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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Franciscan University: Problem Child

I am a graduate of Franciscan University, the institution from which I received an MA in theology, but I am not a fan of the institution. People frequently ask me why. Let me explain what I experienced during my tenure there in the 1990s.

Problem 1: Philosophy
The Philosophy department teaches its students that philosophy is the queen of the disciplines, having a natural precedence over all other disciplines. Insofar as it teaches, say, Aquinas, it teaches him primarily as a philosopher, not a theologian.

Philosophy means "lover of wisdom". Philosophy revolves around a discussion of the tools necessary to correctly perceive reality.

Theology means "words about God." Theology revolves around a discussion of reality Himself, the divine deposit of Faith. Reality is superior to the tools which we use to perceive Him. Our tools may be right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, necessary or unnecessary, but Reality abides.

The fact that the FUS Philosophy department fails to understand this basic fact skews the entire department, and therefore the university's outlook on reality as a whole. All students have to take some kind of philosophy course. Students who imbibe FUS philosophy run the risk of mistaking the tools men created to use for the Reality men are created to glorify, the risk of mistaking the means for the end, and the philosophy graduates are the ones most heavily infected with this obtuse understanding. Placing philosophy over theology is classic error of the Enlightenment, and one which has deep roots at FUS.

Problem 2: Grounding in the Fathers and Doctors
The short version: there isn't any substantial grounding in the Fathers and Doctors. During my time at FUS, I can immediately call to mind only only two texts that originated in a Father or Doctor: Aquinas' Treatise on Law (from the Summa) and Athanasius' On the Incarnation. Reading the second was not actually necessary to passing the course. All the other texts were from modern theologians. If it was a Scott Hahn class (who, to his credit, required the Aquinas reading) the studies sources were almost always either Protestant or Jewish.

I understand that Scott forms his students the way he was formed, but there is the problem. The Catholic instructors didn't do much with the Fathers or Doctors - they used texts from modern theologians. The instructors from a Protestant background didn't do much with the Fathers or Doctors - they used texts from Protestant theologians.

We are Catholics. We should be receiving formation from the Fathers and Doctors. For all its vaunted theological underpinnings, FUS is actually quite, quite weak in this foundational formation.  There was a single graduate course that covered the Fathers and Doctors, but that elective (not required!) course was pretty much the only course in which a graduate student could encounter them. The Fathers and Doctors were generally segregated from the rest of the curriculum.

Problem 3: Catechetical formation
When I attended, the graduate program in catechetics was under the direction of the renowned Barbara Ann Morgan (BAM). Why she was renowned was never made clear. As more than one grad student noted, her skill lay primarily in exhortation, not particularly in doctrine. I have personally worked several years with her successor. His skill does not lie in either area.

During my training to receive an MA in theology with catechetics emphasis (which required more classes than an ordinary MA), I was taught about the two missions of the Church: to teach and to sanctify.

What's that you say?

Oh, why yes, you are absolutely correct. The Church does not have just two missions, She has three: to teach, to sanctify and to govern, corresponding to the missions of the Son, the Spirit and the Father. But our graduate theological formation was such that the third mission, the mission of the Church to govern, was never emphasized. In fact, it was de-emphasized to such an extent, that when, after graduation, a priest pointed out to me that the Church actually has THREE missions, I was literally shocked.

Now, BAM made sure to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church for her teaching, and the three missions of the Church are clearly spelled out in that text (CCC 873). So, I couldn't figure out how I had missed that. So, I started asking other FUS catechetics MA grads what the missions of the Church were, and the answer was always the same: to teach and to sanctify.

They were always shocked when I pointed out that there were actually three missions. (Note: I tried the same experiment with Notre Dame theology grads. They were not only shocked to discover that there were three missions, they were actually repelled by the idea of "governance." One ND grad, when shown a piece of paper with all three missions written on it, struck through "to govern" with a pen, repeatedly, while saying, "I don't like that one." To FUS' credit, I never met FUS grads who had a similar reaction. FUS students always embraced it as soon as they heard it. That's why I have even less regard for Notre Dame than I do for Franciscan University.)

In fact, BAM created a spin-off called the Association for Catechumenal Ministry whose mission it was to train parish catechists. ACM's original catechetical material also failed to give any indication of the Church's third mission. And, in the interests of full disclosure, I am one of the authors of some of that material. A year or two after the launch, I noticed the hole in the material. Since I knew the associate to the director, I pointed out the lacunae to him and, to his credit, he promptly fixed it.

But how did that grade-school level error creep through the dozens of FUS grads who were checking the ACM material? The question is disturbing, the answer even more so.

Franciscan University may be one of the better Catholic institutions out there, but - given the errors - that is clearly not a very high bar. It has systemic problems in outlook and instruction that have not, to my knowledge, been remedied. I am not a fan of the institution, nor do I recommend it to anyone.

The problem is, perhaps, best summed up by a conversation I had with my best friend at FUS, also a theology grad student, as we walked across the quad one day:
Me: "So, we are getting a master's degree in theology."
Him: "Yep."
Me: "And we're basically learning what we should have been taught in high school."
Him: "Yep."

Franciscan University provides a very fine high school education.
Beyond that, not so much.

And that, as they say, is the other side of the story.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Christ Died

Question: How does Christ dying save anyone from anything?

Answer: That's an excellent question. 

If a five-year old breaks a window, he might be sorry for having done it, but he certainly doesn't have the skills, nor can he earn the money, necessary to repair the window. As the child's father, I will have to repair the window.

But, as a good father, I won't do it by myself. I will require my child - the one who broke the window - to assist me. Perhaps he is only old enough to lift the glass up, perhaps even only able to lift it with my help. Perhaps I lift it, but he applies the putty around the edges. He might be required to hand me the tools as I do the repair. I don't do it alone, although I certainly could. He does as much work as he can, I complete what is too much for him. He really does work, but he really can't finish it without me. 

When we sin, we break the world.
God made the world to be unbroken.
The world needs to be repaired.

Worse, a sin against God is a sin against infinite goodness, the source of life.
It is infinitely unjust, it is a rejection of Life Himself.
Such a rejection, in justice, deserves death, permanent separation from God.

In mercy, we can forgive, but in justice, that evil, that brokenness, demands healing. It demands that SOMEONE undertake the work necessary to repair the injustice for the evil that was done. This work is commonly called "punishment"

Fortunately for us, God is perfect justice AND He is perfect mercy.

God does not desire us to be separated from Him at all, much less permanently. He recognizes that we may be remorseful for our sins, but He also knows we are unable to handle the punishment for our sins. So, He takes the bulk of the punishment on Himself. We still suffer for our sins, but He suffers with us, shouldering the greatest portions of the burden.  That's why Christ's dying can save anyone from anything. Whatever you've done, if you are truly remorseful, God has volunteered to take on the full work necessary to repair our injustices, even unto death.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Christian Persecution: Is It Increasing?

When the Pope says, "More Christians are being persecuted than ever before", what, exactly, does this mean? Sure, the raw numbers of Christians persecuted may be higher, but is Christian persecution increasing?  In order to know if Christian persecution is increasing, we have to know how many people have been Christian in each age, and how many Christians in each age were martyred for the Faith.

We also have to define exactly what counts as martyrdom. Is it the premature death of someone who witnesses to Christ? Do they have to be actually slain by someone else, or can they merely die as a result of a civil war, in which many victims are killed indiscriminately? What if they were killed partly because of their tribe or race, that is, the killer always hated the Tutsi tribe (whether Muslim, Christian or animist), but the killer also always hated Christians, and this one happened to be a Christian Tutsi, which made the killing more delectable?

Or, perhaps, the killer doesn't even know his victim is Christian, the man dies simply because the killer doesn't like the man's stance against multiple wives or homosexuality?

Keep in mind, it is quite possible for the number of martyrs to increase, while the actual amount of persecution is decreasing.

Year (AD) World Population (billions) Christian% of World Christian Population (millions)
1000 0.263 17 45
1800 1 27 200
2015 7 32 2600

Clearly, the number of Christians in the last two-centuries has grown ten-fold. If the amount of persecution has neither increased nor decreased, we would expect the number of martyrs to grow ten-fold as well. By the same reasoning, if the number of martyrs has only quintupled, (grown five-fold), we could say with confidence that the amount of persecution is actually decreasing.

It is sometimes said that 45% of all of history's Christian martyrs have died in the last two centuries. That may be true (although a lot of that depends on whose numbers you believe and how you count), but it is also quite possible that the number of people alive right now comprises about 45% of all the Christians who ever lived between 33 AD and 2011. After all, according to the tables at this link, roughly 50 billion people have been born, lived and died between 1 AD and 2015. About 18 billion of those lived during the last two centuries.

If the population of Christians was never above 20% of the world population (and it wasn't until the last century), then the entire Christian population for all of history has been around 10 billion people. About 3.6 billion have lived during the last 200 years, 72% of whom are alive right now. So, yeah, we should see that a pretty high percentage of all martyrdoms have occurred in the last century or two, without necessarily seeing any real increase in the percentage of persecution across the Christian experience.

Does this make the persecution any less real or heinous?
Of course not - it is still just as vicious and evil today as it ever was.
Has the raw number of Christian martyrs increased?
Obviously, yes.

But has overall Christian persecution increased?
On that point, it is hard to say that it has.

This from Global Research
"According to a 2009 report published by the Counter Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Al-Qaeda kills over seven times more Muslims than non-Muslims.

The UN reported last year that Muslims are the largest victims of ISIS in Iraq."

Also, the BBC reports on how the "100,000 martyrs per year" meme was manufactured. Let's just say it isn't a particularly good number.

Why We Harvest Babies Like Wheat

One of the original labor-saving devices was a book. Once written language is invented, I can now bi-locate, I can now be in two locations at once. My physical body/self is in one room/building/city, while my "second" self is the book I wrote that you hold in your hands. The book explains a concept, describes a situation, tells a story in my stead. I no longer have to physically be present to do these things for you or with you. The book does them in my place. I can now be in multiple locations, telling everyone the same story, giving everyone the same instructions.

Now, it is true, the book is not as flexible as I am. I can be asked a question, I can elaborate on or explain an obscure point. But - if I have written clearly enough and you are literate enough, smart enough to take my true meaning - my alter ego's inflexibility can be worked around. Its inflexibility becomes invisible to you as you read my book.

In fact, if my book is clear enough, and you are smart enough to take its meaning, I have definitely put someone out of a job. People who explain the process I just explained in the book will not find as willing a buyer in you - the one who purchased my book - as they do in George, who has not the benefit of my book. I have taken their jobs. Indeed, I have taken my own job. If you have my book, and my book is clear enough, you don't even need my physical presence to explain the process.

For me, that is not a problem. I get paid not only for my physical presence teaching A, but also - at the same time - I am earning money from you who are located in B. My earning power per unit time is increased. I am taking employment, money, from the other people who teach the skill I explain and making sure I get all of it, or more of it.

A lever is a machine. Machines take jobs. When I use a lever, I can lift an object that I could not otherwise lift by myself. Instead of requiring two or three men to lift that boulder out of the way, I alone am sufficient. When I use a lever, I take jobs from other men, men who might need jobs.

People who are smart enough to use levers take jobs and money away from people who are not smart enough to use them. After all, people who don't use levers must hire additional help. Since I use a lever, I have extra money to spend on other things. And I may decide to spend them on actual things - buy more machines, in order to save more money. So, instead of hiring ten laborers, perhaps I only hire three laborers and buy three levers.

Is it immoral to use machines and books to take jobs?
The Church has never said it is.
But all of you who teach this skill for a living, all of you are impoverished by my book.
All of you who lift heavy objects for a living, all of you are impoverished by my lever.
You have to find new skills, new work. The old jobs are gone.

A robot is just a book. It doesn't work without instructions - a computer program. I wrote that program, I wrote those detailed instructions. I gave the computer the instructions it needs to accomplish whatever task it accomplishes. The more robots in use, the more money I earn. I have cloned myself via the robot. Even if there is only one robot programmed by a team, that team of programmers clones itself as a team in the actions of that robot.

Robots, like books, are not smart. They are less flexible, completely unable to innovate a solution, just like a book. But they take jobs even better than books do, because they can actually perform the instructions instead of merely describe them. Any machine can take a job, but automated machines take huge chunks of jobs.

As agriculture began to use more and more machines, agricultural jobs disappeared. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, 80% of the population had to farm to feed the country. Now only 2% do, and they produce six times the food. Prior to the Computer Revolution, many people were employed in manufacturing. Now few people are, yet we manufacture more goods than we ever have in history.

When a job is automated, the smart person takes that job from the stupid person. The smarter the person, or the smarter the team, the more intricate the tools. The more intricate the tools, the easier it is to take more complicated jobs.

The first persons to lose are those disabled by weak bodies or weak minds. Children don't work anymore, they go to school. Machines have taken their jobs. Old people don't work anymore, they retire. Machines have taken their jobs. Long schooling is now required to enter many aspects of the workforce, because machines have taken the jobs of those with less schooling. Those who cannot endure the schooling have few or no jobs - the machines have taken those jobs.

The machines are clones of the people who could endure the schooling. These people learned the necessary skills either from a book or from a group of people (e.g., a college or office) or both. They then figured out how to clone themselves and take jobs. They also take the pay for those jobs. That is how a person gets rich.

By definition, half the population has an IQ below 100. They have been, and will be, increasingly cut out of the workforce. They cannot gain dignity from social status. They have none. They cannot gain dignity from work. They have none.

Their only dignity resides in their relationship with God. But in a society which wants God dead, that relationship is increasingly difficult to maintain for those who need it most. So the poor and weak will be killed. Better yet, steps will be taken to ensure that they do not reproduce.

This is why Pope Francis insists on the need for jobs.
He sees what is happening.
But machines do jobs more efficiently than people.
No one, not even the poor, really want to lose the comforts that machines provide.

Society used to assign dignity either through social status or employment or both. Today, sociaety cannot give large segments of the population dignity either through social status or employment.

The only thing that can restore dignity to those people is our individual and corporate relationships with God. God gives a dignity no one can take away. But what if we do not want God in the public sphere? If society cannot give dignity to those without dignity, and refuses to give God to those without dignity, then how shall those persons regain dignity?

Given the pace of change, if we reject God-given dignity, then the only other resolution is murder. The poor and the weak have no dignity, so they can be safely killed. Indeed, the poor and the weak owe society death. After all, if the poor and the weak cannot be useful by giving us their work, then we must make them useful by harvesting their bodies. The poor and weak become a crop to reap.

Thus, the Communist Chinese harvest organs from political prisoners consigned to be executed, and the Democrat Americans harvest organs from innocent babies consigned to be executed. Once Christianity is separated from State, once the iron law of the machine and the book is accepted as the pre-eminent law, it is all perfectly sensible.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Sobran's Silliness

"In 100 years, we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college. - Joseph Sobran"

Some people think this quote is emblematic of the state of America's schools. In fact, it is emblematic of the nonsense spouted by Joseph Sobran.

Point: The First. Skill-sets
By definition, every system is designed to produce the outcomes it produces. The US educational system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It may not be doing what some people think it was intended to do, but it is doing what it is designed to do. If you want different outcomes, you have to change the design. But what, exactly, are the outcomes?

First, literacy is a skill, like any other. However, half the population, by definition, does not have an IQ of 100. That doesn't mean half the population cannot be taught the skill. It means that, by definition, the lower half are probably going to have a tougher time with the skill.

When the country was founded, it was founded Protestant. You can't be Protestant unless you can read. Catholics don't need to be able to read to be Catholic. They just have to be breathing. But, to be Protestant, you have to be able to read so as to interpret the Bible yourself. From its founding, the American colonies had a highly disproportionate literate population. Protestants took the time to teach everyone to read, even low-IQ people, because reading the Bible was how you got the faith to be saved.

As immigrants came in, this high percentage of literates dropped. It had to. It was being inundated with illiterate (not stupid, just illiterate) Catholics. Europeans in general had lower literacy skills than Americans, if only because it had a much higher population and much less need for literacy.

So, in time past, the lower half of the literacy spectrum would not have been taught any literacy skills at all. Thus, the average reading skill of the average literate person would be a lot higher because reading was a skill possessed only by the elite. The average wasn't weighted down by the unwashed masses.

Obviously, if the unwashed lower half is taught the literacy skills, then - again, by definition - the average reading level is going to be pulled down.

Today, immigrant children are the cause of the low test scores. As this article hints, and other articles verify, if you take immigrant children out of the mix, American education actually performs about as well as any other country.

In short, those remedial English classes didn't exist in times past because Protestants didn't care about the literacy level of Catholic immigrants. Now we do. .

Point: The Second. Population
In 1915, between ten and thirty percent of the population attended high school. Those who did attend were generally the children of the upper class rich. The vast majority of men and women between the ages of 12 and 20 were working. It's a lot easier to teach a well-heeled, rich sub-population a set of useless skills (Latin and Greek) than it is to teach these same useless skills to people who actually need to work a minimum of twelve hours a day, six days a week, just to put food on the table.

Point: The Third. Non-Reading Skills
But all of this begs the question.
Why does Sobran single out reading?

The only Sobran quote that is ever brought forward involves reading skill. Nothing about math, nothing about music, nothing about science. All Sobran discusses is skill in reading dead languages, a skill that was already strongly questioned in 1915, which is why those subjects were being pulled from high school curricula even back then. NO ONE thought it was a good idea to teach those languages even in 1915. So, why didn't Sobran make the same point using math skills?

Because it would prove precisely the opposite of his implicit point, i.e., "education today stinks."  NO ONE was learning calculus in the high schools of 1915. You generally got Euclidean geometry (straight from Euclid's Elements, no less), maybe a little trig, and that was it. No algebra, no statistics, definitely no calculus.

Today's high schools routinely offer algebra, trig and calculus in addition to geometry. Geometry sometimes includes a cursory introduction to non-Euclidean systems. Rudimentary statistics is taught in grade school as well as high school.

High school science teaches not only Newtonian physics, but particle physics, robotics, computer programming, 3-D printing and engineering design. Try finding any of those in the curricula of a 1915 high school.

So, we teach different things now than we did a century ago.
A century ago, they taught different subjects than were taught in Plato's Academy.
So what?