instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, February 28, 2003

Three versions

I'm going to distinguish three forms of universal salvation, making no claim that they are the only, or even most important, ones.

The first is apocatastasis. Per the All Greek to Me Protocol, I must admit this isn't a word that I keep in my head, nor have I ever tried to pronounce it out loud. It refers to the doctrine that, ultimately, all creatures will be saved, including those demons and condemned humans in hell.

This was taught by such heavy hitters as Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzen (even St. Jerome, in some form, at one point), which suggests that it's falsehood is by no means transparently evident. And it is false, as several ecumenical councils later pronounced. This dogma, that the demons and any humans who are damned are damned for eternity, is one of the points of Revelation that any consideration of universal salvation must treat.

The second form of universal salvation is one I'll call "necessary universal salvation." According to this idea, God in some way irresistably manifests Himself to each person such that each person necessarily makes whatever act of will is required for them to be saved. A necessary universalist probably stresses how unknowable what happens in the instant of death is, because for a lot of people it seems evident that at no time prior to their instant of death did they make any salvific act of will.

The third form I'll call "contingent universal salvation," according to which, while each person has a real choice of refusing salvation, in the event no one actually does. This is similar to the position of many non-double-predestination non-universalists -- those who think salvation is possible for everyone, but that not everyone is saved -- except that the former believe everyone freely chooses salvation, while the latter believe at least some don't.

I'm not entirely satisfied with these terms, since "necessary universal salvation" is consistent with each person freely (i.e., contingently) choosing salvation, and I'd be happy to use something else if anyone has a better suggestion, but I think they'll do to represent the difference between the forms of universal salvation.

Just to show where I stand, I don't think necessary universal salvation is very sensible, and I don't think contingent universal salvation is very likely. It may not be very likely that I'll be able to show that either of these thoughts of mine is very sensible, but I hope to try.


The peace of the dead

I was feeling proud of myself for thinking that one of the reasons the Vatican seems so keen on a UN-based solution to the Iraq crisis is the relative success of the UN-based solution to the East Timor crisis -- East Timor being, of course, one of the most Catholic countries in the world.

Now I read Nobel Peace Prize laureate José Ramos-Horta arguing that the threat of force is the only answer to the despotism of Saddam. Although he thinks the U.S. should give inspections more time, he also writes:
But if the antiwar movement dissuades the United States and its allies from going to war with Iraq, it will have contributed to the peace of the dead.
The dead in this case being the Iraqis killed by Saddam's regime.

He observes that in the anti-war demonstrations he "did not see one single banner or hear one speech calling for the end of human rights abuses in Iraq." The Vatican has, at least, made numerous statements indicating that Iraq has unfulfilled responsibilities for peace to be possible, but it has to date seemed reluctant to admit that only the threat of force inclines Saddam to even begin to act to fulfill them.

My guess is the reason for this is that the threat of force is only legitimate if the use of the force threatened is legitimate, and the Vatican doesn't think a U.S.-led use of force is legitimate. The Holy See tells Iraq that it has responsibilities, and warns the U.S. against overstepping its authority. What I think I'm missing is the part where the Vatican tells the U.N. to assume its responsibilities.

(Thanks to Karen Hall for mentioning the existence of Ramos-Horta's comments.)


A universal question

Elsewhere the Great Wheel of Catholic Debate has stopped once more on the topic of universal salvation. [The inescapability of the Great Wheel of Catholic Debate, the fact that every subject has its canonical discussion that repeats itself again and again through time, is what will eventually doom all blogs with functioning archives; they are destined to become like the comedians' club in the joke, where people tell jokes by number.]

I want to look at the subject of universal salvation in somewhat more depth (which is to say, with fewer interruptions) than is usually manageable on a mailing list.

It would seem that I shouldn't look at the subject of universal salvation here. For I am no expert on the state of the question, and haven't even read the regrettably-titled Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"?. (The title is regrettable, since it sounds like a question submitted to an "Ask the Pastor" forum, to which the answer would be, "Sure, knock yourself out.")

Further, the Church has not pronounced infallibly on the matter, and the Apostle cautions, "be not puffed up against the other for another, above that which is written."

Further, my concern is not universal salvation, but my own salvation, which I am to work out "in fear and trembling."

On the contrary, I'm going to anyway.

I answer that, the relations between God and humanity, God and all creation, humanity and the Church, and those outside the Church and Jesus Christ are among the most significant issues being discussed in the Church today -- far more important, in my judgment, than many livelier issues that fill Catholic journals and websites. One's beliefs about universal salvation necessarily affects one's beliefs about the nature of God's relationship with mankind and of the relationships between each pair of human persons. Universal salvation, then, isn't a sterile or academic question, but one to which different answers can and do give rise to different ways of living the Christian life. It is therefore worth considering the question carefully.

I am not an expert, but then I don't propose to give an expert treatment. I will do what I can do, and I hope to reveal and uncover true and false in public and charitable disputation.

While the Church has not definitively settled all aspects of the question of universal salvation, she has made certain authoritative declarations, and there are also non-definitive traditions to which I can refer. With these as guidelines, various opinions become more or less probable, and it is not going above what the Church declares as true to come to a personal judgment on these opinions.

While I am responsible for my own salvation, I am also commanded to preach the Good News to all creation. To the extent that my beliefs regarding universal salvation affect what and how and to whom I should preach, I should examine and test those beliefs.


Thursday, February 27, 2003

Sorry, Kairos Guy...

... but wine recommendations are per se snottum.

We can distinguish, however, between recommendations and guidelines, such as, "No screwtops after Labor Day."


Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Matthew 5:44

Amy Welborn quotes St. Augustine on Matthew 5:44 -- which reminded me of a habit I'm trying to develop, of checking the Catena Aurea when discussions of specific Gospel verses come up. (Well, specific verses from Matthew and Mark, the other two not being on-line and I not having broken down and bought the books.)

The Fathers had some interesting thoughts about our Lord's call to love our enemies. Pseudo-Chrysostom has some balming words for those who hate their enemies with a passion: "the flesh indeed is not able to love its enemy, but the spirit is able; for the love and hate of the flesh is in the sense, but of the spirit is in the understanding. If then we feel hate to one who has wronged us, and yet will not to act upon that feeling, know that our flesh hates our enemy, but our soul loves him."

St. Gregory makes a point I hadn't considered at all before, at the end of this excerpt:
Love to an enemy is then observed when we are not sorrowful at his success, or rejoice in his fall.... Yet it may often happen that without any sacrifice of charity, the fall of an enemy may gladden us, and again his exaltation make us sorrowful without any suspicion of envy; when, namely, by his fall any deserving man is raised up, or by his success any undeservedly depressed.

But herein a strict measure of discernment must be observed, lest in following out our own hates, we hide it from ourselves under the specious pretence of others' benefit. We should balance how much we owe to the fall of the sinner, how much to the justice of the Judge. For when the Almighty has struck any hardened sinner, we must at once magnify His justice as Judge, and feel with the other's suffering who perishes.
St. Augustine calls Matthew 5:44 the "rule by which we may at once hate our enemy for the evil's sake that is in him, that is, his iniquity, and love him for the good's sake that is in him, that is, his rational part." He also compares it with 1 John 5:16, "There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.":
This question can only be resolved, if we admit that there are some sins in brethren more grievous than the sin of persecution in our enemies. For thus Stephen prays for those that stoned him, because they had not yet believed on Christ; but the Apostle Paul does not pray for Alexander though he was a brother, but had sinned by attacking the brotherhood through jealousy.

But for whom you pray not, you do not therein pray against him. What must we say then of those against whom we know that the saints have prayed, and that not that they should be corrected, (for that would be rather to have prayed for them), but for their eternal damnation; not as that prayer of the Prophet against the Lord's betrayer, for that is a prophecy of the future, not an imprecation of punishment; but as when we read in the Apocalypse the Martyrs' prayer that they may be avenged.

But we ought not to let this affect us. For who may dare to affirm that they prayed against those persons themselves, and not against the kingdom of sin? For that would be both a just and a merciful avenging of the Martyrs, to overthrow that kingdom of sin, under the continuance of which they endured all those evils. And it is overthrown by correction of some, and damnation of such as abide in sin. Does not Paul seem to you to have avenged Stephen on his own body, as he speaks, "I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection."


Substance and legitimacy

Eric at the ecumenical blog Christus Victor has a question for Catholics:
how it can be that Rome requires its faithful to assent to the doctrine of transubstantiation and yet recognize the legitimacy of the Eastern Orthodox Eucharist? The Orthodox Church rejects Aquinas' Aristotelian framework. It seems to me that either the Roman Catholic Church teaches a superflous dogma or the Pope has recognized the legitimacy of a sacrament the Roman Catholic Church teaches is deficient.
I think his blog-mate Conor is right when he points out that "the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend on a perfect understanding of the Sacrament." Certainly a non-denominational Bible church has a deficient understanding of the sacrament of baptism -- I doubt its members would agree it creates a bond of unity with the Catholic Church, for example -- but that doesn't make its baptism invalid.

But there's another point, too. Here is the Council of Trent's definition:
... by the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation.
This is essentially a description of the consecration of the Eucharist in Aristotelian terms. I think there are three ways to reject it.

First, you can reject any sort of real mystery in the Eucharist; the bread and wine remain bread and wine and are merely symbolic of Jesus' Body and Blood.

Second, you can accept accept the mystery and accept the terminology but deny that the latter is a true description of the former, as consubstantiationists do.

Third, you can accept the mystery but reject the terminology, saying that all this "substance" stuff is guff and possibly offering another description using different language. I think the Orthodox generally take this route.

But given the philosophical difficulty of the definition -- how can a whole substance change into another substance when it doesn't become that substance? -- I don't think rejecting all that Aristotelian guff necessarily amounts to a rejection of the dogma of transubstantiation. (I've even seen an argument, by a respected Thomist, that affirms Trent except for the part about "transubstantiation" being a proper and appropriate term, since it's basically a nonsense word from Aristotle's perspective.)

Finally, I will add that the degree to which the idea of a "superfluous dogma" appeals to one strikes me as a good measure of where one falls on the Catholic-Protestant scale. Catholics like lots of truths out of which to weave their lives, Protestants like a few sturdy truths upon which to build their lives. Where a Protestant sees accretions and encroachments on disputable matters, a Catholic sees the expression of the fullness of truth.

Although if we use Chesterton's definition of a dogma as a disputed truth, in a sense all dogma is regrettable, since it is a product of the rejection of truth. Bringing this back to transubstantiation, we should remember that Trent offered its definition against certain errors of the Reformation, not against anything the Orthodox taught.


"He started it!"

JACK at Integrity risks flames by asking
does just war theory support a preemptive strike by Saddam in order to protect his country from attack by the United States?
If so, does it support a pre-pre-pre-emptive strike by the U.S.? &etc.?

The just war criteria cannot be met, objectively, by both sides in a war. If two countries are fighting a war, at least one of them is doing so unjustly.

But, as we're often reminded, the evaluation of the conditions for moral legitimacy of a war belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. So it is in principle possible for both sides to be fighting what their respective governments each believe to be a just war.

This isn't just a bold argument that there are some wars in which everyone thinks God is on his side. Since just war theory by its very nature relies upon the prudence of the decision maker, it is possible for two decision makers of good will but poor prudence to go to war against each other, each in all honesty following the just war tradition to the fullest.

In the particular case of Iraq and the U.S., though, I don't think we need to worry about whether Saddam is reasoning according to the just war tradition.


Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Cum grano salis

Karen Hall stridently rejects calls to pray for bin Laden and Saddam:
Having spent an insane amount of time studying possession and exorcism (for the book that I wrote, and because I find it fascinating in general), I believe that someone like Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler is "perfectly possessed", meaning they are the embodiment of evil. Any exorcist worth his salt will tell you there is no amount of praying that will help that person.
Well, I wouldn't pray for an embodiment of evil either, but since I know essentially nothing about possession and exorcism, I cannot myself judge which enemies are the Enemy's.


An evident sign of a lack of humility

The idea that blogging is an act of pride is revisited at Flos Carmeli, which features St. Josemaria Escriva's list of signs you aren't very humble, including this:
Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so.
In my opinion, any joke I made in this sentence would risk being too subtle to be noticed if I didn't point it out, which would be contrary to the second-to-the-last sign of letting drop words that might show your wit.

But does a blogger really give his opinion, or does he rather trade it in exchange for a little time and trouble of the reader's? If I'm tapping away at my personal blog without forcing it on others, am I not merely making my opinion available, and doesn't surfing to my blog amount to asking for my opinion?

Well, maybe, although a blog still affords ample opportunities for offending against humility, and against greater virtues, even if all the opinions given are explicitly requested. If a blogger doesn't love his readers -- in the transitive sense -- then he will sin against them and against God. He might give them the slurry of chatter or the gravel of paltriness, maybe even the big round stones of slander and detraction, but he won't give them the bread of charity and the wine of cheerfulness that a host ought to provide his guests.


Monday, February 24, 2003

It's the theology, stupid

In the February 2003 First Things, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus reports on an interesting theory of Fr. Robert W. Crooker of the University of St. Thomas:
What was wrong with the moral theology conventionally taught [before the Second Vatican Council] is that it had very little to do with theology. Moral theology was mainly a matter of learning the list of duties and prohibitions necessary for hearing confessions. At stake was access to the sacraments and therefore a soul’s salvation. It follows that a certain leniency, if not laxity, is in order, and that resulted in a garden variety of “probabilism.” Meaning the confessor would not insist on an obligation that “approved authors” held to be doubtful. What the confessor must insist upon is not the good but the tolerable....

Following the lead of the Council, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with theology—the human person made in the image of God and called to share in the life of the Trinity. The Catechism goes on from there to treat the beatitudes, the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and only then takes up the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Decalogue.... But on this score, as on many others, the Council was not understood or implemented. For most priests, “moral theology” continued to mean probabilistic casuistry, with the very big difference that, after the Council, there was no limit to the number of “approved authors” offering probable opinions.
Perhaps resulting predictably in Fr. Philip Kaufman's Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic.


A contemporary paradox

At the same time reality television advances the case that humans exist merely for each other's entertainment and therefore there is no ethical basis for forbidding human cloning, it also raises the question of why anyone would want to clone such creatures.

"I hate and detest that animal called man."
Jonathan Swift


Divinity and directors

I don't expect to see Gods and Generals, in a theater or anywhere else, soon or ever. I watch maybe ten non-children's movies a year, including video rentals, and somehow a three hour spectacle of Calvinists at prayer doesn't sound like one that will make the short list. (As you may know, I am not sympathetic to the CSA cause. When I hear "It was about states' rights," I say, "State's rights to do what?" The CSA was pro-choice.)

Mark at Minute Particulars thinks it's wrong to tell this story without admitting "that slavery was the issue":
Why try to justify one iota of a culture that had slavery at its core? How can folks who admit slavery was a great evil talk about honor, nobility, and goodness in those who fought to allow it to continue?
I think this goes too far in the direction away from romanticizing the CSA.

"People are complex," as they say, and complexity makes for both good story-telling and fruitful meditation. How can honor and nobility co-exist with a willingness to kill to preserve slavery? That's an important question without a simple answer.

I like to say that people are compound, made up of many parts, in contrast to the simplicity of God. A person of integrity is a person who has integrated his many parts into a unified whole. He remains complex and multi-parted -- that's his nature as a human -- but he manifests God's simplicity in his life by directing all of himself toward God.

I don't think we can resolve the paradox of an honorable man fighting for slavery (or, if you prefer, for the right of a state to make slavery legal) by relaxing one or the other aspect. Lee wasn't immoral, and he was fighting in the cause of an objective evil. It's a problem many of us can recognize in our own lives, as we do bad and don't do good. What I think is required is honesty, that we see and admit to ourselves how various facets of our lives are opposed to each other, and then prayer, for the grace to unite these facets in the service of Jesus Christ.


Which Bible translation?

"Which translation or edition of the Bible should I buy?" is a common question among people who are ready to get serious about their faith.

There are a lot of answers, from "The one you'll read" to "Everything but X         is the work of the devil."

My answer is, "One of each." Unless you're going to sea or to space, you probably have enough room for more than one book where you live, and if you are reading this you can probably manage to set aside ten dollars a year to buy the translations you can't get for free.


Saturday, February 22, 2003

Mixed messages

I saw a couple of cars today whose mothers I wish wouldn't allow them to go out in public looking like that.

One had a Knights of Columbus licence plate, a Knights of Columbus bumper sticker, and a copyright-violating decal of "Calvin" peeing on a sign that said "Home Depot Junk." Ooh, classy, where do I sign up for the Knights?

The other had several anti-abortion bumper stickers running the whole length of the bumper, including the "Abortion = Murder" one complete with blood dripping from the word "Murder," and another that said
If you get an abortion, you don't become "UN"-pregnant, you become the mother of a dead baby
The last bumper sticker in the row was for Project Gabriel, a program to help women with crisis pregnancies choose life. I'm guessing a woman in crisis who sees this particular bumper is not likely to jot down the Gabriel Project phone number (1-800-992-5359 in Maryland).

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Friday, February 21, 2003

"Because if I didn't vent somehow, I might explode!"

Once again, Fr. Rob Johansen speaks his mind, his bishop directs him to stop blogging, and Fr. Johansen is praised for his obedience while his bishop is chided for his cravenness.

It's possible, though, that what Bishop Murray sees and Fr. Johansen's supporters do not is that his ministry is not to like-minded Web readers, but to the people of St. Joseph's parish. I don't want parish priests to explode, but neither do I think the sort of from-the-hippie venting -- durable, public, and Googlable -- that blogging encourages makes a priest more accessible to his entire parish.

I only know Fr. Johansen through his blog, but based on that I suspect I'd like him as my parish priest, even if I wouldn't always agree with him (though if that were essential I wouldn't like anyone) and even if he does break the rule that priests are supposed to be older than I am. But I have a feeling my Latin-averse fellow parishioners between the ages of 50-65 might feel otherwise.

Are priests held to a different standard than laity? Sure. Is it unjust to hold "orthodox" priests to a different standard than, ah, other priests? If the standard one is held to is just, then holding one to that standard is just regardless of whether anyone else is held to a just standard.


Get Ready for Lent: Prayer

Many people use Lent as a time for increased prayer, both public and private.

Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the various Lenten programs that will be offered by the churches in your area.

[Watch out for parishes like St. Diana's in Pandell, Texas, though. If the DRE there isn't an outright pagan, she might as well be.]

But it isn't necessary to go rushing off to a church to increase the time you spend in prayer.

All but the most distracting environments afford ample opportunities for reflective moments during the work day.

This year's Lenten season may also be the right time for you to explore new techniques of prayer.


Still the arguments of the village atheist of the Ingersoll period

It took less than three weeks of completely failing to understand the point of The Secularist Critique for atheists to declare themselves tired by it.

It's too bad, because as I've written before I think theist is trying to conduct a tremendously important discussion. The atheists he's attracted, though, seem to have confused him with that geeky freshman in the dorm room by the stairs who's always trying to get them to accept Jesus as their personal savior. They are so convinced of the rightness of their position they can't even recognize when it is being critiqued, or figure out how to defend it other than by attacking Christianity.

For what it's worth, I'll quote Bertrand Russell, the great bodhisattva of Materialism, making theist's point for him:
The two dogmas that constitute the essence of materialism are: First, the sole reality of matter; second, the reign of law....

And it must also be remembered that there is no good reason to suppose materialism metaphysically true: it is a point of view which has hitherto proved useful in research, and is likely to continue useful wherever new scientific laws are being discovered, but which may well not cover the whole field, and cannot be regarded as definitely true without a wholly unwarranted dogmatism.

-- Introduction to F. Lange's A History of Materialism, emphasis added
Some day I must finish up my study on the similarities between the Berties Russell and Wooster, but whatever else may be said of him, Russell was not mentally negligible. He was able to see the true nature of materialism -- that it is a useful but wholly unwarranted dogmatism -- and honest enough to admit it.


Thursday, February 20, 2003

Get Ready for Lent: Fasting

Fasting is an important and ancient means of growing closer to God during Lent. Other sites discuss the theological significance of fasting; here we are concerned with fasting as experienced today by American Catholics.

In addition to profound spiritual benefits, fasting from food can have some unfortunate -- but temporary -- physical side effects.

Someone new to fasting is likely to feel a certain tightness in his throat, and may even experience light dizziness. This is normal, and the feelings will soon subside.

Other physical reactions to going without food for more than a few waking hours are possible, but rare.

More common is the tendency to mentally exaggerate the consequences of keeping the fast, but with time and experience, this too will come under control of the will.

Remember, though, that breaking your fast is no excuse for breaking the basic rules of kitchen safety.


Get Ready for Lent: Abstinence

Remembering the rules for abstaining from meat during Lent can be tricky, but not if you memorize this handy mnemonic key:

Italian Sausage:

Your parish should also have a supply of handy disposable lunchboxes with guidelines printed on it.

Lent may be a more fruitful season for you if you willingly choose to abstain from more than the bare minimum required by the Church (i.e., abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent).

For example, you might abstain from watching television.

(With obvious debts, particularly to Victor Lams.)


The homeopathetic remedy to crankiness... more crankiness.

From The Onion's "What do you think?", on the subject of North Korean missiles that can reach the U.S., accountant Cris Langston says:
"As an American, I'm getting sick and tired of other countries."


The Tradition is Latin. And Latin is the Tradition.

Fr. Rob Johansen commits a curious hasty generalization on his blog:
The only real die-hard opposition to Latin in the liturgy anymore comes from the aging-hippie set.
He does call this an observation, rather than an absolute principle, and in a follow-up comment adds: experience is that when I run into the sort of vehement attitude against "traditional" liturgy, it almost always comes from someone between the ages of 50-65.
What is curious about this is the implied equivalence of "the aging-hippie set" and people "between the ages of 50-65," as though one could not have been a teenager in the 1960s without having been a hippie.

There is something about this age bracket that Fr. Johansen hasn't yet pointed out, that Catholics who were within eight years of 22 in 1967 may well have adult children who have left the Church. He does mention that a "person of average intelligence can learn the parts of the Mass in Latin and the proper responses in a matter of hours," but he doesn't explain why such a person -- particularly if that person were a teenager -- would want to.

My own anecdote is an argument with a woman between the ages of 50-65, in which I took the side in favor of little bits of Latin during Mass, such as chanting the Agnus Dei. Her reply was that any benefit wasn't worth the risk of giving kids yet another reason to think Mass has nothing to do with their own lives. I said at the time it would only take a few moments to explain the meaning of the Latin words; she said at the time that my children were still very young.

My children are still young, and I am still appreciative of the sprinkling of Latin in my parish's liturgies, and if I weren't so lazy I'd try to get a Latin class started in the elementary school. But I am less inclined than I once was to explain away dislike of Latin as a relic of a generation of people who hate their own tradition.


It doesn't quite cut it

Occam's Razor comes in for some blunt criticism on The Secularist Critique:
First of all, it's not some absolute self-evident first principle of reason that must be slavishly adhered to in any and everything. Second, it's too general to really have any meaning in the context of an argument. Third, while it may be a good guide in some circumstances, there are plenty of exceptions, too many for it to really have any power in an argument. Fourth, it's just way too easy for anyone to use it for their own purpose, both sides of an argument could think of countless ways to use it for their own ends.
I've found versions of Occam's Razor used by materialists tend to be variations on, "Always choose the simplest explanation." The immediate question is, "How do you define 'simple'?" The next question is, "How do you define 'explanation'?"

The answer to the first question is often, "Whatever people who have spent nearly twenty years as students and decades more as professionals working on the most mind-boggling theories and mathematics ever conceived happen to believe today." The answer to the second question is often, "Whatever the people from the answer to the first question say they can understand."

One argument runs something like this: "We can explain the existence of the universe without appealing to a Creator -- or at least we have highly suggestive theories -- so it is irrational to believe God exists. It's true that, on occasion, there are various events such as improbable recoveries from medical ailments we can't explain, but since it's irrational to believe that God exists, we can't appeal to God to explain them. So we leave them unexplained, but Real Soon Now we'll be able to explain them. And that is the proper use of Occam's Razor."

I paraphrase. In the less explicit words in which I've heard this argument, though, it was no more persuasive.

What I think happens is that sciencists have been told that using Occam's Razor against religious faith makes for a very sharp argument, but they don't understand that they're trying to use a philosophical principle -- which, as theist points out, is "not some absolute self-evident first principle of reason that must be slavishly adhered to" -- as adapted for scientific use and re-apply it to philosophy. In doing so, they cut themselves badly.

I think it's an instance of the logical fallacy of taking what is useful for what is true.


Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Are any wars just? Are any civil?

Bill Cork takes an extended look (complete with footnotes) at liberation theology and war:
I've been re-reading some of the books on my shelf about the period, and picked up a few more at a local library. What jumped out to me was that never did any of the liberation theologians (or their liberal US supporters) seek to justify violence using the full, rigorous criteria of the Just War tradition that they now insist be applied in exacting detail to US policy.

Their arguments took a different tack, following the lead of the 1968 conference of Latin American bishops at Medellin. The bishops spoke of “institutionalized violence” as the root cause of unrest in Latin America. This was defined as “a system of injustice” characterized by “a structural deficiency of industry and agriculture, of national and international economy, of cultural and political life.” In the context of this discussion, they spoke of the legitimacy of “revolutionary insurrection.”
I don't know from liberation theology, but it might be worth pointing out as an aside that the Catechism treats "armed resistance to oppression by political authority" under its study of the Fourth Commandment, while it treats just war under the Fifth Commandment.

The conditions under which armed resistance becomes legitimate are enumerated by the Catechism as follows:
  1. there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights;
  2. all other means of redress have been exhausted;
  3. such resistance will not provoke worse disorders;
  4. there is well-founded hope of success;
  5. it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.
The basis of these criteria in the just war tradition is obvious, of course, but it's interesting that the one case is considered in the context of honoring our parents and the other in the context of respecting our neighbor.


With all due respect to my teachers who said otherwise,

... there is such a thing as a stupid question.

One question I don't think gets any less stupid the more often it is asked is this:
Do we have to wait until we see a mushroom cloud over New York before we can attack Iraq?
It is clearly a rhetorical question, but it seems to almost always be asked as though an answer were required. The intended implication seems to be that anyone who does not see that the U.S. is as good as under attack by Iraq today will be left in confused silence by this question, and thereby discredited.

Maybe the first dozen or two times the question was asked, it possessed a certain rhetorical shock value. Now it just strikes me as shopworn.

But the very first time it was asked, it still posed a dilemma so transparently false as to be unworthy of any serious discussion. It suggests that there is nothing between what is publically known about the evidence of Iraq's WMD capabilities and the destruction of New York City, that there is no possible standard whereby attacking Iraq now is unjust and attacking at any point before New York be destroyed is just. It makes it seem as though the crux of the whole problem is too simple to resolve -- Iraq bad, attacking Iraq good -- for there to be any reason to doubt its resolution. "Either you agree with me, or you are objectively pro-nuke New York."

Again, what makes it a stupid question (rather than merely a tired one) is to ask it as though an answer were required. It's the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" of the Iraq war debate.


Tuesday, February 18, 2003

How Catholics can gain (or regain) respect from non-Catholics

I assume you've seen the email calling for prayers for peace on March 3. See, it's 3/3/03, which is three threes, and three is the number of Persons in the Trinity.

So what could be more Christian, indeed more Catholic, than praying for peace on March 3? Other than pouring the blood of a rooster born under a new moon over the nest of a white crow into which a plastic St. Joseph statue has been thrust head down, I mean.

I don't mind a bit of superstitious numerology mixed into the culture purely to add a little texture, but I don't think sympathetic magic belongs in our prayer life.


Happy name day to me

Today on the Dominican calendar is the feast of Beato Angelico, Blessed Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, whose name I adopted as a Lay Dominican (and subsequently as a blogger).

Gerard of A Catholic Blog for Lovers posted a nice biographical sketch of Fra Angelico. Those looking for some of his artwork on-line can find a nice reference page here.

And if you don't have the time or ingredients to make a Frangelico Cheesecake tonight, there's always March 18, his memorial on the Roman Calendar.


More on losing

Mark of Minute Particulars has very politely informed me that I was far too literal in my answer to his questions that I quoted below.

He's certainly right that "The questions 'Are there serious prospects of success?' and 'What if it were possible to lose?' are not the same," and I think he's also right about the jading effect overwhelming odds of success can have on one's judgment.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like reasoning about war depends on a great many pre-existing biases, assumptions, and beliefs that aren't themselves directly exposed to prudential judgment. This rather obvious observation leads to the equally obvious conclusion that it doesn't suffice for those responsible for the common good to make prudent decisions based on their understanding of the circumstances. They need the proper understanding of the circumstances -- and it seems clear to me that there are several competing and incompatible understandings of the circumstances being argued (or at least advanced) by different voices. The proper one may well require the Holy Spirit's gifts of understanding, knowledge, and counsel, or at least depend more on faith, hope, and love than on prudence.

And when I hear the Vatican argue against war and the defenders of the U.S. government point out that there are facts the Vatican doesn't know, I suppose I am really hearing the counsels of hope on one side and of prudence on the other.


Sunday, February 16, 2003

What if we lose?

Minute Particulars poses the following questions:
It occurred to me ... that the position of many on this issue might change if the U.S. could actually lose a war with Iraq. Would advocates for a preemptive strike shift a bit or hesitate? If so, why? Would this imply that the threshold for a preemptive strike needs to be raised?
Since the probability of success is one of the criteria for whether force may be used justly, I would hope advocates for a preemptive strike -- if that's even the right term for an escalation of hostilities that have been going on for twelve years -- would shift a bit.


Friday, February 14, 2003

As Summa Minutiae notes, the Dominican Martyrology (based on the Roman Martyrology) records for today:
At Rome, on the Via Flaminia, the birthday of St. Valentine, priest and martyr. After many wondrous works of healing and teaching, he was beaten with clubs and beheaded in the reign of Claudius Caesar. A memory.

Also at Rome, the death of St. Cyril, bishop and confessor. Together with his brother Methodius, also a bishop, whose birthday falls on April 6, Cyril brought many people and the riders of Moravia to the faith of Christ.
As if Ss. Cyril and Methodius weren't enough, we've got St. Valentine today.

And as if that weren't enough, we could add
At Remsenburg, New York, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the Master. His prose, being read, pleases.
There isn't much in his life that makes Wodehouse (d. 1975) a viable candidate for a martyrology -- although his stories are filled with clergymen, they are essentially without God, and he himself doesn't seem to have concerned himself with God much at all -- but we may hope the brilliant artistry he displayed in his, er, apostolate of laughter is a sign of Divine election.


A presumed distinction

I'm coming to see that there's something I've been reading about for a while, and even writing about, that I flat don't understand. (This is discomforting, since "someone who talks about something he doesn't understand without knowing he doesn't understand it" is how I define "idiot.")

In the on-going battle for minds and hearts on the just war tradition, two camps have staked out their positions. On one side is the "begin with the presumption against violence" camp; on the other is the "begin with the presumption against injustice."

Well and good, so far I think I understand the distinction. But that's just the beginning. What comes next?

Obviously, those who begin reasoning about war with a presumption against violence aren't categorically opposed to violence; if they were, they wouldn't be speaking of just war but of pacifism. If there are circumstances in which violence is licit, what would they be but circumstances of injustice?

At the same time, those who begin with the presumption against injustice don't categorically favor violent responses. The whole point of the just war tradition is to prescribe those circumstances in which violence is licit. "In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary," St. Thomas wrote, which implies that injustice is not sufficient for violence.

So the two sides might begin with different presumptions, but the next step of each is to adopt the other's presumption. I'm left wondering what difference the distinction in beginning presumption makes.

It might be suggested by these words of Peter Nixon:
That we can even speak seriously of the concept of a "just war" should remind us that we are the reason that Christ was crucified. Ever bullet, every bomb, every death is one more nail in His hand, one more spear in His side, one more thorn on His brow. If a Christian has a duty to pick up the sword, then let it be a grim duty, and when it is done let us clothe ourselves in sackcloth and ashes and repent of what we have made of the world God has given us.
I don't want to read too much into Peter's words, but I think at the back of many "presumption against violence" thinker's minds is the idea that violence isn't only always regrettable, it's always wrong. A necessary evil, in other words.

Those in the "presumption against injustice" camp, meanwhile, don't share this sense. Since I don't, either, maybe I'm in their camp too.

But I don't think this view of violence is a direct part of either side's reasoning about war. I think it's more of an implicit bias that affects people's judgments about whether the various conditions of just war have been met. A person who thinks necessary violence is still wrong is likely to judge issues of proportionality differently than a person who thinks violence, once justified, is right.


A false dilemma

Camassia was irritated by the old Lord-liar-lunatic gambit posed at the Alpha class she's attending. I don't blame her.

The gambit, if you don't know it, is this: "Jesus was either lying, insane, or the Son of God. Which do you say that He was?"

I think this is one of those formulations that only Christians find meaningful. If you don't believe Jesus is the Son of God, then why would you care whether He was a liar or a lunatic? I get the sense a person asked the question is being pressed as much on politeness as on faith: "It would be rude to tell this person standing in front of me I think Jesus was nuts."

A bigger problem with the dilemma, though, is that it is false. There are many explanations of the founding of Christianity that don't require Jesus to be Lord, liar, or lunatic. Just ask someone who doesn't believe Jesus is Lord. Some explanations are too fanciful to take seriously -- e.g., the ones that claim Jesus never existed -- but others are entirely reasonable. The Gospels represent Jesus as misunderstood even by the Apostles; it's only after the Resurrection that they come to understand Who Jesus is. A non-Christian might easily argue that the Apostles' misunderstanding of Jesus continued, and even worsened, after He was crucified.

These other explanations are inconsistent with Scripture, of course, which is why all the "Jesus as enlightened master but not God" theories are inconsistent with Christian faith, but if you're honestly trying to get a non-Christian to answer the question, "Who was Jesus?", you can't insist his answer depend on taking the Scripture as the Gospel truth.


Thursday, February 13, 2003


You would think that someone with a blog called Minute Particulars would know a short story when he read one. Yet Mark quotes an article that claims the shortest short story is "El Dinosaurio":
Upon waking, the dinosaur was still there.
Heck, I have an entire short story collection that's shorter than "El Dinosaurio"! (The titles, though, are somewhat longer.)
"The World's Shortest Detective Story"

"The World's Shortest Detective Story With a Twist"

"The World's Shortest Hard-Boiled Detective Story"

"The World's Shortest Noir Story"

"The World's Shortest Mystery Story"
I think I stole the hard-boiled story -- though I claim fair use of up to 200 words -- but the rest may, for all I know, be original.


With a good script, you're less likely to bomb

There is a reflection on Kairos about the problem of loving the unlovable (archives may be flaky):
Riding the subway home from my consulting gig this afternoon, I glanced up from my book. My eyes happened to come to rest on a discarded newspaper, with a picture of Osama on the open page. "Evil motherf---er," I thought to myself, and started back to my book. But duty called itself to mind, and I paused to consider what exactly it means, as a Christian, to hope for my enemy's good--as it were, to love my enemy.
Brian's thoughts remind me of the Broadway Prayer, which as I wrote last September is "for use when a person or situation in your life weighs heavily on your heart."

I don't know how many of us can thank God for Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, even in the most grudging and formal way. But the second and third steps -- asking God to change the person in an observable way, then thanking God for changing him -- are easier, though it may take a few tries before the way you ask them to be changed is consistent with hoping for their good.

But if Fr. Burns was right that the Broadway Prayer is for when something weighs heavily on your heart, this seems like a good week for the Broadway Prayer.


Why I am glad to have been born in the middle third of the last century:

You can't Google my college years.

All I'm saying is, if I'd kept a daily journal of the thoughts I was wrestling with when I was eighteen, there wouldn't have been much mention of The Dark Night, St. Augustine's Confessions, Biblical typology, or a whole lot of other things many of the younger Catholic bloggers are writing about.


Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Buick Skylark and me

Enough with the dopey inner you quizzes. Let's do something practical and (superficially) scientific! Find out which car you should be driving with Car Talk's Car-O-Scope.

I have learned that I am too much of a wuss, too cheap, too educated, too snobbish, too rich, and too uninterested in cars to be driving my Saturn SL1. I should be in a Buick Skyhawk.


I have family everywhere

Karen Marie Knapp links to an essay written by a Catholic Worker about his recent visit to Iraq. The author's purposes include demonstrating the humanity of the Iraqis and the particular vulnerability of the one million Christians who live in Iraq to a period of chaos and instability.

I have a number of difficulties in affirming everything in the essay. First, it is written "in the Catholic Worker tradition," which implies a level of pacifism I by no means feel bound to commit to (and a level of contempt for the government I by no means share; see e.g. the "form of biological warfare" snipe).

Second is the implication that, if someone didn't tell me about young Ahmed the shoe-shine boy, it would never occur to me that the Iraqis are human beings, nor that they don't want to be attacked. It's an emotional argument requiring a (to my mind) false premise, that the reason the Bush administration is preparing to attack isn't the reason the Bush administration states -- to disarm Saddam before he can use his WMD arsenal against other countries, including the U.S. The Kuwaitis, Kurds, Turks, Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, and Israelis are all human beings, too, who don't want to be attacked either. So, for that matter, are Americans.

Third, I am extremely uncomfortable about arguments against the war based on the number of Christians in Iraq. Over and above the hardships caused by direct military action, Iraqi Christians expect to be vulnerable to Islamic extremists in the chaos during and after the war. This, surely, must be factored into the moral reasoning on a war, but it doesn't of itself trump all other considerations. Saddam is smart enough to allow Christians to live in peace -- though if it could win him a castle in Jerusalem, all their heads would not fail to go -- but they cannot demand their own security at the expense of other, equally innocent civilians throughout the world.

By the way, I think prudence suggests we keep the situation of Iraqi Christians in mind when we read and interpret statements on Iraq made by Church officials. If a certain level of diplomatic reticence is not maintained regarding Saddam and his government, the consequences could be immediate and dire.

Finally, there's the awkwardness of reporting the comments of true believers, such as the Orthodox priest who said, "We’re not afraid to die. You are. We will take tens, hundreds of thousands of losses. You will not! ... Our leader will protect us.” While love of one's country belongs to the order of charity [CCC 2239] and there's a duty to defend it, there is also an obligation in conscience to refuse to support an evil regime. (A side question: Do those who cannot admit Saddam is an evil tyrant without adding that the U.S. supported him in the 1980s think that support strengthens the case for pacifism today?)

On a more positive note, the essay includes this statement at the end of a paragraph describing the author's visits with a number of Vatican officials:
The bottom-line in Vatican political thinking is that the U.S. is threatening the fabric of international law which is a sine qua non of any lasting international peace.
This may be a better, and simpler, answer to the question, "Why the United Nations?", than the one I gave below.


Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Why the United Nations?

A lot of American Catholics are wondering why the Vatican, along with bishops throughout the world, are so insistent that (as the U.S. bishops' letter put it) "recourse to force ... should take place within the framework of the United Nations." This is especially puzzling for those American Catholics who regard the U.N. as little more than a boondoggle gabfest for second-rate junior yes men.

Most recently, Bishop Mandagi of Ambon in Indonesia co-signed a letter asking governments "to trust the United Nations, as the organization representing all states, to find a just and peaceful solution" to the disarmament of Iraq.

I don't think it's unreasonable to ask why the U.S. government should "trust the United Nations," particularly given the way votes and vetoes are allocated in the Security Council.

What I think I discern, though, in all these appeals to the authority of the U.N., is an appeal to the U.N. to prove itself trustworthy.

I know nothing about international law or the precise nature of the authority of the U.N. and its Security Council. But I think the Pope and other Catholic bishops are inviting countries to recognize the U.N.'s authority in this case so that it will, in fact, have that authority in this case. Once it has the authority, though, it must exercise it: it must prove to its member countries that it can act with prudence and justice, or else it really will be just a gabfest, and any sensible country will withdraw its recognition of U.N. authority, and not just in the case of Iraq.

Why would the Church want this sort of authority to be found in the U.N.? Consider paragraph 1911 from the Catechism:
Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to "provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families." [Gaudium et spes 84 § 2]
My guess is that the Vatican sees the U.N. as the only existing candidate for such an organization, and is doing what it can to make the U.N. actually become such an organization.


Monday, February 10, 2003

It means "universal"

There's a discussion at Gospel Minefield on favorite female saints.

My own favorite female saint is the Blessed Virgin, but as of now the folks over there haven't so much as slipped her in tied for number five.

But hey, that's their choice, right? It's not like completely forgetting the Theotokos makes a person any less Catholic. Different people have different tastes. In all things charity, that's my motto.

Actually, completely forgetting the Theotokos when listing one's five favorite female saints is a phenomenon related to the observation of Caryll Houselander I quoted (with rampant editing) last month:
When we are attracted to a particular saint it is usually the little human details which attract us. These touches bridge the immense gap between heroic virtue and our weakness. Of our Lady such things are not recorded. We complain that so little is recorded of her personality, so few of her words, so few deeds, that we can form no picture of her, and there is nothing that we can lay hold of to imitate. But it is Our Lady -- and no other saint -- whom we can really imitate. The one thing that she did and does is the one thing that we all have to do, namely, to bear Christ into the world.
(For the record: 1) Mamma Mary. 2) St. Catherine of Siena. 3) St. Katharine Drexel. 4) St. Zdislava of Lemberk. 5) Bl. Margaret of Castello. The #5 spot is generally reserved for whomever I've most recently read about.)


Benefit of doubt

For those with the time, Al Sharpton's fifty-minute stump speech at Saint Sabina's yesterday can be listened to over the Internet.

My impression (based on the twenty minutes I listened to, plus Fr. Phleger's ten-minute introduction) is that Sharpton and Fr. Phleger are welcome to each other.

The incongruity of the whole production was, for me, perfectly captured by Sharpton's invitation to the congregation to pull out their King James Bibles and read along with him from the Book of Joshua.

But it has occurred to me that one of the reasons I am not particularly upset by Cardinal George's decision not to forbid Sharpton's appearance -- aside from the many assurances I've had that any order against Sharpton would have been ignored by Fr. Phleger -- is that Cardinal George strikes me as a bishop who is visibly and publically trying to serve Christ and His Church. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, while others, for the same reason, say they are extremely disappointed by his inaction.

What would I have thought, what if anything would I have bothered to write, if I had an unfavorable impression of the bishop in question? Suppose it had been Bishop Jotterbury of Malaize, by construction the worst serving American bishop. If he were faced with an equivalent prudential judgment, and he reached the equivalent prudential decision, would I have attributed this to his prudence or to his pusillanimity? Might not a coward run away for the right reasons?

So remind me again why I should be passing judgment on the actions of the bishop of a far-away diocese.


Art lessons

In preparing for February 18 -- the feast of Blessed Giovanni da Fiesole, Beato Angelico, on the Dominican calendar (his memorial is March 18 on the Roman calendar) -- I am reading an art history book on his life and work in the context of Fifteenth Century Italian humanism. So far, I have learned that I know nothing about art history and Fifteenth Century Italian humanism, and at this stage I may have to settle for knowing there's a whole lot more going on in Fra Angelico's paintings than I'll ever understand. Mostly I just like pretty pictures.

But I was delighted to read at Video meliora, etc. the "Good Point" that, at the Domincan convent of San Marco, the young, middle-aged, and older friars got the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries, respectively (if you'll pardon the anachronism). These frescoes were painted after Fra Angelico did several altarpieces and predellas for public churches. The works for secular viewers are on the whole more narrative and descriptive. The friars were given much simpler and more symbolic paintings for their meditations.

Of course, simpler is relative. Can you imagine being a Dominican friar in Florence five hundred years ago, and seeing this every time you return to your cell:


Sunday, February 09, 2003

Blogdom's gain

Kathy the Carmelite's Gospel Minefield is on the air.

(Note for the irony enabled: she doesn't have comments.)


Saturday, February 08, 2003

Cheap indignation

Reacting the the news that Cardinal George won't prevent venal demagogue Al Sharpton from speaking at a Catholic Mass in Chicago, Mark Shea writes:
Another spinectomy perfomed on an American bishop. How long, O Lord?
I don't think Sharpton should be speaking in a Catholic church, and I know he shouldn't be speaking during a Catholic Mass, and I would cheer Cardinal George if he showed up in person to kick Sharpton off Church property and publically rebuke the priest who invited him.

Why isn't the Cardinal doing just that? According to his press release:
The Cardinal believes ... that making a case of this invitation at this time would be a futile gesture and a waste of effort.
Is this spinelessness? Or might it possibly be prudence?

One of the advantages bloggers -- and writers generally -- have over bishops is that our indignation is free. Well, not entirely free: it might cost a few readers who disagree with us -- although it might also gain a few who like a certain amount of indignation in their reading diet. But as a rule, we can rend our garments and bemoan the times with impunity.

A bishop, though, can't indulge his indignation so generously. He has an actual, God-given duty to teach and to govern the people in his diocese. This is not a formal duty, that can be discharged by reciting canon law and saying, "There, I taught you what to do, now do it." It isn't enough for him to teach; the souls in his care have to be taught.

We live in a time when the words that fall from a bishop's lips are not gathered like pearls by the faithful. It doesn't strike me as at all unlikely that, in a particular instance, with a particular parish and a particular priest, "making a case" of inviting Al Sharpton really would be futile and a waste, particularly given such short notice. There's reason to think there are other efforts Cardinal George wants to advance, other gestures he wants the archdiocese to find meaningful, and that the results of these other efforts and gestures could be harmed by playing Sharpton for the Balrog at Khazad-Dûm.

Finally, if this were an example of true spinelessness, would the Cardinal have sent out a press release, or merely let the event go on without comment?


Friday, February 07, 2003

More dogma from the antidogmatic

The Secularist Critique makes this common and undeniable observation:
Science is very useful, no doubt about that. But the questions that are really significant for man, the existential questions like what is the good life, how should I live my life, is there an ultimate purpose to my existence, and others that effect the core of our being and determine ultimately how we live our lives, when it comes to these kinds of questions, science is quite impotent.... When it really comes down to the important things, science is utterly insignificant.
When I say this observation is undeniable, I mean no one who understands what science is and how it works would deny it, nor would people who don't know and don't care what science is nor how it works. And since science in this context basically means a systematic application of the scientific method, almost no one who has ever lived has known enough science to apply it to anything, yet many such people (e.g., Buddha and Socrates) have still managed to reason about the important things.

So the observation isn't strictly undeniable, and of course the sciencists who commented on the post have denied it. One responds:
As for science being insignificant regarding the "important things," if you're talking about value judgements you might be right. If you're talking about medicine, technology, etc (all of which I consider pretty important), you're dead wrong. But, science has never proclaimed to be the bringer of values; values are what we assign to the result of science.
Take a moment to consider the mindset of a person who considers the technology of his society "pretty important," in the same sense determining what is the good life and whether there is an ultimate purpose to existence is "important." One of the purposes of any secularist critique is to highlight the fact that secularist thinking is not simply Western thinking minus all that god stuff. It's a radical break from the whole of the Western tradition. When "Will this pill cure my disease?" is as important a question as "How am I to live my life?", you aren't improving our culture, you're replacing it.

(And yes, a lot of people are more interested in the first kind of question than the second, but as a culture we've always recognized which kind of question is really important.)

Which brings me to the remarkable notion, "values are what we assign to the result of science." Keep in mind that science is a relatively new and relatively limited phenomenon, so the result of science has been available to a markedly limited subset of all the people who have ever lived. According to this notion, then, a considerable subset of all the people who have ever lived had nothing to assign values to. Perhaps they had values, but they would have been unable to actually value anything.

This is nonsense, of course, although I'm not sure the fact people value things other than the results of science can be established to the satisfaction of sciencists; they are notoriously difficult to satisfy. But I think it gives a good insight into the way a sciencist thinks. It certainly explains why they're so hung up on scientific evidence of God; how can any rational person value something that isn't the result of science?

[For the terminologically curious, by "sciencist" I means an adherent of "sciencism," by which I mean more or less the dogma that the scientific method is the sole basis for establishing existence and determining truth.]


Prayer in [a dark corner of] the Dominican tradition

Is there really nothing short of a full-scale military invasion of Iraq that could resolve the current crisis? Is there anything more than the Master's letter the Dominican tradition can offer to the West?

For some reason, I recall a time early in the history of the Order, when (along with the Franciscans) its very existence was at risk in the face of an attack against its exemptions from direct episcopal control. As William Hinnebusch, OP, put it in his The Dominicans: A Short History:
The danger became acute when the University of Paris joined the conflict, seeking to terminate the teaching of the friars. In November 1254, Innocent IV, prompted by William of St. Amour and delegates of the University, revoked the friars' privileges and subjected their ministry to the local clergy. However, their victory was short-lived. Two weeks later Innocent was dead and the friars claimed they had prayed him into his grave. Alexander IV canceled the bull of Innocent one month after it had been issued.
Providence isn't just the name of a fine college.


Outside the box

As Therese points out below,
Until Middle-easterners and/or Middle Eastern leaders do not view the west as enemies, the current conflict will continue. The only thing that will change the situation is for the two peoples to reach out to each other.
Declaring war is a risky way of getting another country to stop viewing you as an enemy. But what choice do we have?

The French foreign minister suggested tripling the number of UN inspectors.


What if the UN sent a million inspectors to Iraq? Give each of them US$1,000 or equivalent, and tell each of them to talk to 25 Iraqis to ask them about weapons of mass destruction. For about five billion dollars, including air fare, we could talk to every Iraqi, make a personal connection between Iraq and the West (I suppose China and Senegal could send inspectors too, if they want), and who knows what the result might be?

And some people say we've tried everything short of war.


My thoughts on the Master's letter

fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa writes:
Peace is worth the risks while war is the easy way out.
War is the easy way out, in the sense that it's easier to figure out how to win a war than how to win a peace.

My question is whether war is a risk that must be taken in order to obtain peace.

At this point, I'm almost prepared to grant that a just cause for the use of force exists -- does anyone think the oilmen in the White House invented the evidence shown Wednesday at the U.N.? -- but shift concern over to proportionality. That's another problem with a first-strike war: Even if damage is lasting, grave, and morally certain, how do you judge proportionality when the damage hasn't occurred yet?

I don't unreservedly endorse everything in the letter; note how my highlighting stops when its attention turn to the West. But I am trying to listen to fr. Carlos's call to find something between resignation to war and "angelism or naiveté." I haven't yet, but then I haven't been praying enough.

It seems to me from a natural perspective there is nothing between war and capitulation. That leaves the Divine perspective, and it's the job of the Church to bring this perspective to the world.


Letter from the Master on Iraq

by fr. Carlos A. Azpiroz Costa, OP, Master of the Order of Preachers
fr. Dominique Renouard, OP Vicar of the Master of the Order , 2/7/03
[emphasis in bold added by J da F]

Rome. On a visit to Iraq, we heard the sound of an Anglo-American plane and the noise of exploding bombs in the distance. We were walking along the streets of Qaraqoch, a small Christian village a few kilometers from Mosul. We soon learned that the bombing is a daily occurrence here but it still surprises strangers. The Chaldean priest who accompanied us simply commented that "those are your bombs". When children hear the noise, they climb on roof tops to see where they fall.

During our eight days in Iraq in October 2002, we met the Dominican friars and most of the Apostolic Sisters present in the country as well as many Lay Dominicans.

The friars are located in Mosul and Baghdad where they are responsible for the teaching and formation of the Christian communities in Iraq. They publish a journal,
La Pensée chrétienne (Christian Thought) which has an impact beyond the Christian community. Additionally, the friars have a Theological Centre, created some ten years ago, which they look after in collaboration with others. The Centre attracts 500 to 600 students who attend theology courses on Monday nights. There are approximately 800 who register annually and 300 to 400 who complete the yearly cycle.

The Iraqi Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, founded by the friars 110 years ago, is a dynamic community which is present in Christian villages. The sisters live close to the people and serve the local church. They serve as catechists, run clinics and some teach in their old schools from which they were expelled some thirty years ago. They also direct a house of spiritual exercises and Christian formation, near the University of Mosul. The sisters also have communities in Baghdad as well as abroad in Jordan, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine. The sisters breathe a joy of life in the communities and their presence provides comfort to Christians. However, their situation is becoming more difficult because of the arrival of groups adhering to Wahabbi Islam, who are very aggressive against Christians.

In Baghdad, the community of the Sisters of Charity, Dominicans of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary including their novices, run a clinic which is one of the best in the city that provides great services in spite of the difficulties in obtaining medicine and drugs as well as medical supplies. Their maternity ward is especially appreciated by everyone and, in recognition of the work of the sisters, a number of Muslim families have named their children Joseph and Mary.

In Mosul, the sisters of the Presentation operate a small guest house for Christian female students who are subjected to pressures to convert to Islam.

Lay Dominicans are organized in three regions consisting of eight groups with about 500 members. Besides their formation activities, they are also very involved in their parishes as well as in charitable activities. One of the activities consists in working with the sisters to provide financial help to families who must cover the travel costs of students who wish to attend school. Schools are free but travel costs are more than the families can afford.

The possibility of war in the near future and its consequences for Christians and other religious minorities is uppermost in the minds of people. The situation also contributes to a large emigration of the Iraqi elite, especially among Christians. However, people continue to plan for the future. Notwithstanding the menace of a war, the friars and sisters themselves are building and developing projects and activities in common. At the same time, those we met all expressed concern for the immediate future, viewing the increase of Islamic fundamentalism and the effects of the embargo as a dangerous mix. Malnutrition is one of the causes of the deaths of four to five thousand children per month. In spite of this, they remain hopeful and this in itself is a testimony of faith founded on a history of martyrs. The presence of religious is a sign of hope, especially since these last years they have continued to put up new buildings and restore old ones that were in disrepair. Their endeavors are examples of service to the Christian and Muslim populations in the country.

The Iraqi regime is certainly not exemplary and people are aware of this fact. Iraqis are the primary victims of the situation, which is aggravated by the embargo that adds to the material and economic constraints the regime imposes on them. We can at least raise the question of the moral legitimacy of a 12-year embargo that has failed to achieve its goal of ending the regime. We can as well question the moral legitimacy of the concept of a "preventive war". This concept would appear dangerous for a number of reasons: who establishes the criteria for determining the launching of such a war? if this reasoning is acceptable, who would prevent another country from doing likewise in the face of a "potential danger" of its own design?

In terms of the embargo, it has brought about a general impoverishment of the population with a consequent quasi disappearance of the Iraqi middle class that was previously a relatively important and cultured one. In a country that, according to many accounts, was secular and religiously tolerant some years ago, impoverishment has paved the way for the development of fundamentalism.

In the present context, the action of religious and lay Dominicans in the Western World is limited. It is evident that as well as praying for peace, they also have rights and duties as citizens and, therefore, it is possible for them to inform and put pressure on elected officials. Since one of the main challenges is the lack of balanced information, members of religious communities with their independent information networks can help to develop a less simplistic public opinion on the situation, for instance in reminding people that there have been Christians in the Middle East since the Apostolic age and inviting all to pray in union with them. This can take place, for example, in parishes and would be a response to a request often heard from Iraqi Christians: "Don't forget us!" Furthermore, certain symbolic actions such as fasting are possible even though they will not attract wide attention from the media. This was undertaken by a number of Dominican men and women who fasted for one month in September 2002, in New York City. The fast ended with a Liturgy of the Word presided by the Master of the Order in the gardens of the UN and had a strong impact on the participants including the homeless of Union Square who supported the fasters. Regretfully, the fast was barely mentioned in a media that is dominated by a single way of thinking. It is also worth noting two initiatives of the Dominican Leadership Conference, an organization made up of the leadership of the Dominican sisters and brothers of United States. The first initiative was a petition addressed to members of the US Congress, which was widely circulated. The second one was an invitation for Dominicans to wear a badge, which reads: "I have family in Iraq". Such initiatives could be repeated elsewhere in line with local context and requirements.

We recognize that there are other actions being undertaken for peace beyond the ones mentioned above. All actions for peace are useful including gestures of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. The situation is complex and therefore it is necessary to analyze it and to highlight what is at stake, without falling into angelism or naiveté. We need to act without prejudice but with all the boldness and the radicalism which the Gospel inspires. Peace is worth the risks while war is the easy way out.

We encourage all members of the Dominican Family to work resolutely for peace through prayer and actions inspired by the Spirit. Your lobbying activity vis-à-vis elected officials and governments can make a difference. Non-violent action carried out in a serious and determined way, in the name of justice and peace and with reference to the Gospel, can still avoid a cataclysm that could lead to disastrous results for the Iraqi people as well as for the Middle East and its relations with the rest of the world.


Thursday, February 06, 2003

Doubtful matters
"That leaves the impression that it's fine to call yourself a Catholic and also hold views that are contradictory to the Catholic faith. Well, I said it's not fine." -- Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento, on California Governor Gray Davis's boastfully pro-abortion rights position
Looking again at Fr. Philip Kaufman's essay (well, book chapter, but it can stand by itself) "Probabilism: The Right to Know of Moral Options," I think I've spotted his error.

He is correct in writing that probabilism says "that in doubtful matters people could follow the probable opinion of a competent minority of theologians." (Although if he really thinks probabilism has been adopted over probabiliorism as a rule in the confessional "throughout the Catholic Church," there are a couple of priests I could introduce him to.)

Fr. Kaufman's mistake is in how he defines what a "doubtful matter" is. He seems to think that if "reputable theologians defend positions on moral issues contrary to the official teaching of the Roman magisterium" then these moral issues constitute doubtful matters and therefore probabilism may be applied to them.

This raises the immediate question of what makes a theolgian "reputable." Fr. Kaufman suggests
that the criteria should be those used to judge the competence of scholars in other intellectual disciplines: economists, sociologists, biologists, physicists, etc. How do they rank with their peers? Are their articles and books taken seriously? How reputable are the schools in which they teach?
This is reputation by bootstrap. If enough theologians agree with each other, then their very agreement becomes the source of their reputability, and hence their ability to generate "doubtful matters."

The problem with this is that theology is not just an intellectual discipline; it is an examination into Revelation. We can distinguish two meanings of "theology": one is the academic study, with professors and journals and tenure; the other is the genuine study of God and His Word. The two meanings aren't mutually exclusive, but they are distinct. (Similarly, there are two meanings of "physics," one being the scientific study of mass and energy, the other being what actually happens when masses and energies interact.)

Fr. Kaufman's suggestion fails radically when theology in the academy fails, and at least one theologian (who is also a cardinal) has strongly implied that, in the U.S. at least, theology in the academy has failed.

Take another look at the idea of "reputable theologians defend[ing] positions on moral issues contrary to the official teaching of the Roman magisterium." The official teaching of the Roman magisterium * on any number of controversial matters is in no doubt. The law of the Church is clear and unambiguous.

Where does the doubt come from, then? From "reputable theologians." But if the job of a theologian is to explain the teaching of the Church, then is a theologian who rejects the teaching of the Church doing his job? If not, if he isn't even being a theologian, then in what sense (other than the academic, which is meaningless in this context) can he be a reputable theologian?

I'm oversimplifying here -- a theologian is not simply a scribe of Magisterial teaching -- but I think my complaint of the circularity of Fr. Kaufman's argument holds.

(Thanks to Kevin Miller for the link to Bishop Weigand's statement.)

* And don't you just love the tendentious use of "Roman" for an American readership? See also his association of probabiliorism with "the side of law, traditions, Church authorities, and rigoristic confessors," contrasted with probabilism's concern "more for the needs of the individual conscience." Or his use of the term "the birth control encyclical."


No, more war!

The Kairos Guy has convinced me to clean up my language.

Specifically, I will use "pacifism" to mean, more or less, the doctrine that war is wrong, and "nonviolence" to mean, more or less, a personal proscription against violent means.

Responding to my "two ways to address conflict" post, Tom T. asks:
If the Church takes a position that a particular conflict is or is not a just war, however, then the two responses of pacifism or just war can no longer co-exist as to that conflict, correct? Those within the Church must follow its teaching as to the justness (or not) of a particular war?
The wrinkle here is that the Church teaches it is up to the competent authority, not the Church, to judge whether a war is just. The Church, in the persons of her bishops, can say something like, "If the circumstances are thus, then a war is not just," but she can't always say, "The circumstances are thus."


Wednesday, February 05, 2003

...probably pure guff

The Contrarian has long wondered
how the old Jesuit moral system of probabilism interacts with an ordinary teaching of the magisterium....

The logic of probabilism has been construed by some Catholic authors who dissent from magisterial teaching to mean that, if one or two theologians reputed for their craft and skill and prudence oppose a teaching of the ordinary magisterium in some respect, then the Catholic may legitimately act in accordance with the opinion of the dissenting theologian and not the teaching of the magisterium. This view is proposed by a Benedictine priest named Philip Kaufman in his book Why You Can Disagree And Remain a Faithful Catholic....

If the magisterium has not specifically legislated that the probabilist system cannot be applied to a teaching of the magisterium, then it is at least plausibly doubtful whether such a law exists. Assuming that a reputable theologian teaches Kaufman's point of view, then a person may then safely use the probabilist system in the manner which Kaufman advocates, even if the majority of theologians believe otherwise, thereby opening the door for Catholics to act in a manner contrary to that which is taught by the magisterium with a clear conscience.

Now my head is starting to spin.
I'm no more qualified than Patrick to give an informed opinion, but let me suggest the following as a framework to begin to reason about it:

"A version of probabilism holds that, if a few theologians dissent from a magisterial teaching, then anyone may act contrary to the magisterial teaching with a clear conscience. But this is absurd. Therefore, this version of probabilism is ..."


An irony of evangelical atheism

An evangelical atheist, commenting at The Secular Critique, let fly what must be among the sharpest barbs in his quarrel: "You're not scientifically-inclined, eh?"

This is an ironic criticism of religious belief for two reasons. First, the commenter and his fellow evangelicals demonstrate a poor understanding of what science is, how it works, and how it fails. I don't know how scientifically inclined the host of The Secular Critique is, but his antagonists in the discussion over there seem to be scientifically misinclined. I think this comes from defining human reason (or, more popularly, "rationality") in terms of the scientific method.

The second, related, but larger reason it's ironic for evangelical atheists to accuse others of being scientifically disinclined is that their own understanding of science is completely ad hoc. To them, physics is just a free-floating collection of facts, unconnected to any underlying metaphysics. In fact, their minds seem completely untroubled by any thoughts of metaphysics at all.

The irony of this lies in the fact that the motive for studying physics, the motive for all science, is wonder. The first step up the ladder of wonder -- logically if not chronologically -- is metaphysics. Without a philosophy of being, the "hard" sciences cease to be science; they are reduced to sets of things people have noticed.

There is nothing wonderful in the numbers written in a lab notebook. It's only when there is a framework within which these numbers can be interpreted that the wonder arises when we see that my numbers look a lot like your numbers, which look a lot like Michaelson and Morley's numbers.

That framework is not possible without metaphysics. Evangelical atheists complain that religious language is "completely devoid of content," without ever noticing that "E=mc2" is completely devoid of content if you don't know what mass is, and you can't know what mass is if you don't know what existence is.

So when you have no metaphysics at all -- or, to be generous, when your metaphysics is, "To be is to be observable by the scientific method" -- you've removed the whole purpose for your physics. Instead of a product of human wonder, science becomes an obsession of human reason. A sciencist who says, "By definition, the universe is everything that exists," is no friend to science, however scientifically inclined he believes himself to be.


Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Wise as serpents

I've seen several claims to the effect that witholding money is the only control layfolk have over their bishops. This strikes me as a form of clericalism.

Okay, that may be too fancy, but I think it is an implicit yielding of the whole of our faith to the clergy.

Can't a layman pray? Can't he fast? Can't he light a candle, or go on a pilgrimage, or wear sackcloth?

For that matter, even if we stick to secular approaches, can't he write letters, organize meetings, sit on the ground outside the bishop's residence?

The "money is the only thing" mentality sounds uncomfortably like the mentality of people for whom money is the only thing.

Now, will prayer and fasting, sackcloth and candles result in a bishop's mending his ways? My answer is, "Yes, and prove me wrong," although I could accept, "Probably not, but we do it anyway." How many Catholics, though, believe the answer is, "Surely you're joking"?

Given layfolk who are praying and fasting, does it follow that their only secular recourse is to withhold money from the diocese? I don't see how it can. If people believe the failure of the bishop is severe enough that they are willing to suspend their canonical obligation to provide for the needs of the Church (and giving to the St. Vincent de Paul Society doesn't seem to satisfy the obligation described in Canon 222), then I think they ought to be willing to do something that actually inconveniences them.

Again, the idea of acting by omission rather than comission is a distinctly secular form of protest. People boycott grapes in far greater numbers than march with migrant workers.


"Dogma is what you people do."

That, of course, is a dogma of dogmatic atheism, put in unusually pithy form by a dogmatic atheist commenting on Catholic and Enjoying It! (and he's showing up elsewhere as well).

Something similar can be found in the comments at The Secularist Critique, a website that I think is trying to engage thoughtful atheists, but so far has attracted mostly dogmatic atheists, such as the one who declares, "To posit a creator god prior to and separate from all of existence is a contradiction in terms."

Now, anyone who says that is demonstrating that he simply doesn't understand what he is talking about, any more than the person who thinks dogma is what religious people do. It takes someone with more patience for this sort of foolishness than I have to keep the discussion going much beyond this, and I pray for all those so blessed to be more successful than I've been in my few abortive attempts at it.


It could be worse

T.S. O'Rama pulls out a statement Kathy the Carmelite made in a comment below:
But I suspect that some of the vehemence that denies the possiblity of a just war is actually a function of unbelief in life eternal.
What does "unbelief" mean here?

It seems to me that a person can have a belief in eternal life that is as solid as a rock and as lively as a rock. Someone can have no doubt whatsoever that an afterlife awaits us all, at the same time he lives as though that makes no difference in this present life.

St. James might say that such faith is dead, but it is faith of a sort nonetheless.

I think the problem lies in radically disconnecting this life with the next life, as if they were two acts of a play. But life eternal has already begun in us. That's what baptism is, that's the meaning of Easter, that's the good news. Baptism isn't something we get now to use later, like a pair of skis during a summer sale. It is a participation, right now, in eternity.

Jesus came in the flesh and died on the Cross to "free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life," as the Letter to the Hebrews says. I don't know how many evangelical pacifist Catholics think death is the worst thing that can happen to us, but if any do, I hope they will realize that death has already happened to us, and that we won.

(Making the same point to the just war supporters, there are worse things than being killed by weapons of mass destruction.)

T.S. O'Rama wonders whether this sort of thinking is how the Church once justified persecution of heresy, whether
in the past they believed that the killing of some heretics was justified, by the souls they were saving of countless others who would have been damned.
St. Thomas's support for the execution of heretics is well known. He saw heretics as committing a much graver offense than "forgers of money and other evil-doers" who were subject to execution. But the persecution, and possible excommunication followed by execution, of heretics, served a different purpose for the Church:
On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.
So it might be fairer to say that excommunication was justified to save the souls of others while execution was justified as punishment for the offense of heresy, but that is a mighty fine distinction.