Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"It's a mix of da sacred and da propane!"

I converted to Catholicism when I was 24. That made me a "young adult" by Holy Mother Church's reckoning, and in some corners I'm still considered a young adult now at age 31. She is correct to want to reach out to young people since many parishes are oceans of white hair on Sunday morning. I know the bureaucrats mean well, but I wish I could take them aside and tell them, "Don't reach out to us. Be yourself, and we'll come to you." It's supremely awesome (in the Shakespearian sense of the word) to belong to a Church that stands outside of the times. It's painfully embarrassing to belong to a Church that is always five minutes behind the times, huffing and puffing to catch up.

The Diocese of Honolulu is reaching out to young people by inviting them to Mass at the Wet N' Wild water park:

Blessed Pope John Paul II believed that young people were not just the Church of tomorrow, but the Church of today. To better equip them for their witness to Jesus, all youth are invited to celebrate the gift of their Catholic faith at Diocesan Youth Day on Saturday, September 1, 2012 at Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii in Kapolei, Oahu beginning at 9:00 a.m. This year’s theme is ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Phil 4:4). It invites our young people to reflect on the presence of God in their daily lives and renew their faith so that they can share it with others. Even when we are not aware of it, God is present, embracing us with His love, filling us with joy; giving us reason to REJOICE. The theme is fitting as we are preparing to celebrate the Year of Faith.
They've also provided a video, explaining more. Now, there's nothing wrong with a day of fun at the water park but I don't think rejoicing in the Lord means this kind of frivolity. The day begins at 9 am, with Mass to follow at 9:45. One hopes that the young people will be dressed appropriately, but I'll wager dollars to pesos many of them won't. Imagine some poor priest giving communion to a teenage girl in a bikini! Do we seriously expect a large group of scantily clad teenagers and young adults, anticipating a day of frolicking in the sun, to give their full, conscious, and active participation at a Mass that will presumably be celebrated outdoors? Don't answer, that's rhetorical. Canon law says that Mass must be celebrated in a "sacred space," but in cases of necessity it may be celebrated in a "fitting place." A water park most definitely is not a sacred space. Is it necessary to celebrate Mass there? No, particularly considering that there are ten Catholic parishes on the same island where the event is taking place.

I'm at a loss as to why so many people who work for the Church, lay and clerical, think they need things like this to attract young people. Mirabile dictu, the Church not only survived but thrived in the centuries before World Youth Days, National Catholic Youth Conferences, and all the rest. Don't misunderstand me: it's laudable that young Catholics should want to join in fellowship. I participate in a young adult group. Our activities are pretty simple: Eucharistic adoration on Mondays, guest speakers and heading out to the local pub on Thursdays. We're doing pretty well if I do say so myself. Holy Mother Church doesn't need gimmicks. She needs to be herself.

h.t. Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam

Monday, August 27, 2012

I laffed

The New York Times makes an excellent case for why Paul Ryan was a great pick for VP. Honestly, Paul Ryan, far right? If only, if only.

The Masonic Memorial Mass

Rorate calls things like these "Vatican II moments." I've said for the record that the Novus Ordo Mass is valid (though of course validity alone is not enough as I'm sure the link demonstrates.) I believe it's indisputable though that the number of invalid Masses has increased exponentially since the Novus Ordo was promulgated. It's not so much the presence of evil in the Church that scandalizes me; hasn't it been so since Judas betrayed our Blessed Lord with a kiss? I do get scandalized when blasphemies like these aren't immediately and publicly punished. The tares will be with us until the harvest time, but that doesn't mean the tares should be rewarded with cushy gigs and glamorous public offerings.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ex opere operantis

There's a peculiar tendency among mainstream Catholic apologists to defend the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass when they're speaking with Traditionalists. Yes, they concede, the Novus Ordo has been abused and misused since the first day of its implementation, but Jesus Christ is as truly present at a hootenanny Mass as he is at the most reverent Solemn Pontifical High Mass. Therefore, they go on, Traddies and other conservative Catholics should stop complaining so much and gratefully receive our Blessed Lord in the sacrament.

They're mostly right, but they're also confusing some things. Validity is a necessary thing of course, but it's far from the only thing. For example, Father could put a stole over his golf clothes, pirouette down the aisle, say "Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum" and "Hic Est Calix Sanguinis Mei" over some unleavened wheat bread and grape wine, and then skip back to the sacristy while humming "Bad Romance." The sacrament would be valid. The people would be receiving the true Body and Blood. Is that all that matters?

History lesson first young folks: during his life on earth, St. Augustine wrote against a popular heresy called Donatism. Donatists believed that the validity of the sacraments depended upon the personal holiness of the priest who confected them. Augustine successfully argued that the sanctity or the sinfulness of the priest was irrelevant so long as he used the correct matter, the correct form, and the intention to do what the Church does. Protestants, for example, are material heretics but the Church considers their baptisms valid. The grace of the sacraments works ex opere operato: grace is worked by virtue of the work itself, not by the holiness of the priest. Of course it is to be hoped that the priest is holy, but it isn't necessary.

That's not the whole story though. The Church also teaches that what is received is received according to the disposition of the receiver: ex opere operantis. The sacraments are signs of grace, but the grace only works in us to the extent that we are open to it. Go back to the silly priest in his golf clothes. He has confected a valid sacrament to be sure. I don't know about anyone else, but I would be blisteringly furious with him. I would be sorely tempted to choke him out. Needless to say, I would be in no condition to make a good communion. Assuming my burning rage wasn't mortally sinful, the sacrament would convey grace, but not to the degree that it could if I had peace of mind and forgiven my enemies.

All Catholics in a state of grace may receive the Eucharist, but it will not be as effective a means of grace if we are not properly disposed to receive it. That's one of the chief reasons why I seldom attend the Novus Ordo Mass to fulfill my Sunday obligation. I don't doubt its objective validity. By the time I'm standing in the communion line though I'm so upset and distraught over the usual shenanigans that I almost always end up making a bad communion. It's probably a character fault of mine. Traddies are often accused of believing themselves superior to Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo only. On the contrary; I admire those heroic folks whose faith survives and thrives in such an environment.

To priests and future priests I would say, "Gentlemen, have mercy on your people. It's difficult enough for us to be recollected and free of distraction even when the external circumstances are as good as they can be. Don't make it harder on us by screwing around, or with bad music, or with bad preaching."

Father's sermon today was devoted almost entirely to this topic of properly disposing ourselves to receive communion. It's a pity I only hear stuff like this from FSSP priests. How much different would the Church be, would we all be, if all priests gave us practical advice like this every Sunday?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The internet: providing new ways to send you to hell since 1992

Formal cooperation with evil means that we will that something evil be done, period, full stop. Formal cooperation with evil is always and everywhere wrong, and we may not do it, period, full stop. Attempting to convince ourselves that the thing we are willing isn't evil doesn't change that; if we will X, and X is evil, we are formally cooperating with evil. Several years ago a woman named Terri Schiavo  was in the national news. For various reasons, many people wanted her taken off of life support. Anyone who said anything, no matter how insignificant, that lent support to the act of killing Mrs. Schiavo was guilty of formal cooperation with murder.

Imagine Bob the Blogger. Bob writes a blog entry saying that homosexuals should be able to marry each other and "consummate" their relationships. Bob himself is straight, happily married, and would never commit sodomy himself, but he nonetheless wills that sodomy occur. Some people would point out that Bob might not agree with the moral status of sodomy as a human action. He knows what it is, he wills for it to happen, but he doesn't believe it is evil. They might say that Bob's fundamental option - meaning his interior disposition, disconnected from any external moral behavior - is oriented toward God and so he is not guilty of formal cooperation with evil.

Nope. Bob's guilty. His subjective culpability is known only to God, but that doesn't mean we can't make judgments about actions qua actions. That's why so much of the blogosphere is insane. Willing for X to occur when X is evil is formal cooperation with evil. Resolving to commit X if Y happens when X is sinful is itself sinful. After convincing the world that he doesn't exist, one of the greatest tricks the devil ever played was getting people into the habit of willing to commit sin in hypothetical situations. They get all of the moral guilt but none of the pleasure of actually doing it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Age of Asterisks

I'm wondering if we should just decriminalize doping and let professional athletes have at it in the brave new wide world of sports that would arise. It seems the fiercest competition now is in determining who can get the most juiced up with the greatest chance of remaining undetected. I once asked a big sports fan friend of mine why drugs are such a big deal in baseball but not in football. To my knowledge, there has never been a major drug scandal in professional football. He said, "One word: statistics." Baseball lives and dies by its statistics. In contrast, does anyone keep track of how many sacks a football player makes over his career?

I'm also wondering if Lance Armstrong's travails would show up in the New York Times if he hadn't spent so much time marketing himself as a mighty sportsman and man's man? I suspect that years from now when people are cleaning out their homes, many will find those "livestrong" bracelets and wonder why they ever hung on to that junk.

Sports is big business in America. Men love them because men love the organized pursuit of a goal. Even those who don't pay attention to sports feel a twinge of disappointment when professional athletes like Armstrong do wrong. Sports is one of the few areas left where the pursuit of excellence is encouraged. We can't help but feel that doping is cheating, even if everyone is doing it. And our revulsion towards cheating in sports show that we still have some sense of honor. That's something I suppose. Thus ends silly rant.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our poor Cardinal

I feel bad for His Eminence. He angered Traditionalist Catholics by inviting Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner (personally, I think he has good grounds to disinvite both Obama and Romney, which would also allow him to save face.) Now the usual suspects are harrumphing that he is "the Republican Cardinal."

His most important issues are criminalizing abortion, stripping gay couples of any civil legal protection, and making sure that non-Catholic employees of Catholic hospitals and schools be denied access to insured contraception.
G.K. Chesterton said that whenever his brain was feeling fluffy, he could gain new insight on an issue by standing on his head. Progressives and liberal Catholics have long complained that the hierarchy is comprised of partisan Republicans. I can only conclude from this charge that not one of them has ever actually met a Catholic bishop. It is not the hierachy that has become Republican but the Democrats who have gradually become more overtly secularized and hostile to Catholic moral teaching. Now one can argue (persuasively I think) that the Republicans are cynically exploiting Catholic voters who are committed to ending abortion in this country. One can argue that the Republicans' hearts aren't really in the fight to defend marriage (given many of their own sordid marriage histories, it's understandable.) Personally, I would much rather be ruled by someone who was indifferent to me than someone who was actively hostile to everything I hold dear.

Sullivan and his fellow liberals are the same people who love to point out that Catholics by and large don't listen to the hierarchy on matters such as abortion, same-sex "marriage," and contraception. If Catholics ignore the teachings on which their eternal salvation may hang, then why would they be more disposed to listen to His Eminence if he were to endorse the Republicans?  Similar reasoning is used when the Catholic Church is accused of condemning millions of Africans to die of AIDS because of her prohibition against condoms. We're supposed to believe that Africans happily ignore the teachings against fornication and promiscuity, but they follow her teachings against artificial contraception to the letter.

Here's the thing: if Catholic hierarchs are tending toward the Republican Party, it's not so much out of partisan hackery as it is of self-preservation.

Turning it up to eleven

The Church tells us that a lot of bad moral reasoning is born from a poor understanding of what "object" means. There is a peculiar reluctance on the part of many people who get involved in discussions about morality to talk about the objective nature of our chosen acts. We like to focus more on the subjective intentions of the moral actor, or the circumstances surrounding his act. There are three components to all moral acts: the object, which in this case means the actual chosen behavior, the what; the intention of the actor, or why he's doing it; and the circumstances of his act, the who, where, and when.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances must all be good for an act to be good. If just one of the three is evil, then the act is evil. It makes no difference if two of them are turned up to eleven on the scale of goodness if the last one is evil. To illustrate this principle, let's take a look at some object puzzles.

Suppose a general decides to nuke a city filled with civilian men, women, and children because in the long run it will save lives on both sides of the war by making the enemy surrender more quickly. Is this an evil act?

Suppose another general decides to nuke a city filled with civilian men, women, and children because the city is full of Jews, and he hates Jews. Is this an evil act?

Suppose a man tortures a prisoner because he knows the prisoner has knowledge of the location of a ticking time bomb that will kill tens of millions if it isn't stopped in time. Is this an evil act?

Suppose another man tortures a prisoner because he thinks the prisoner is a filthy Muslim dog who deserves it. Is this an evil act?

Suppose a woman decides to abort her unborn child because she is an unmarried undergraduate who simply does not have the financial wherewithal to raise a baby. Is this an evil act?

Suppose another woman decides to abort her unborn child because it's a girl, and she wants a boy. Is this an evil act?

Suppose a man perjures himself because if he tells the truth on the stand, an innocent man might to to jail. Is this an evil act?

Suppose another man perjures himself because his buddy is guilty as sin and he wants to cover for him. Is this an evil act?

The long and short of it is that it is never permissible to do evil that good may come of it. It is not permissible to do evil to save the entire human race from extinction. We fallen creatures have great difficulty with this notion of course. We struggle mightily with the idea that we have to do the right thing regardless of the consequences. Holy Mother Church stands athwart the highway of consequentialism, utilitarianism, and subjectivism yelling

How to decode the news

If you are confused about media accounts of violent crime, Gates of Vienna provides this helpful primer:

White on White:Normal news reportage. The incident is examined with objectivity, delving into the background of the violence and the response of the authorities, with no particular slant — unless, of course, left-wing or right-wing political views are an issue, in which case the usual media bias may be expected.
White on Brown: The incident instantly becomes headline news, above the fold and at the top of the hour, and remains there for weeks or months. Every day the front-page analyses and crawl-ribbon snippets are crafted to demonstrate the racist motives of the perpetrators and the innocence of the victims.
Brown on White:This news must be buried at all costs. Media outlets will hide it completely if they possibly can. If they must report on it, the race of the perpetrators will be occluded whenever practical. If the facts cannot be avoided, they will be spun to include circumstances that mitigate the racial element; e.g. it was somehow the fault of the white victims through their racist, inconsiderate, corrupt, or thoughtless behavior.
Brown on Brown: This news is not really news, and will be largely forgotten after the first few days of video showing burning vehicles, police charges, and rubble in the street. It’s inside-pages stuff, not worth the attention of a white audience.
h.t. Lawrence Auster

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tongues shall cease

Like any stopped clock, postmodernism is right about one thing: modernism is bunk. It is in that sense, and with delicious irony, that postmodernists speak absolute truth. The rest of the incoherent nonsense that is postmodernism is born from the refusal to accept that the modernist project of making man into God is a failure.

Why boys don't read anymore

Gimmie a hell yeah!

It is now well-recognized that boys are not reading. What is the problem? Most commentators want to say that boys have an aversion to books. But the problem is quite the opposite: books—modern books, that is—have an aversion to boys. 
A recent edition of The New York Times Sunday Book Review featured a Robert Lipsyte article that attempts to address this problem. Here is the proffered solution:
[B]oys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.
Excuse me while I dab my eyes delicately with my handkerchief, touched as I am by this tender thought.
Okay, let's get something straight here: solutions like this are part of the problem. I'm normally against shooting spit wads in class, but I am willing to make an exception in this one case. The entire educational establishment has tried for over 50 years to force boys into their effeminate mold, and in the process, they've succeeded in evacuating literature of all the things boys like in books: action, adventure, danger, bloodletting—and an iron moral code that is taught, not by smarmy sermonizing, but by immersing them in the moral universe of a story about a hero who not only believes in this code, but enforces it with a vengeance.
Boys now seek refuge in cheesy horror novels because the Cultural Authorities won't give them the adventure books that were once staples in every boy's life. It is to this I attribute the popularity of vampire novels (and movies and television shows). But even here a boy is destined for disappointment.
 My father is a voracious reader. He's actually more modern than I am on this in that he's an avid patron of the Nook electronic reader. I might get one some day but right now... I just like the feeling of holding the book in my hand. And it provides the illusion of my being an intellectual when I read in public. If I'm tapping away on one of those pads, other people might assume I'm playing Angry Birds. Beefy Levinson bows to no man when it comes to vainglory.

When I was a boy, I read books that involved a lot of ass kicking. Sure, there might also be a journey of self-discovery, the rite of passage from boyhood into manhood, an epic clash of man and nature, the struggle between passion and will... but the heroes kicked a lot of asses on their way there. The hero might have been a cowboy standing up to the evil banker and his hired goons, or a chivalrous knight going to rescue the damsel in distress, or maybe the hotshot fighter pilot in the distant future saving humanity from the gibbering tentacle monsters from Neptune, but they all had ass kicking in common. Looking back on it now I see a pattern.

Now that I'm all grown up I've expanded my literary tastes. Occasionally, I read books where not one ass is kicked. Sometimes I read stories that have something significant to say about the human condition with only a minimum of ass kicking. The linked article touches on my own ambitions in being a writer. I feel the pain of those boys who don't read. I want to write stories that encourage them to become readers. I want to produce books that include danger, action, adventure, and ass kicking. I will not actively set out to say something deep and significant about the human experience, for that will only strike the reader as pretentious. If something significant emerges in the course of the story, then I will thank God for it and drive on. Just so long as there's a lot of ass kicking. And maybe some hot babes. Who aren't action babes. If there's one trope I'm growing tired of it's the ass kicking action babe. Beefy Levinson also bows to no PC tokenism.

Bringing a wiffle bat to a gun fight

Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been quite rightly criticized for inviting Barack Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner. His Eminence defended the invitation on his blog:

the teaching of the Church, so radiant in the Second Vatican Council, is that the posture of the Church towards culture, society, and government is that ofengagement and dialogue. In other words, it’s better to invite than to ignore, more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one. Our recent popes have been examples of this principle, receiving dozens of leaders with whom on some points they have serious disagreements. Thus did our present Holy Father graciously receive our current President of the United States.  And, in the current climate, we bishops have maintained that we are open to dialogue with the administration to try and resolve our differences.  What message would I send if I refused to meet with the President?
With all respect Eminence, give thou me a break. Catholics have been fed this mushed up baby food for fifty years and what has it gotten us? What are the fruits of this particular tree? A bevy of Catholic pols who feel free to slam dunk abortion, same-sex "marriage," contraception, and euthanasia into the laws of the land with impunity because the bishops do not wish to jeopardize their political prestige. And thus our poor shepherds end up being held in contempt by the people whom they wish to convert, and by convincing those of us who are otherwise well disposed toward them to shake our heads and dismiss this as our bishops being politicians again. What I wouldn't give for a hell-fire-and-damnation, anathema slinging zealot... would he sway the likes of Obama and Pelosi and Sebellius? Probably not, but they would respect him, and it would rally a powerful army of lay people starving for strong leadership.

Strangely, the Church exerted much more cultural influence when it yelled from a distance. The Church held enormous political sway precisely when it was bunkered down in the fortress mentality held with so much horror by our post-conciliar brethren. The Church in England, so long persecuted, ignored, maligned, and denigrated produced the likes of Cardinals Manning and Newman, and men like G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ronald Knox, and Hillaire Belloc. Can anyone say the Church has produced men like these since the Council?

His Eminence would hardly be breaking precedent if he declined to invite President Obama. Cardinal O'Connor refused to invite President Clinton over laws that didn't threaten the Church to nearly the degree that Obamacare does. Cardinal Egan declined to invite candidate John Kerry. Cardinal Dolan's argument is not without merit; I could see inviting the president if he planned to hit him over the head with the sheer evil of what Obamacare would entail. But does anyone see His Eminence doing that? Frankly, I don't believe Cardinal Dolan has it in him. He's a gregarious, upbeat, black slapping jolly old fellow. There's much to admire in men like that, but I don't think it's the right stuff for leading an embattled Church fighting assaults from the outside and dissent from the inside.

I find the most disappointing aspect of the Cardinal's response is its political character. He sounds less like a shepherd leading his flock than a Congressman or Senator telling his constituents to cool it. Jesus dined with sinners to be sure, but he expected them to repent, to convert.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Happy feast day for the blog's unofficial patron

Pope St. Pius X wrote the Oath against Modernism that all clergy, religious, and professors had to take before ordination or being entrusted to teach the Catholic faith. It was abolished in 1967:

 And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated
A lot of people, even some Christians, think faith means to believe in something for which there is no evidence at all. This is not how the Catholic Church has ever understood faith. The First Vatican Council anathematized the proposition that the existence of God cannot be proven from unaided human reason alone. Faith means accepting the truth of a proposition based solely on the authority of God. Human reason can prove the existence of God and some aspects of God, such as His being incapable of deceiving or being deceived. Reason cannot prove that God is a Trinity; that is something we believe because God has revealed it. Reason can, however, refute all objections to the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, do you firmly believe with Catholic and Apostolic faith that any and all supposed discoveries by science, archaeology, history, geology, or any other field of human endeavor cannot and will not ever disprove the Truth of Christianity? Are you ready to swear that every single book that has not yet been written that purports to disprove Christianity is filled with errors and fallacies? If you're not, then you don't have faith in the true sense of the word.

A lot of people, even some Christians, believe faith is primarily a feeling of warm fuzziness that we are loved by God. That dog don't hunt neither:

I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord.
 Now sometimes our Blessed Lord does grant us emotional consolation, but it's not something we should count on. Didn't the prophet Elijah lie face down on the ground and ask God to let him die? Didn't Jesus Christ himself beg his Father to let the cup pass from him? I tend toward being melancholy, so happy clappy religious services always made me wince. Gosh, I thought, all these young people waving their hands in the air, eyes shut, whispering "I love you Jesus" to the strains of Christian rock... it left me feeling cold. I wondered, "What on earth is wrong with me?" It was an enormous relief to learn that faith is first and foremost a movement of the intellect.

I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time.
 Have you ever noticed that the "historical Christ" always shares the same contingent prejudices and opinions of whoever discovers him? Scholars committed to feminism discover that - surprise! - Jesus wanted women priests all along. Scholars committed to doubting miracles find that - mirabile dictu! - Jesus didn't walk across the Sea of Gallilee, he was skipping across the ice floes caused by a freak winter storm.

 I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.
 I wish I knew this "modern man" whom the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI spoke so highly of. We've been catering to him for fifty years but he often only deigns to show up on Christmas and Easter. Seriously though, human nature doesn't change. We are essentially the same today as the citizens of the Roman empire were; we've only got a lot more toys to play with. It is supremely awesome to belong to a Church that is centuries behind the times because it stands outside of the times. It is deeply embarrssing to belong to a Church that is always five minutes behind the times, huffing and puffing to catch up.

The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.
This may not be the appropriate language to use for this subject, but these words make me feel like giving a Stone Cold Steve Austin style "Hell yeah!" I won't drink like he does though. Smashing the two cans together wastes a lot of beer.

Granted, the Oath didn't banish Modernism from the Church. It was driven underground only to come bubbling to the surface during and shortly after Vatican II. Hans Kung and Annibale Bugnini both took the Oath; 'nuff said. The Oath was a good start though, and would that all Catholic clergy, religious, and educators had to take it again. Dear God, can you imagine? Entire Scripture departments in dozens of Catholic universities and seminaries would have to be shut down!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Just the Essentials ma'am

Many Catholics become nominalists when they are discussing religions or ideologies which fall outside the Catholic orbit. What distinguishes the Church from Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, liberalism, conservatism, etc., is that it has a magisterium. The magisterium has the authority to declare what is and is not Catholic. Therefore, they believe, what makes Catholicism fundamentally different from these other isms is that it has an objective essence. All of the other isms are treated as not having an objective essence because they do not have a magisterium. In this type of thinking, Islam is not an objective thing but simply the sum total of what all Muslims believe. After 9/11 our major political and cultural figures fell all over themselves in the race to proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the "moderate" Muslims had to convince the "radicals" that they were wrong and that Islam does not condone waging bloody war on the infidels.

Nominalism denies that things have essences. It was born from the problem of universals: a nominalist denies that universals exist at all; they are simply words we use for the sake of convenience when referring to buckets of things. This might seem like high falutin' philosophy babble, but it does have consequences. It leads people to believe that Islam can be peaceful if we can convince enough Muslims that it is peaceful. It leads people to believe that women can be ordained Catholic priests if enough Catholics believe that women can be ordained priests. It leads us to believe that reality can change if we believe strongly enough, rather than our beliefs ideally being shaped by reality. In short, nominalism leads us into thinking that we are God.

Liberalism, to take one example, is an objective thing independent of what any individual liberal or group of liberals may think about the matter. To be a liberal does not mean the liberal gets to define what liberalism means. It is to be loyal to liberalism, to participate in it, to show some faith in the liberalism whose essence exists independently of the individual liberal who may well be wrong or deceived about what liberalism actually is. To be a Muslim is to be loyal to Islam, to have faith in it. It is to have faith in something which is categorically evil. To the nominalist, there is no such thing as categorical evil, just greater or lesser densities of evil within the individual. One cannot be a Muslim without some degree of loyalty to evil things because Islam qua Islam is categorically, but not a set containing only, evil.

Of course all of us have loyalties to things which are categorically evil. To the extent that my attachment to gluttony is weak, I'm not a good hedonist. Likewise, a Muslim who is not particularly committed to fighting a bloody jihad might not be a good Muslim ("good" here meaning loyalty to a thing's essence independent of its objective moral goodness.) What any individual Catholic, liberal, or Muslim may think or assert about his loyalty has no necessary connection to what is objectively true.

(with thanks to Zippy who did a lot of the intellectual legwork as opposed to my hazy half remembered rehash of philosophy class.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

American Catholicism: A Primer

The casual observer of the Catholic Church in the United States is likely to think it is divided along Anglican lines, between High Church and Low Church. On one end we see the Solemn Pontifical High Mass or a Novus Ordo that has been "tradded up" with chanted antiphons, propers, and the Ordinary in Latin. At the opposite end are the hootenanny Masses of the 1970s, the Life Teen Masses with the clean cut young teenagers belting out "I will raise you up," and Mrs. Caruso at the 9:00 am Mass roaring into the microphone at the top of her lungs, drowning out the thunderstruck parishioners who are so intimidated by that booming voice that they are frightened into that silence which so scandalizes the liturgy committee. I used to think the Church (at least in the United States) was divided between High Church and Low Church. This was wrong. American Catholics are not like the Anglicans, but like the Jews.

A majority (or a large plurality) of Catholics are the Reform Jews of the Church. They believe or disbelieve, do or don't do, whatever they please. Some do not believe at all anymore but out of custom or maintaining family harmony they will attend weddings and funerals. On Christmas and Easter they might make formal obeisance to the Faith like Reform Jews will go to Temple on High Holy Days, but otherwise they are not engaged in the life of the Church at all, although they will furiously resent it if you question their orthodoxy. The newspaper that serves as the voice of this branch of American Catholicism is the National Catholic Reporter.

To the right of the Reform Jews are the Conservatives. The analogous group within the Catholic Church is served primarily by The Wanderer. Possibly the most popular voice on the web for this kind of Catholicism is Father John Zuhlsdorf who did yeoman's work in translating the abysmal English of the Novus Ordo into proper English. To the right of the Conservatives are the Orthodox. The corresponding Catholic group often calls itself Traditionalist. They read The Remnant and many of them can be found at Rorate Caeli. There is a lot of overlap between the Conservatives and the Orthodox, just as there is between the "right of center" and the Traditionalist. I myself wish I didn't have to identify as Traditionalist. I think of myself as quite simply Catholic, but in practice it's not enough to call oneself that anymore, not when so many people who are not Catholic at all continue to do so.

If there is any divergence between Catholics who read "The Wanderer" and those who read "The Remnant," it usually centers on the liturgy. The former wish to move the Novus Ordo Mass as much into the Church's traditional praxis as possible. The latter believe the Novus Ordo is a lost cause and attend the old Rite exclusively, with varying degrees of hostility to post-conciliar Catholicism. I drive a seventy mile round trip every Sunday to go to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter's parish in my diocese, but all of my weekday Masses are Novus Ordo.

Questions about the liturgy have haunted me ever since I came into the Church seven years ago: How did it come about that different Masses are celebrated in the Church today, and that the one celebrated most of the time is so radically different (and so differently celebrated from parish to parish from Sunday to Sunday) from the one celebrated a few decades ago? Smarter and holier men than I have written books on the subject. I will say this: attending Novus Ordo Masses on Sunday usually caused me great anxiety, and sometimes anger. I went in wondering what new silliness would be presented this week. That anxiety melted away once I discovered the old Mass. That's why I invite as many Catholic friends as I can to attend it.

(with thanks to Gary Potter)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hitchens is great

Not that Hitchens, but his brother Peter:

As with every piece of ground this party gives up as it retreats before the social, cultural, sexual and ultimately political revolutionaries of the 1960s left, it has no understanding of, or liking for, the things it is supposed to defend. So once it has given them up, usually by running away from a fight, it never occurs to it to recapture the ground lost. It becomes, bit by bit, the image of its opponents, until it is actually part of the revolution itself.
He's writing about the UK's Conservative Party, but he may as well be writing about the American Republican Party. The key to understanding politics in the Western world is to know of the unprincipled exception. It is a non-liberal value or assertion, not explicitly identified as non-liberal, that liberals use to escape the suicidal consequences of liberalism without questioning liberalism itself, or that conservatives use to oppose some aspect of liberalism without challenging liberalism itself.

Right-liberals accept the philosophical framework of liberalism. They use its language and terminology. They accept its nontranscendent view of man. Both right- and left-liberals understand, if only at the subconscious level, that liberalism's principles of nondiscrimination and equality would make a decent life in this world impossible if they were followed consistently. The right-liberal's key phrase is describing left-liberal programs or ideas as "going too far" or "that's too extreme." They want to maintain the world liberalism has created but want to give it the occasional homeopathic injection of Tradition to ensure the whole thing doesn't fall apart.

But if the survival of a sociopolitical worldview requires unprincipled exceptions to keep it afloat, it could be that disease is being mistaken for health.

To a gas chamber, go!

If nothing else, Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate shows that he doesn't intend to be the sacrificial lamb like McCain or Dole. I think it also shows he's doubling down on white. I fear that's the direction American politics is headed for the rest of my lifetime: white vs. non-white, married women vs. unmarried women. I saw that Paul Ryan is 6'3" and about 165 pounds. As America grows fatter, it's public figures grow thinner. I'd wager ten American dollars we'll see an atheist president before we see another fat one. The only really fat presidents I know of are Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft. Obesity was rarer in the 19th century, and it was largely taken as a symbol of prosperity. Today we've reversed that: being grotesquely obese is seen as a sign of being lower class. That goes a long way toward understanding the animosity behind so much of our modern food wars. "You actually like McDonalds? You're a terrible person with no discipline and probably a bad parent too."

Ryan's problem is his love for Ayn Rand. Rand's philosophy is incompatible with Catholic social theory. I don't doubt Ryan is a faithful Catholic, but I wonder if he's really understood Rand's thought. I've read The Fountainhead and finishing Atlas Shrugged is on my bucket list, but man it's tough going. Protip: rape is the way to a woman's heart in Rand's world. Even cigarettes have their symbolic value. I remember Rand writing somewhere that the burning tobacco was indicative of the fire of creativity and genius in the smoker. I like my smokes, but come on. Sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette.

I haven't decided whether to vote at all this year. I know that this is blasphemy in the American civic religion, but lest anyone think I'm voting for the wrong team by not voting, keep in mind I live in California. My vote won't change the election in the country or the state but it will change me.

EDIT: In fairness, Ryan explicitly rejects Objectivism here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Age of Unreason

An atheist calls out the five worst atheists:

The thing about the so-called “rationalist” movement in America is that disbelief in gods seems to be the only qualification to join the club. Disbelief in a supernatural creator, especially as the movement becomes more popular or “hep,” as I'm pretending the kids say, in no way guarantees rationality in matters of foreign policy or economics, for example. Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff—likely owing their prominence to these same benighted beliefs, lending an air of scientific credibility to the myths corporate media seeks to highlight, and thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists in the long-term. In other words: The crap always rises to the top.
This is why I'm confused by avowedly atheist organizations. What is it you people do? Meet once a month to discuss how dumb us religious folks are? The only thing seculars have in common is a negative: a nonbelief in God. Other than that, they have all of the usual disagreements on matters of politics, music, art, literature, philosophy, and so on.

I think the greatest difficulty with atheism is Original Sin. They deny it exists of course, but Original Sin is probably the Christian dogma with the most empirical evidence to confirm its truth. It's inconceivable to me how anyone can look at human history and still believe that reason is going to save us all.

I'm a glutton for punishment, that's why

Oh give thou me a break.

It [Vatican II] has given us a new view of the church. It's our church, not the pope's church, or the bishops' church, or a priest's church.
In 1979, Mercy Sr. Theresa Kane, then the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told Pope John Paul II the church ought to be ordaining women. Doing that, she implied, the church could break the stained-glass ceiling and give first-class citizenship to half of its membership, the women in the church.
Did you notice that little sleight of hand? The more fevered enthusiasts of the Spirit of Vatican II are always saying that the Church does not belong to the hierarchy. We are Church, we are the People of God, we are equal to priests, the priest is no different from any other man, clericalism is bad, and so on and so forth. Having deconstructed the glory and the power of the priesthood, they then demand that women be allowed into its ranks.

Instead of turning tail, Kane and many U.S. nuns went ahead and continued to do what the Council had told them to do: "Update, renew, go back to your sources." They became more free, more human and more at the service of the world.
In many cases they freed themselves from their habits, their vows, and their constitutions!

Now Pope Benedict XVI has dissed them for doing that. Too much emphasis, he has said, on feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and finding shelter for the homeless. Why don't the sisters help the bishops speak out on core faith issues like birth control and abortion?
This is simply incorrect. The hierarchy has gone out of its way to praise the corporal works of mercy the sisters perform. The problem is the heterodoxy and heresy that has infected many of the women's religious orders. They've become social workers who don't date. There's nothing wrong with being a social worker, but a vowed religious, even ones who are devoted to apostolic work, put Christ above all else. They do what they do because they see Christ in those they serve. Otherwise, why give up the chance to have a family to be a social worker? You don't even have to be Catholic to be a social worker.

He can't stop us, either. There's no suppressing of the spirit of Vatican II. John W. O'Malley, a Jesuit historian of the Council, has epitomized it for us. The Council moved us to a new vision of the church:
I agree that the Spirit of Vatican II cannot be suppressed. It must be exorcised.

... from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from definition to mystery, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialogue, from ruling to service, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from rivalry to partnership, from suspicion to trust, from static to ongoing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from fault finding to appreciation, from prescriptive to principled, from behavior modification to inner appropriation.
And how has that vision been working out for us? Do more or fewer Catholics, say, fulfill their Sunday obligation today as opposed to before the Council? I think Fr. O'Malley is unnecessarily setting these things in opposition to one another. The Church commands us to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, but invites us to receive every day. She has laws commanding fasting on only two days out of the year, but the ideal is to make fasting a regular spiritual discipline. She has definitions for what constitutes valid matter for the Eucharist, but the Real Presence of our Lord in the sacrament is a mystery. She threatens us with hell, yes, but persuades us to aim higher than the bare minimum. I could go on.

Old timers like Kaiser yearn for the heady days right after the Council when legions of young priests, religious, and laity were so drunk on change that they anticipated the new Golden Age when Pope Joan and her husband would shuttle back and forth between blessing same sex marriages and couples about to have vasectomies. When it didn't happen they professed to be shocked, SHOCKED when the popes upheld Tradition. They grew bitter. Complaints about rolling back the Council are usually rooted in a deep antipathy toward the Church they grew up in.

People keep telling me the Church is returning to its historical norm, and that stability will return when the last of the Spirit of Vatican II types has gone on to his eternal reward. If only it were that easy. The damage has been done. It'll take centuries to rebuild everything that was lost. I'm just a dumb ass layman but it's our duty to rebuild.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The perils of activism

Culture War No More:

The language of war is no longer simply a military term. In the past fifty years, we have waged wars on poverty, drugs, illiteracy, smoking, drunk driving, and most recently, on terror. 
Yes, and so far they're all winning or beaten us to stalemate. Seriously though:

Culture war suggests a battle to the death. But the metaphor is wrong and therefore fosters poor thinking. A culture is not something with which to do battle, either as an offensive weapon or an object of attack. A culture is a living thing, an inheritance, passed on from generation to generation. It is preserved by loving care not militant brow-beating. It cannot survive as a merely negative opposition to something perceived as its opposite. It is a creative, developing expression of a people’s view of the world that reaches ultimately to the highest things: to the good, the true, and the beautiful. To weaponize culture is, therefore, to destroy the very thing for which the battle is ostensibly waged.
 Everyone knows the old saying that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. This is true of course, but we still need to curse the darkness once in a while lest we get used to it. Catholics quite rightly note that ours is a culture of death. We should not abandon the political realm, but we shouldn't focus on it exclusively. I make a lot of jokes at the expense of modern Catholic music, and popular Christian music. We've got 2000 years worth of cultural patrimony to draw upon. Do we really need to slavishly imitate whatever is popular at the moment?

h.t. Sullivan

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Gather us in the blitzed and hung over

The Catholic Church's ritual unites us more than beliefs:

I find the strength of contemporary Catholicism in its diversity, its vibrancy, its personally lived quality, its recognition of the primacy of the individual's moral conscience. I hope that others will come to value it for these same reasons and respect the conclusions of all those honestly attempting to practice the teachings of the Gospels. By honoring individual authenticity, we prevent dogmatic conflicts from disrupting peace and concord within the church.
Pardon me sir, but dogmatic conflicts are the conflicts most worth fighting since our eternal salvation may hinge on whether we believe we are saved by, say, faith alone or by faith and works.

Mr. Henry confuses legitimate diversity of opinion on difficult, unsettled questions with doctrinal anarchy. Benedictine and Dominican spirituality, for example, are quite different in their lived experience of Catholicism. The Benedictines vow to remain in one monastery while the Dominicans can live in many priories throughout their lives. The Benedictines pursue holiness in their personal encounters with Christ. Some may engage in apostolic work within or outside the monastery, but teaching in schools or working in parishes is not what the monastery is for. The Dominicans devote themselves to the work of preaching. St. Dominic founded his order to do battle with the Albigensian heretics, battle waged by teaching and preaching the truths which the Cathars ignored or perverted.

One could go on by comparing many other orders, spiritualities, and devotions within the Church. What unites them is far greater than what divides them.

Whatever the few required tenets are that all Catholics must believe, certainly they do not include opposition to birth control, legalized abortion and gay marriage.
This is simply incorrect. It is the solemn teaching of the Magisterium that all Catholics have a grave, morally binding obligation to oppose the legalized abortion regime and work for the day when abortion is outlawed in every jurisdiction and every outlaw abortionist is swinging from a gibbet. If you don't agree with that, then you don't agree with it. But, it seems to me, you cannot then also claim to be a good Catholic.

Whatever we believe regarding these contemporary contentious issues does not qualify us as Catholics or disqualify us from being Catholic. We should not therefore allow them to disrupt the peace of the church. Our rituals unite us beyond these differences and bring us together into the realm of the sacred.
Sometimes I see bumper stickers that read "You CAN'T be pro-choice and Catholic!" Strictly speaking, this is incorrect. One can indeed be a Catholic and work for the perpetuation of legalized abortion. One can also be a Catholic and go to hell.

The point of Mr. Henry's article is that despite the moral and doctrinal chaos he himself is advocating, all Catholics are united by their common worship in the Mass. I'm not so sure this is as much the case today as it was sixty years ago. Before the Council, we truly were united in worship in the Traditional Latin Mass. In every corner of the globe, from Tokyo to Timbuktu, from Warsaw to Washington, the Latin language and the bells ringing at the Consecration told men that the great Sacrifice of Calvary was still present today. Don't misunderstand me here; Christ is just as present at the new Mass as He is in the old.

Nonetheless, something has changed. Now we are very much divided by language. Some well meaning prelates think that offering Mass in four or five languages at once will do the trick: the first reading will be in Spanish, the Psalm in Vietnamese, the second reading in Tagalog, and so on. This way everyone can feel excluded at least some of the time. Every Sunday Mass has a different style of music and everyone picks and chooses which one they prefer.

Some may say that all of these things are mere externals which ought not detract from the reality of the Sacrifice. First, I would argue that there is no such thing as a "mere" external at the Mass. Every word, every gesture has significance. Doing them sloppily or omitting them will eventually influence our faith. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Second, the notion of Mass as sacrifice is itself little known and little taught anymore. What is the Mass, essentially: is it the Sacrifice of Calvary made present? Is it a memorial of the Last Supper? Is the focus more on God or the community? All of the above?

I'll admit picking on the National Catholic Reporter is a little too easy. But it's still a handy reference if you want the pulse of the Modernist Catholic community.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vibrancy is our strength

California is already lost to the US:

If the U.S. soccer team were hoping for the home advantage during Saturday's Gold Cup final then they were in for a nasty surprise.
Despite being the 'home' side in California's Rose Bowl stadium, the majority of fans - most of them American born of naturalized Mexicans - booed and jeered the U.S. team.
The surprising scenes were followed by angry outbursts from U.S. team goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was visibly shaken after the entire post match ceremony was conducted in Spanish.
Left-liberals and right-liberals don't believe there is a definite American people, so they don't see anything wrong with electing a new people. Ours is not a traditional nation but a laboratory for experimenting with liberal ideas. Multiculturalism is an experiment that failed but too many careers and reputations are staked on perpetuating the failure. Too much money is involved. Left-liberals rightly see the endless tide of Mexicans as a new constituency. As an aside, Hispanic voters are admirably resistant to the sort of meta narratives that sway SWPL voters. They take a straight forward cost-benefit approach to deciding whom to vote for. Right-liberals believe that being an American is just a matter of liking freedom, so they continue their wishful thinking that Hispanics are "natural conservatives" because they tend to be more religious and have bigger families. And of course there's the matter of their corporate overlords demanding more and more cheap labor.

Sed contra: we are influencing Hispanics much more than they are influencing us. They've adapted quite well to urban black gangster culture. The Catholic Church in America is a big cheerleader for unlimited immigration but that too has had unforseen consequences. Any parish finance committee will tell you that Hispanics don't (or can't, to be fair) contribute as much to the collection plate but still place enormous demands on parish resources. It allows our shepherds to greatly exaggerate their numbers and influence; if it weren't for illegal immigration, the American Church's loss of membership would be even more glaring. It might have forced them to come to grips with why that may be. As it is, the constant influx of Mexicans ensures that they will continue to pretend that everything is hunky dory.

The obvious solution to all of this is a moratorium on all immigration for at least thirty years. But I will wager dollars to pesos that this has literally never occurred to anyone in a position to make it happen. It still won't ever occur to them even when Mexicans in the United States declare that they won't listen to the gringos in Washington.

h.t. Vox Day

Now that Gay Chicken Day is overwith

G.K. Chesterton said the United States of America was the only nation ever founded on a creed. I believe he's right but this insight has also produced a lot of rubbish about the nature of this country. George W. Bush grounded his foreign policy on the neoconservative notion that inside of every raving Islamist fanatic there's a mild mannered Minnesota Democrat yearning to breathe free. Left-liberals and right-liberals both agree that there is no such thing as a definite American people with concrete ties to a specific time or place. Everyone on earth who loves freedom is an American at heart. They're deeply uncomfortable with the traditional idea of the nation-state because "blood and soil" strikes them as sounding vaguely Nazi-ish.

Right-liberals sometimes worry about left-liberals inroads against the Constitution. America's legitimacy as a nation-state is based wholly on the Declaration and the Constitution. So, they believe, if something were to happen to the Constitution - if it were ever explicitly repudiated or if an amendment granting abortion and same-sex "marriage" for all was written in - then America would no longer be a legitimate nation. We would owe no alleigance to the federal government.


The monarch does not lose his legitimate power if he enforces an illegitimate law. Catholics are not excused from obeying the traffic laws just because the God King is imposing an unjust law upon the Church. If there ever was a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion or gay "marriage" then it might compromise a Catholic's ability to take a government job in good conscience since some government employees have to swear to uphold the Constitution.  But America won't stop being America if it loses the Constitution.