Monthly Archives: April 2015

Yes, let’s do that!

Two responses are needed to the point Douthat raises here:

the modern liberal mind is trained to ask for spreadsheet-ready projections and clearly defined harms, and the links that social conservatives think exist aren’t amenable to that kind of precise measurement or definition. How do you run a regression analysis on a culture’s marital iconography? How do you trace the downstream influence of a change in that iconography on future generations’ values and ideas and choices? How do you measure highly-diffuse potential harms from some cultural shift, let alone compare them to the concrete benefits being delivered by a proposed reform or alteration? How do you quantify, assess and predict the precise impact of a public philosophy of marriage — whatever that even means — on manners and morals and behavior? Especially when there are so many confounding socioeconomic variables involved —

(source: The Wild Ideas of Social Conservatives – NYTimes.com)

  1. How do we go about training people better than this?  It is simply not the case that humans can or should live by the measuring of quantifiable aggregations alone, not least because the overview of the data will never be available to most of them in any kind of reasonable decision-frame, nor can the training be made available to all humans at a quality and cost that will make it worthwhile, nor can the most important things actually be placed on that scale.  Who, given one clear look at the alternative, would choose to live in the foretaste of eternal Hell that we experience in this kind of world?  A world where there can be no devotion of sacred objects which removes them wholly from the economy, no quality of human flesh or fleshy connections which converts them wholly to what cannot yet be foreseen, rather than attempting to recapture them in a metric of the putatively known; a world where the specious present is legally and psychologically compelled to serve as the cash-out of that which is wholly personal, wholly devoted, and wholly eternal and nonetheless never can at all remain privatized, hoarded, or disembodied?
  2. And how do we demonstrate the concrete, visible, manifest consequences of our commitment to what is real, rather than what is willfully pretended?  To goods we can use, make, mend, improve, and share, rather than to demands for expectations for control of our future and the future of others, tentatively measured in dollars payable, dollars owed?  To marriages, rather than shams and fantasies, even among those actually capable of marriage?  To the commingling of financial and legal responsibility, so that there is no more Spouse A and Spouse B, but “one flesh” incorporated fully into the life of the Body of Christ and into living in this Material World?  How can we show this without constantly importing ideologies hostile to the reality we explore into this very research, at the outset–then wondering why we get results easily twisted or ignored?

And that is why it is absolutely vital that we maintain our grip on reality, stubbornly, first and foremost, while also doing our best to lay hold of whatever tools for describing, measuring, and representing that reality (and the consequences of distorting it) that we can.

Mine’s poetry, metaphysics, theology.  Yours might be oceanography, or economics, or anything.  The greeter at Wal-Mart can smile, help you find a cart, and speak respectfully of his wife.  The cashier can speak unapologetically of her husband and their children.  And we can admit it when we are dismayed that our own failures, or those of others, have bad consequences.

And then maybe we can make it better.  Continue reading »

Reminding the Courts They Must Answer to Reality


(source: Don’t Silence 50 Million Who Voted for Man-Woman Marriage)

Quite right, and reminds me of a favorite moment in this conversation.  From a speech at the rally:

Some of you came a long way to stand for marriage here in our nation’s capital—from as far as California and Michigan and South Carolina. Many of you made sacrifices to be here.

You know that standing for marriage can come with a cost.

Aaron and Melissa Klein know it too. Just yesterday Aaron and Melissa learned that for them, the cost of standing for marriage may add up to $135,000 in fines.

Why? Simply because they declined to create a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. And that fine is on top of having already lost their bakery because of the backlash against their decision to stand by their convictions.

For Barronelle Stutzman, a 70-year-old grandmother in Washington state, the cost of standing for marriage may be the loss of everything she owns. She’s being sued personally and professionally for declining to design the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

For Kelvin Cochran, the cost of standing for marriage was the loss of his job as the fire chief of the city of Atlanta.

This is not right. And your presence here today tells our nation’s leaders that it is not right.

Marriage existed before this government, and before any government. Marriage brings together the two halves of humanity, for the future of humanity.

No Court can undo that.

(source: Don’t Silence 50 Million Who Voted for Man-Woman Marriage)

In fact, I loved that moment of blazing episcopal brilliance so much I’ll repeat it, with emphasis:

January 16, 2014 – This week, a federal district judge ruled Oklahoma’s definition of marriage as being between “one man and one woman” was unconstitutional. This decision changes nothing

(source: Statement from Bishop Slattery on Federal District Judge Ruling Oklahoma’s Definition of Marriage Amendment Unconstitutional :: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa (Tulsa, OK))

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

In all Christian understanding, almost nothing is more important than knowing how deep your trouble goes, and wanting healing and correction from your Creator:

When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”

(source: Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter)

Did I say almost nothing?

Right.  There is ONE thing more basic, more important; ONE thing that comes before, behind, under, and ahead of our being and our becoming.  ONE thing that makes it possible to see yourself as truly wicked and offensive, and truly beautiful and able to receive love.

DEUS meus, ex toto corde paenitet me omnium meorum peccatorum, eaque detestor, quia peccando, non solum poenas a Te iuste statutas promeritus sum, sed praesertim quia offendi Te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super omnia diligaris. Ideo firmiter propono, adiuvante gratia Tua, de cetero me non peccaturum peccandique occasiones proximas fugiturum. Amen.

(source: Actus Contritionis)

Sensus Fidelium Fidei, Part II

More heartening news, as the faithful continue to speak the truth back to the Church through whom they received the faith:

In union with our brother priests in England and Wales (conforming to the teachings summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1650-51), we make our own the petition they signed urging the Synod Fathers in the upcoming Synod to stand firm on the Church’s traditional understanding of marriage, human sexuality and pastoral practices:  

Following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 much confusion has arisen concerning Catholic moral teaching. In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.  

We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and the millennial conviction that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.  

We urge all those who will participate in the second Synod in October 2015 to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.

(source: Statement of Belief, link added)

Sooner or later, the Church always finds herself in the right position, the barque of Peter catching the winds of grace in her sails:

French Evolution

(OK, we’re not actually talking about advocates for actual marriage from France, though maybe we should be!)

Evangelical writer David French has this to say about the relationship between the violence the torch-and-pitchfork crowds do to others (and to the very possibility of just laws) and willful destruction of vital cultural institutions:

It’s important to understand that this wave of coercive intolerance is not mere aberrational excess but the natural and inevitable byproduct of grafting same-sex relationships into an institution that is a key building-block to civilization itself. Even in the face of strong sexual-revolution headwinds, our law and culture continue to not only protect marriage and incentivize marriage, it is still seen by hundreds of millions of Americans as the ideal family relationship. In other words, by grafting same-sex relationships into marriage, activists want their relationships to enjoy all the legal and cultural protections marriage has built up through millennia of human experience. To oppose “marriage” is to oppose civilization.

But marriage did not become an “ideal” or civilizational building-block by simply being the most intense and committed form of adult relationship. In fact, at its core, marriage is not about adults — or adult happiness — at all. It has been at the heart of every enduring world culture not because these cultures share the same faith, or share the same ideals about romantic love and adult happiness, but because life has long taught us cultures thrive when children are raised in stable, two-parent, mother-father homes. Indeed, spouses from many cultures would laugh at the notion that “happiness” or “romance” has anything to do with the nature and familial bond of their marriage.

(source: Like the President and Hillary, My Views on Marriage Have Evolved | National Review Online)

There’s even more to it than that, but still that’s pretty much right.

Sayers on Covetousness, Usury, and Advertising

“The Church says covetousness is a deadly sin” but does she really think so? Is she ready to found welfare societies to deal with financial immorality as she does with sexual immorality,” Sayers mused, rhetorically asking “does the Church arrange services, with bright congregational singing, for total abstainers from usury?”

In the same vein, she upbraided contemporary society for a related sin. “Whether or not it is desirable to keep up this fearful whirligig of industrial finance based on gluttonous consumption,” she asserted, “it could not be kept up for a minute without the co-operative gluttony of the consumer.” Sayers would have agreed that the housing meltdown was, at base, a moral failure. The belief that it was not merely reasonable, but virtuous, to want that which you could not afford would have struck her as preposterous as well as sinful.

(source: Dorothy Sayers and Economic Society | Nick Baldock | First Things)

Answers to a Survey on the Family–part 1

In early 2015, our Archdiocese like many others was offered a 47-question open-ended survey in order to gather information about what people throughout the world understand about the Church’s teaching, her pastoral practice, current conditions, and the reality of marriage and family life.  The survey was probably a poor translation, and the questions were ill-structured, so I ended up writing about 15,500 words in the one week window for completing it.  I have chosen to share a few of these, here, as well, for your comments.  I will quote the question, and what follows is my answer.  I have edited the answers slightly for brevity, politeness, and clarity.

4. Beyond proclaiming God’s Word and pointing out extreme situations, how does the Church choose to be present “as Church” and to draw near families in extreme situations? (cf. n. 8). How does the Church seek to prevent these situations? What can be done to support and strengthen families of believers and those faithful to the bonds of marriage?

These questions are so broad that it is hard to imagine many people answering them meaningfully in the time alotted.

I am going to interpret “how does” to mean “what do you see … doing” and “extreme situation” to refer to actual extremes, as in Libya or Nigeria or China, rather than admittedly severe first-world problems.

Judged as an NGO, the Church is pretty effective. It is a meaningful (though increasingly marginalized) broker at the UN, and Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and a spaghetti soup of related aid organizations do much-needed work and are highly regarded for doing so.

Whether NGO work is “as Church” in a more robust sense or not, of course, it is still good to do. However, it has a flaw. In communities with severe local culture problems but surplus wealth, the hand that gives to charity (often without clear articulation to “support of the Church”) often turns out to be a prosthesis for an amputated hand—the hand that should clasp the neighbor’s, open the door of hospitality, cling tightly to a spouse, help children walk, break down walls of injustice, and labor for the common good. It is simply easier to give sporadically to remote causes than to risk the messiness of personal involvement with families that live near us. As a result, the Church’s NGO-style activity often comes into direct competition with its more primary mission, to build Christians together fit for charity with God and each other.

At a more local level, parish ministry must stop following the age-segregating norm of secular institutions, which have every reason to disrupt the traditionary action of families and churches. Rather than having a plethora of divisions in the parish, we must attempt to have a parish of families, and to involve those not in families with families. Single people will not learn family living from other singles; the young will not learn childcare except from the married with children; the new parents will not learn wise child-rearing except from those who have survived it!

A Comedy of Errors About Teaching Shakespeare

I like to think I’m a pretty fair Bardolater, as these things go, but Ryan Cole has seriously overshot, here:

A new study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reveals, depressingly, that only four of the nation’s top colleges and universities require a Shakespeare course, even for English majors. ACTA, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that encourages college trustees to act on behalf of academic freedom and excellence, surveyed U.S. News and World Report’s top 25 national universities and top 25 liberal-arts colleges. Of the former, only Harvard (the lone Ivy League institution to make the cut) and the University of California–Los Angeles require English majors to study Shakespeare. Of the latter, only Wellesley College and the United States Naval Academy do.

(source: English Majors sans Shakespeare | National Review Online)

Now, if this showed that students were making it all the way through K-12 and a 4-year college degree without ever reading Shakespeare, I’d be pretty concerned–like I am seriously upset that my students enter my college lit courses unfamiliar with even the names, dates, and most major works of writers like Donne, Milton, or Wordsworth.  It’s hard to enforce on their understanding how important Charlotte Smith is when they don’t even know how big the influence of Wordsworth and Coleridge proved to be!

Simply put, however, Shakespeare is still a go-to in lit courses. Continue reading »

Good Response to a Good Response

I am especially pleased that Dan Guernsey wrote, and the SF Chronicle printed, a letter which not only correctly explains the entirely proper and admirable actions of the nuns who chose to “walk away from Omelas,” as it were, but actually offers several well-conceived, wholly proper suggestions for further constructive responses:

In the future, Marin Catholic might consider teaching the importance of protecting gays and lesbians from abuse during the worldwide U.N. Anti-Bullying Day May 4, justly supporting the goal of preventing bullying and discrimination while upholding the Catholic understanding of human sexuality.

There is already enough confusion among some of our young Catholics regarding human sexuality. The school might consider using this moment to not only teach the good news about the God-given dignity of all people, both gay and straight, but also about God’s wonderful plan for human sexuality.

Sadly, many people in today’s culture have difficulty viewing Catholic teaching as anything but discrimination. Catholics don’t mean it that way. Our understanding of human sexuality is holistic and anchored in a Christian anthropology of man, with body and soul united. Our sexuality is, in fact, a wonderful, life-giving gift of God meant for the fruitful relationship of a husband and wife. The unity of the person, the integrity of the body and soul working in cooperation with God’s creation is all positive, healthy, good news for our youth.

(source: Why the Marin Catholic nuns walked out – San Francisco Chronicle)

No Need to Run from Unam Sanctam

Following on from a wonderfully friendly and collegial conversation, a few results from my own re-studying of this document–one I have continually, since my conversion, regarded, not as an embarrassment, but as a crucial link in the anchor-chain of Christian faith. First, the important and controversial “outtakes”:

Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, […] and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God. In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

(source: UNAM SANCTAM)

Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

(source: UNAM SANCTAM)

…aaaaaand everyone take a deep breath.

No, the Church did not just say that everybody outside the visible communion of the Church is ipso facto hellbound, and neither did I.  I am very sure that is not what this document states, and even more sure that is not what the Church has ever held authoritatively (though some have believed it, and for example some statements of Augustine’s about baptism probably suggest that construction–another reason not to take untempered Augustine as your sole theological source).  The case of Fr. Feeney should be plain enough on that count, even in the days between Vatican I and Vatican II.

First question, then:  is this a dogmatic definition?

Short answer:  Yes.   Continue reading »

Wolves in Wolf Hall Costumes

I watched the first episode, and have to agree with pretty much everything that Weigel (among others) has said, here.  My own observation was that the show (and presumably Mantel, though I can’t imagine why I’d read her books) “jumped the shark” early in the first episode, when Cromwell’s domestic life was portrayed in a scene clearly plagiarized from common depictions (not least Bolt’s) of More’s domestic life.  Say what you will, but not even the most pro-Henry Tudor or Reformation apologist views the mercenary, break-eggs-to-make-omelets Cromwell as remotely humane or gentlemanly.  He was a hatchet man, and like most of them he overplayed his hand in the end.  As Weigel says:

[Wolf Hall] proves, yet again, that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bigotry in elite circles in the Anglosphere.

The distortions and bias are not surprising, considering the source. Hillary Mantel is a very talented, very bitter ex-Catholic who’s said that the Church today is “not an institution for respectable people” (so much for the English hierarchy’s decades-long wheedling for social acceptance). As she freely concedes, Mantel’s aim in her novel was to take down the Thomas More of A Man for All Seasons—the Thomas More the Catholic Church canonized—and her instrument for doing so is More’s rival in the court of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell.

Hillary Mantel does not lack for chutzpah, for Cromwell has long been considered a loathsome character and More a man of singular nobility. In the novel Wolf Hall, however, the More of Robert Bolt’s play is transformed into a heresy-hunting, scrupulous prig, while Cromwell is the sensible, pragmatic man of affairs who gets things done, even if a few heads get cracked (or detached) in the process. All of which is rubbish, as historians with no Catholic interests at stake have made clear.

(source: “Wolf Hall” and Upmarket Anti-Catholicism)