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Saturday, January 05, 2019

A Thought Experiment

I was perusing the social media account of a philosopher friend, and there was a really long piece he posted about the development of liberation theology, and its taking hold in Latin America. It sort of freaked me out, for all the good reasons an orthodox Catholic should stand at a distance from liberation theology. Yet I was at least somewhat sympathetic, and I could not get that quote from Dom Cardinal Helder Camara from Brazil out of my mind: "As long as I asked people to help the poor, I was called a saint. But when I asked the question: why is there so much poverty? I was called a communist."

You may want to take a deep breath, and have a seat.

Couldn't the same thing be said about abortion? Consider this: "As long as I preached against people having abortions, I was called a saint. But when I asked the question: why are there so many abortions? I was called a betrayer of the unborn."

Kinda stirs the pot, doesn't it? Again, don't hear what I'm not saying; the Church is crystal clear on this. I joyfully and unreservedly assent. It's a fundamental matter of the dignity and sanctity of human life, for both personal conduct, and public policy. And the real quote from the Cardinal, and my made-up one, may dovetail in some interesting ways.

But it's all to say that I could and would work with anyone willing to make things better for women and their families, because it seems clearer by the day that these tragic decisions do not happen in a vacuum, and not with malice in every case.

Bigotry, American Style

The Babylon Bee is a Christian satire site. Sometimes, it's even funny. Not the other day, though. One can kind of tell the proprietor is a Protestant, though, because it gets Republican and political in ways that only Protestant (white) Republicans let themselves get away with. You'd think Mitt Romney would be safe, really. Is there anyone more white and Republican than him? (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Couple of wild cards here: Romney is a Mormon, and he's anti-Trump. Oopsie, Mitt. You can't do that. What will the Bee do? Somehow invalidate Romney's entire critique by implying he agrees with, and would defend, every bad thing Joseph Smith is alleged to have done. What? The headline was something like, "Follower of Joseph Smith Laments Trump's Lack Of Character". Sheesh.

Logically, it looks like this:

Mitt Romney is Mormon;
Joseph Smith--a really sketchy guy--founded Mormonism;
Therefore, Mitt Romney is a really sketchy guy.

Genetic fallacy, right? And non sequitur.

There's another crappy, illogical argument possibly lurking underneath:

Mitt Romney, by all appearances, is a good man;
Mitt Romney practices Mormonism;
Mormonism is damnable and false;
Virtue only counts if one is saved;
One who is damned cannot be saved at the same time;
One cannot be saved whilst professing something damnable and false;
[Hidden premise: Natural virtue does not exist]
Therefore, Mitt Romney is not saved;
Therefore; Romney's professed love of true virtue is an illusion.

--
Now, we could answer all this in myriad ways as Catholics, but suffice to say, this is a non sequitur to end them all. Grace is supposed to build on nature, not subsume and destroy nature. Whatever we might say about the likelihood of Mitt Romney participating in/having sanctifying grace in his soul, it is bonkers to believe that he has no ability to discern a virtuous action, and distinguish it from a vicious one. If infidelity or heresy is of a culpable nature, then of course, discernment could well be damaged. I'm still saying, "What?"

There is also the matter of the order of knowing, and the order of being...tell you what, who do I look like, Bryan Cross? We should know from experience that the question of the virtuous pagan loses all force, if in fact the pagan is not truly virtuous. We distinguish natural and supernatural orders, and also virtues. The virtues exist, even if those on the supernatural order are not possessed by an individual. Beware those systems that conflate supernatural and natural orders, and deny that the natural order functionally exists.

In purely relational terms, what did the Mormons do to you, Babylon Bee owner editor guy?

There's also a weird Trumpian divine command theory in play. Logically, it looks like this:

Trump cannot be wrong;
Mitt Romney says Trump is wrong about many things;
Therefore Romney is wrong.

Here's a game we could try. Next time you read an opinion piece anywhere, before you decide how you feel about it--because that's how we talk about our thinking these days--try to put the argument into a syllogism. See if it follows. Then, see if you could raise good objections to the premises. I have not studied logic much, but we might even be able to spot the worst reasoning mistakes, even without knowing what they're called. It's probably true that at least some of the people who give us information want us to form judgments before we have examined an argument with our intellects. [Putting the will before the intellect.--ed.] Seems that way to me.

Finally, don't hear what I'm not saying; I'm not saying all religions are equal, or that Mormonism is true, or that hell is empty. I'm saying the Bee was uncharitable, tactless, and illogical. And that a Christian should do better, even in satire.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Next Up: Some Wild And Crazy Guys

[There's no way you told Amanda Beck that you're reviewing Dreher next.--ed.] Are you kidding? I want her to still be my friend after this! [And then Jordan Peterson.--ed.] I may regret this. [Deneen will be chagrined that he doesn't count as a wild and crazy guy.--ed.] Questioning the very foundation of modern liberal society is pretty nuts, though. [He doesn't even like "It's A Wonderful Life"!--ed.] Professors, man. Even when they're right, they're like left-handed pitchers, if you know what I mean. [Oh, yeah.--ed.]

If I may be frank, I'm pretty excited about this next part. I feel a thrill somewhere in my right-wing soul. [Oh, stop. You've been perfecting Smug Moderate Sage for three years--ed.] I didn't know I wrote for The Atlantic? [You don't.--ed.] I should. [Probably.--ed.]

[I thought you were doing Deneen's book next?--ed.] Well, my book took a vacation in Confirmation Sponsor Guy's car, and then an all expenses paid trip to Iowa. I didn't have the time, though, frankly. [You still don't.--ed.] True.

Reading books and talking about them is awesome! [Books are like the Spice. Spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.--ed.] None of these people know what you're talking about. [But you do, and that's what matters.--ed.] True.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Book Review: Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me, Amanda Martinez Beck (II)

In the first part of my review, I focused on the theological direction of the book, and now, I'd like to focus on my thoughts and reactions as an "other," a person with a disability, reading this book.

It hits me hard.

If you have a disability, or move differently, or look differently, and you haven't hated your body at some point, I'm overjoyed for you. There is so much frustration involved, even if it's not articulated or spoken. The axiom that all bodies are good bodies comes from the goodness of God, the goodness of creation, and the goodness of human nature as such. It's not rooted in irrational self-esteem, but in an esteem that God Himself has declared. For someone like Amanda to name it, to put it in ordinary terms, is powerful. It's an act of friendship and love, applicable to all kinds of situations.

She spoke briefly about suffering abuse, though in this book, she doesn't go into great detail. That also resonates with me, and I wondered if that could account for the intimacy I felt as a reader. In short, there are many reasons why we disbelieve the truth that our bodies are good bodies, some of which have little to do with us. The truths about ourselves are things we must encounter again and again. She speaks about falling back into believing lies, comparing herself to others, and beginning again. Once more, anyone could identify with this.

Sin is always an offense against God, and in another sense, it is always a personal act. Therefore, whatever we say about gluttony, for instance, it is not correlated strictly with weight or size. If someone commits that sin, it is also a sin against neighbor, but that neighbor is himself or herself.

It is also crucial to realize that if I dwell in thoughts of hatred for my body, or take actions pursuant to that, I have also sinned against myself! It is both freeing and convicting to understand this.

As I have said many times, the Father is not standing ready to whack us with a cosmic clipboard, no matter how seriously we understand the fact of judgment. His attitude toward us is ever and always, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That's another aspect of this book I love: every exhortation to self-acceptance is rooted in the divine benevolence, which can never be withdrawn!

Most certainly, I hope this book is expanded, and that Amanda writes other books. It was a privilege to contemplate God's goodness along with her, and apply those lessons to my life.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Book Review: Lovely: How I Learned To Embrace the Body God Gave Me, Amanda Martinez Beck (I)

I am intending to do this in two parts; in this first part, I want to focus on theological direction, and in the second, I'm going to focus on this book's possible wider impact, beyond the most direct audience; that is, those who struggle with body acceptance due to weight fluctuation. (Or, in blunter parlance, "fat people.") Most of my readers know that I am a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair, so I think it fair to say I did not consider myself part of the target audience. I do intend to speak more personally in part II, in light of this. As always, any critiques will come and do come in the presence of glaring, heinous error, or other problems. My first task is to understand, and even appreciate.

One thing that is startlingly effective right from the jump is how crisp and interesting the writing is. The reader jumps right into the lives of Hannah and Elkanah. We know that Beck has something personal she wants to say, but she starts us off in the biblical world. This is disarming, in quite the way a parable is disarming. Suppose the audience was skeptical. Suppose the audience is anticipating what they might hear from a "body positivity" activist. Lo and behold, I the reader cannot let those thoughts brew and fester, because I'm thinking about a family of ancient Jews. Another positive from the outset of the book is that a Christian reader will not, I think, believe the Sacred Scriptures have been twisted or stretched to make the point Beck makes, a large portion of which is that even heroes in the story of redemption have questions, struggles, and longings that aren't answered or taken away by the snap of a finger. If that is true for them, it's true for us, and Amanda doesn't have to spell that out for it to come across. So, when she transitions to her personal story, the differences between her and Hannah don't translate to a hackneyed synthesis. Indeed, quite the opposite.

Another beautiful aspect here is that Christian readers won't have any doubt about the author's view of the Sacred Scriptures. Their use lets us know that they are the word of the Lord. We can mine the Bible and search it out, because its Author is the God who speaks, and speaks to us. We are invited to connect with biblical people, and through them, to understand the wider story of redemption. There is certainly a movement both in toward us as individuals, and outward toward the big picture of salvation history. It is intriguing that Beck invokes St. John the Evangelist, because his gospel prologue is surely meant to evoke the goodness of creation in Genesis 1. Yes, even St. John's language has us in the mode of thinking creation-re-creation, and if we read John's gospel along with this book, (and as good Catholics) we will not see Christ's coming in the Incarnation as an opposition to creation, nor our creation as human beings, but as an enhancement, a glorious unfolding of the wonderful plan of God! Beck doesn't have to spend pages and pages telling the story of redemption, because she invites us along with her as she meditates upon the crucifix, and of course, Our Lord's crucified body. Moreover, before long, we are reading and meditating on St. John's vision of Our Lord as the Lamb of God, slain, and yet, standing victorious, from Revelation. The message of this is forceful: even a broken body is not a forsaken body, in a theological (that is, God-centered) sense. The marvel of this book is that it does say so much with so little space and words.

Any thoughts about fatness, and any book about those unhappy with their bodies, will have to deal with people's often conflicted relationship with food. As she begins to do this, Beck starts from the Eucharist, and indeed, from the tangible nature of all the sacraments. Again, to participate, we are all learning the valuable lesson that matter--including our bodies within the good creation--is good. Jesus commands us to eat Him; therefore, eating is good. Beck doesn't spend too much time telling us how to eat, or what to eat--and frankly, she doesn't want to--but by taking us to the Eucharist, we get to confront the body hatred and Manichaen thinking that is at the heart of many systems of food denial, better known as "diets." Beck never asserts that losing weight is bad; she never asserts that physical health is unimportant. What she does do is make us look at contemporary American and Western culture and its idolatry of fitness, youth, and beauty, and ask us frankly if that is consistent with the biblical story of the goodness of creation, including us.

As a rule, I hate study or reflection questions in books. What I noticed is that these are at once unobtrusive, and quite effective. Because of the weaving in and out of Amanda's personal story, the questions seemed deeply caring, probing without being unfriendly or inappropriate. The reader may well be startled by them, but hopefully not in a bad way.

At this moment, I know next to nothing about the health approach she calls "HAES". I am not a veteran of the body positivity movement. But what I gather is that it is an holistic approach, encompassing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational aspects of a person. Beck says that approaches focused solely on weight or size miss important aspects of the lives of people. The reader is ready to agree as a Christian, because the Christian story is of the goodness of creation, and that salvation in Christ is nothing if not total, personal, and ecclesial-relational.

This book is astonishing in its thoroughness, especially in light of its brevity. I found myself meditating as much upon the story of redemption as upon what Amanda was saying. That, dear readers, is the mark of a great Christian book. It's 110 pages long! Rarely do I wish a book was longer; this is one. It is an excellent work of pastoral and practical theology. Part II tomorrow.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Get With The Times," They Said

You realize this will never happen. The point of the Catholic Church, indeed, of being a Christian, is to not "get with the times." People in every age who are "with it" are being foolish, and hurting themselves.

This doesn't mean you have to stop watching the Patriots, or throw your Taylor Swift albums in the trash, per se, but if Jesus and the Holy Spirit call you to do it (for any number of reasons) you should. It does mean that if the Church says homosexual practices, fornication, adultery, and any number of things are sins, then they are. No amount of Cool Points will ever change that, and no amount of dislike for a person or people (or affection for still others) will ever invalidate the things Jesus has taught us.

It's passe to believe even that God in Christ has said anything, much less definitively through the Catholic Church, but there we are. Not only does religion make no sense without this concept of revelation in general, but being a Christian is utterly pointless without it. Lots of people fashion complicated explanations for the persistence of religious belief, but most of them are silly.

I'll tell you mine, and it's devastatingly simple: Every religion on this planet--whether revealed in part or wholly by God, or constructed by man, is a response to God. We are made for God. The idea of God was not fashioned in the mind of a person; it's people reaching out for what they know to be true, because God has given us this capacity for Him. He reaches down; we reach up. With any luck (or grace) we touch.

Now, admittedly, I am from what some may describe as the "sentimental hippie" wing of the Church, so I won't be consigning Ben Shapiro or Bishop Barron (or anyone else) to the fires of Hell this week. But--this is key--this is the Church that Christ established. All people are called to membership in her, and all are called to abide here. I leave it to God as Judge in the marginal cases, and those who don't quite get there in this life. All the judgments of the Lord are just, and righteous altogether. Yet if I don't say to you, "This is where salvation is to be found," I do not truly love you.

I doubt any of my students in RCIA (the class for those adults who wish to enter the Catholic Church) would say I lack in directness! But just in case you had a doubt about what I believe, I'm telling you as clearly and simply as I can.

Truthfully, I have no patience for those who think that the very concept of revealed truth is a power grab; some people don't want to tell you whether X is a sin, because either they claim not to know, or they have such a strong disdain for those who tell the truth about sin that they dance around important questions. I don't want to do that. When nuance is important and necessary, it is given. When a yes/no answer is required, that's what you'll get. I'm no expert, but I've met Jesus. If I can't give you a good answer, I know those who can.

I always believed in God, and for most of my life, that He has spoken in His Son. We all have errors in understanding, especially before we find the true Church Christ founded. But it is imperative that those who, "holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith", do so fearlessly and without apology. Always with gentleness, respect, and charity, but fearlessly. The boldness of those first followers of Jesus came from the fact that they encountered him, crucified but risen from the dead, after they had all but given up. Our boldness too comes from this personal encounter with Jesus, though less tangible and with many centuries between.

"Who do you say that I am?" This is the question Jesus, one way or another, asks each one of us. To me, this is the fulcrum of Christianity. It is true that we must live in accord with what we profess. It is also true that there is no Christianity without Christ, the crucified God-man, risen from the dead.

It's passe, but then, so is bowling, and nobody seems to mind.