instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, January 16, 2015

Not exactly subito, but Santo!

Hot dog! Bl. Junipero will (Deo volente) become St. Junipero.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

We haven't reached disagreement about torture yet

Mark Shea writes about "more wearying attempts to avoid the bleeding obvious" about the CIA enhanced interrogation program. It could also be called the same wearying attempt that's been repeated over and over for a dozen years.

Directly countering a bad argument rarely changes the mind of the one offering the bad argument. It might, though, sway an undecided onlooker.

But if I might introduce one of my King Charles's heads into the discussion, I wonder if part of the problem is that a lot of people think of morality in terms of rules. If your idea of a good Catholic is a Catholic who follows the rules, and you are or try to be a good Catholic yourself, then you'll want to follow the rule, "Torture is prohibited."

If you've ever met a human being, you know what we do to rules. We get around them when we want to. "Torture is prohibited" offers two broad avenues for getting around. To the left we have "torture" and the endless arguments about definitions and fine lines and boundaries and splashing water in faces and making prisoners uncomfortable for a few hours. To the right we have "prohibited" and the endless arguments about exceptions and circumstances and differences in objectives and historical examples that overthrow the soft-hearted heresies of the last fifty years.

The arguments are endless because the counterarguments don't get at the actual point of disagreement. The one side says, "The rule 'Torture is prohibited' has not been broken," while the other side says, "No! Torture is objectively evil!"

If that's right, then the way out isn't to keep showing the logical weaknesses of the one side. It's to walk them past the rule-based morality to the more fundamental questions of virtues, vices, and the goods of human nature. Find some behavior everyone in the conversation agrees to call torture, find out whether everyone in the conversation agrees that that behavior is objectively evil and therefore always prohibited, and then -- rather than testing the rule just agreed to with real-world or hypothetical examples -- go into why that behavior is objectively evil, what makes it everywhere and always contrary to the good of a human being and God's will for him.

If you can get that far, then you can start looking at other real-world or hypothetical examples, not for whether they follow the rule, but for whether they are objectively evil. And when you reach disagreement, you have a chance of understanding why.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

"I observe in God a sincere desire to save you, but I find in you a decided inclination to be damned."

I came across this sermon by St. Leonard of Port Maurice, in which he argues two points:
  1. "[T]o fill you with dread, I will let the theologians and Fathers of the Church decide on the matter and declare that the greater number of Christian adults are damned...."
  2. "I will attempt to defend the goodness of God versus the godless, by proving to you that those who are damned are damned by their own malice, because they wanted to be damned."
Note that it's "the greater number of Christian adults" who are damned, according to St. Leonard's survey.
if to the number of Christian adults who die in the grace of God, you add the countless host of children who die after baptism and before reaching the age of reason, ... it is certain that the greater number is saved.
But, St. Leonard continues,
if you are talking about Christian adults, experience, reason, authority, propriety and Scripture all agree in proving that the greater number is damned.
Which, if true, is kind of a bummer, right?

Except St. Leonard goes on to say that, since God wants all men to be saved,
Whether there are many or few that are saved, I say that whoever wants to be saved, will be saved; and that no one can be damned if he does not want to be.
Then he explains that it doesn't really matter how many will be saved:
Imagine an Angel sent by God to confirm the first opinion, coming to tell you that not only are most Catholics damned , but that of all this assembly present here, one alone will be saved. If you obey the Commandments of God, if you detest the corruption of this world, if you embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ in a spirit of penance, you will be that one alone who is saved.

Now imagine the same Angel returning to you and con firming the second opinion. He tells you that not only are the greater portion of Catholics saved, but that out of all this gathering, one alone will be damned and all the others saved. If after that, you continue your usuries, your vengeances, your criminal deeds, your impurities, then you will be that one alone who is damned.
If even one person can be damned, then you can be damned. If even one person can be saved, then you can be saved. What do the statistics matter in a case like this? They certainly don't matter to God. He doesn't have a quota He needs to fill, and once filled to hell with the rest. He will look at each of us, individually, and see if He recognizes His Son.


Friday, January 02, 2015

The triumph of the merely therapeutic

The Gospel is sometimes pitched for its therapeutic value. Jesus is good for what ails you, spiritually, emotionally, physically.

There's some truth to that pitch. All else being equal, if ye seek first the kingdom of God, you'll be less troubled by life. Even if physical healing isn't granted (though sometimes it is), the redemptive nature faith in Christ gives to physical suffering is a change for the very much better.

But there's a problem with the gospel of therapy. I don't mean the problem that it's not the Gospel Jesus has commissioned His Church to preach, that Jesus didn't become man and die on a cross just so you could feel better about your life.

Even if you argue from an economy of truth perspective, for pitching the Gospel as therapy in order to be heard in the world, then more fully explain the Faith once you've got their attention, you're still faced with a big problem:

Subjectively speaking, there are better therapies than the Gospel.

Feeling better may be a consequence of faith in Jesus, but faith in Jesus wasn't developed to be a means to the end of feeling better. Nothing prevents something else from being better at making people feel better, particularly if that something else was designed with precisely that end in mind.

I suppose the simplest example of this is the Gospel itself, with whatever a person finds off-putting excised. For some people, the result may be the "Gospel of Nice," according to which Jesus commands you to be generally pleasant and friendly toward others, and if you fail then try again tomorrow, and everyone will wind up in heaven anyway, except maybe Hitler, but it's not nice to think about that.

If someone is sold the Faith with the guarantee that it will make them feel better, and they later encounter something about the Faith that doesn't make them feel better, it may look to them like a bait and switch. And why would they switch, if they're happy with the bait they already possess?

Little wonder syncretism is flourishing in this Age of Therapy, either. Not only do Christians looking to feel good get rid of the rougher parts of the Gospel, they freely adopt bits and pieces of non-Christian practices as part of their religion. The only discernment required is whether it makes you feel good, and the only authority on how you feel is you.

The counter-argument -- that there's a way things are that isn't fully determined by how you feel about them -- can be made, I think, but sooner or later there will be discomfort, because sooner or later there will be need for repentance. But the counter-argument will always be competing with the voices that say there is no need for repentance or for a turning away from self toward God. Particularly compelling is the voice that says turning even more toward self is turning toward God, since the Divine is within.

To present the Gospel as a course of therapy is to compete directly against the sort of spiritual junk food that combines the sweetness of self-love with the saltiness of self-praise and the unctuousness of self-rule. Sometimes, you just have to eat your vegetables, and it's a false gospel that pretends you don't.