instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, December 27, 2014

On the third day of Chistmas, my True Lord gave to me...

a reason to proclaim Him:
[W]hat we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
The NAB note on that last verse points to two other places St. John refers to completed joy. The first is from the Last Discourse (with a few extra verses for context):
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete."
The second is from St. John's Second Letter:
Although I have much to write to you, I do not intend to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and to speak face to face so that our joy may be complete.
In sum:
  1. What is joy? Fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
  2.  How is joy obtained? By remaining in Christ's love, through keeping His commandments.
  3. How does joy become complete? By calling those whom God has given you to love to fellowship with Him and with His Son.


Friday, December 26, 2014

On the second day of Christmas, my true Lord gave to me...

a warning and a promise:
"You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved."
What happened to the swaddled baby?

He came anyway, to save both St. Stephen and St. Paul --.and the whole "so-called Synagogue of Freedmen," if they could stop grinding their teeth at Him long enough to accept His mercy.

Lord Jesus, may I receive Your Spirit.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The War on Christmas Eve

For those keeping score, while buying the last of the groceries for tonight and tomorrow, I got one "Happy Holiday," one "Merry Christmas" -- and, at the kosher supermarket, a "Have a Nice Day."


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Five thoughts about the Incarnation

Adapted from a presentation I gave the RCIA class.

1. The Incarnation is part of a love story.
It's the oldest story in the book: God meets man, God loses man, God gets man back. The Incarnation is the beginning of the climax of the story. It's that moment when the hero suddenly appears in the doorway, and there's no doubting why he's there. Sure, he still needs to pay the rent and shower his true love's upturned face with kisses, and the villain isn't going away quietly, but this grand crazy gesture of love will be completed and will not go unrequited.

We ourselves are living in the denouement of this great story, tying up the loose ends until we all get to "and they lived happily ever after." There's plenty of drama, but there shouldn't be much suspense; we know how the story ends -- and we know our own story ends the same way, as long as we join ourselves to the yes of the beloved and pattern our own lives after the Lover and his grand crazy gesture that began when He became what He loved.

2. The Incarnation is unique.

Having described the Incarnation as an event in a well-known and oft-repeated story, I will point out that the story of the Incarnation is not just the Christian version of a dying-and-rising-god archetype.

Quite apart from the fact that the dying-and-rising-god archetype is hokum, the story of the Incarnation is not a "once upon a time" story. It happened in the days of King Herod (died 4 BC) -- or possibly when Quirinius was governor of Syria (~ AD 6). Before you argue that apparent inconsistencies between the written Gospels -- or even within one, as with Luke having Quirinius governor of Syria in the days of King Herod -- show that the history is made up, consider that the existence of even a confusing or conflated history means that this is not a story of a god, this is the story of this God. The Christians alive when the Gospels were written weren't taught allegories and myths by educated scribes, they were told stories of historical events by the people who claimed to have witnessed them.

The New Testament gives us genealogies, historical markers, names, places -- all things that fix the Incarnation to a specific time and place. This historical concreteness means that we can't abstract Jesus' life into some generic category of theophany, nor His teaching and sacrifice into some generic category of benevolence. Maybe a god can flit through time under different names and appearances, or do his work only in the abstract past. A man has to start somewhere, and we are told where and when Jesus started.

Believe the Gospel or not, Jesus is no more a fairy tale character than is Herod the Great.

3. The Incarnation is scandalous.

"Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming, " some scribes once said of Jesus. "Who but God alone can forgive sins?"

They were right on the doctrine, but wrong on its application, because they didn't know Who this man was. Even after Jesus cured the paralytic, they couldn't put "only God can forgive sins" and "the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins" together and come up with the right conclusion.

My guess is that the Jews who saw but did not perceive simply couldn't overcome a cognitive bias against the Incarnation. The God of Abraham was too holy to become human. You couldn't even speak His Name, much less look upon His face and live. How could such a God become bound in time and flesh?

What's more, even if God were to become man, how could He become this man, this Galilean from Nazareth? Sure, he's clever, or at least glib, and he's got a knack for what the unlearned might consider to be miracles, but ... well, just look at him! Does he look anything like God would look like? And the awful things he says about us! If the LORD were truly here, do you really think He's berate us for our faithfulness to His law?

The bias wasn't limited to the scribes and Pharisees, either. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, "they worshiped, but they doubted." It was of the pagan centurion that Jesus said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

Which isn't to say pagans don't generally find the Incarnation scandalous too, they just have different reasons. For one, it would mean the Jews were right about their God being the only God. Also, when a god comes down from his abode to walk among the humans, he doesn't actually become a human; that would be silly, if not philosophically impossible. Even if a god could become human in some real sense, why in heaven's name would he?

At a greater distance, we find the scandal of particularity, a particularity that is inescapable if God becomes man. This man, and no other; this place, and no other; this time, and no other. Christians would have the world believe that all contrary claims about theophanies just happen to be false, while their claims about Jesus of Nazareth just happen to be true. What a coincidence! What rare good luck for Christians! What are the odds?

Rather than doing something sensible, like appearing to everyone in every place at every time, God decides to save the world when nobody's watching, and now everybody has to believe what a handful of people say another handful of people believed -- but only this handful of people; the other handfuls of people, who say different things, are wrong.What a way to run a universe!

I'll add that even Christians can find the Incarnation scandalous. They may downplay or simply avoid thinking much or at all about the dogma, out of disregard or even disdain for the created physical world we incarnate human beings inhabit. They may also be embarrassed by the Incarnation, in effect accepting the arguments of the faithless.

Being a faithful Christian is simple, but not easy.

4. The Incarnation is a partially revealed mystery.

We know a few basic truths about the Incarnation. Chief, I suppose, is that, in the Person of Jesus, God became man. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

Thus, contrary opinions aren't true. Jesus wasn't just pretending to be human, He wasn't a man who became joined to the Godhead somehow at His baptism or resurrection, He wasn't the incarnation of some created spirit or demi-god, and He's certainly not a merely human teacher more or less wise in the ways of God.

Given that Jesus is true God and true Man -- "a man like us in all things but sin" -- additional truths follow. As a human, He was capable of learning, growing, changing. He felt emotions, He got hungry and thirsty and tired; He ate and drank and slept. He had -- He has -- a human intellect and will, a human soul.

But He is one Person, a Divine Person, united to a human nature. This means the whole of His human life -- the parts recorded in Scripture, along with every other moment -- is divine revelation focused through a human lens. His whole life has value and meaning to us. I think we can apply the traditional four senses of Scripture -- literal, analogical, moral, and anagogical -- to Jesus' every action.

And we can certainly make use of acceptable communication of idioms, and say that Jesus is Lord, or that God was crucified, or (a perennial favorite) that Mary is the Mother of God.

And yet, the Incarnation remains a mystery. There's a lot we just don't know -- about Jesus' conception at the biological level, for instance, but also exactly how His human and divine natures interacted in time. But a mystery isn't just a matter of ignorance, it's something that we can contemplate forever without exhausting. The total love of the Father for the Son's human nature, the Son's total human love for the Father, how those both overflow onto all of creation and in an exceptional way onto those predestined to be adopted children of the Father and participants in that love: all this and more is part of what we mean, whether we realize it or not, when we speak of the Incarnation.

5. The Incarnation changes everything.

The Incarnation happened. God became man... and now man can become God.

You can become God. So, not to pry, but... are you? Or is becoming God something you haven't quite gotten around to yet? Maybe you've got a few more important things to cross off your list, or maybe becoming God simply isn't worth the trouble. A lot of us make God a counter-offer, like the man whose doctor told him the best thing for him would be to stop drinking, and he replied, "I don't need the best, doc. What's second best?"

Note too what the Incarnation means for everything around you as you work out your salvation in fear and trembling. God became flesh, a Divine Person assumed a material body, which is a spectacular honor for matter. It means that matter matters. We think small, we think of a manger containing the infinite Word, but step back and look: all of creation has contained the infinite Word. In its own way, creation is capable of God too, and as St. Paul tells us, "creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God."

Everything -- everything -- comes from God, is ordered to God, and returns to God. The exitus-reditus of the Fall and Redemption, of the Incarnation and the Ascension, is a movement everything around us joins in. We can, and should, take up these things in our worship of God and our mercy and justice toward each other. It is human nature, and it is perfected by the Divine in the person of Jesus Christ.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

Three things can happen, and two of them are bad

Generally speaking, it's imprudent to respond to nonsense with, "You don't really believe that nonsense, do you?"

You're betting that
a) The person doesn't really believe their own nonsense; and
b) The person will admit it to you.
Neither proposition is a money-maker in the long run.



Friday, December 19, 2014

Full spectrum

The diagram in my previous post is incomplete, emphasizing the self-serving nature of some of the justification of the CIA's enhanced interrogation program.

Here's a diagram that shows all eight possibilities given the three questions "Is waterboarding torture?", "Is torture evil?", and "Is waterboarding evil?" (You're right, the purple region is logically incoherent; if you get a yes to the first two questions, nothing good will come from asking the third.)

Special pleading in defense of the CIA program lies inside the yellow region. "Sure, torture is evil, but waterboarding isn't torture, so/and waterboarding isn't evil."

A good number of people spend a good amount of time arguing that waterboarding isn't torture (the gray, red, orange, and yellow regions). Since my earlier question hasn't garnered much of a response, let me rephrase it:
If you insist the term "torture" be so narrowly defined that it excludes waterboarding, then what term do you use for the more general category of evil behavior that encompasses both torture and waterboarding?
This question will be question-begging for those in the gray, red, and yellow regions. I intend it to be. The purpose of the question is to come up with a way of talking to the people in the orange region, who from my perspective are playing semantic games that serve principally as material support of grave evil. Addressing the moral or intellectual failings of those outside the orange region requires a different tack.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

What clouds the vision

Waterboarding was easily recognized as torture when it was committed by those savage Spaniards, and by those savage Filipinos, and by those savage Japanese, and by those savage Germans, and by those savage French, and by those savage Vietnamese, and by those savage Cambodians, and by those savage South Africans. It was even easily recognized as torture when it was committed by savage Americans acting contrary to orders.

Somehow, it's only people who feel they personally benefit from it, and who don't think of themselves as favoring torture, who can't see that waterboarding is torture.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tout comprendre

I say, if you don't understand something, ask about it.

So, to those who still deny that waterboarding is torture, or who say that it's hard to say whether waterboarding is torture, let me ask:

What the hell is wrong with you?



Monday, December 15, 2014

'Tis the season


A quick word

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent this year was Mark 13:33-37. When I heard it proclaimed at Mass, what stood out for me was this:

It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work....
"Each with his own work." Each servant is in charge of something, each is given a task. There are no extraneous servants, no generic servants. They each have a specific role and a specific purpose. And indeed, what sort of a household would the man be running if there were servants who didn't have any particular work to do?

As servants of Christ each with our own work, we have both responsibility and dignity. "Servant" -- which in the parables, I've heard, is a polite way of saying "slave" -- and "dignity" aren't words that often go together, but if you have a job to do on God's authority, then you may claim what you need to do the job on the same authority, and no one but God may take it from you.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

A tough act to follow

The afternoon agenda for today's RCIA retreat:
  1. A religious brother
  2. Our parish priest
  3. Eucharistic adoration
  4. Me
Note to self: Never follow Jesus.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the other hand

For the most part, people assert stupid or foolish things because they're stupid or foolish, not in order to be stupid or foolish. The proper response, then, is to address the stupidity or foolishness that gave rise to the assertion. Merely addressing the stupidity or foolishness of the assertion itself won't help the asserter.


These are thy gods, O Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.

Here are the 20 findings and conclusions of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program:
  1. The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
  2. The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.
  3. The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.
  4. The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.
  5. The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.
  6. The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  7. The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.
  8. The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.
  9. The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.
  10. The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
  11. The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.
  12. The CIA's management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.
  13. Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
  14. CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.
  15. The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA's claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate. 
  16. The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.
  17. The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.
  18. The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
  19. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.
  20. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States' standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.
If these findings and conclusions were, mutatis mutandis,  about a Department of the Interior program to dig water wells on public lands, conservatives would be howling about government misconduct and incompetence.

Visceral hatred, though, clouds the mind and warps the will. Faced with anything that might so much as moderate their delectation of anguish inflicted on others, some self-styled conservatives become supine devotees of the impeccability of the state, carrying water for whoever provides them their delectation with the faithfulness and devotion of Boxer from Animal Farm.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Immaculate misconceptions

The following statements are not true:
  • The Immaculate Conception is the conception of Jesus.
  • If Mary were conceived without sin, then she wouldn't need Jesus as her Savior.
  • Romans 3:23 -- "For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God." -- contradicts the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
  • The Immaculate Conception makes Mary less human than the rest of us.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

An Advent Carol

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,
Man of faith and grace,
Don't take crap from Arius,
Punch him in the face!

Christmas Eve is coming soon,
But what's that to you?
Your big day's December Six,
Bring candy for my shoe!