instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Just for fun

From Happy Catholic, a list of books recommended by Fr. Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., in his own book, Dante to Dead Man Walking: One Reader's Journey Through the Christian Classics. Underlined books I've read; italicized I intent to read; struck-through I intend not to; and otherwise, otherwise.
  1. The Book of Genesis
  2. The Book of Job
  3. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter
  4. The Gospel According to St. Luke
  5. The Gospel According to St. John
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine: Some day! Maybe.
  7. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri: I should reread this and finish the whole Comedy. Some day!
  8. Butler's Lives of the Saints by Michael Walsh: Not really a cover-to-cover kind of read, is it?
  9. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
  10. The Idea of a University by Ven. John Henry Newman: the sort of thing it's good to have read, if not all that gripping to read
  11. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: I checked this book out of the library when I was working one summer during college. My officemate said, "Why would you want to read that?" I've never been able to answer that question.
  12. The Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln
  13. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  14. The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux: After I read St. Teresa.
  15. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams
  16. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  17. Dubliners by James Joyce: Everybody likes "The Dead." I remember "Araby" more, and I've seen the movie version of "The Dead."
  18. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: Great stuff! Come on, Granada, and serialize it. I'm partway through The Master of Hestviken, which Undset (a Dominican tertiary, though not until after she wrote Kristin Lavransdatter) considered her best work.
  19. Therese by Francois Mauriac
  20. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather: I probably own this, in one of those pretentious editions made to be seen but not read.
  21. Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly
  22. Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer: Life's too short to read everything, and I read a children's biography of him in seventh grade.
  23. The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos: What did I call this? Something like, "Proust for busy Catholics." That's not meant as a compliment.
  24. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
  25. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West
  26. Brideshead Revisisted by Evelyn Waugh: I read this some years after seeing the TV series with Jeremy Irons. I kept waiting for it to be different. It never did.
  27. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alex Paton
  28. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton: I've warmly recommended this several times, but the negative comments at Happy Catholic make me wonder whether it's been too long since I've read it.
  29. Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Maybe, but I'm not going to go looking for it.
  30. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
  31. The Family of Man by Edward Steichen
  32. Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: I started this, having picked up a used copy for a buck. I won't ever recoup my losses.
  33. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.: Excellent, particularly the first part.
  34. Morte D'Urban by J. F. Powers: I've got a copy of a collection of his stories, which I also haven't read yet.
  35. The Other America by Michael Harrington
  36. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  37. The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life by Christopher Dawson: I'm open to reading Dawson. Just haven't yet.
  38. The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor
  39. Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  40. Everything That Rises Must Converge, "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor
  41. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley
  42. Silence by Shusaku Endo: Own it. Started it. Misplaced it.
  43. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez: I just can't think of a reason I'd need or want to read this.
  44. The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell
  45. The Love of Jesus and the Love of Neighbor by Karl Rahner, S.J.
  46. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza: Oh, hell no.
  47. Black Robe by Brian Moore: Saw the movie. My parents saw the movie, too, on my recommendation, though I think all I said was it was very nicely filmed. (Not a good date movie.)
  48. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Helen Prejean: I don't think I'll ever need to read this, and I can't imagine reading it if I didn't need to.
  49. The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd: Excellent treatment of a notoriously difficult figure to peg. Whether Ackroyd pegged him correctly, I guess we'll find out some day.
  50. All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsberg


Happy Andrewmas!

I assume you've already had your morning porridge. If you haven't yet figured out which whisky to toast the Patron Saint of Scotland with tonight, may I recommend Laphroiag 15 Y.O.?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Statics and dynamics

No, really, this isn't another post in the torture debate. I'm simply pointing out a distinction that might, incidentally, be of critical importance to that debate.

The distinction is between a moral taxonomy -- the classification of objective acts according to their morality, and of the moral effects intent and circumstances can have on these classes of objective acts -- and a moral casuistry -- the determination of the moral character of a specific instance of a moral act, including its object, intent, and circumstances.

While casuistry requires some sort of moral taxonomy, it doesn't come free with the taxonomy. And working on the one while you think you're working on the other can lead to big problems. (Of course, I'm not keen on casuistry anyway, but that's another matter.)


Lectio secula

Touching on the idea of a parallel between the interaction of theological musing and consequent contemplation and the interaction of the reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation of lectio divina, Br. Jerome, OSB, writes in a reflection on the Rule of St. Benedict:
This is just my own opinion, but I am inclined to think that the Dominican concept of contemplation comes closest to our own, largely because of their love of study. Study, for the Dominican, is often very similar to lectio in the Benedictine scheme of things. Why? Because the Dominican seeks Truth, and Jesus said: "I am the Truth." A Dominican could be reading virtually anything and still know that every bit of real, objective truth garnered from that reading would be yet another shard, no matter how small, in the infinite mosaic of the face of Christ. That is a mosaic none of us shall ever complete in this life, but oh, how much more familiar He shall seem to us when we meet Him because of it!

Maybe I'm just prejudiced, but I think that a Dominican education, such as I had, is a wonderful preparation for Benedictine life.
And, on the other hand, a Benedictine education seems to have stood St. Thomas in good stead for Dominican life.


Not the end of the line

I am, believe it or not, becoming more aware of the need for theological musing to be treated as a useful good, as a means to a greater end, rather than as an end in itself. It's a bit tricky, since contemplating God is a good end in itself (the end, in fact, but we're not there yet), and theological musing and contemplating God can swirl together, somewhat like the various stages of lectio divina.

So, for example, the theological musing, "The Father's will needn't necessarily have been the Passion," shouldn't be the end of a line of reasoning. The moral isn't that God could work our salvation in just about any old way, like a magician who can, depending on what he feels like doing, produce the missing card from his pocket or a book on the shelf or the envelope he handed to the volunteer at the beginning of the trick.

Instead, we might continue along these lines: The fact that the Father did will the Passion reveals (or at least hints at) a whole chain or set or design of absolutely free choices. The potential alternate universe in which we (though, as Zippy points out, in another universe "we" aren't us, since we're in fact in this universe) are saved by Jesus picking up a pin isn't something to think about for its own sake, but for what it tells us about God's actual designs for this universe (or, along somewhat different lines, about God's omnipotence).

I'd say it isn't that God could have saved you-as-you-actually-are, as you are actually to be saved, by some means other than Christ's free sacrifice. That idea may well be literal nonsense. Rather, it's that God did save you-as-you-actually-are, as you are actually to be saved, by means of Christ's free sacrifice -- and He didn't have to.

That combination of absolute freedom and the actual choice made is meal enough to chew over forever.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Which acceptation applies?

Lee comments on the post below:
"But the Father's will needn't necessarily have been the Passion."

How do we know this? I think we don't really. I've heard it said that God could have willed to save us in any number of ways, but I wonder if that is really true. In other words, it seems at least possible that His nature plus the nature of our perilous situation *required* the Incarnation, Passion and death of His Son- that if He was going to save us at all, it HAD to be done in that way in His view. Do we really know enough of the inner life of God, of how His mind works, to so confidently say that He did not have to do it in this way? I know theologians say that any theandric action offered for our salvation would have been enough. To me that has always seemed to be talking very considerably beyond our knowledge of God. If Divine Revelation is silent on the subject- and I think it is- then we simply do not know and cannot reason our way to such a confident declaration. Or so it seems to me. Of course, I submit to whatever the Church pronounces on the topic, but it hasn't been defined, has it?
I don't know offhand exactly what has been pronounced or defined, with what authority, on this question.

I would say, though, that once you add something like "plus the nature of our perilous situation," you're already beyond that first acceptation (is that a great word or what?) of "necessary" -- viz, "anything which of its nature cannot be otherwise" -- applied to God.

And I think, though what do I know, the "any theandric action offered for our salvation would have been enough" argument can be understood as a direct corollary of Divine omnipotence and transcendence. Creation quite simply cannot impose the necessity of compulsion on the God Who created it.

At the same time, though, it seems to me that any other theandric action would have had different effects; if we had been saved by Jesus picking up a pin, for example, then we most likely wouldn't have crucifixes in our churches. So the Father's willing the Son's Passion was necessary from presupposing the end of our being saved in the particulars of history.

I'd say God has revealed enough about Himself and our relation to Him that we can know He could have saved us through other means. It strike me as plausible that the salvation obtained through other means would not be identical to the salvation obtained through Christ's passion and death, in which case the specific Gospel actually preached can only have been preached by a Son Who had to die.

At the same time, the notion that God's very nature necessitates our salvation according to the specific Gospel actually preached seems contrary to the de fide declaration of God's absolute freedom.


Monday, November 27, 2006

The Pierced King

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus tells Cleopas and his companion:
"Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.
His teaching, of course, caused their hearts to burn within them, though it evidently didn't cause them to record his teaching in any detail. So we're left with the question, "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer?"

St. Thomas begins his answer (which, in a word, is, "Yes") with the observation that "there are several acceptations of the word 'necessary'":
  1. "anything which of its nature cannot be otherwise"; neither Divine nor human nature, of itself, made Jesus' passion necessary.
  2. "the necessity of compulsion", when some outside cause acts upon a thing; nothing can act upon the Divine nature, which is literally impassible, and in His human nature Jesus willingly chose to suffer.
  3. " necessary from presupposing [an] end"; this is the necessity St. Thomas sees, "and this can be accepted in three ways":
    1. on our part, the end being our salvation
    2. on Jesus' part, the end being His glory (here St. Thomas quotes the above verse from Luke)
    3. on God's part, who willed our salvation and Christ's glory through His passion
Now, St. Thomas goes on to argue that "speaking simply and absolutely, it was possible for God to deliver mankind otherwise than by the Passion of Christ." The Passion was necessary because it was the Father's will, but the Father's will needn't necessarily have been the Passion. It's a necessity that has its origin, as all things do, in the Father's will.

But I think we can also speak of the necessity of the Passion presupposing the end of Jesus' disciples following Him (following Jesus being, in turn, the means to the end of our salvation). Which brings me, at long last, to Christ the Pierced King.

That He is our king means we must do His will. But doing His will means suffering, sometimes martyrdom. In His love for His people, Jesus cannot will us to do what He Himself did not will Himself to do; that would be to treat us as merely useful objects for effecting His will, rather than as beloved subjects.

If Christ is to be King, then He must be pierced for those who belong to His kingdom. His passion and His kingship are inseparable. Without the former, He would be merely an unloving despot; without the latter, He would be merely an exemplar of virtue. With both, He is True God from True God.

And He is coming.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

There is no such thing as a free movie

But there are such things as a movie you don't have to buy a ticket to see.

There will be free screenings of The Nativity Story in 30 cities around the country next Tuesday evening. Some theaters will have room even if everyone who's reserved a free ticket comes, so they're opening those up to everyone who shows up (up to theater capacity, of course).

If you're interested, I'd recommend contacting the promoters to see whether the place you'd go has unclaimed tickets. If so, show up early and you might get in.

NOTE: I don't know any more than you do about the movie itself.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Beaten to the punch

Dominicans should have been all over this idea, but the laurels go to St. Francis. Nuts.

Or, I should say, nuts.


Pro Orantibus, Deo Gratias

On this day dedicated to remembering cloistered religious life, I would like to thank God for those sisters who have supported me and my family with their prayers, in particular the Summit Dominicans and the Mt. Thabor Dominicans.

Speaking of the latter, if you're anywhere near Ortonville, Michigan, this Saturday, the nuns there are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Order with a Mass of Thanksgiving offered by Msgr. John Zenz, Moderator of the Dominican Curia.


The scope is always eternity

Part of what I'm getting at, with my concern about viewing Catholicism through an apologetical lens, is that it can lead to confusing the map for the territory. We don't have faith in the Church's systematized doctrines; we have faith in the Church's Founder. Believing a doctrine is an act of faith in Christ.

If we make the system of beliefs the object of faith, then we're arguing for a falsehood. That's a tough sell, even to people who like systems.

But not everyone likes systems, and probably no one likes an arbitrary system that imposes suffering on them. Steven Riddle, writing against what he calls "Catholic Manicheeism," suggests that saying, "It's the law, get over it,"
may be true, but it is not inclined to helping the human and humane person get over it. It is this fundamental insensitivity to a major part of human life that I find problematic.
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. From this divine simplicity comes the unity of our Faith. To focus in on one small point may be necessary, but it can't be done outside the context of the whole of the Faith in God Who is Love.

(I like the image of coming to know the Faith as studying a multi-faceted gem. We can look at one facet only in relation with those it touches, and as we look at more and more of the gem we find the facets disappear; what we are holding is really a perfectly smooth pearl.)

If, in a discussion with another, we give the impression that the scope of the matter at hand is only this one point, then even if we win the argument with sound proofs, we are teaching at best a half-truth. Winning such an argument may only make things worse.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Better a millstone, a rope, and a deep lake

Than, in defending the Faith, to make it seem petty.


Friday, November 17, 2006

A rule of thumb

You know the feeling of l'esprit d'escalier, of thinking of the perfect comeback too late?

But when you think about it, who's to say what's perfect? The stairway comeback might meet or exceed all your requirements, but can you be sure you aren't a few minutes away from an even better comeback? Maybe l'esprit du trottoir will have it all over l'esprit d'escalier.

Making a conscious effort to make the good comeback the enemy of the perfect comeback would cut down on comebacks, which wouldn't be an altogether bad thing.


A new perspective

I don't like apologetics.

I don't really know the stock moves in Catholic-Protestant debates. I'm not interested in learning them. I'm not interested in watching apologists in action. In fact, I am becoming more confirmed in my opinion that a grave hindrance to the flourishing of the Church in the United States is that too many Catholics understand the Church principally in apologetical terms, rather than as the Church is in herself.

I had a curious experience in the comments at Zippy Catholic this week, trying to discuss the Catholic understanding of the source of the doctrine of the Eucharist with two Protestants. I was, by turns, amused, bemused, and confused at the very different ways we were approaching the question -- even, for that matter, understanding what question was being addressed.

There's little enough there that hasn't already been hashed out ten thousand times, but I did have one thought I, at least, hadn't thought before:

The difference between Catholic and sola Scriptura Protestant understandings of the nature and role of Holy Scripture in the life of a Christian really is a matter of perspective. The Protestant (and forgive me, Dear Protestant Reader, for cutting rhetorical corners here and expressing myself in unabashedly Catholic terms) has, basically, nothing else but the Bible; that's all that's in his field of view. When the Catholic explains that he sees Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church in addition to the Bible, it sounds to the Protestant like the Catholic is reducing the role of the Bible in the Christian's life.

But the Catholic position is not to squeeze the Magisterium and Tradition into the same space the Bible occupies in the eyes of the Protestant. It's rather to increase the space, to zoom out and see the Bible, not as something smaller, but as a part of something greater.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The City of Lost Angelicos

Turns out to be Oxford.

The newly discovered panels are fun, of course, but the Cranky Professor tears himself away from cultivating his orchids or brooding in his study or whatever armchair detectives do these days to enliven matters:
Hmmm. Someone who is curator of manuscripts at the Huntington Library (not university, silly Englishman) is not a naive...

... she's not sounding nearly so naive as to live for 45 years with two Fra Angelico panels without figuring out what they were - the woman collected forgeries! That's someone who is well beyond mildly aware of her collection. I think she reveled in looking at the two paintings for a long, long time without ever having to increase her insurance premium. I salute Miss Jean Preston!
I used to live a few blocks from the Huntington Library; you can judge for yourself the quality of people who would work there. (Princeton might have a decent library, too, for all I know.)

(Article and blog links via Zadok the Roman.)


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

God is in the details

Everyone knows the story of St. Martin and the beggar. (I'm pretty sure a picture of St. Martin cutting his cloak in half was in one of my "Saints for Boys" booklets when I was a lad. Cool, because there was a sword and armor, but nothing like St. Sebastian's arrows.)

I have, though, just read [a brand spanking new translation (link via The Way of the Fathers) of] Sulpicius Severus's version of the story, and a few minor details stand out.

First, there's the reaction of St. Martin on seeing the beggar:
... Martin met a naked pauper in the gate of the city of Amiens, whom all would pass by, although the wretch begged them to take pity on him. Martin, who was full of God, understood that, since others showed no pity, the pauper was reserved for him.
What a wonderful understanding! That others showed no pity didn't cause St. Martin to criticize them, either openly or within his heart. Being "full of God," he took the pitilessness of others as proof of where he was to direct his own pity.

This happened before he was baptized; St. Martin was in no position to preach to, much less scold, those around him. Instead, he simply did what he could.

But notice the reaction of the onlookers on seeing him cut his cloak in half:
Meanwhile, some of those standing around laughed because, having cut up his clothing, he seemed disfigured. However, some who had a more sane mind, groaned because they had not done something similar, especially because they had more and could clothe the pauper without making themselves naked.
In simply doing what he could to help the pauper, he preached the Gospel to those standing around. The lesson, as ever, was received according to the mode of the receiver.

Sulpicius Severus's comment that the ones who groaned "had a more sane mind" pairs well with this post at More Light:
One of the side effects of striving for holiness is remaining sane in an increasingly insane world. OK, maybe we will never attain holiness, but I am sure that the sheer effort to get there is enough to keep one sane.
So what do we have?
  • If you see a need no one is filling, fill it.
  • If you see a need you can fill but don't, you're in trouble.
  • If you can't see a need right in front of you, you're nuts.
Something like that.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Speaking of professions

The Eastern U.S. Province celebrated the final or solemn profession of four brothers this past Saturday: Br. Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, O.P.; Br. Hugh Vincent Dyer, O.P.; Br. John Martin Ruiz-Mayorga, O.P.; and Br. Gregory Schnakenberg, O.P. A slideshow and a couple of videos of the event are available online. Get your daily Dominican chant, sung Gospel, prior provincial homily, and religious profession fixes.


No joke, no little joy

The bad news is Fra Lawrence Lew, OP, went on a retreat from blogging in June.

The good new is he posted again last week.

The bad news is last week's post announces his plan to give up his blog.

The good news is he'll be blogging instead on a group blog with other Dominican student brothers of the English Province.

The bad news is they're calling their blog "Godzdogz," which is a bit of a step-down from "Contemplata aliis Tradere."

The good news is he, along with Br. Paul Mills, made simple profession in September.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Such a deal

A note from the student brothers at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington:
The Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. is the house of formation for all Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph (Eastern Province, USA). Currently, there are around thirty priests assigned to the House. Consequently, there are 15-30 Masses offered every day at DHS (depending on how many priests go out of the House to offer Mass elsewhere on a given day). However, there is no parish attached to the DHS. So there are no parishioners standing in line to submit Mass intentions. And so there are currently many Masses waiting for intentions to be supplied by the people of God at large. In other words, if you have a Mass intention, and your parish is already overbooked with Mass intentions, the priests of the DHS are happy to oblige.

The Fathers of the DHS are also able to do something that typical parishes cannot, namely, sequences of Masses. For example, do you want a Novena of Masses offered for a particular intention? At a typical parish, that presents a challenge. At DHS, that is no problem.

Furthermore, all Mass donations go to support a house of formation of future priests and preachers.

So let the floodgates of heavenly grace be opened for souls living and deceased – for the sick, the suffering, and those in need of conversion!

Submit your Mass intentions via U.S. Mail to:

Fr. Matthew Rzeczkowski, O.P.
Dominican House of Studies
487 Michigan Ave., NE
Washington, D.C. 20017

If you would like a Mass card sent, please say so and also supply the mailing information.
So you can a) have a Mass offered for your intention [if you can't think of an intention, let me suggest the souls in purgatory] and support the education of the next batch of Dominicans; or b) buy a few more cups of overdressed coffee. Hey, it's your choice. Just like it'll be the choice of people just like you after you die. I'm just saying.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

The force exponentializer for prayer



The force multiplier for prayer



What an awful thought!

Live + Jesus! suggests we might not always recognize an invitation to the Wedding Feast when it comes. Isn't it enough that we so often turn it down when we do recognize it?


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Craving being craved

Everyone wants to belong. The desire to be longed for is part of being human. And, underneath it all, it's a desire to be longed for by God.

God's plan is that this desire should be met in part by others. As Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est:
Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.
I get the impression, though, that most American Catholics simply assume everyone else knows they belong, and so make no special effort to ensure those around them feel like they belong. (Meanwhile, a small but vocal minority go about deciding who does and who doesn't belong.)

At any given Sunday Mass, there might be a handful of people who don't really feel like they belong, but who feel like they should feel like they belong. Most of the people around them, though, don't give them a look of love so much as a polite nod. And any organized attempt to reach out to those who don't feel like they belong will fall most heavily on those who do feel they belong, and who will resent the implication that they might not. "Why is someone welcoming me to my own church?"

The solution, I suppose, is to see with the eyes of Christ.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The biennial electoral equivalency post

Here is my paraphrase of an argument that seems to be popular in some circles on days like this:
  1. In an election involving two unsatisfactory candidates one of whom is morally certain to win (for the purposes of this post, call them the two major party candidates), not to vote for one of the two candidates is equivalent to voting for the less satisfactory one.
  2. But voting for the less satisfactory one is wrong.
  3. Therefore, one ought to vote for one of the two candidates morally certain to win.
  4. And voting for the less satisfactory one is wrong.
  5. So one ought to vote for the less unsatisfactory of the two candidates morally certain to win.
The problem with this perfectly valid argument is that its first premise is false. Not to vote for one of the two candidates is not equivalent to voting for the less satisfactory one.

You can see where the premise comes from, of course. If one were to vote for one of the two major party candidates, one would vote for the less unsatisfactory one. Therefore, the reasoning goes, not voting for one of the two major party candidates "costs" the less unsatisfactory one a vote, which is numerically equivalent to giving the less satisfactory one a vote.

There are three problems with this. First, the voter is probably well aware of the numerical implications of his vote. If his decision to not vote for one of the two major party candidates already accounts for the purely conceptual (because it is relative to no existing reality) cost to the less unsatisfactory candidate, then pointing this out to him won't affect his decision.

Second, given that one is not going to vote for one of the two major party candidates, it doesn't matter what follows from the supposition that one is. The negation of a true statement implies anything you like. P->((~P)->Q) for any P and Q.

Third, a certain numerical equivalence (in this case, the difference in vote count between the two major party candidates) by no means implies an overall prudential, much less moral, equivalence. Of all the effects, public and private, of a single vote, perhaps the least significant is that on the margin of victory. To treat the margin of victory as the most (some would seem to have it the only) significant factor in determining how to vote is to misunderstand the act of voting.



Monday, November 06, 2006

You Kant have it both ways

Kevin Miller stoutly opposes any prudential decision regarding this year's Congressional elections other than voting Republican.

CORRECTION: Kevin corrects, "If Voter X in the 13th Congressional District in the State of Confusion is given a choice between Candidate A, a pro-abort GOPer, and Candidate B, a pro-life [or pro-abort] Dem, then I'm not going to say that X should vote for A."

When, in a comment at Catholic and Enjoying It!, I implied that my single vote does not determine any outcome, he replied with the Kant card:
... I don't think it makes a lot of sense for me to say that such-and-such is the right vote for me without saying also that it's the right vote for all pro-lifers (or at least, all pro-lifers similarly situated - say, voting in the same election).
Well, what happens if we do apply Kant's idea of universalizability -- that what's right for me is right for everyone -- to third-party (or no party) voting?

First, note that what Kant would universalize isn't merely "such-and-such is the right vote for me." That's only the final judgment, the conclusion of a reasoned argument beginning from premises known or judged to be true.

But one of the premises that has led me at times to vote for third-party candidates is essentially this: "Pretty much no one thinks the way I do." In other words, my conclusion that a third-party candidate is the right vote for me is based on the premise of non-universalization. Kant can say what he likes, the fact (in my opinion) remains that everyone won't do what I do.

But suppose they do. What then? Then everyone judges for themselves that everyone else won't do what they do, and we all do the same thing.

And so what if we do? We'd be mistaken in our premise, not immoral in our action. To argue that I ought not do what I judge I ought to do because I might misjudge would be silly (although some degree of risk analysis might be called for in some circumstances).

Kevin, though, believes bad things would happen if everyone did what everyone isn't going to do:
... it's very likely that all [pro-lifers] together, in boycotting both major party candidates, would throw the election to the pro-abort (when there is one).
Well, again, something being very likely to follow from something that won't happen doesn't carry much clout in a prudential decision.

But I think the question is being subtly begged here. By speaking in terms of pro-lifers throwing the election to the pro-abort -- or I'll just say Democrat, since Kevin is explicit in his support for the GOP -- he is suggesting that the normative case is for pro-lifers to vote for the Republican. And whether that's the case is precisely the question. (The question is begged less subtly by others who say, "If you vote third party or not at all, that's as good as voting Democratic.")

It's a question because it's by no means inarguable that the common good is best served by Republican candidates getting every pro-life vote tomorrow. In fact, it's arguable that the common good is harmed by arguing that Republicans should get every pro-life vote tomorrow.



One measure of how successfully the laity have responded to the universal call to holiness

Are the souls of the faithful departed better off today than they were forty years ago?


Are voter guides the devil's playthings?

Voter guides are the devil's playthings. They reinforce the common and false belief that voting in elections satisfies the democratic citizen's political responsibilities.

All the energy spent discussing how to choose from among lousy candidates would be better spent developing non-lousy candidates.



Thursday, November 02, 2006


Yes, yes, very handy for next year, no doubt, but why not something for a week from next Tuesday?


Too nice an argument

Fr. Brian Harrison has written a much-mentioned two-part article titled "Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Theology." [Part 1; Part 2]

Fr. Harrison concludes his article "by offering a few tentative theological conclusions, based on [his] reading of Scripture, Tradition, and the rather confused and even historically inconsistent witness of the Church's (non-infallible) magisterium." His final conclusion is the most controversial:
Thirdly, there remains the question -- nowadays a very practical and much-discussed one -- of torture inflicted not for any of the above purposes ["extracting confessions," "to frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred," "carried out not by public authority in accordance with a norm of law"], but for extracting life-saving information from, say, a captured terrorist known to be participating in an attack that may take thousands of lives (the now-famous 'ticking bomb' scenario).... My understanding would be that, given the present status questionis, the moral legitimacy of torture under the aforesaid desperate circumstances, while certainly not affirmed by the magisterium, remains open at present to legitimate discussion by Catholic theologians.
I find this conclusion to be brain-spraining.

Here is my understanding of Fr. Harrison's understanding of why this one case can be pared off from all the other kinds of torture he states are "intrinsically unjust" (someone should confirm that I've represented his position fairly):

If you compare what the 1984 UN Convention against Torture (of which, for what it's worth, the Holy See is a signatory) and the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church say about torture, you will find they offer the following purposes of intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering as constitutive of torture:
UN ConventionCatechism
"obtaining...a confession""extract confessions"
"punishing...for an act he...has committed""punish the guilty"
"intimidating or coercing""frighten opponents"
"any reason based on discrimination""satisfy hatred"

Fr. Harrison suggests that the drafters of the Catechism, "while generally following the Convention's proscriptions, deliberately decided not to do so on [the] particular point" of torture for obtaining information. Because it looks to Fr. Harrison "like a deliberate decision on the part of church authorities, rather than a mere oversight or coincidence," he regards the morality of torture for obtaining information to be an open theological question.

My subjective response to this is that this is precisely the sort of logic chopping that gives Roman Catholic theology a bad name. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, human language does not -- and cannot -- define a formal system of moral action. Strings of words found in the Catechism do not define reality, they describe it, and all this tweezering about to determine the precise degree of authority and authenticity becomes a mug's game.

It isn't, though, merely an academic game played by theologians. If, as Fr. Harrison suggests, "the moral legitimacy of torture" "for life-saving information" "remains open to legitimate discussion," then guess what! We can torture for life-saving information! Lex dubia non obligat. And from "we can torture" to "we ought to torture" is but a syllogism or two. Pretty quickly, we're to the point where what the Church teaches is, practically speaking, the same as what any fair-minded pagan at leisure would opine.

A more objective response seems to require taking my own axe to Fr. Harrison's logic. Looking again at the comparison between the UN Convention and the Catechism, we can ask whether "intimidating or coercing" and "any reason based on discrimination" really correspond to "frighten opponents" and "satisfy hatred." Isn't it possible to act for a reason based on discrimination that isn't also based on satisfying hatred? Might one not intend to coerce without intending to frighten? And if so, are we to conclude that torturing in these cases "remains open to legitimate discussion"?

I would note also that the argument that torture for information is an open moral issue seems to require, not only the absence of a couple of words in the Catechism, but something very like Fr. Harrison's second tentative moral conclusion: seems that the exclusion of torture (flogging, etc.) as legal punishment can be seen as an appropriate practical implication of the Law of Christ, especially under modern circumstances, even though such punishment is not intrinsically unjust.
The exclusion of torture must be only "an appropriate practical implication of the Law of Christ," or else the list of motives given by the Catechism cannot be taken as normative. If torture to punish the guilty is a matter of balancing "their dignity as human persons" with the duty "to maintain public order and protect innocent citizens," then the Law of Christ functions here as less a law than a rule of thumb.

In short, as Fr. Harrison chops up the words of the Catechism,* both what it says and what it doesn't say are sources of legitimate freedom to torture.

*. And yes, I'm not entirely unaware of the irony of me complaining about someone else chopping up words.