
  2. The trunk. The corollary of the fundamental idea (and following on the Rerum novarum tradition) is that a state should govern such that everyone can both earn and keep property, in particular farmland.
  3. The fruit. "The nuts" might be a better metaphor, since the answers distributists give to, "Now that you've got these principles, what are you going to do with them?" tend to be... well, vague or impractical or impossible or absurd. I get the sense a lot of distributists never get around to even asking the question.
In short, distributism strikes me as a set of moral principles to be applied to economic policymaking, rather than as a complete economic system in itself.

It strikes me this way because those who do try to express a complete economic system based on distributist principles express what can be called, in two words that are more accurate than any fifty would be, "the Shire." Which is all well and good for hobbits, but we aren't all hobbits, are we?

A few days' thought leaves me believing distributist principles can be separated from the romanticism many distributists have for family farms. (As an example, Fr. Vincent McNabb, OP, who gave considerable theological heft to the early distributist writings, believed farming "was an institution so indispensable and divine that from it [Jesus] took no workers, but only the wisdom of the parables.")

The problem is, once the Shire is no longer the end of your economic policy, the need for a big word like "distributism" -- or, even worse, "distributivism" -- becomes unclear.

Chesterton wrote, "The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital."

So what do distributists want to do about it? If they want to give capital to most people, they have to take it from some people, which sounds more like "redistributism" to me. If they want to offer capital to most people -- in other words, to make it possible for them to acquire capital through work -- then they're faced with two problems.

The first is that, in the U.S. at least, it is possible for most people to aquire capital through work. Maybe not for all people, maybe not for enough people, but for most people. So it's not a matter of discarding a failed economic system, but of improving the one we have (and, at the same time, acknowledging its successes). Chesterton might still be unsatisfied, but the current system in the U.S. is already much improved from the Edwardian and Georgian English system he was critiquing.

The second problem with offering people capital is that a lot of people would rather have the cash. We aren't all hobbits, are we?

Now, those of us who are hobbits are largely free to construct our own mini-Shires, and we might all look for ways to help all hobbits throughout the world live as hobbits to the extent possible. But there just doesn't seem to be a wish, much less a need, to impose a policy of Shirification on whole countries.

In sum, my impression is that much of what is good in distributism has been adopted by our current economic system -- imperfectly, to be sure, but ideals are rarely perfectly realized -- and that much of what is left in distributism is not universally good.


A quotable square

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's "The Public Square" column in the November 2003 First Things has a lot of quotable bits, including:
"There may be a shortage of priests, but there is no shortage of priests who would like to be bishops." - RJN

"Dialogue in love is accompanied by dialogue in truth, for love without truth is empty, dishonest, and ultimately deceitful." - Walter Cardinal Kasper

"I believe, all things considered, morally and politically, Pius XII acted appropriately and made the right decisions." - Sir Martin Gilbert (not really a great quotation, but an important one)

"Courage, I would propose, characterizes rather all our priests...who live their celibate chastity with fidelity and joy; courage characterizes our married couples who generously and obediently live out their vows; courage is found in our young people and unmarried adults who follow the teaching of Jesus, the Bible, and the Church on the beautiful virtue of chastity; courage is found in those writers—priests, religious, lay, Catholic and non-Catholic—who defend such a countercultural virtue as celibacy in a world that feels one cannot be happy or whole without sexual gratification." -- Archbishop Timothy Dolan

"Let our ideas be clear; let us present them in all their rigor. This is a condition of honesty. Let us serve them with all our might. This is the exercise of our courage. But just as we leave a margin on our writing paper for revisions, for corrections, for things not yet found, for the truth for which we can still only hope, let us leave around our ideas the margin of fraternity." -- Yves Cardinal Congar

"This is the lesson that all of us, Jews and non-Jews, may learn from recent history: that religion is, by and large, a force for good, and that it does not become less good when it emerges from the home and temple and assumes its rightful place in society." - Gertrude Himmelfarb
This last, in particular, would likely leave many people blinking in stunned confusion at so complete a rejection of received cultural wisdom.


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Race to the catacombs

With many American Catholics, on behalf of all Catholics, unhelpfully ceding a place in the public square for Catholicism, there is a tendency for some to envision the day, coming soon, when (what I'll call) "spiritually meritorious" persecution of Catholics (in particular, and Christians in general) will be the law of the land.

Some Catholics even look forward to the day. They seem to be racing to arrive in the catacombs well before the culture decides the time is ripe to drive them there.

I'm thinking this isn't a good attitude.

If you're running away, you're not fighting (if we may use martial imagery). Even if the battle is lost, a full-out flight will leave many who aren't as fast as you -- perhaps they didn't notice the tide turning against them, perhaps they're too young to flee -- in the hands of the enemy.

I think there's a tendency to romanticize the persecutions of the Early Church.
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be killed was very heaven!
Some of that may be due to a sense that the only way we're going to be canonized is through martyrdom, but some may be due to a false sense of our own ability to withstand persecution.

The problem is, our own ability to withstand persecution does not exist in this cosmos. Any such ability we might have is an undeserved gift from God. We run a very great risk of the sin of presumption if we're sure we'd come through persecution with a crown of glory.

Then too, we can commit other sins than apostasy during a persecution. Vainglory and hatred, for example.

As Mark Shea points out, Jesus taught us to pray to the Father that we be spared the final test. I don't think we do that simply to avoid being disaccomodated.


A step before secularization

Father Raymond J. de Souza writes, of John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign statement, "I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him on the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office":
This was not just separation of Church and state -- which prohibits official establishment of religion by the government. JFK went much further, saying that his religious faith was a "private affair," to be thought of more as a pastime rather than a way of looking at the whole of reality. The wall of separation between Church and state would not be enough; JFK promised to build a wall within himself....

JFK's privatization of religious faith ran counter to the tenor of the times. It would, in due course, be a decisive factor in changing the times. For in winning the 1960 election, JFK demonstrated that one could both profess a religious creed and ignore it for political purposes at the same time.
It's not that Kennedy was the first Catholic who didn't want what he said inside a church to be held against him outside. Nor is that a condition found only among politicians.

But such lack of integrity is supposed to be a moral imperfection (albeit one seen as forced upon oneself by the circumstances of life). It shouldn't be celebrated as a presidential virtue.

Kennedy's personal vice has an unfortunate lasting and culture-wide impace. Fr. de Sousa writes, "Every time a politician says that he is 'personally opposed' to something, but votes for it anyway, it is JFK talking." That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. John Kerry, for example, explicitly invokes Kennedy to defend his own lack of integrity:
To a larger extent than Catholics elsewhere, [American Catholics] have supported and relied upon the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state to guarantee our right to worship and our liberty of conscience. That tradition, strongly advanced by John F. Kennedy in his quest to become our first Catholic president, helped make religious affiliation a nonissue in American politics. It should stay that way.
Many other American Catholics also endorse the Kennedy doctrine, which in effect says Catholic doctrine should play no role in a politician's judgment. (Yes, I know Kerry for one says it means something else, but of the "three particular implications" he says being Roman Catholic has for his "own point of view as a candidate for presidency," the first two are generic non-relativistic humanism and the third is quoted above.)

The effect of this endorsement by many Catholics is unsubtle pressure on all Catholics to accept it. (It goes even further. Not only should a Catholic politician agree that Catholic doctrine plays no role in his judgment, but Catholic politicians whose judgment agrees with Catholic doctrine are politically anathematized.)

Many Catholics who reject the Kennedy doctrine see the neutering of one's judgment by removing all that is uniquely Catholic as a great victory for secularists. It is, certainly, but I think there's something more fundamental at work here. Kennedy declared his doctrine, not at a meeting of secularists, but at a meeting of Baptist ministers.

A man "whose religious views are his own private affair" is not a Catholic in any meaningful sense. By cutting his faith off from community, he necessarily becomes a non-credal Protestant, since Catholicism is by definition a shared and public affair.

The risk to Catholicism in the U.S. is that, in fighting against secularism, it can make concessions to non-Catholic Christianity -- the traditional Protestantism of the country -- that makes impossible a genuinely Catholic character.


Monday, November 24, 2003

An Orthodox Rosary

Sean Roberts posts on the Russian Rosary, which comes in older and a newer forms.

St. Seraphim (Zvezdinsky), the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Dimitrov killed in 1937 by the Soviets, composed a "Rule of the Mother of God" that is extremely similar to the Dominican Rosary.

The differences in the mysteries are noteworthy. The fifteen mysteries of St. Seraphim's Rule include the following: the Nativity of the Mother of God; the Presentation of the Mother of God; the Flight into Egypt; and the Miracle at Cana. The four mysteries of the (15-decade) Dominican Rosary that aren't present are the first four sorrowful mysteries. (The Crucificion is present in both, but the Russian decade is explicitly "in honour of [Jesus'] Mother's standing at the foot of [His] Cross.")

Overall, then, the Orthodox prayer emphasizes Mary's role in salvation, and the Catholic prayer emphasizes Jesus' passion. Typical choices, I think.

The "Orthodox Hail Mary," used in this Rule, is this prayer:
Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls.



A time to sear

In an essay in this month's First Things, Sr. Mary Catherine, O.P., writes:
It is commonly thought that a call to the monastic life requires that one be especially holy, already a "saint." In fact, the truth is just the opposite. One of the first searing, even excruciating truths I learned in the monastery is how deeply sinful I am.
Which makes me wonder, how do we in the world learn how deeply sinful we are? More to the point, how do we learn this as a searing, even excruciating, truth?

Because, you see, I know I am deeply sinful. But so what? Nobody makes me feel bad about it, and God is merciful.

It's an odd fact (or so it seems to me) that not being seared by my sinfulness is fundamentally an act of blasphemy. If my sinfulness -- and it's sinfulness here that counts, I think, rather than the discrete sins circumstances afford me -- isn't really all that big of a deal, then neither is God's mercy toward me. If His mercy isn't that big of a deal, then God Himself isn't that big of a deal, at least as lawgiver and judge, and Christ Crucified is something of a show-off.

Maybe that nightly examination of conscience is worth losing sleep over after all.

(Sr. Mary Catherine, by the way, would seem to be the author of Amata Means Beloved, a novel about cloistered Dominican nuns which can be browsed or bough here.)


A new chapter

With the new liturgical year fast coming upon us, here are my resolutions for improved blog production and consumption:
  1. Less reactive blogging. No one needs me to point out every ill-informed opinion I encounter on the Web. Or even in my comment boxes.
  2. More conversations. Or more "cooperative blogging." This isn't a schoolroom or a debating society.
  3. More prayer and fasting. Before, during, and after.
  4. Less roughage. There are a number of blogs I only visit to get riled up at. That's just silly.
  5. More Reginald the Tiger Quoll. I need to play to this blog's strengths.
  6. Fewer words.
  7. More graphics.

Advent here we come!


A chapter of faultlessness

Mark of Minute Particulars performs an act of great spiritual mercy by pointing out the following:
Your search - "I was wrong"
- did not match any documents.
...The only succor I took from this little exercise was that "I was wrong" doesn't seem to appear over on Disputations....
The question is, what lesson does one draw from this?


Friday, November 21, 2003

A touch of exclusivity

I had read somewhere some time ago that "werewolf" came from the Old English "wer," man, and "wulf," wolf.

What I didn't know was the whole "man"/"werman"/"wyfman"/"wife"/"woman" etymology tree. If I'm following everything correctly, what it means is that the term "werewolf" is properly applied to male lycanthropes exclusively. (A female lycanthrope would be a "wifewolf," although I suppose you'd be free to spell it differently.)

If that's true, then the modern word "wolfman" should probably be used only in an exclusive sense as well. Hence, "George is a wolfman," "Alice is a wolfwoman," "George and Alice are wolfhumans."

So no one can call me an extremist on language!


Moral claims on language

To refer to "inclusive language" as an etiquette is to suggest the adoption of its grammar is a matter of manners.

Such an adoption is fine. As a matter of manners, there are lots of perfectly good words I try not to use in many circumstances. And although grammar is necessary for reliable communication, the particular rules of a grammar are more or less arbitrary, and appeal to one as much as a matter of taste as of reason. (Thus, pace the Kairos Guy, "they" is in fact a third person singular pronoun under a grammar as valid and comprehensible as Fowler's.)

This will not suffice, however, for many "inclusive language" advocates, who want to both impose it on others and shame those who do not use it -- those who are seen, as illustrated again and again in the comments below, as "refusing" or "resisting" it for political reasons, or perhaps sheer cussedness.

For such advocates, there is something morally wrong with using "man" or "he" in an unmarked sense. It "has conditioned us to think of being fully human as being more male than female," to quote jcecil3, and so serves to reinforce the English-speaking world's systemic sexism.

This proposition is a tough sell for a couple of reasons. First, correlation does not imply causation. It is a fact that in English "man" is used to refer to our species in certain biological, anthropological, philosophical, and theological contexts; it is a fact that some people think or have thought of being fully human as being more male than female. How, though, can it be shown the former is a cause of or catalyst for the latter? This doesn't seem to be a hypothesis that could have much in the way of direct objective evidence.

The subjective evidence for it -- the claims of feminists and others that they feel the language conditions the thought -- runs immediately into significant counter-evidence. What can be done about the many people who deny the language conditions the thought? Who insist they are not being sexist when they say, "God became man"?

The only thing that can be done, with more or less delicacy, is to claim the people who insist they aren't sexist are wrong.

The brute force way of doing this is to say, "You may not think you think men are more human than women, but you really do."

The brute force way is not well-received.

A subtler way is this: "It's not so much that you are sexist, but your actions help perpetuate the structures of sexist sin that pervade our society." This brings us back to the still-unsolved problem of direct objective evidence, but it also attacks the deniability of the alleged sexist. I may know I don't think men are more human than women, but how do I know there's no rube who hears me say, "God became man," and thinks, "Aha! So men are more human than women!"?

But what a hypothetical rube might think cannot be very high on my list of unintended effects to ponder before I act. It cannot be, if I am not to be trapped in moral paralysis.


Term limits

"I don't care who does the distinguishing," said famed Sixteenth Century nominalist Tweedius Magnus, "as long as I get to do the defining."

"Inclusive language" advocates have the advantage that they invented the debate, and so got to invent the terminology in which the debate is framed.

Thus: "Exclusive language" gets to mean "speech that uses certain words in an inclusive sense." "Inclusive language" means "speech that uses those words only in an exclusive sense."

"Exclusive language" refers to inclusive language. "Inclusive language" refers to exclusive language. It's just one of those things.


Humpty Dumpty's rotten deal

Steven Riddle quotes Humpty Dumpty's famous words from Through the Looking Glass:
`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'
Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty is contemptuous and scornful; I hold no brief for his manners.

I do think, though, that there's more to Humpty Dumpty's thesis than is generally granted. After all, how would you finish this sentence: "When I use a word, it means..."

Now, when he uses the word "glory" to mean "a nice knock-down argument," Humpty Dumpty fails to communicate his meaning to Alice. He doesn't mind, since her confusion affords him the chance to be contemptuous, but most of us, most of the time, use words to signify something to another person. We can only succeed in doing this, of course, when the other person knows what we mean by the words we use.

But we don't have to both mean the same thing by the same word. When Jcecil3 uses the word "sexism," he means something like "the systemic oppression of women." When I use it, I mean something like "an act based on inappropriate reference to sex." They are cleary distinct concepts, but as long as we understand each other's meaning, we should be able to avoid "That's sexist!"/"No, it's not!" back-and-forth bickering.

Where I think Humpty Dumpty overplays his position is in the words "neither more nor less." The meaning of many spoken and written words, especially when they don't refer to concrete things, is not precise enough to be "just" one thing, "neither more nor less." This may be one reason why the second step in a discussion after defining terms is distinguishing ideas. If I distinguish "adult" and "child," then whatever definition I might have given for "adult" becomes, not "neither more nor less" than that definition, but "not a child." A particular definition may be vague, but distinctions give clear limits to the vagueness.

What some people try to do, though, is insist, "When you use a word, it means to you just what I choose it to mean." That way lies madness, or at least irritability on the part of the person having meanings forced upon him. Surely, if a word signifies different things to different people, misunderstandings will occur, but a dogged insistence that by your use of a word you can only intend to signify what the word signifies to me is foolish.


Notes from a border town

We give mercy because we were first given mercy.


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Calvinball Manual of Style

Another argument for the "inclusive language" etiquette is that people who don't subscribe to it "are subverting communication into politics."

This sort of argument amounts to declaring that "inclusive language" etiquette is prescriptive English, and resistance is not only futile but poor sportsmanship.

It reminds me of Calvinball, a game wherein any player can at any time invent almost any rule, which trumps all previous rules and which the other players must from then on follow. One difference, though, is that in Calvinball the rule, "And you can't make any new rules," would lose force once the other player said, "Yes I can."

But beyond the somewhat astonishing claim that the rules of English unmarked forms have both changed and been forever frozen -- the linguistic equivalent of the babysitter flag -- is the even more astonishing claim that those who do not subscribe to the "inclusive language" etiquette are the ones subverting communication into politics.

The "inclusive language" movement is explicitly political. In the context of the Church, it is inextricable from the broader movement that sees its goal as taking governmental power away from men and giving it to women. To see someone claim that those who do not subscribe to this movement are the ones politicizing communication brings to mind the story of the man who told the psychiatrist, "I've got a sexual fixation? You're the one with all the dirty Rorschach blots!"


"Well, I'm offended that you're offended!"

It's interesting to read the arguments for "inclusive language" etiquette in the comments below.

Many of them are based on recognizing that "inclusive language" is a matter of manners, not a matter of linguistics. People resist "inclusive language," I'm told, "just to be obstinate." "It might be a question of courtesy."

I think most of us understand that there are people who are offended by certain unmarked forms in English. I think most of us understand that offending another person is not a good intention.

But do we all understand the distinction between a thing being offensive in itself and a thing being a cause of a person being offended?

If the use of certain unmarked forms in English is not offensive in itself -- and I've heard no sound argument that it is -- then its use is a prudential matter, with any possible offense taken an unintended effect that may well be morally acceptable.

In short, manners are a social virtue that may well be trumped by moral or theological virtues. The argument from courtesy may hold some weight for direct communication, but not for such things as liturgical and Scriptural translations.


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

When you've heard one Dominican's opinion,

you've heard one Dominican's opinion.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sexing up language

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

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

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

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

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

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


More health care issues

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

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

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

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

Incidentally, my bishop reaches a different conclusion than Commonweal.

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


Monday, November 17, 2003

No help from the USCCB

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


Humor cuts both ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A heads up to journalists

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 14, 2003

Subcontracting grass roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your support and help!

Misty McLaughlin
Austin, Texas

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

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

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

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

But facts are for blogweenies.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quis carpodiet ipsos carpodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If Zogby ran a railroad,

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

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

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

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

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


[Still not yet] At the movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If, that is, our intent is to criticize.


Thursday, November 13, 2003

Devotedly yours

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

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

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


Bishops Preach Catholic Faith; Women, Minorities Hardest Hit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(NYT link via A Catholic Blog for Lovers.)


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A spontaneous prayer

God bless T. S. O'Rama!


Purity of motives at the limit

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

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

So what do we do about impure motives?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Postlapsarian purity

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Purity of Motives Fallacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Metablogging: On the medium

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

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


Monday, November 10, 2003

Questioning judgments and judging questions

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

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

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

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

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

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


I'm not saying the Pope reads this blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Vigil of All Saints

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

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


Friday, November 07, 2003

Brother Know-it-all Answers Your Questions

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

A:Have you tried prayer and fasting?

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

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

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


Sometime parishioner makes good

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

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


When rules fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, November 06, 2003

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Of distinctions and hope

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

[Now watch as I drop the honorifics.]

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Explicating the inexplicable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Just in time for Christmas

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

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


St. Martin and the Rats

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

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


Bishops and leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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