instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Counter-biased self-checks

Zippy Catholic comments on my previous post:
It seems to follow that the following are also sound self checks in discussion with others, and need to be given just as much consideration to avoid biasing the sound self checks:

Am I being too slow to find fault with this person who disagrees with me?
Am I being too slow to find doctrinal aberrations in the position of this person who disagrees with me?

Of course to be sound self checks the emphasis ought to be counter-biased to the biases of the self doing the checking.
Yes, indeed. I had this in mind at one point while composing the post, but my stream of thought wound its way instead into the concluding bog you see.

The idea that, as a class, the American bishops are biased toward answering either of Zippy's questions with a yes would be a hard sell to a lot of American Catholics. In this light, Cardinal Wuerl's "don't be so quick" parameters sound about as necessary to tell a bishop as, "Don't forget to eat lunch." (I jest, your Excellencies. I jest in love.)

I'll suggest that a  bias in the other direction is encouraged by on-line conversations, which provide a safer environment than work and socializing to scratch that "Burn the witch!" itch.

How might "don't be too quick or too slow" be put in positive terms? Maybe something like this: "Make sound and timely judgments." (Sorry, that's still pretty tautological.) A sound judgment means you have enough knowledge to judge; a timely judgment means you've gathered that knowledge in time to support the need for your judgment.

A common way to fail the "enough knowledge" condition on-line is this: Person A reads Person B's blog post, which quotes the headline of an external link that refers to Person C. Person A performs the natural human pattern matching on the headline and concludes that Person C sounds just like Person D, who has known fault X. Person A promptly and publicly asserts that Person C has fault X.

Suppose you know "P" is true. Then you hear someone say "not P." I don't think you can be "too quick" in noticing the contradiction; really, you noticed it (at least implicitly) back when you learned that "P" is true. What you might be too quick in doing is saying, "This person is wrong to say 'not P.'" That you hear "not P" doesn't always mean the other person said it.

Often enough, though, people really do by golly say "not P," and they mean it. Again, you can't not know -- and you shouldn't pretend -- that they're wrong about that. To this point in the hypothetical, that's the only fault you've found, and you haven't necessarily announced it yet. The conversation may well go in two very different directions depending on whether you respond, "You are wrong to say 'not P,'" or, "Why do you say that 'not P'?"

There are circumstances in which you may be right to aim for the first conversation, and other circumstances in which you should aim for the second. (And still other circumstances in which you should drop it altogether.) An internal judgment may have a different timeliness than a public judgment.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Every old parameter is new again

In an interview with David Gibson, Cardinal Wuerl expressed hope that the recent Synod "set some new parameters in the conversation," specifically:
Don’t be so quick to find fault with the people who disagree with you ... and don’t be so quick to find doctrinal aberrations in the positions of people who disagree with you.
He is responding to Synod Fathers who, in his opinion, were overly quick to find fault and doctrinal aberrations. I expect people will think these new parameters are a good idea to the extent they share Cardinal Wuerl's view of the Synod.

A parameter of the form "Don't be so quick to [X]" is nearly a tautology. "Too quick to [X]" is always wrong; that's what the "too" means. But you can also be "too slow to [X]," which is also always wrong. (If X is always wrong in itself, then the "too quick" and "too slow" are impossibilities, which are wrong in a different way.)

Cardinal Wuerl is saying the "so quick" of some Synod Fathers was too quick. I can't speak for what all the Synod Fathers may have been up to, but I did see examples of Catholics outside the Synod that I judged to be too quick to find fault and doctrinal aberrations, and I don't know think Synod Fathers are necessarily free of faults that other Catholics have.

(Oh dear, I'm finding fault with people who disagree with me. Am I violating a new parameter? Of course not. I don't find fault too quickly, or too slowly. I am the Baby Bear of fault finding rate.)(I should probably revisit that assertion.)

In any case, if we abstract the parameters from the context, I think we're left with sound self-checks in discussions with others:
  1. Am I being too quick to find fault with this person who disagrees with me?
  2. Am I being too quick to find doctrinal aberrations in the position of this person who disagrees with me?
These call to mind both Fr. Murray's dictum, "Disagreement is not an easy thing to reach," and the Scholastic maxim, "Never deny, seldom accept, always distinguish." If a person disagrees with me (not a purely hypothetical consideration), and we only ever argue about the consequences of our disagreement, we're unlikely to get anywhere. And once we've denied what someone is telling us, we've made it much more difficult to discover whatever might be worth considering about it.

I am begging the question of the purpose of an argument, which I think ideally is something like "to arrive together at the truth." Well, I suppose some people do have practical arguments, with purposes like "to agree on the best thing to do." Even when the argument is more like a debate, where you're trying to reach agreement with some third party rather than the person who disagrees with you, your own position will be stronger if you can acknowledge what's true in the other position and see the point at which it goes wrong. The third party may well see that truth and resist your arguments if you deny or ignore it.


"Sir: Ross Douthat is a poopyhead. Respectfully, the American Catholic Academic Community"

If "professional qualifications for writing about the subject" are consistent with signing the Clown Letter Contra Douthat, so much the worse for professional qualifications.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

He is who we thought he was

I'm cool with Pope Francis, and what interest I had in the Synod was driven by curiosity, not concern. Reading Pope Francis's concluding speech in that light, I thought it was excellent in what it said about the place of divine mercy in the Gospel and the need for sound doctrine expressed in comprehensible ways.

Granted, it's still largely a bishop talking to bishops about bishops and what bishops are going to do about talking about "the family." But I gather that, in the small group discussions, the sheep themselves came up, not just theories about different kinds of sheep, and if "to conclude the Synod means to return to our true 'journeying together,'" then maybe some bishops will be talking to each other about their practice from here on out. (I'm a 20th Century American Roman Catholic, though, so all I really expect from my bishop is a confirmation once a year and a new pastor every six years; anything else is gravy.)

Many who are less cool with the Pope and more concerned about the Synod found much to criticize about the concluding speech, especially the criticisms. And there is a lot of criticism in the speech, largely directed -- as Pope Francis's criticisms tend to be -- at "closed hearts," "superiority and superficiality," false "defenders of doctrine .. who uphold its letter, but [not] its spirit."

Questions of tone aside, I don't see that the Pope is actually wrong to criticize what he criticizes. Everything the Pope says shouldn't be done is being done, or at least advocated, by Catholics who consider themselves fine Catholics. Correcting the flock is what the Pope is supposed to do -- and if you haven't noticed that the Catholics he's correcting have been stubborn in resisting his correction, you haven't been paying attention.

Granted, the speech does nothing to redress the fact that the Pope sure seems to spend more time and force correcting rigorist Catholics than laxiist Catholics. To the extent we are all (depending on wind direction) smouldering wicks, I think that tendency regrettable.

Still, there is a good amount of (at least implicit) correction of laxism in this speech, with references to "marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility," "dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium," "defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults," "the danger of relativism," "the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments," and "necessary human repentance, works and efforts."

I suppose people who consider this papacy a disaster for the Church aren't going to change their minds based on anything that happens, or fails to happen. Nor will those who see Francis as the Great Left Hope. I've seen people in each group say, "Sure, the Synod has foiled the Pope's plans for now. But just wait!"

I hope, though, it's not too much to expect at least a little lessening of the suspicion and doubt directed at  Pope Francis among those who aren't all in on his mendacity.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Which is to say,

...the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy.
-- Discorso del Santo Padre a conclusione dei lavori della XIV Assemblea generale ordinaria del Sinodo dei Vescovi, 24.10.2015
See? Formulae are important!


The glazed look simply gives way to sleep

Fascinating reading, both chatty and insightful, from Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane on the on-going Synod.

This, for example, makes a point I think is very important in the lay response to the Synod (and, perhaps more importantly, the lay response to whatever Pope Francis does about it)(my emphasis):

It’s also come clearer to me in the Synod that, unless we’re genuinely in touch with reality, we’ll continue to speak and act in ways that don’t communicate and therefore have no hope of evangelising anyone. In my years of teaching, I found myself at times trying to communicate something I thought was crucial to a group of students who were giving me the glazed look: I wasn’t getting through. In such a situation, you don’t just keep saying the same thing in the same way in the hope that if you say it often and loud enough the penny will drop. It never drops; the glazed look simply gives way to sleep. You have to find another angle – new words and images that do communicate. And if you can, then you see the penny drop as the students “get it”. That’s where we are now with evangelisation, especially in the area of marriage and the family. A very small minority might be “getting it”, but the vast majority are not. That’s why we need new ways of communicating what we think, rightly, is crucial.
If I may step on His Excellency's line, I pray that the very small minority that gets it understands that it's still the same it that's to be gotten even if the ways of speaking and acting change. Archbishop Coleridge's example of Church funerals for suicides may help here (at least for Catholics who aren't categorically opposed to Church funerals for suicides).


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Two guesses

You say there "are two main ways" to do something, Fr. Martin? And that you might could call them the "John the Baptist method" and the "Jesus method"?

I see, I see.

Now tell me, which of these two methods do you endorse?


Friday, October 09, 2015

May God call you by name

Pope Francis notes a curious point about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man:
It is curious: that the [rich] man’s name is never spoken. He is just an adjective: he is a rich man (It. ricco, Gr. πλούσιος). Of the wicked, in God’s record book, there is no name: he is an evil one, a con man, a pimp ... They have no name. They only have adjectives. All those, who try to go on the way of the Lord, will rather be with His Son, who has the name: Jesus Saviour. It is a name that is difficult to understand, inexplicable for the trial of the Cross and for all that He suffered for us.
You don't have a personal relationship with an adjective.


The problem statement, in words of one syllable

If you don't know what is, you can't know what ought. But, thanks to the Fall, you can know some of what is and still get the oughts wrong, since there are some things that are whose oughts aren't true oughts.


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Is rocky road ice cream paved with gold in Heaven?

A good question was asked this week at RCIA (good in the sense that I've asked it myself):

Doesn't Jesus try to bribe us to be good by promising that those who are good and believe in Him go to heaven?

The answer, of course, is, come back and talk after you've raised some kids. Say what you want about bribery, properly employed it works.

I jest, but there's some truth to it. Young children don't understand the goodness of virtue in the abstract, but they sure do get the hang of going out for ice cream afterwards. Since, as Bl. John Henry Newman observed, "too many, or rather the majority, remain boys all their lives," it's little wonder Jesus points out to the crowds the rewards of believing in Him.

Moreover, the rewards of believing in Jesus may attract people, but they aren't really a bribe properly speaking. The rewards are (by God's grace) the result of believing in Jesus. When you follow Jesus, you wind up in His Father's home, because that's where He's gone. Eternal life isn't accidentally associated with faith in Christ, like ice cream if you behave in the shoe store. It's like ice cream if you don't jump out of the car while Dad drives to the ice cream store.

And eternal life as the result of faith in Jesus is a key part of His revelation to us. It completes what He has to teach us about who God is, why He created us, and what our relationship with Him is supposed to be. Virtue may be its own reward, but saying so doesn't tell us about the Father.

Finally, just what is the reward Jesus promises? "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ." God isn't just the host in Heaven, keeping the chip bowls full while we hang out with friends, Mozart, and our childhood pets. God is what heaven is all about; everything else comes through, and after, our knowing, seeing, and loving our Father, and His Son, and their Holy Spirit. Anyone who's banking on Pascal's Wager paying out in skittles and beer is going to be disappointed, either in this life or the next.



Thursday, October 01, 2015

Word art


Pope Francis: "We must go out and encounter those marginalized and despised by society..."
Liberal Americans: "Yay! This pope is wonderful and good!"


Pope Francis:"...including those marginalized and despised by liberals."
Liberal Americans: "Boo! This pope is awful and evil!"