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Saturday, January 05, 2013

You're Infected With Listeria

5 Thoughts For Today

5. I'm not one to go around declaring judgment on people. But neither do I abandon our culture and people under the pretense of being "winsome" for the gospel. #hipsterliberalfail.

4. If you say you will fight, but not in the public space, you've already lost.

3. I wonder if my generation just isn't into being hated? Read the gospels lately?

2. Jeff Bagwell gets a vote on my Hall of Fame ballot.

1. It still mystifies me that people so concerned about the coercive power of government still mostly favor the death penalty, the ultimate expression of state coercion. To be opposed is fundamentally a more conservative position.

Friday, January 04, 2013

I Still Think Twitter Is Stupid

Fine. I admit it. I am resistant to change. I kept the same ancient flip-open cell phone for 6 years. I had three cracks to get a state-of-the-art power wheechair, and I got the same chair--or close to it--each time. I want 2 things from a power 'chair: 1) Speed; and 2) Toughness. That's why a Quickie P-2 series chair is the one I like. You can't break it. Slam it into doors, walls, whatever you want. Metal foot-rests. With mainly metal parts. And batteries you don't have to think about. Other companies, take note. I digress.

All that is to say, I stick with what works. Feel free to dismiss me therefore as an unenlightened stick in the mud. Maybe I am. But at heart, a traditionalist is not afraid of change or of new things; on the contrary, the best of us help point the way to the future. A traditionalist does not uncritically adopt anything, but assimilates it as best he can with what he already knows.

The internet and all related technology is a great breakthrough. It's on a par with the printing press, in terms of democratizing information and ideas. Few things in life are intrinsically evil; most of the trouble comes when we use a good thing for a bad purpose.

Today, blogging is "old school". It was cutting-edge in 2001 or so, when I started reading them. It's true that anyone can write anything they want, and that isn't always good. But if the sharing of information and especially the reporting of news had become calcified, and a small cadre of elites was too comfortable in its cartel, bloggers came along as a corrective. There is absolutely no doubt that a blogger helped to bring down the presidential candidacy of John Kerry, and the career of Dan Rather. For all the sneering from "professionals," it's clear that aspects of its function as an information aggregator have changed the way we consume news, and there's no going back. I'm worried that most of the talk of "distributism" is in fact ignorance, nostalgia, and sentimentality. But that's an argument for another day.

Twitter is stupid. I've rarely said anything funny, interesting, or useful in 140 characters. Maybe it isn't stupid, but I'm not joining. My ramblings are inane enough without a character limit. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but a true educational experience needs room to breathe. [And you need room to do damage control.--ed.] Nah. There's nothing I've written here I didn't mean to say. I may feel differently now on some things, but I'm still just me.

"List"-en To Me

5 Thoughts For Today

5. I resent the implication that strong men don't cry. It's BS. If you can take one honest look around the world and not cry about something, the problem is you. There's probably a reasonable limit, sure. But this goes for the chauvinist counter-reaction, too: You're peddling a lie. I don't trust people who don't show their feelings, somehow.

4. No, the Republicans did not win the fiscal cliff discussions. Nor would it have been some great moral failure if no deal was struck. I don't believe in bipartisanship; I believe in good policy, and this had none.

3. Don't call me a "friend" unless you mean it. If you are one, you have my fiercest loyalty.

2. They made the mistake of thinking they were important. Hey NHL and players: We can find other things to do with our time and money. The game made you, not the other way around.

1. I wonder if the people who say they don't watch TV and the people who say they don't eat at McDonald's could pair off after the next Liars Anonymous meeting.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

She's Listing To Port

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Ecclesial agnosticism---dogmatic agnosticism---agnosticism---atheism.

4. "Those days flew by/Like a priest just passing through/Once when I was little."

3. A question may deserve an answer, quite independently of whether you or your tribe are asking it.

2. Funniest Star Trek, TNG Banter Ever: [Riker and Chief O'Brien sit at a nearby table, observing the interaction between Dr. Katherine Pulaski and Kyle Riker, Riker's father]

Riker [horrified, as he watches Katherine and Kyle kiss and embrace]: They know each other!

O'Brien [looking]: Yeah. I know her, too. We don't do that.

1. I'm going to start using, "Lower your shields!" as a plea for greater emotional availability. [That's incredibly dorky.--ed.] Oh, lower your shields! [Oh, geez.--ed.]

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Some Frank Thoughts About Sex, Marriage, and Desire

I'm praying as I type this. I'm sure you are aware that this desire is the strongest natural one we have. And that is an unqualified good, insofar as it would prevent the extinction of the human race, among other things. But people often express this desire in all manner of destructive ways, and at the wrong times. You don't need the details, I'm sure.

And I'll just tell you, I've gone about as wrong as you can, while still not bringing lives to ruin. Often in the spiritual life, you learn more from failing than from succeeding. Which is not to say it is better to fail. I mean only that the special humility that shame often produces is good for those who would be proud.

I think the failure to distinguish concupiscence from sin has the undesirable effect of completely obliterating the distinction between temptation and sin in the sphere of sexuality in practical (Protestant) life. Aside from the dumb things I actually did, I felt bad for every desire I ever had, every thought.

Anyway, the cross of singleness is much different as a Catholic. I've had time to reflect on that cross some more. By God's grace, I can see that the generalized agitation I described as "longing for marriage" in those days--and even after--were the after-effects of having given expression to my disordered passions! As I'm thinking about it today, let me say it boldly: there is no such thing as a generalized sexual "frustration" that is good. If you feel this, (men, especially) it's probably a disordered passion.

I'm not saying there isn't a good way to long for marriage. But first, we have to see that our sexual desire when rightly expressed or realized is for one person. That desire says, "You, and only you." A person could express his or her sexual desire with lots of people, but it won't be a good thing, and it won't come to its full flowering in God's plan.

And you can't just say this. I could be blathering on pointlessly about purity and desiring to do God's will while knowing nothing of this self-possession that we're talking about here. But I understand, today, by experience that my sexual self is mine to give as a gift. It's extremely powerful. I have already known that. It's dangerous; it subsumes things (and people). If and when God chooses to make life suitable for me to give this gift, it will be a beautiful thing. I'm sure if it were recounted, those books would move the world. But there's too much sharing of that stuff, anyway.

I'm quite the appreciator of women. They are so fascinating, even were they not desirable to me in this way. God was really up to something in this case. [You're attracted to every woman.--ed.] Not true! Most of them, maybe. But the point I want to make is that we should look for signs of something more than just attraction to know that our time for marriage has arrived. That God is doing something, in other words. I do wonder what God's idea is, if marriage is in my future. Will I give the world a saint? A president? A world-class chemist? If the inevitably explosive love between my future spouse and me were just a footnote because my children brought glory to God and good to humanity, what more could I ask?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Romans List

We're a long way from publication on this Romans stuff, but I wanted to hold you over:

5 Thoughts On Romans

5. This is pretty fierce theologically for a letter that says, "Dudes, give me money to go to Spain."

4. St. Paul can say more in 3 words than I can in a year.

3. If my future wife ever asks to watch any Kardashians on the TV, I'm gonna yell out, "May it never be!"

2. "The righteousness of God," for the win!

1. It's the beginning of a joke: "Dr. Luther, Dr. Hahn, and Origen walk into a bar..."

Monday, December 31, 2012

Fun With Romans

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to read and analyze the book of Romans. Verse-by-verse. Right here. Just to show that we still read the Bible over here. And that the Magisterium is not Big Brother. [Yes it is.--ed.] We'll have our Catechisms open, just so I don't accidentally start another "Reformation". [Why the scare-quotes?--ed.] You want me to say that I don't think the Reformation reformed anything? [Ahem.--ed.] Well, you've had too many people spraying rainbows and sunshine in your face instead of telling the truth. [Back at you.--ed.] Right. Like I need or want to join a church of one. I'm done. "Faith like a child" means at least this: My faith is one I received, as a gift. It was taught to me. "The Quest" was nothing but asking if those who taught me had themselves received it, and been sent. It must be historical, by the nature of the case.

So there we are. We'll see if Uncle JK still knows how to dance. The truth is, I want to be as cool as that other Jason guy. [Why not link to his post on Romans?--ed.] I don't want to bias our conclusions. [Fair enough.--ed.] Feel free to chime in. [Oh, I will.--ed.] Good.

Star Trek, TNG Hipocrisy Update: In the Season 7 episode, "The Pegasus," the Enterprise crew discovers that Cmdr. Riker's first commanding officer, Adm. Eric Pressman, had violated the Treaty of Algeron by developing and using a cloaking device. In the first violation 12 years ago, Riker fought with Pressman against a mutiny precipitated by those treaty violations. As a result, the USS Pegasus was presumed lost. But it had recently been found. Pressman orders the Enterprise to assist in the salvaging of the Pegasus, concealing his desire to continue the cloaking experiments. Capt. Picard arrests Pressman for his ongoing violations of the treaty.

In the Season 3 episode, "The Defector," Picard mentions that he has violated the Treaty Of Algeron by crossing the Neutral Zone pursuant to information from a Romulan defector relevant to the safety of the Federation. Why didn't Picard arrest himself?

In Fact, Devin Rose Is Awesome

Save yourself some time. I wish I had this man's clarity of thought. But I can think back to when the problem of fallibility became acute. It's when and why I looked into the Catholic Church. As I recall, I wrote of an "Abyss Of Relativism." This is that. I will readily grant that Protestants and Catholics would be in a similar epistemic position, in the absence of evidence for the claim of infallibility. But it seems to me that this other man needs to investigate that claim, and the evidence offered, rather than merely assert that it is false.

By the way, it's still arbitrary and ad hoc to accept the first two Councils while rejecting the others, especially using a principle and a method the Fathers knew nothing about. To even use Sola Scriptura, wouldn't one be asserting that one's own interpretation is the measure by which all others are judged? And that applies to history itself. Some ecclesial body ("the Church") can't really be a check on the individual unless that Church is infallible.

That was the heart of my frustration as I wrestled with the claims of the Catholic Church, and other counter-claims: I needed either a promise of infallibility for my interpretation of Scripture, or an infallible Church. You don't, and can't, completely alter the practice of Christianity on the strength of, "I don't know." Let me say it another way: If I am not willing to assert that my interpretation is correct, I cannot say it is truer than the claims of the Catholic Church. In the absence of a compelling reason, I have to return to the Catholic Church.

And that's the point about other interpretations: not to mock the disunity therein, but to see the competing interpretations for what they do: weaken the power of my particular claim against the Catholic Church. After all, if each of these has compelling elements and plausibility, enough that other Protestants remain separated from me, why would I think that I have found the "magic bullet" that will silence the papists once for all?

When I started writing these thoughts out, I started at the church and denomination level so that we could see the problem where it hits us first. But it's good to look at it globally also. It's still the same question: Where does dogma come from? I'm going to say it like this: Given that God, who is Truth, has spoken, what has he said? And to whom has he spoken authoritatively?

A lot of people are content with this epistemic uncertainty. They do not see the danger of it. The damage has already been done. It's pointless to talk about "fences" divine and human if you can't tell which is which. I may have the goods to found a very beautiful heresy for myself, but on these terms, make no mistake: It's still just mine, and it's still a heresy.

It is a grace to us--though a severe one--that Protestantism shatters into a million pieces. Something that is divine in origin does not lead to confusion and disharmony. The inevitable conclusion, since it was Sola Scriptura--and the individualism behind it--that led us here, is that it was a mistake.

Someone commented on Devin's Facebook post pursuant to the debate he had, mentioned here at the outset. It's pretty snarky, but it makes the basic point well: "Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Sola scriptura leads inevitably to denial of certainty and eventually to relativism and skepticism of the worst kind. Yet, while denying certainty, it grants one the ability to claim an infallible and certain authority, while using that authority to justify any number of subjective and relative claims (personal interpretations). You can literally have it both ways--enough skepticism to deny any position you do not like as 'unscriptural' and an infallible authority used to defend any position you do like. It's perfect!"

We have to have infallibility somewhere, given the fact that the Infallible One is at the heart of the endeavor. In myself, or another. But 'neither' is not an option.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Catholic As Not Protesting

You need to understand. Or at least I want you to understand. I'm not Catholic as a pin on my lapel, or as a sports team for whom I root. I am Catholic. I do not prefer Catholicism; it is quite simply, the only choice that makes sense.

When you're on the journey from Reformed/Protestant to Catholic, you don't really know that's what you're doing. I was just asking questions. It's not right to say the answers didn't satisfy me; they ought not satisfy anyone. I've talked with other people stuck in groupthink, and that's what happens: slogans are said to make the inquisitor shut up, and keep the others from wondering. I guess it works on some people. Not me. And it never has. It's not anti-Reformed to ask where the ecumenical councils came from; neither is it to ask where the end-point of a(n) hermeneutical process (or at least what it looks like) terminates. You can blather on about authorial intent 'til you are 172, but unless you know what it is, you're dodging the question. It's like saying, "It's not the destination, it's the journey that matters," and being OK with it. Let me be blunt: I don't care if you have 8 exegetical degrees and have read the Bible 1000 times; that's relativistic crap, and someone should say it. Let's keep going.

If we are part of a movement that made the basic charge to the effect that the institutional church and leadership had been corrupted, and that the plain gospel had been lost, you'd better have a method of recovery that delivers the goods. You're responsible if your answer brings up 12 more questions. You're responsible if heretics use your argument to draw conclusions you don't intend. That should be a flag that you have made a poor argument. And don't you dare say I called you an Arian; I didn't. I merely said that anyone can use your argument to justify what they hold. This is what ad hoc means: holding stubbornly to a conclusion that isn't required by the premises. You need to give me a reason why Nicea got it right, but Trent got it wrong. By the way, the canon was defined 9 years after the final form of that Creed was known. Maybe I could quote something we know to be Scripture now, but I'm certainly not going to know it as a stable, known rule of faith, as your position seems to require. I'll overstate this to make the point: The bishops at Nicea did not use Scripture to settle the question; they used themselves, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to settle it. Right then and there, they defined the true doctrine, but more than that, they defined "us" and "not us." Or, to be more blunt, they defined the Church and schisms from her. Actually, this had been done several times. This is why Tertullian (God help him) was able to say essentially, "Don't give the Scripture to heretics." He knew that truth we always knew: every heretic has his verse. That's why the Church has to be visible. To be in schism is to separate from the community holding to the divine truth. To be in heresy is to knowingly hold something contrary to the Church. If you can't see it, you can't find it. If you can't find it, you can't know what to believe. That's real simple.

On the other hand, insisting on a visible line of episcopal ordination from the Apostles against the Reformers is superfluous if it doesn't terminate somewhere. Luckily, that person had always been the Bishop of Rome. Now, does that mean the other bishops are pointless? Of course not. I've never met the Pope. He has never personally instructed me in anything. I have met my bishop. He has taught me tons of things. The link is real, though. The Pope has personally saved and preserved the truth historically several times. Most of the other bishops fell to the Arian heresy, and the pope stood unmoved. And truth prevailed. That was the promise to Peter and the Church in action. Fabian gave his life in 251 when Germanic hordes overran Rome. As a side-note: Can you even imagine the worldwide freak-out if barbarians murdered the pope today? In this supposedly secular hopeless age, I recall that the acknowledged leader of the world and dozens of heads of state attended the funeral of our last pope. I digress.

I enjoy pointing out the contradiction in acknowledging that, if I were Reformed (or any other Protestant), all those people in ecclesiastical authority over me could be wrong, any juridical action could be wrong, any time I read my Bible, I could be wrong, and yet, somehow, we're supposed to believe that we should stay in this arrangement. If I believed "what the Bible says" leads me to Eutychianism, you couldn't stop me. If I wanted to find some Eutychians and join them, we could simply say, "Well, the Church is invisible, and we're right, anyway." I can do it today. I can join a "church" that smiles on my sexual sins (for example) and still believe I have a part with Christ. Who's to say? All I need is an "expert," and a few people to say I'm right. Bam. We're now a "church" that's a viable option. How do you know the Reformation wasn't the same thing? It was. "They got it wrong. They're corrupt. We're preserving the true faith. That Eucharistic doctrine isn't part of the deposit. They are just making it up to cover their other sins." Am I hitting close to home yet? Or let me put it abstractly: You want me to believe dogmatically in the determinations of a community formed by the notion that any visible community
could be in error? Why isn't that absurd on its face? Have we failed to notice that I ultimately decide when that error has occurred? Some remedy for my individualism. If I hold the Ace, they don't. No amount of appreciations or bookshelves changes this fact: An invisible Church renders all visible manifestations suspect, and worthless. Yes, worthless.

That truth in common found itself visibly bound up with the institutions of the bishops in apostolic succession (ecumenical council, more precisely) and with the man who defines them: the successor of Peter. Purged of all my biases that a certain thing could not be true or from God, it only remained to apply the same truth-in-context principle to history as I had been taught about the Scriptures: the human or "earthy" elements are not extraneous to the ascertaining of the truth; they are part of it. To submit and be Catholic is distinct from a frank acknowledgment that the claim to that authority is reasonable, contra those who say you have to be Catholic to see why. That's just silly. It was still within my power to do whatever I wished with whatever I knew. In truth, it still is. But I'd be a moron to leave. [So you're a moron who stays?--ed.] Yes.

So, for the Christian world who dissents, especially Protestants, you have two choices: you can attempt to fashion a creedal minimalism that smooths over all your internal disagreements, accepting the dogmatic agnosticism that results, or you can inquire as to the basis of our agreement, establishing where, how, and when the commonality was established. You owe it to yourself to find it.