Tag Archives: Kulturkampf

OK, then, What To Do? (Part One)

Not a few of us are frustrated, these days, with the way our politics have been distorted by a spirit of lawlessness and violence, a willing embrace of tyranny and mob rule (which are one and the same), a lashing out in bigotry that threatens what is left of our culture’s denatured sense of decency.

I’ve had a lot to say about that, actually, and could say a lot more:

We are not wrong to recognize our frustration–literally, the lack of efficacy or support for our intentions, their failure to achieve fruition, and our sense that the indifference of some, the excuse-making of others, the fecklessness of many, and our own lack of resolve are all part of the problem.

It is very important to take the measure of the situation.  I think we all need a much heavier dose of sobriety than we are usually given, in popular culture or even at church:  [see “The Problem of Nihilism in Public Discourse” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and “The Banality of Nihilism” for more.]

But at some point, some good person always asks the right question:  what, then, are we to do?  The question is perennial, and gets asked from many angles.  There are plenty of resources to suggest a direction for tackling this question.

Still, This “what to do” question is harder to answer that than to be dismayed at the difficulty of answering.  It takes time to dig down into the faith, into the hope we really do have, to find its subtler connections to our everyday situation–the options between martyrdom proper and practical-atheist complacency that we navigate creatively together in pursuit of our holy calling.

Herewith, then, a few steps.

1. Sober up

“Realism” should not make you ignore the big picture–the really big picture, the one with God in it and your responsibilities to your family and your neighbors in it, the one where your prayers matter but cannot be unmoored from your concrete obligations, the one that is true even if the statistics and the promises and the conjectures of the chatterers and the pitchers and the candidates, Hucksters and Trumperies and all, prove as false as their all-too-human (and often corrupt and criminal) opposition claims.  You are not choosing between options presented you on TV, unless you have succumbed to the mistaken notion that TV is a window on reality, forgetting that TV news exists to sell your attention span to advertisers.  That’s right, folks.  The mass media buy and sell your attention spans as surely as markets for the securitization of debt buy and sell the poor.

So stop believing them.  Stop judging things in their terms.  Find out who makes the real decisions, and focus your attention and advocacy on their reasoning and actions.

Do not believe that you know something about reality when you know what “wins the game” in horse-race handicapping of campaigns, or in hypothetical vote counting and prediction, or in staging the confrontations and feeding the “narratives” that make for good attention-span sales and bolster the self-importance and saleability of those with the media muscle to make or break celebrity brands.  What you know is how to manipulate the delusions of others.  If you need to do that, then do it knowing that is what you are doing; do it effectively and ruthlessly, all the while *also* being sure that you are honest with yourself and about yourself.  This is light years away from what happens when most people enter politics, or from what we naively assume in typical news-driven political conversation.

Quit thinking in cliches, even if you have to spout a slogan here and there to rally the troops.

2. Think your way in from the edges

We don’t want, and shouldn’t want, to live in fantasies of “what might be” or to spend too much time on our pipe dreams.  (Much as I love pipe dreams and Modest Proposals, and wish I had time to flesh them out more.)

But we also cannot make realistic judgments if we do not understand the parameters of the situation.  For this reason, reframing the question is a basic move in political debate, and the frame of various mass media (and social media) conversations ends up seeming more important than any of the actual decisions or the relevant data.  Not a few problems are much simpler than anyone involved has any interest in allowing them to be, sadly (e.g., bathrooms).  And some problems are constantly reframed as a debate over “solutions” when in fact nobody involved seems to have any serious idea what is to be done (e.g., entitlement reform).

Reframing isn’t bad, any more than any other rhetorical gesture is; the problem with this, as with any move from “slippery slope” to “appeal to authority,” has to do with the substantive question at hand and the effects of the gesture on our habits of thought.  When you can show us that beyond a certain threshold there is nothing that will prevent a predictable bad result, you are quite right to make a “slippery slope” argument–and that does not protect you in the least from being wrong about any particular one.  Rhetorical gestures are not magically “true” or “false”; they are honest/dishonest and apt/inapt, and always entirely contingent upon our knowledge of reality.

So in keeping with “Sober up,” we need to be ready to engage in proper reframing of our own.  When someone comes at you with a false choice, or assumes that X is inevitable unless you do Y that seems unacceptable, then you need to stop and analyze the total set of knowns, unknowns, and possibilities more carefully.  Has X really been decided, or can you reasonably advocate for Z (even if Z is unlikely) when you find Y unacceptable?  If so, you ought to do so.

And that means that you must become accustomed to doing something that is not acceptable in formal logic and academic debate, but essential in public discourse:  you must regularly, even habitually, reject the premise of arguments presented to you.

When people try to logic you into a corner, you must always suspect a false choice, interrogate them to understand the nature of the enthymeme, and search for an alternative that enables you to reject the (usually suppressed, because often implausible if stated) premise.

Therefore, a dialogue:

Jimmy:  We have to unite around Trump, because otherwise Hillary will get to pick the next Supreme Court Justices!
Jerry:  Do you think Trump can really beat Hillary?
Jimmy:  Well, not if we don’t unite around him!
Jerry:  Why don’t we reject him and pick someone else?
Jimmy:  But a convention fight would only weaken the GOP!
Jerry:  But wouldn’t Trump weaken the GOP?
Jimmy:  But Trump is our best chance for beating Hillary!
Jerry:  But will Trump actually be any better than Hillary?
Jimmy:  But he’ll have to rely on the GOP to win!
Jerry:  Why don’t we reject him and pick someone else?
Jimmy:  But whatever we do that weakens Trump helps Hillary!
Jerry:  How so?
Jimmy:  Well, you have to vote, don’t you?
Jerry:  Uh, no….
Jimmy:  But if you don’t vote, your vote gets wasted!
Jerry:  And if I vote for someone I think is bad for the country, my vote gets perverted, right?
Jimmy:  But not voting for Trump is the same as voting for Hillary!
Jerry:  Oh, really, how’s that work out mathematically?
Jimmy:  Well, if 100 people vote, and each side would have 50/50, and you take away two votes from one side, that make it 51/49 percent against that side!
Jerry:  Hmmm.  I’m not saying I would think it made sense substantively or morally even if those numbers were right, but…how are you getting your 100 people voting?  I mean, it’s not like we select exactly 100 voters per district or something…right?
Jimmy:  But however many people live in that place, that’s the total, and whoever doesn’t vote for one side is helping the other.
Jerry:  What if most of the people, or even a sizeable plurality of the people, don’t vote?
Jimmy:  Well, then we just count the ones who are voting.
Jerry:  But if we only count after the vote, and only count the ones who voted, then how does your “take away” work?
Jimmy:  No, see, you start with the polls of likely voters, then you move from there to what actually happened, and your decision not to vote changed that “likely voter” poll outcome to be what really happened.  Your not-voting is like a vote for Hillary!
Jerry:  I’m pretty sure you just conflated fiction with reality, there.  Who’s buying the next round?

There is nothing “unrealistic” about insisting that we make the actual decision in front of us without conflating it with mass-media driven narratives about the meaning of polls and the relationship between various blips of reportage and the real decision-making.  Those stories are always going to inflate the importance of whatever aggrandizes the national news media and their corporate overlords, and will do so in a manner that promotes the celebrity brands (and not necessarily the principles or the interests) of those politicians and others who abet them in that highly profitable trade in human attention spans.

So that’s a start:  replace fiction with substance in your discourse and decision-making.  I’ll be back soon with more steps to take.

Unjust discrimination must be avoided

Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

(source: Catechism of the Catholic Church – The sixth commandment)

I’ve said this in other ways at other times, but it bears saying again:  To help people, including making laws that govern society justly and mitigate the harms we do to each other, it is always necessary to avoid bigotry–self-serving, lawless unreason that treats others merely as objects of contempt or threats.  This is true regardless of the “others” involved.

And it is equally necessary to deal with people according to truth, to the conformity of our understanding and language to reality, to the proportioning of our projects and ambitions to what is actually possible.  When we do not do so, we do harm.

This is, for example, a reason not to hate and fear “Muslims” indiscriminately.  It is vital to discriminate between people who may, for reasons including devotion to false religion, do violent harm to others, and those who may be harmless (or in harm’s way) for reasons that may include their religion, whether we deem it true or false.  And therefore it is necessary that we never let our abstractions occlude simply human features of each situation, like indications of violent tendencies or affiliations, evidence of abuse, or other factors.

Each person deserves to be treated as someone with human dignity, that is, someone created in imago dei so as to be capable of entering into friendship with God:  someone with a “rational soul,” someone whose consequential choices, insofar as they express right relationship to God and other people, really do make each human creature the “kind of person” he or she becomes (a unique kind always analogous in kind to God and other people).

And that treatment most definitely does involve compassion for the suffering each person undergoes, both because of conditions no one can choose–like a skin color subject to cultural bigotry, or a nationality at war with another, or poverty in a nation that treats affluent consumerism as a social norm, or ignorance on account of miseducation–and because of choices whose consequences far outweigh what any human can calculate in advance.

People need to be treated with care, and helped to become open to the grace that will “heal and perfect nature” in each of us and in the whole world.

But precisely because none of us can fully calculate in advance the cost of the most consequential decisions we make, the ones that form our future in ways that may have lifelong or, barring that most merciful intervention of God that we pray for daily, eternal consequences, it is absolutely necessary that we treat each other according to each one’s human dignity by recognizing the real gravity of our choices.  It is necessary that we treat each other as subjects as well as objects of concern, and therefore that we require others to heed what is known about the consequences of each person’s actions.

When a man allows his objectifying gaze to linger on a woman, or another man, in a way that arouses a desire he does not wish to reason against–a condition that most of us have fallen prey to at one time or another–then such a person needs to be warned against his next action, both on account of the evil inherent in the previous one (taking a person as an object of consumption) and on account of the grave consequences of the next one.

And when those consequences are not apparent within that person’s life, it will be necessary to appeal to history, to cultural knowledge, even to direct revelation (which abounds) in order to make that clear.

For example, with regard to efforts to enforce recognition of fake marriages (attempted marriages among persons incapable of marriage) on all people, the information we need to show compassion without harming others has already been given to us, if we have ears to hear:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.

“Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”

(source: Catechism of the Catholic Church)

as well as

Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil authorities adopt different positions. At times they simply tolerate the phenomenon; at other times they advocate legal recognition of such unions, under the pretext of avoiding, with regard to certain rights, discrimination against persons who live with someone of the same sex. In other cases, they favour giving homosexual unions legal equivalence to marriage properly so-called, along with the legal possibility of adopting children.

Where the government’s policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.

(source: Considerations Regarding Proposals…)

It is not possible to bypass this responsibility.  It is not possible to keep this responsibility from taking legal form, indefinitely.

And it is not permissible to allow the lawless language of antirealist legislation to replace our knowledge of the law.  It is harmful to those we seek to help, to ourselves and our neighbors; and it exposes us all to the lawless violence of the regime unhinged from reason.  Unhinged from reality.

Rather than this, we must necessarily choose resistance.

We must know what our victory looks like.

Perverse Vindication is Vindication Still

This reminds me of one of the footnotes in David Foster Wallace’s “Datum Centurio,” a short story in the form of an imaginary dictionary entry (for the word “date”) from the future: “Cf. Catholic dogma, perverse vindication of.”

(source: Surrogate mother pressured to abort triplets)

I have long been aware of the way that dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction tends, whatever effort to the contrary folks tend to exert, to reinforce the stable understanding of humanity that has remained largely unchanged, fads and fictions in popular philosophy notwithstanding, as long as humans have had leisure to reflect on their nature.  It is no accident that Aristotle and Aquinas largely agree on what humans are, or that they agree with Augustine and Avicenna, or again with Anselm–and on and on, and A to Z of the epochal thinkers of human nature come down to certain basics.

Those who try to re-invent humanity invariably have to re-invent the same features of humanity with different names, under some preferred mode of control that “fixes” their preferred distortions in place.  These built-in features, whose relationship to our biological existence and spiritual significance I describe as “thinking in brains,” mean that we have definite capacities and limitations, definite possibilities of thought and existence and definite boundaries to what conceivable things we can realize.  We can often strike a pose, in our minds or in our most ephemeral fictions, that nobody could possibly hold while actively working and living in the complex web of relationships that define our actual existence, the creaturely being of humans.

And because we are often trying to hold a pose that is not well-fitted to our creaturely being, we find ourselves exposed to certain threats, certain horrors, that we must keep at bay in controllable fictions and in “morality plays” whose theme is our power to finally change humanity, to force all our neighbors into the mold that makes us happiest.  And these fictions, when they are compelling, spell out our fear of what we cannot actually redesign, our fear of what is too real for us to control leaks out in the nervous laughter that turns into farce whenever we try to “repeat an act” of horror.  Horror, it turns out, is “conservative” in its essential underpinnings:  It reflects human nature’s reality beneath the level of our social and technological manipulation, the reality that doesn’t go away when we tell civil lies about it.

This idea, both in my days as a radical occasionalist, voluntarist species of nominalist who believed that post-structuralism offered me the best textual strategy for radically relativizing all human authority to the divine Author’s written Word, and in my recovering sanity as a metaphysical realist who believes that only a concretely realized coordination of the Word written and the sacramental Real Presence of the Word Incarnate suffices to ground us in Creation and nourish us in the grace of Redemption, animates my interest in the way that culture changes, often without regard to our stated intentions, as we compete in our efforts to defend and institutionalize our preferred lies and popular errors.

And so I have been interested to watch the following exchange unfold.  First, Jeremy Neill with an article that I commented on casually when it came out, arguing that eventually the self-destructive forces of inhumane ideology must give way to a consensus on what humanity actually is, but doing so with some assumptions many of us will find ill-considered: Continue reading »

It Is Later Than You Think

In light of recent events, I keep reverting to something I said months ago, referencing a strong conviction that has been growing stronger since my days in Europe as the graduate assistant for Baylor’s Study Abroad program in Maastricht–a thought that took concrete form when that group of mostly pre-med students toured the medical history museum at the Charite in Berlin, where the likes of Virchow worked:  

More empirical facts are better than fewer, but they are not a good apart from and incommensurable with other goods, such as the respect for the integrity of human bodies that should have prevented a science from founding itself on stolen corpses and bodies in Bell jars.

(source: Et Seq. | Hang Together)

It is no accident that opposition to the authoritative revelation of the creaturely nature of humans and anti-human views of science are routinely found together:

As Matyssek makes clear, Virchow’s interest in promoting science among the lay public stemmed in large part from his well-known support for the Kulturkampf. Although the museum itself was founded after the Kulturkampf, Virchow himself adhered to his suspicion of “ultramontanism.” While Virchow and others regarded the Kulturkampf as a struggle for science and “Kultur” (what we would today call civilization) against the influence of Catholicism in public life, the struggle was neither religiously nor ethnically neutral. Indeed, the Kulturkampf was often explicitly anti-Polish and, as Michael Gross has shown, liberal Jews also worried about an easy slide from anti-Catholicism to anti-Semitism.[1] While Virchow himself described the Kulturkampf in the language of science versus religion, it was, in fact, as much about enforcing religious conformism as about secularization.

(source: H-Net Reviews)

It is vital that you understand that there are entire classes of people, at all strata from the wage-slave to the well-funded, from the beaten-down lab tech to the people who run the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation and their cronies, who have for generations been trained to view humans like this:

…and when they awaken, they haltingly admit what has troubled their dreams, like this:

It is up to us to witness the evil, and to bear witness to the truth about Creator and creature; to listen, and to speak, and to act.

Let us find a way to act, decisively, now. (Here’s a start.)

Slattery, Campolo, Mohler, and an ecumenical moment

A good choice, but a sad occasion for having to make it:

The Catholic Diocese of Tulsa has resigned from membership in the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice because of the organization’s involvement in last Saturday’s Tulsa Pride parade, according to a letter from the Rev. Msgr. Patrick Gaalaas to OCCJ President and Chief Executive Officer Jayme Cox and Board of Directors Chairman Russ Florence.

“The executive committee’s decision to join officially in Saturday’s ‘Tulsa Pride’ parade, inviting board members to celebrate the event by marching behind the OCCJ banner, was, we are fairly certain, not made without careful thought,” Gaalaas wrote. “To march in such a parade seems to us to be a deliberate and full-throttled expression of support for the so-called gay agenda, a central component of which is same-sex marriage. Unless a clear statement can be made by OCCJ that its participation does not imply support for same-sex marriage or be seen to condone sexual acts outside of marriage, we have no option but to withdraw from membership.”

(source: Tulsa Catholic diocese drops out of OCCJ over Pride parade participation)

It is important to realize that these decisions are being made for reasons.  If we do not want to anticipate the moment, or overreact, neither do we want to wait until “it’s too late now” or “how can you object to this, when you didn’t object to that” become the arguments that envervate, emasculate, and sterilize our participation in reality–as they have so many times in the past, and in recent years.  It is never less than about “witness,” though it is almost always more than that.

Protestant friends have been seeing the same thing happen.  A not-particularly-orthodox figure in American evangelicalism, predictably in line with “progressive” groupthink, suddenly announces as a change what his organization had quietly supported for years.  Christianity Today, the flagship publication of the Billy Graham segment of American evangelicalism, had the gumption to respond appropriately:

The unity and depth of Christian teaching on marriage may not be news. Neither are the hundreds of thousands of planes that land safely each day. It’s not novel. It’s not surprising or counterintuitive. But it is reality—and a reality that is not going away anytime soon. Any time at all, for that matter, because it is grounded in the deepest realities.

We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter. And we’ll continue to be sorry, because over the next many years, there will be other evangelicals who similarly reverse themselves on sexual ethics.

We’ll be sad, but we won’t panic or despair. Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them. But to be sure, they will be enlisting in a cause that we believe is ultimately destructive to society, to the church, and to relations between men and women.

So yes, another couple of prominent evangelicals have come out in support of gay sexual ethics. It’s disappointing, but no reason to react defensively or angrily. We plan to treat with charity and respect those with whom we disagree, while we continue to call for a sexual ethic that, by God’s design, is one of the key ways to foster human flourishing.

(source: Breaking News: 2 Billion Christians Believe in Traditional Marriage)

And I agree that there is no reason to “feel compelled to condemn,” and indeed that even the “distance” we may not be able to avoid is a “distance” created when others push off against us or insist on our approval, coerced if necessary, for what we cannot possibly call good without being condemned in what we approve.   But I do also understand why conservative Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler felt the need to point out the uncomfortable possibilities latent in such nuance:

Those statements, drawn from the editorial, are clear, convictional, and timely. Galli put Christianity Today on the record as opposed to same-sex marriage and to the affirmation of same-sex relationships in the church.

I have to admit that I do not understand how those two sentences can be combined. If the view of the “converts” to same-sex marriage and the acceptance of homosexual partnerships is “ultimately destructive to society, to the church, and to relations between men and women,” how can that distance be avoided?

The reality is that it cannot. This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide.

(source: Which Way, Evangelicals? There is Nowhere to Hide)

The time of decision is, indeed, upon us.  Has been, in fact, for longer than most people think.

You cannot serve two masters.

An Ongoing Conversation

A friend and I continue to make an effort to articulate what, exactly, is the way forward for Christianity in our culture–trying to discover how, in a situation where an increasingly intolerant ruling elite actively takes steps to make us inconsequential, Christians can successfully anticipate and defuse the conflict.  From some of my recent comments on the problems in finding a way to do that:

I agree in principle that “we can share this country” is the better part of “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”  Just the same, saying this with our hands in the air to those who regard our “share” as a strictly notional, de-institutionalized, publicly inconsequential “freedom of worship” is–well, it’s like making a statement at a sentencing hearing, like pleading with the firing squad.  To “share” will have to mean something that actually permits us to institutionalize our principles, in some real and publicly consequential times and places.

(source: How To Do This?)

Greg sensibly replies thus:

Acting as useful idiots for the church’s enemies…that’s not the path I’m advocating. That’s not “we can share this country” but “please kill us last.” It feeds the persecution of the church just as much as culture-warriorism. The solution is to be neither. Admittedly, models for that are few, though not nonexistent. But I don’t see any alternative to trying. We don’t know whether we can bulid moral consensus. We do know that culture-warriorism is a cure worse than the disease.

(source: How To Do This?)

I reply by pressing him to “draw me a picture” of the alternative, because as far as I can see it exists only in the cracks, right now–or where massive legal and even constitutional change alter the total situation:   Continue reading »

Answers to a Survey on the Family–part 2

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.

5. How does the Church respond, in her pastoral activity, to the diffusion of cultural relativism in secularized society and to the consequent rejection, on the part of many, of the model of family formed by a man and woman united in the marriage and open to life?

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: PREACH THE WORD, BE URGENT IN SEASON AND OUT OF SEASON, CONVINCE, REBUKE, AND EXHORT, BE UNFAILING IN PATIENCE AND IN TEACHING. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” —What else IS there? Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel!

But the work of proclamation must suffuse the lives of the faithful and shape their interaction in family, parish, and neighborhood. To do that, we must recognize that the faithful have different gracious abilities, obligations, and understandings than are current in the world at large. When we assess the behavior of the faithful by the standards of the world at large, we invariably suffer the “ideological colonization” of which the Holy Father has so forthrightly spoken. Rather, we must teach the faithful to understand themselves as they are in reality, not as they are construed in the faulty categories of Enlightenment rationalism, Modernism, and post-modern thought. Those who teach the faithful must be conversant in the language of essences, able to differentiate formal principles from subsequent social constructions. They must be able to reason in terms of analogy, rather than constantly wavering between univocal propositions and emotivist mystification. They must be able to interpret Scripture with fidelity to the historical sense unfettered by outmoded skeptical and higher critical presuppositions, but in expectation of a robust spiritual sense that escapes the reductionism of merely historical-critical or historical-grammatical exegesis. They must be able to understand “spiritual” as referring to the manifestation of divinely revealed realities, of manifest relationships between God and other people that might remain obscure to unaided natural reason, and to understand that as having the dimensions that the Church has long held Scripture to unfold: the sense relating to the manifestation of the People of God as those called to realize their union with Christ, their Head and Bridegroom; the sense relating to the individual need to be truly conformed to Christ, to live at the level of His calling; and the sense relating to the incipient fulfillment of all that faith proclaims and hope expects in Christ.

Only when the formation of teachers within the Church, and the formation of the faithful, actually conforms to sound exegetical principles and orthodox hermeneutical and catechetical methods will the faithful be able to see the reality of husband+wife and parent+child in their proper light, the light the Church has always proclaimed and that the Magisterium has continually reaffirmed. Only when the faithful can understand themselves as they really are will they be able to reason with the rest of the world on reasonable terms of committed dialogue (admitting that we come to the table with presuppositions, not as empty notepads) and appeal to common ground (expecting that observation of empirical and sociological evidence will eventually reveal both what is real and how it is distorted by subsequent social construction). And only when the faithful can understand themselves as they really are will they be able to commit themselves to truth, goodness, and beauty as united in Christ all the way to martyrdom without running ahead to foolish political extravagances and futile gestures of defiance or conciliation.

Instead, returning to my interpretation of “how does” as “what have I seen … doing,” I would say that in general I see a shoulder-shrugging fatalism about “secularized society” taken as a starting point for analysis, built on a series of mistakes that lead to “ideological colonization”: the confusion of sociological with empirical method, and thus the conflation of a wide variety of social constructions with “science” as though sociological observations of current habits were material and historical facts or features of Creation; a resulting tendency to treat only the invisible matters of faith, and at that only the interior ones, whether of individual motivation or social sentiment, as the proper domain of the spiritual and of authoritative teaching. Compounding this, the Church appears more afraid of being labeled “fundamentalist” by those hostile to all consequential religious teaching than of being considered unfaithful by Christ.

For all of that, there are many signs of hope! American Catholics seem to have been surprised awake by the Obama administration’s bafflingly unprovoked and consistent efforts to re-enact Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, marginalizing Christians generally and Catholics very specifically across the board. The response has been far too merely political, and rationalized using Enlightenment ideology that cannot actually suffice—that is, in fact, a contributor to the very “ideological colonization” which it should be our first priority to resist. There are efforts to teach, there are many of the faithful who are vocally refusing to be confused or bewildered by the uncertain sound of many dithering bishops in Europe, and there are many who are energized to “cast into the deep” in pursuit of greater holiness. There is a general, effectual resistance to the American regime’s support for abortion on demand, and a broad consensus that the slaughter of babies recognizeably moving, resisting pain, and learning language should be illegal—resisted only by certain hard-liners and the sclerotic politics of a decadent nation. If we are willing to teach our own the truth, and to commit ourselves to martyrdom on its behalf, there is every reason to think that God may yet send us days of joy and triumph.

Sometimes Reason Must Raise Her Voice

Robert George has a trenchant call for the unity of reasonable people in the face of the torch-and-pitchfork crowd’s endless and irrational animus:

The lynch mob came for the brilliant mild-mannered techie Brendan Eich.
The lynch mob came for the elderly florist Barronelle Stutzman.
The lynch mob came for Eastern Michigan University counseling student Julea Ward.
The lynch mob came for the African-American Fire Chief of once segregated Atlanta Kelvin Cochran.
The lynch mob came for the owners of a local pizza shop the O’Connor family.
[W]ho if anyone will courageously stand up to the mob? Who will resist? Who will speak truth to its raw and frightening power? Who will refuse to be bullied into submission or intimidated into silence?

(source: Who Will Stand? | Robert P. George | First Things — links added, PGE)

Of course, George knows that shouting futilely at the darkness is not half as effective as shaming the mob.  Nonetheless, it is important to remember that one of the basic features of mob action, of hateful incitement, is the disinhibiting effect–the intoxication–of being one of the crowd, of yielding to passions without restraint or consideration.  This is most intense among mindless people caught up in a stampede of violence, but it is easier when the disinhibiting effect of pleasing the herd is multiplied by the disinhibiting effect of pseudo-anonymous online interaction.

It is also important to understand that nothing about the way the torch-and-pitchfork crowd operatesat every level–suggests any limiting principle to their lawlessness; its only consistent principle is opportunistic nihilism.  As George says:   Continue reading »

Kulturkampf is just what it says

You don’t have to be eager for conflict to find that you are in one.  It is folly to believe that all wars are optional, that all deployments of violent rhetoric and forceful means are to be met with anxious soul-searching rather than honest refusal to cave in and kowtow to the mob’s anointed.

So Rod Dreher:

Today’s Indianapolis Star front page uses the headline approach usually reserved for war. Because that’s what this is: culture war, and the mainstream media, as a vital part of the progressive movement, is waging total war for a cause they believe is holy. I’m not exaggerating. To most of the media, there is no other side in the gay marriage debate, or on anything to do with gay rights. There is only Good and Evil. And so we have the spectacle of a moral panic that makes a party that is a chief beneficiary of the First Amendment — a newspaper — taking unprecedented steps to suppress a party that is the other chief beneficiary of the First Amendment: religious dissenters. In my experience, it is impossible to overstate how sacred this cause is to American elites, especially journalists.

If you thought this was ever about fairness, justice, tolerance, or reason, you now ought to have had your eyes opened.

(source: Indiana: The Holy War of the Left | The American Conservative)

It is always unwise to ignore how much our culture owes to the totalitarianism envisioned by Bismarck and his enablers, the likes of VirchowKulturkampf was originally a specific phase of German politics, but it was always a deliberate “war of choice,” an intentional violence of the regime against the Church and her faithful.

(source: rbb Prussia Chronicle | Image: The end of the Kulturkampf)

It is easy to get “separation of Church and State” if you really want it:  Continue reading »

In which I stayed up too late

In which I stayed up too late citing Aquinas and Locke,

and could really have used the sleep,

and some dinner.


In the sections of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding that are dedicated to empirical science, Locke shows at length how the whole scholastic method of philosophy is intrinsically hostile to empirical science. He was no fool; he knew at whose works he was really aiming. And while I, like you, have made the journey from nominalism to realism, I think we can have realism without the scholastic method of philosophy, and if we value empirical science we must do so.

In short, you seem to think the only really important fight is between Aquinas and Augustine, who occupies the more militantly anti-rationalist space on Aquinas’ metaphysical “Right,” to use a political metaphor. But there is also space on Aquinas’ metaphysical “Left,” and the question between you and I is whether the golden mean lies where Aquinas is, or further to his Left.

(source: Et Seq. | Hang Together)

I’m just struggling to understand your stake in all of this, Greg.  I do understand that Locke had to make choices in a pretty highly charged environment, and we both have friends who have to do the same, but I really don’t see how that figures into a general understanding of their place in the history of ideas.

More to the point, I’m not sure why we’re discussing this when the salient fact remains that there is no significant difference between “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act” and “Kicking Unborn Child Act” to discuss; it makes no difference what level of medical knowledge you have, if you are committed to ignoring it to save a false principle.

From my perspective, Augustine and Aquinas are high points in an unfolding of Christian understanding of all things; Augustine’s work was perhaps the most developed expression of the relationship of divine revelation to all human knowing available, and the most tightly integrated with the period from Christ through the great Councils recognized by all Christians, and the most capable in using secular/pagan categories of understanding and rhetoric to relate revelation to all areas of thought and life.

There is a vulnerability in the tradition after Augustine, as there always is after a seminal thinker achieves a durable synthesis:  reduction to a flawed, less-than-the-reality-discussed, syllabus of rote points.  In the case of Augustine, the achievement and limitations of Boethius in transmitting the Platonic elements of the tradition combined with Augustine’s own Platonic antecedents and stylistic preferences.  (We also have to include the popularity of Dionysius the Aeropagite [pseudo-Dionysius] and the constant inroads of Gnostic/Manichaean/Paulician/Bogomil/Cathar heresy, as well.)  The difficulty in tying the Platonic tradition down–of recapturing the synthesis that seemed possible when reading Augustine–was the lack of articulation with reality.  As a result, unbalanced secularization or spiritualization threatened the effort to articulate divine truth with human lived experience in every area of life–politics, medicine, cosmology, sanctification, agriculture, etc.

What Aquinas achieved, I am convinced, was to recover Augustine from that reduction–to defend against that vulnerability to dualistic misinterpretation–by judicious application of Aristotle.  Aristotle had improved on Plato precisely by better articulating the junctures of world/mind, matter/form, real/ideal; he made it “philosophical” to build up an understanding of real things from observations of their properties.

Aquinas was not a scientist, himself, nor primarily concerned with such knowledge.  Nobody would claim that he was.  Albert the Great, his mentor, was profoundly interested in such knowledge, and defends empirical study, but spent his career bringing all the knowledge already recorded in Aristotle forward to a Western Europe that had been groping about for some sufficiently rich understanding of the world.

I see no reason to conclude that Aquinas believed himself to have advanced a best or final method of primary research, either. Continue reading »