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Thursday, May 29, 2014

FSSP vs. Women Priests

Many traditionalists are heartened by the "rapid growth" of the FSSP. After all, they have 244 priests now!

Juxtapose this with the fact that those who advocate women priests are similarly heartened. After all, they have almost 200 "priests" in 10 countries now!

So, we are supposed to consider the first a growing, soon-to-be mainstream group, while we know that the second is merely a fringe group of nuts.

And the second really is a fringe group of nuts - there's no question of that.
So, my question is this: if the FSSP represents the real hope of victory on the part of Catholic Faith, then what are we saying about the Catholic Faith?

Whatever it is, it certainly sounds the opposite of heartening. Which is why I find it increasingly hard to believe "traditionalism" can really be the interpretive key to the Catholic Faith. Sacred Tradition certainly is the key, but "traditionalism" ... not so much.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hollywood Blood Bath

The recent massacred by the son of one of the directors of the Hunger Games points to the need to reign in Hollywood violence. The killer attacked his victims with knives, guns and a BMW. Clearly, the tools are irrelevant to how the man committed his foul deeds.

The fact is, he was encouraged in his attack by the pervasive culture of Hollywood violence.

I propose that we tax violent movies at 20% of gross ticket sales and use the profits to pay for mental health treatments. We should also impose a 20% surcharge tax on the salaries of anyone associated with the production or distribution of such movies. Such a tax would not just provide a windfall for treatment of mental health issues in the general population, it would also go far to redress the income inequality problem that so many of the Hollywood elite express concern about.

Just as with the cigarette tax, wherein tobacco producers are forced to pay for the health of their customers, so too Hollywood should be forced to pay for the violence it promotes. I look forward to a widespread embrace of this initiative by everyone who works in the film industry.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Envisioning Mary

Alright, here is a conundrum. The traditionalists sphere is going nuts over this image of the Virgin Mary.

It has been called blasphemous, irreverent, sacrilegious. I've defended the work. My defense brought this response:
Steve, you're always arguing against the way in which most Catholics are arguing. I think you like to do it for the sake of trying to tell others they are wrong. No disrespect to you, but what if someone displayed "art" that depicted one of your loved ones with breasts exposed and their skull showing through their head? Would you feel offended? This statue is offensive. The crucifixion is different as it shows Our Lord's saving act.
The answer to this is longer than fits in a combox, so I'm putting the answer here to make clear what's going through my head.

Trusting Emotions

First, a little background. My visceral emotional reactions to things are all over the board. For years, I was fine with communion in the hand. Now I'm not. As of right now, I have a gut reaction that is opposed to lots of things -  communion in the hand, organ music, female altar servers are but three examples. I've never liked the organ (apart from Camille St. Saen's Symphony #3), and I've learned not to like the other two examples I've given. Heck, when I was an atheist, I used to have a strong visceral distaste for all things Catholic. Now I don't.

So, one of the things I've learned from the Church is that I can't trust my gut reactions. One of the reasons I returned to Catholic Faith is that I discovered the Church is better at logic than I am. Some of the things I used to think were prudent I've since discovered aren't. And vice versa.

Nowadays, I don't trust me very much on things the Church has ruled on. The Church is more prudent than I am, She is wiser than I am. *I* may not be able to think of a prudent reason for communion in the hand, but the Church disagrees, so I need to shut up about not liking it. My opinion is dirt, Her's is gold. Same with female altar servers. Same with organ music. If the Church explicitly permits it or endorses it and I don't like it, then I have to suck it up and get over myself.

In short, I have discovered that some of my emotional reactions can be backed up with rational objections, drawn from Church documents, but sometimes my emotional reactions are literally just stupid emotions, completely uninformed and totally wrong.

And even if I think I can back up my prudence with Church documents, it doesn't mean I really can. If the Church explicitly permits something I think Church documents forbid, then I can be sure of only one thing: I did not interpret those Church documents correctly. I need to go back and re-think my position. Until I can figure out how to explain the Church's position correctly, I need to keep my mouth shut. This isn't about what *I* think is right. This is about what the Church says is acceptable.

Ok. That's my history and how I try to think about things. I don't always succeed, but the above explanation lays out the goal as clearly as I can lay it out.

Spiritual Stupidity

When I first saw this work, my gut was very clear: I recoiled. I found it ugly, off-putting. I didn't want to look at it. I wanted to call it heretical, blasphemous, sacrilegious, evil and wrong. But, as I said, I've learned to question my emotional reactions to things. So, what, exactly, did I find wrong about this sculpture? How could I logically explain to someone else the basis for my revulsion?

Now, the fact that I even have to ask this question shows how stupid I am. Aquinas gives the example of two men, each encountering a murder. The first, an unlettered farmer, recoils from it in his very being. He immediately senses the offense against God and turns away from the sight. The college professor, however, can explain, step-by-step, the logical chain which leads him to intellectually reject the vision of violence presented to him. Which is the superior spiritual being: the farmer or the professor?

According to Aquinas, the answer is obvious. The farmer is spiritually superior because he immediately recognizes the distortion of good, he recoils from the evil, he turns from it. The college professor suffers from spiritual ignorance. He can climb out of his ignorance only by using the step-by-step logic of his intellect before he can fully recognize the evil and finally recoil from it.

The Church teaches that murder is evil. The farmer - being already spiritually united to the heights of the Church's moral teaching - instinctively and immediately recognizes the truth that the Church teaches. The college professor must use the ladder of logic to climb from his pit of ignorance into the necessary understanding of that same truth.

Notice this very clear distinction, however. The farmer isn't correct because he feels or emotes, rather, he is correct because his emotional reaction agrees with the Church's logic. After all, we cannot forget that Aquinas also teaches that intellect must rule over will, reason must rule over emotion. God is pure rationality, not pure emotion. We don't "feel the Force", we answer God's call to "come now and reason together."

The farmer is correct because, even though he lacks his own logic, his emotion is in complete agreement with the Mind of the Church. He already feels what the Church has always known. Because of his spiritual union with Christ, the Church's Mind informed his emotional reaction even though he doesn't necessarily know know to articulate the mind of the Church in an explicit intellectual way.

Meanwhile, the professor initially has neither the mind of the Church nor an emotional reaction informed by the mind of the Church. He is lacking both. He has to painfully climb to the heights of the intellect so that his emotions can finally respond properly to the situation.

Intellect has to rule emotion. If I find something emotionally repulsive, I must be able to find something in the Church's teaching which warrants my emotional response. If I can't find it, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm wrong. I might still be right to have that response, but I cannot be absolutely certain my emotional response is correct until I can justify it using the eternal rules of logic and the Church's reasons. The reasons provide the substance, the rules of logic show me how to build the reasons into an unassailable structure.

Identifying the Problem

So, as I said, I initially recoiled from this work and immediately began to search for reasons, given by the Church in her doctrines and dogma, by which I could logically condemn it. And that's where the trouble began.

I couldn't find any reasons.

I can't take issue with the nudity, because the Church has never had trouble with nudity in artwork per se. The Sistine Chapel is the easy example, but there are thousands, probably tens of thousands, of art works that involve nudity which the Church has commissioned and to this day proudly displays.

Similarly, I cannot take issue with the anatomical rendition of the human body, because the Church, again, has no problem with anatomical renditions of the human body. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, She not only commissioned anatomical drawings and sketches of the human body, Rome even set aside executed bodies each year for anatomical research.

And if the two aspects of art are fine by themselves, then what, precisely can be wrong with combining them? I couldn't think of anything. Again, these kind of split views are common in anatomical books, a genre of literature the Church helped invent.

Sigh. Ok, but the subject is MARY! Certainly I could come up with something on that ground! But what? I couldn't think what it would be.

The exposed breast(s) of the Virgin Lactans is quite a common theme in medieval artwork, meant to invoke and parallel the Eucharistic relationship between God and man. Heck, Bernard of Clairveaux, Doctor of the Church, had a famous vision in which Mary squirts her breast milk into his mouth and eye, and this work was rather popular in medieval and Renaissance art precisely because of its Eucharistic connection (one example of the genre is below):

And the more I studied this particular piece of artwork, trying to find something I could criticize, the more I realized this work could be interpreted in an entirely orthodox way. Mary was a human being, this is what a human body looks like underneath. It is a radically clear statement about the dogma of Mary's full humanity, no divinity.

The Crucifixion was not aesthetically pleasing. Christ had his skin flayed from His back. Mary is said to share in the Crucifixion, so this both portrays the Incarnation and foreshadows Mary's participation in the Crucifixion. In that sense, it's brilliant and beautiful. And the more I contemplated my emotional revulsion, the more I realized how brilliant this piece really was.

When we see a crucifixion in the 21st century, we are drawn to the crucified corpus in a way no first-century viewer could be. In the first century, the cross was revolting, disgusting, emotionally laden with negative connections. Just a reference to crucifixion was stomach-wrenching, it was enough to make the viewer vomit even to recall the scenes of the Crucifixion. Christ on the cross was a folly to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews because its negative emotional message was so powerfully embedded into the culture.

After 20 centuries without any crucifixion before us except Christ's, we no longer understand, appreciate or even feel the kind of repulsion the Crucifixion originally had.  We can kind of imagine the revolting feeling on an intellectual level, but we can't feel it anymore.

Interpreting the Art

But looking at this image of Mary? Oh, the revulsion is right there. It slaps us across the face, we can barely stand to look at her. And then I remember her participation in Christ's cross, the fact that she nearly died at the foot of the Cross as she shared the suffering of her Son. And I see the Incarnation, I see her Son right through her flesh. The veil to the Temple is torn wide open. And I see the Crucifixion, in the very fact that her skin is flayed away and the Temple curtain is torn open so that I can see the presence of God within. I see her skull, the very image of the death we are baptized into and through which we all must pass.

Indeed, the presence of the skull in light of baptismal imagery is arguably a visual demonstration of the Immaculate Conception, the fact that Mary received at her conception all the graces of baptism. Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Tomb, baptism, new life: all in a single image, and the image is Mary - the mirror of Christ.

And suddenly the Cross pummels me in a way it never has, but in a way that any first-century Christian, devoted to Christ and the Blessed Virgin, would have been intimately familiar with.

And now, what can I do?

If this image is sacrilegious, now I need a reason that overshadows the doctrines about Mary and Christ that my mind has discovered within the image. And I can think of such a reason to reject it even less now than I could before, because the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of the Cross both so strongly beat across my rationality and my emotions.

So, here is the question for you who feel the same or probably even more emotional revulsion than I felt and still feel upon looking at this image. Can you give me a clear doctrine/dogma, stated in a Church document or in Her historical treatment of artwork, that can help me rationalize opposition to the image? Because I honestly can't come up with one.

I should answer the last question from the responder above, namely:
...what if someone displayed "art" that depicted one of your loved ones with breasts exposed and their skull showing through their head? Would you feel offended?
You have to realize that I was trained as a medical lab tech. I've seen a lot of breasts exposed, and bones poking through flesh. It doesn't offend me, because that's just life (or death) sometimes. If someone showed me or one of my family members this way, I would not feel at all offended. That's what we are, isn't it? Flesh and blood? At the Resurrection, we even get our bodies, our flesh, bone and blood, back to use in heaven.

What is there about the fact that me and mine are "fearfully and wonderfully made" that I am supposed to find offensive? But it took several years of medical training and practice before I gained this perspective. If you haven't had that experience, yeah, I could see where you would be offended. Perhaps medical training ruined me. I don't know. But this seems like a useful meditation for Mother's Day, 2014, so here it is.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why Science Education Doesn't Matter

Science News recently had an article lamenting the sorry state of science education. This is actually just an example of a larger class of articles, in which scientists get upset that no one values them in the way they feel they ought to be valued (whether anyone really is valued in that way is a subject for another post).
As per usual, there was some moderate grousing about the religious right in the comments. So, I spent some time pointing out the facts about science education, to wit, complaints about the state of science education imply the existence of God.
After all, if you are an atheist, if you really believe the universe is just random and meaningless, then you have to recognize that whatever meaning you want to assign to your life is purely idiosyncratic.
If you recognize that your own life-meaning is peculiar to you alone, and no one else is bound to accept or believe it, then you cannot logically be very concerned about the state of science education in regards to other people. 
They do what they want, you do what you want, none of it ultimately means anything anyway. We all just fiddle with whatever we like until we die. Wine, women, song, science - each one is an equally valueless way of passing the time while we wait for self-awareness to cease, wait for our components to collapse back into entropy. 
Of course, you can argue that since you can COMPEL them to be interested, you have a RIGHT to force them to be interested: "might makes right". Which, in an atheistic universe is as reasonable a principle as any other, I suppose. 

But if that is your argument, and if you want to deal in reality, then you have to recognize that science education is thereby essentially a violent imposition of your beliefs on others who do not share them.

For some reason, atheistic science types violently reject the idea that their work is ultimately meaningless. Too much Christianity in their cosmos, I suspect. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Why Obamacare?

Mark Steyn sees part of the problem, but not all of it. He sees the "what", but he doesn't yet understand the "why."

Automation and technology are taking jobs in a way never seen before. The automatons are actually able to fully replace workers. 

Those who sell the robotic slaves get rich, the ones who have the robotic slaves work for them get rich. The ex-workers get welfare, birth control and abortion. Welfare feeds them enough so they don't revolt and the rest sterilizes them so they don't produce any more unnecessary workers. 

This doesn't even rise to the level of Soylent Green.
At least in Soylent, people were useful, even if only as food.

The real future is this: people aren't needed. 
At all.

Pope Francis and the Ephphatha Moment

Everyone wants to say that Pope Francis is a communist. Here are his actual words:
In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Future Sustainable Development Goals must therefore be formulated and carried out with generosity and courage, so that they can have a real impact on the structural causes of poverty and hunger, attain more substantial results in protecting the environment, ensure dignified and productive labor for all, and provide appropriate protection for the family, which is an essential element in sustainable human and social development. 
As I have pointed out before, in the past two centuries, the combination of clear property rights, technology and capitalism has fed, clothed and housed the 1800 AD equivalent of roughly six entire planets of people. We only have about one billion poor people left on a planet of seven billion people - not bad work for 200 years worth of progress.

Structural Causes of Poverty

What are the structural causes of poverty and hunger? The Pope doesn't say. But, given the clear evidence of the last 200 years, we can conclude that those structural causes are unclear property rights, lack of technology and lack of capitalism. Marxism clearly harms the environment. Capitalism heals it. Capitalism ensures a much more dignified and productive labor than Marxism ever did. As for the family, both capitalism and Marxism are a mixed bag. Marx and Engels explicitly wanted the family destroyed. Capitalism implicitly is fine with the family being destroyed.

So, if capitalism helps the poor and the environment at the expense of the family, while Marxism is purely harmful, how should governments handle the inequality which is economic poverty?
The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions with immediate results, like the decision of Zacchaeus. 


No one ordered Zacchaeus to give of his wealth. No one confiscated it. Instead, Zacchaeus spontaneously decided to do the right thing with his wealth. So, the Pope is urging governments to give people the opportunity to do the right thing. He is not calling for higher taxes, more confiscation, wealth redistribution at the point of a gun. That is Marxism, and the Church has already explicitly declared Marxism condemned, anathema, a tool of Satan.

So what is Pope Francis doing? He is calling on individuals to be more generous, and he is asking governments not to stand in the way of that generosity, not to make that individual generosity more difficult than it already is. Indeed, you can argue that the Pope is calling on governments to lower tax rates and other confiscation techniques. In fact, he virtually says this just a paragraph later:
The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others.
He is asking governments to promote giving by individual citizens like Zacchaeus.
I do not hesitate to state, as did my predecessors, that equitable economic and social progress can only be attained by joining scientific and technical abilities with an unfailing commitment to solidarity accompanied by a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level. A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.
As I pointed out above, his predecessors condemned Marx and Communism in the strongest possible terms. Socialism, whether national socialism or international socialism, is anathema to Catholic teaching and to this Pope.

Legitimate redistribution

So, what constitutes "legitimate redistribution"? Again, Pope Francis doesn't tell us the difference between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" redistribution. But he does tell us to interpret his words in the light of his predecessors' words, that is, in the light of the Magisterium of the Church.

The Church guarantees private property rights and liberty, endorses individual charity, doesn't like people to take other people's stuff. You are not allowed to do evil that good may come of it. You are not allowed to steal from the people you consider rich so that you can distribute their goods to the people you consider poor. After all, you don't know the whole story - you don't know who is really rich and who is really poor.

Subsidiarity is one of the founding principles of Catholic Faith. Even when movement of wealth takes place, it is supposed to take place according to the principle of subsidiarity - the people who directly own the wealth are supposed to give it to the people who directly need it with as few intermediaries as possible. None, if that can be managed. Interposing an entire government bureaucracy is a violation of subsidiarity. That's why Francis doesn't like government welfare.

So, "legitimate redistribution" does not necessarily have anything to do with tax rates or government confiscation. Indeed, given Church teaching, it is quite unlikely to include much in either of these categories. Again, nowhere in this speech does the Pope define what constitutes "legitimate" as opposed to "illegitimate" redistribution. Despite what the headlines say, nowhere does he use the word "wealth". He intends us to take his words in the context of the Catholic Magisterium.

The left reads everything Pope Francis says in light of their own agenda. By doing so, they try to steal spiritual riches in order to give to those who they consider poor. But their very inability to appreciate the content of those riches means the papal meaning gets twisted. As they try to transmit his message, they twist what he actually said into what they would prefer that he said. Thus, by the time "his words" reach the world, through the agency of the news organizations, they are no longer his words.

Twisting the good so it is no longer as good as it was - that is the definition of evil. But that is what keeps happening to this Pope's message. As the world grabs it,  both liberals and conservatives wring his messages like a sponge, but as we squeeze and twist it ever more tightly, we get not living water, but only gall for our trouble. Crucified by our own sins, we thirst for living water, but we insist on accepting only our own reeking waste instead. The world is not going to get much out of Pope Francis' exhortations until it allows its ears to be opened. It will not be able to pass on the papal message accurately until it allows its tongue to be loosed.

We don't need an "Ah-hah!" moment.
We need an "Ephphatha!" moment.