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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Voting and the Moral Act

When we say "voting is a moral act," we have to define our terms. The "moral act" means different things depending on what philosophy you espouse and how you define morals. Notice that "morality" is not the same as "ethics." Morality is a divinely revealed code of conduct. Ethics is a humanly agreed upon code of conduct. There is overlap between the two, but the two are not identical. I can do something that is moral, but unethical, and I can do something that is ethical, but immoral.

Take the example of the doctor who sleeps with his patient. Immoral? Unethical? Both? Neither? We can't tell from just the example. If the doctor's patient is his wife, then the act is perfectly moral, but it might be unethical if his particular specialty (for example, surgery) requires that doctors not accept close relatives as patients. On the other hand, if the patient is NOT his wife, the act is certainly immoral, but might be ethical because his particular specialty (for example, podiatry) lays no specific prohibitions on doctors having emotional relationships with patients.

So, if we accept that morality is a divinely revealed code of conduct, then the moral act, at least in Christian tradition, is made up of three elements: circumstances, intention and the act itself. Notice that the outcome is most definitely NOT part of the moral act. Again, in Christian tradition, God is the one who brings about the outcome, not man. Man proposes, God disposes. We do our best, but our best is not expected to be good enough to always accomplish our intention.

And so it is with voting. When we vote, we are not responsible for the outcome. Whether the person for whom we vote wins or loses is not our concern. We vote (act) for the candidates who fulfill the legal requirements of office (circumstance) with the intention of placing them in office. Whether they actually make it into the office, or even have a chance to make it into office, is not relevant to the morality of the act, which is my vote. As long as I vote with the intention that my vote helps this person get into office, I have provided the third element of the moral act.

In order for a vote to be a morally good act, all three elements have to be good, or at least morally neutral. For example, I have no right to intend to put an unqualified person into office. An unqualified person is not just someone who doesn't satisfy the laws of the state concerning the office. After all, a person may fit the secular qualifications (correct age, mental capacity, etc.), but still be unfit because that person is known to be morally unqualified. Perhaps he abuses power, perhaps he regularly and without remorse uses power to injure and/or kill others. Such a person is not worthy of my vote.

Now, I am aware that my vote is one out of hundreds of millions cast. There is simply no reasonable probability that my vote alone will actually put anyone into office or prevent anyone from taking office. Given the number of votes cast, my vote has essentially zero effect on the outcome of any election. In fact, as we have seen, even if it were otherwise, even if I were reasonably certain that my vote would accomplish my intention, the placement of a specific person into a specific office as a result of my vote would be an outcome, and outcome isn't part of the moral equation.

So, when I vote, I don't vote in order THAT someone may win. Rather, I vote in order to express the idea that this person is someone I know well enough and I trust well enough to act correctly while they are in office (whether they get that office or not). My vote is a statement about how much I trust another person, a statement that asserts the office-seeker's values are close enough to my own that I have good reason to believe he will serve others well while in office.

It is only in THAT sense that my vote is a moral act. My vote is a short-hand letter of reference. I don't look at the office-seeker and say "Well, he's not as bad as the others, and someone has to do the job, so I suppose he will have to do." Rather, I look at the office seeker on his own, without reference to the other office-seekers. Based on the assessment I make of this seeker alone, I determine if I know him well enough and trust him well enough to endow him with the power of the office.

This is the important part: If none of the office seekers are trustworthy enough, then none of them get my vote.

If voting is a moral act, then my vote is my personal moral statement.
That is all it is - it can be no more.
But neither can it be any less.

As a Catholic, I have a duty to make publicly clear that I am Catholic. If I can do that by voting for a particular candidate, thereby declaring that this candidate's values match true, substantial Catholic values, then I am bound to vote for the candidate. I cannot not vote for him. However, if I cannot find a candidate whose values are substantially Catholic, if I see all the candidates have values that substantially violate Catholic faith, then I am duty-bound not to vote, I am duty-bound NOT to endorse them with my vote. I am duty-bound NOT to contribute to handing them the power of office.

I do not have to choose between Lenin and Stalin, between Pol Pot and Mao tse Tung, between Goehring and Hitler. If these are the choices, then the Catholic thing to do is to imitate St. Thomas More, retire to my estate and refuse to make any public endorsement of anyone.

If I predicate my vote on what the outcome will be, I am playing God. I have, at that moment, become a consequentialist, a modernist, a fool. I am representing to myself that I have control over outcomes that I do not, in fact, have any control over at all. By the very fact that I already know my vote will not, and never can, be the single deciding vote in an election involving 330 million people, then pretending my vote is necessary for a specific outcome is farce. It is just me trying to convince myself that a dreamworld is reality, that my vote means more than it actually does. I represent myself as having more power than I could ever, even in the wildest reality, actually wield.

The choice in 2016 is between Lenin and Stalin, between Pol Pot and Mao tse Tung, between Goehring and Hitler. Thus, for the time being, I retire.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just A Mild Case of Pneumonia?!

On Sunday, 68-year old Hillary Clinton collapsed from what her handlers claim was a case of pneumonia that was diagnosed on Friday. Despite video which clearly shows her essentially unconscious as she is being dragged into her van, she was not taken to a hospital.

Instead, 90 minutes after she was taken to her daughter's apartment (!), she was out on the sidewalk, bending over and greeting a small child. This is amazing, given that pneumonia causes low oxygen saturation in the blood, increases the probability of dizziness while standing or bending over, and therefore increases the risks of falls.

An elderly patient who has just collapsed from pneumonia will not be bending over to greet a small child. This sequence of events does not comport with pneumonia. Below are some medical website quotes about pneumonia in the >65 crowd. Links are at the beginning of the paragraphs:
A number of studies have confirmed that there is a high rate of morbidity and mortality associated with pneumonia in the elderly (Fig. 1).[1-5] These high rates have continued to impede the efforts of healthcare professionals, despite significant improvements in therapeutic options and public health practices. One-sixth of the six million pneumonia cases that are reported each year occur primarily in those individuals 65 years and older requiring hospitalization for pneumonia.[6] Over 90% of all deaths from pneumonia occur in this older population.
Community-acquired pneumonia is one of the most common reasons for admission to a general intensive care unit (ICU). Up to 22% of patients hospitalized with pneumonia are admitted to the ICU,[3–5] approximately 18–56% of whom will die during hospitalization. Appropriate delivery of critical care services for patients with pneumonia is particularly topical and important given how common community-acquired pneumonia is in elderly patients, with approximately one million cases per year in those ≥65 yrs in the United States.
Older people have higher risk of getting pneumonia, and are more likely to die from it if they do. For US seniors, hospitalization for pneumonia has a greater risk of death compared to any of the other top 10 reasons for hospitalization.
While successful pneumonia treatment often leads to full recovery, it can have longer term consequences. Children who survive pneumonia have increased risk for chronic lung diseases. Adults who survive pneumonia may have worsened exercise ability, Cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and quality of life for months or years. (emphasis added)
The pneumonia and influenza mortality rate is much higher for those aged 65 years and older compared to younger age groups. About 85 percent of all pneumonia and influenza deaths occur in this age group, and it represents the seventh leading cause of death in this age group.
Her people didn't seem to be very upset about her "pneumonia", nor did they treat it with very much concern. They certainly did not exhibit the level of concern that would be warranted if this were a recently diagnosed condition that had just rendered their candidate unconscious. And how does someone recover in 90 minutes from that level of incapacitation, especially if it were induced by pneumonia? How does a 68-year old woman manage that? Receiving no apparent medical care during or after the episode? Seriously?
Whatever Hillary has, it is:
  • deeply debilitating (obvious from the first video)
  • rapid onset with "halo" (victim can feel upcoming episode, thus she made it to the van)
  • transient (obvious from the second video)
There are a lot of things that can do that.
Pneumonia isn't one of them.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception

It is often said that Aquinas denied the Immaculate Conception, the fact that Mary was conceived without sin. This is incorrect.

Thomas built a theory of sanctification that assumed an underlying scientific understanding of conception and ensoulment that happened to be in error, but was common throughout all the centuries preceding his own.

No one knew that women produced eggs, and this knowledge would not, in fact, be confirmed until the early 1800s. Since all things are created in, by and for Christ, the operations of the natural world are properly a subject of theology. Further, since God took flesh and walked in the natural world, the operations of the natural world are also part of the necessary foundation to Christian theology.

Unfortunately for Thomas, none of the Christian theologians had a detailed or complete understanding of how conception worked. Thomas assumed that conception happened first, and the rational soul was infused at some later point. This was an error. Despite this error he pointed out an incontrovertible fact:
"The sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot be understood as having taken place before animation, for two reasons. First, because the sanctification of which we are speaking, is nothing but the cleansing from original sin: for sanctification is a "perfect cleansing," as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. xii). Now sin cannot be taken away except by grace, the subject of which is the rational creature alone. Therefore before the infusion of the rational soul, the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified.
Secondly, because, since the rational creature alone can be the subject of sin; before the infusion of the rational soul, the offspring conceived is not liable to sin. And thus, in whatever manner the Blessed Virgin would have been sanctified before animation, she could never have incurred the stain of original sin..."  (emphasis added)
All he said was, the Blessed Virgin HAD to have been saved from original sin or Christ would not be universal saviour - a perfectly correct statement:
"If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all. Consequently after Christ, who, as the universal Saviour of all, needed not to be saved, the purity of the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place."
And he even admitted that celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was not a problem:
"Although the Church of Rome does not celebrate the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, yet it tolerates the custom of certain churches that do keep that feast, wherefore this is not to be entirely reprobated. Nevertheless the celebration of this feast does not give us to understand that she was holy in her conception. But since it is not known when she was sanctified, the feast of her Sanctification, rather than the feast of her Conception, is kept on the day of her conception." (emphasis added)
So, he essentially admits that if his understanding of how ensoulment works is wrong, then the Immaculate Conception was properly a feast. He even admitted that his theory could be wrong when he agreed that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception could be licitly celebrated, since no one knew exactly when she had been sanctified. The reason no one knew was because no one knew exactly when the rational soul was infused.

He did not deny the Immaculate Conception, he only denied that Mary could have been sanctified before the infusion of her rational soul - a perfectly reasonable theological position. We don't baptize dogs because dogs don't have rational souls. We don't sacramentally anoint chairs or tables because they don't have souls at all.

If Thomas had known the infusion of the rational soul took place at conception - which is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception implies - he would have instantly agreed that the Immaculate Conception was a reasonable teaching:

Since he merely proposed a theory of sanctification, and since he agreed that the liturgy of the Church was of more importance than his theory, he did not teach error regarding the Immaculate Conception. Instead, he showed the proper humility towards the Magisterium which is so often lacking in Christians today.

Catholic Truth in Other Religions

For reasons beyond my ken, the memes and quotes below have been popping up in my newsfeed. These quotes do not mean what many Catholics think they mean.

“Further, whilst Jesus was kind to sinners and to those who went astray, He did not respect their false ideas, however sincere they might have appeared. He loved them all, but He instructed them in order to convert them and save them. Whilst He called to Himself in order to comfort them, those who toiled and suffered, it was not to preach to them the jealousy of a chimerical equality. Whilst He lifted up the lowly, it was not to instill in them the sentiment of a dignity independent from, and rebellious against, the duty of obedience. Whilst His heart overflowed with gentleness for the souls of good-will, He could also arm Himself with holy indignation against the profaners of the House of God, against the wretched men who scandalized the little ones, against the authorities who crush the people with the weight of heavy burdens without putting out a hand to lift them.” ~ Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Notre Charge Apostolique, 1910:
The Magisterium cannot be broken. Whether we are discussing papal decrees, conciliar decrees or Scripture, we need to spend a long time thinking about how to reconcile all the different statements of the Magisterium so they do not contradict one another.

While composing the Summa Theologica, the greatest non-Scriptural work the Church has ever produced, St. Thomas Aquinas reportedly spent hours in contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, sometimes beating his head against the floor in frustration as he tried to work out how to reconcile all the different statements in the Magisterium.

If this were easy, If the Catholic Faith could be meme'd this way, if statements could be taken at face value without any deeper contemplation, we wouldn't need Fathers or Doctors of the Church. As it is, we do.

Every religion is attractive to men ONLY because every religion has some seed of truth. Since God is Truth, insofar as any system has some seed of truth, that seed of truth is a reflection of God's glory and therefore must be respected to at least that degree.

That is a fact.
None of the facts represented in this article are in contradiction.
All of the facts in this article must be read in such a way that they do not contradict.
Only when you have succeeded in doing that can you say that you have arrived at Catholic Truth.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

What Went Wrong At Baltimore?

Traditionalist Catholics who don't know very much about Catholic faith (such as this man) tend to set great store by the Baltimore Catechism (BC). The more ignorant the traditionalist, the greater their love of the BC. Oddly enough, the Baltimore Catechism is arguably a prime example of how American Catholics, raised in the TLM tradition, never really understood the Faith. It is a shining example of the pre-Vatican II rot that the council was trying to repair.

To understand just how bad the Baltimore Catechism truly is, consider the issue of "mixed marriages", that is, marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. The Bible minces no words on the subject:
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, (1 Peter 3:1)
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)
The early Church had no fear of the pagans. Every Catholic knew the Faith so well that each believer was expected to convert his or her unbelieving spouse. But how things change in just a couple of millennia! This is the BC's fear-filled command:
Q. 1327. Which are the chief commandments of the Church?
A. The chief commandments of the Church are six:
6. Not to marry persons who are not Catholics...  (Baltimore Catechism)
By the time the American Catholic bishops approached the problem, they recognized that they had stunk so badly at catechizing the faithful, and the faithful had stunk so badly at being catechized, that neither the ordained clergy nor their flock could risk associating themselves with non-Catholics, even via sacramental bonds. That is, the American bishops and their flocks didn't think even the saving graces of the sacrament of marriage, image of Christ's bond with the Church, would be sufficient to protect the Catholic from apostasy, much less convert the unbeliever.

Yes, in a battle in which the salvific graces of the Bridegroom contest with the pagan heresies of the unbeliever, the gates of Heaven could not be trusted to prevail. That's the Baltimore Catechism for you.

Now, anyone who has spent any time at all studying the precepts of the Church know that those precepts have changed wildly depending on geography and time period.
The Church in her supreme authority has defined nothing regarding the form and number of the Commandments of the Church (emphasis added). The Council of Trent while recommending in a general way in its twenty-fifth session the observance of these precepts says nothing regarding them as a particular body of laws. Neither is any specific mention made of them in the "Catechismus ad parochos" published by order of the council and known as the "Catechism of the Council of Trent" or "Roman Catechism". We have seen that St. Antoninus of Florence enumerates ten such commandments while Martin Aspilcueta mentions only five. This last number is that given by St. Peter Canisius. According to this author the precepts of the Church are: To observe the feast days appointed by the Church; to hear Mass reverently on these feast days; to observe the fasts on the days during the seasons appointed; to confess to one's pastor annually; to receive Holy Communion at least once a year and that around the feast of Easter. 
 It will be readily observed that the omission by French writers of the Commandment to pay tithes was owing to local conditions. In a "Catechism of Christian Doctrine" approved by Cardinal Vaughan and the bishops of England, six Commandments of the Church are enumerated. These are:
  • to keep the Sundays and Holy Days of obligation holy, by hearing Mass and resting from servile work;
  • to keep the days of fasting and abstinence appointed by the Church;
  • to go to confession at least once a year;
  • to receive the Blessed Sacrament at least once a year and that at Easter or thereabouts;
  • to contribute to the support of our pastors;
  • not to marry within a certain degree of kindred nor to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times.
This list is the same (????) as that which the Fathers of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1886) prescribed for the United States. (question marks and emphasis added)
Read that last precept, as presented by the Catholic Encyclopedia, again. Notice what is missing. Notice how the encyclopedia's version of the precept doesn't say a word about not marrying the unbeliever. In fact, you can read the entire encyclopedia article and you would search in vain for the BC's "mixed marriage" precept in ANY of the provided lists, all written by saints and Doctors of the Church. This all the more striking when one considers how little love the Catholic Encyclopedia's own article on mixed marriage exhibits.

Now, one could argue that this entire article is but an argument from silence. But that is precisely the point. The precepts of the Church have never been put under double-secret probation. The whole purpose of the precepts are to make quite clear and quite well-known bedrock ecclesial principles. If something is not listed as a precept of the Church in any list by any father, Doctor, saint or council of the Church, then it isn't a precept of the Church, no matter how much some random lay person, priest or even individual bishop might wish it to be.

So, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism did not just back away from the idea that Catholics should evangelize everyone concerning the Faith, even their own spouses. It would be bad enough if this were true, but it is worse. Instead, again, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism actively misrepresented the Third Plenary Council's summary of the Church's precepts. 

The Baltimore Catechism has many faults.
  • It is not logically structured, it does not begin with the Trinity as Aquinas did, but is instead structured almost haphazardly. 
  • It is a question-answer catechism that consciously imitates Protestant catechetical methods (few today realize that Martin Luther's 1529 Small Catechism was the first question-answer catechism in history). 
  • It is a catechism that teaches the sacraments in the wrong order, placing Confirmation after First Eucharist when all Magisterial documents clearly show the order of sacramental initiation is baptism, confirmation, Eucharist. 
  • It is a catechism that is meant to teach only small children, but continues to be sought out by adults who have clearly never gotten beyond a child's understanding of the Faith.
But even if all of those grievous errors were ignored, we now have evidence that the Baltimore Catechism actively mis-represents the Faith.  And even if it did none of those things, the Baltimore Catechism would not constitute a useful tool for adults.
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Cor 3:2)
When it comes to adult evangelization, the Baltimore Catechism is a hot mess. Due to its defects, it is really not any great shakes at teaching children either.
"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.  (1 Cor 13:11)
It is time for Catholic adults to become adults in the Faith. Adults learn by reading the Fathers of the Church, the saints of the Church, the councils of the Church. Adults put away childish toys like the Baltimore Catechism. Indeed, given what we have seen here, adults would be better off teaching our children directly from the writings of the saints and the Fathers, and ignoring the Baltimore Catechism entirely.