Saturday, March 02, 2019

I Am Seeing A False Choice

It may not have been from a place of charity when the evocative phrase, "Republican Rite Catholic" was first deployed, but it's often apt. Just today, I was invited to choose between the transcendentals (goodness, truth, and beauty) and diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.

Why not both?

Let's say what this is really about, shall we? Those people over there want to lecture me about racism, and they can't even recognize a baby. Believe me, I've been here; I know what this feels like. You might even be able to say that a particular hierarchy of values is misaligned. It is an act of love, and deep respect, to submit yourself, even theoretically, to another person for correction. We're not seeing a whole lot of deep respect across politics these days. One cannot do much honest reflection when the only goal of politics is winning. Maybe Ian Barrs is right: There's no winning this culture war, in the arena of politics. It's going to be a longer game, and frankly, we might have to change more than we thought we would.

Yet this truth remains: If we ignore a moral problem long enough, we become desensitized to it. We may repeat like a mantra that racism is less grave than the murder of a baby in the womb, but that calculation does not render the damage of racism to zero. There could be 5000 Jussie Smollett stories a day, and it would not relieve me from the obligation to consider my participation in racism, and to take steps to correct it. It may even be true, for example, that the vast majority of police do a wonderful job in trying circumstances. Truth, however, does not allow me to disregard those who do not do a wonderful job. The popular culture even invites us to be reactionary about this. Almost every cop show I've ever seen treats Internal Affairs officers (who investigate other police) like betrayers to the brotherhood of cops.

I think it's rather silly to assert, in another vein, that having children as such is harmful to the environment. This doesn't mean that anyone who raises the question has nothing good to say. It doesn't mean that climate change is a hoax, or that it is imprudent (at best) to consider large-scale changes to the use and production of energy. Those who raise alarms may have their own reductionisms to contend with; my first obligation is to my own reductionism, as a matter of intellectual honesty.

Prudential disagreement involves choosing different means to the same ends. It does not mean ignoring whatever problems it does not suit me to consider. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken: A Thought On One Common Response To Suffering

"If I'm gonna go, let me go. I don't want to suffer." Honestly, the people who say this have no idea what they are talking about. This is spoken by a fearful person, who hasn't actually lived. I gotta be honest. I wasn't close to death, really, but I know about this suffering people are afraid of. The death of the body is a fearful thing, though the death of the soul (that is, the second death) is worse. When you realize that you could die, there is a profound joy in the fact of not having died yet.

I'm a Christian of course, but aside from thoughts about the eternal human soul, I have no religious thoughts, as such, to share. Some people have life "flash before their eyes," but others get plenty of time to imagine the world without them in it. Unless your picture is distorted by some other illness, the very idea that suffering is less preferable than death is patently absurd. I don't know how this idea has gotten a foothold! I have to believe that people haven't actually enjoyed anything; that is, allowed themselves to co-mingle with the stuff of Earth, to plant a flag and say, "I was here!"

The spark of life is the difference between living, and simply existing. If you're honestly afraid of physical suffering, ask yourself why. Because in my experience, while I can point to moments that were hellish, and tough to endure, the pain is somehow suffused with every joyful moment of what it has been like to be me. To commiserate in the pain is one kind of solidarity, and the joy from the spark of life is another. The reason why we are so sad when others die is because we have seen this spark of life; we have seen the planted flag. Whatever the soul is, it is this spark of life. If you are so sure you want to "pull the plug," you may not have considered how the spark of your life has colored every other one. I'm not talking about tough decisions about extraordinary measures; I'm asking you whether you regard yourself so slightly.

We are the stuff of Earth, too; when this sadness touches us, it's because that spark of life has somehow co-mingled with us. When we love, we are never the same. I am irrevocably The One Who Was Loved. It's never the same, but it's true with every friendship, no matter how brief.

To push back death for at least a few moments is to rejoice in friendship with myself. It's to say--to see--that there is something about me that I can't see from inside, at least not always. It's pretty amazing to say to the Maker of all things, "Hey, pretty good!" It's not vanity, because whatever makes me me is not completely mine.

A Few Follow-Up Thoughts On Yesterday

I think one of the frustrating, damaging things about classical liberalism--and this has been noted before--is that it makes people lie about what they truly believe, in order to achieve majorities and pluralities that wield political power. The system--economic, social, and political--sells people on the idea that electoral legitimacy in itself stands in for deep satisfaction, for all that is good and right. When they've been strategically dishonest for too long, and hope is dashed, and we haven't revisited what our purpose is--much less how to get back there--people get enraged. In short, we're being trained to exchange questions of telos for questions of process.

Notice how different people in the political system talk about ideas they disagree with: "extreme," "outside the mainstream," "out of step with ordinary Americans," etc. We're so used to it, we haven't thought about what it's training us to do: assign moral praiseworthiness to whatever achieves power, and assign moral blameworthiness to whatever doesn't. In fact, this ends up turning all truth claims into merely expressions of preference. It's literally systematic, institutionalized emotivism. The system knows to deal with that, too. The news media has literally commoditized the fact that many people have picked up on this, and refused to affiliate with one side or the other, and so they subsist on writing stories about the mysterious "independents" who could swing the election one way or the other. We don't know anything about those independents and their relationship to the truth of any matter. Frankly, we know less and less about our relationship to the truth on our own side, and less and less about those on the other side. The system does not reward the pursuit of truth.

And I'm not saying that everyone who participates is one of the "sheeple," and "The truth is out there" in some "X Files" conspiracy way. What I'm saying is that, if you participate, prepared to be aware that all parties are selling you a package deal you may not feel comfortable buying. I'm even using consumer language to describe voting! See how pervasive market ideology and consumerism is?

We need to articulate a correct anthropology of being human. We need to be prepared to say, "This statement, policy, program, etc. avoids the fundamental questions" and say it so many times, and in so many directions, that a principled non-participation becomes a live and acceptable option for us.

Politics, they often say, is the art of the possible. The problem is, no one seems to know the ends for which they are pursuing and doing what's possible. This system presents golden means like they are the treasure of El Dorado, and when you open the bag, there's nothing but sand.

For my part, I've been tending to appreciate things that Democrats say, precisely because I hear general rings of truth that my own enculturation had taught me to ignore, or dismiss. Actually, my joining the Republicans in college had a lot to do with rejecting what I heard liberals/progressives said were the preferences of those who supported the Republicans. To at least hear them out, on some sort of neutral ground. I wanted truth, even in this. Even today, if the political system grants no neutral ground upon which to discover the truth, then I must create it myself, even as I rebuild a working philosophy. It's a species of friendship, to listen sympathetically and cooperatively in the pursuit of truth. Bernie Sanders is my friend, to the extent that I have heard the ring of truth in what he says. Marco Rubio, same. And anyone else you could name. Yet admittedly, I have no fixed loyalty to anyone in the system.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Silly, Manipulative Deception Of Pro-Homosexual Activism

Here's the news today. I won't say necessarily that there are no conservative Protestants who treat a homosexual inclination itself as a leprosy, or that no one faces an unjust ostracism based on their experience of sexual attraction. In point of fact, despite some raucous debate among orthodox Catholics about the licitness of supporting clergy and potential clergy who experience SSA, I am comfortable with the Catholic reflection on homosexuality (that is, what the Church teaches). I don't necessarily agree with Fr. Z that a priest should "man up" and that he shouldn't ever say he experiences these temptations. If crosses were easy, Our Lord would have had no need for St. Simon and his consolation.

Still, I think it's manipulative and dishonest to say that a vote against accepting gay marriage is a Christian refusal to "see" my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters. It begs the question, when the central question is, What do I believe about the moral licitness of homosexual sexual activity? A person who believes that the natural law reflection upon human sexual activity, and the Scriptural exegesis that undergirds the traditional Christian teaching is wrong, should simply assert that. Do you notice how a gay-affirming stance is rhetorically focused on acceptance of persons? There is a hidden premise that homosexual behaviors (or other disordered actions common to all people) are intrinsic to the human person.

In the end, it is either sinful to engage in homosexual relations, or it is not. We could debate the pastoral engagement of people who experience sexual attraction non-conventionally all day long. It still remains a separate question to consider the licitness of particular acts.

Finally, if the Church is conceived of as fundamentally invisible, and does not speak authoritatively on faith and morals, the aspiration of "Christian love" and the "gospel" will remain unrealized. More specifically, such a "Church" has to be agnostic on the sexual moral questions, since it functionally renders these ethical questions as "non-essential." That is, this notional Church contains those who believe these particular acts are sinful, AND those who who believe these particular acts are not sinful.

Frankly, it causes me to pray for the visible union and communion of all Christians in the Catholic Church, and the conversion of Catholics who remain unconvinced as to the truth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Democrats And The Abortion Fight Lately

Of course, they blocked this attempt to protect infants who survive abortions. Let's set aside the anger over this, and think about it from their perspective (Shocking, I know). First, a few facts:

1. Most Republicans know that Human Life Amendments proposed in Congress are DOA right now, no matter how great the GOP does in any election, or how many members they have;

2. A pro-life politician's only effectual option is to chip away, not only at the right itself, but at the ideas that make it seem reasonable. That is, s/he knows he is working incrementally;

3. The pro-choice advocates and their elected representatives believe that the GOP is in fact working incrementally against the right to choose abortion;

4. Both sides fundamentally agree with respect to what the GOP is doing; [(2) and (3)]

5. Therefore, it is fundamentally dishonest for a pro-life lawmaker to claim, "This is not about abortion," as Sen. Ernst did.

The only honest answer to, "He's trying to undermine the right to choose!" is, "You're right."

This is why I'll never be elected.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dogma And Unity, Continued

We have been talking about dogmatic certainty in Christianity, and across both paradigms, whether Protestant, or Catholic. Understand that the use of those particular terms may include those who use the Catholic interpretive paradigm but are not in union with the Catholic Church, or conversely, someone may use the Protestant interpretive paradigm without considering themselves to be Protestant. The respective terms are therefore broadly descriptive of methodologies for discerning truth revealed by God in Christ.

The first assertion of the Protestant interpretive paradigm is that the purported authority of the Catholic Church, rooted in the Magisterium, the ecumenical councils, and fundamentally in the sacramental (perhaps better, but redundantly said, "sacerdotal") priesthood secured by apostolic succession, is unnecessary. We can call the bluff of anyone who makes the argument that certainty is unnecessary, because we know that the spiritual fathers of those who carry on the Protestant Reformation were quite serious about certainty, as David Anders has noted, and as we linked earlier. Indeed, by what means would someone even begin to declare that Catholic faith and practice was marred by so many accretions, distractions from the unfettered glory of God, if there was no expectation or belief (e.g. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 7) that the alleged method by which we remove these accretions was able to produce certainty?

Understanding this implicit need for certainty, even if it is never explicitly acknowledged, helps explain why Catholic interlocutors tend to challenge the alleged certainty and clarity provided by Sola Scriptura. A lack of agreement among those who profess loyalty to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not in itself an argument for the bad faith of those participants. It is not a case of simple point scoring on the part of Catholics; it is an invitation to reevaluate the clarity and certainty of particular dogmatic beliefs, especially against the backdrop of a relatively stable and long-standing Sacred Tradition. As an adherent of the Protestant interpretive paradigm, I cannot hold every non-Catholic belief simultaneously, but only that which I believe to be true. This is why any purported Protestant unity is an illusion: its only common denominator is non-Catholicism. That is, Protestant theologies diverge at mutually exclusive points as well. If I lose 1. Dogmatic certainty via the failure of Sola Scriptura to deliver what it promises; 2. ecclesial stability because of the resulting disagreement; and 3. the ability to honestly account for the first millennium of Church history, I have two options:

1. Give in to skepticism/atheism. I could say that no one has revealed truth, because if we can't agree on what it is, maybe there is no "it." Or,

2. Re-evaluate my process for how I've come to know what I know. Every past, present, and future Catholic chooses (2). I realized this rather quickly. I saw atheism as my only other option, precisely because if I couldn't know the difference between divine revelation, and my own opinion in a principled way, I knew the trappings of church authority wouldn't stem the tide of individual dissent, repeated millions of times over, every day. And it will dissolve into a consumeristic hodgepodge in short order, and probably naturalism and paganism, too. If you claim the authority, you'd better be holding the guns, or in this case, the keys. To use another metaphor, if you say, "All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both", (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, paragraph 4) that's a tell, and that bluff will be called. Solo Scriptura is nothing more and nothing less than ecclesial fallibility (Sola Scriptura) applied to the ecclesial communities of the Reformation, and against their feigned authority!

Therefore, it's a question of head, heart, and hands, but definitely of the heart: Did God Himself establish the Catholic Church, and is continuing to protect it today? Whether you kick and scream, or whether you sprint, everyone who seeks full communion with the Catholic Church rightly must answer this question in the affirmative.