Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Irrefutable Argument

In response to:

Marriage Has Been Redefined: Now What?  by Trent Horn

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s definition of marriage in Obergefell:
Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.

Wow.  This is the most appalling reason to marry I’ve ever seen; and I’ve seen some bad ones.  We get married so we don’t feel abandoned in the world—so SOMEBODY will be there for us?  This is not a reason to get married, it’s a reason to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE and meet some people and form friendships!  Are we so horrifically disconnected now that the only way we can see not ending up as a “lonely person” who “calls out only to find no one there” is by marrying someone, so they supposedly have to be there to “care for” us?  What a thoroughly sick culture we live in, where the only way we can be “assured” that we are cared for and not left utterly ALONE is if we can make somebody marry us.  All the worse, since marriage isn’t permanent now, so even if they DO marry me, I STILL could be “calling out only to find no one there,” whenever he gets tired of being “there” for me and decides to go be “there” for somebody else.  God help us.

Kennedy writes in Obergefell:
[T]he right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. The intimate association protected by this right was central to Griswold v. Connecticut, which held the Constitution protects the right of married couples to use contraception.

How can an intelligent, highly-educated person presumably skilled in argumentation NOT SEE that defining marriage exclusively according to its “importance to the committed individuals” CANNOT “support a two-person union,” period?  If that is what is central to what is a marriage, then ANY NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS may decide to be so “committed,” may they not?  And how can we deny THEM this “fundamental” right?  Polygamy—of any number and combination of males/females/”others” cannot be disallowed by this radical redefinition of marriage.  For that matter, on what basis are we to deny the “right” of the fellow in Canada who petitioned the government to recognize his relationship with his DOGS as a marriage?  The fact that they are two different species?  Don’t be so judgey and speciesistic!  If it makes them happy, what right have we to exclude them from “sharing the love” (dear reader, please pronounce that last word in your head as Luuuuuuuuv).   

Trent’s suggestion to engage those who believe in this supposed notion of “marriage equality” is this:
We can ask them, “If you believe in marriage (however you may define it), would you join me in opposing laws that allow divorce for any reason? Will you uphold the sexually exclusive nature of marriage and condemn the rhetoric of people like Dan Savage who support “monogamish” relationships that allow for consensual infidelity? Will you stand with me in recognizing the harm caused by the millions of fathers who walk out on the children they have helped procreate? Will you fight for a child’s right to a relationship with the mother and father who brought him into existence?”

Okeydokey.  You want marriage, let’s talk MARRIAGE.

They will have to explain why society is better if it treats marriage licenses like municipally regulated dating certificates.

We already need this explained, even before there was any talk of same-sex “marriage.”  I guess we need to demand such an explanation, loudly.  Not, in this case, from the same-sex “marriage” crowd, but from the no-fault divorce crowd. 

Therefore, we must double down on fighting for marriage’s permanence and sexual exclusivity, both in our arguments in the public square and in choosing to value permanence, sexual exclusivity, and openness to life in the privacy of our own homes.

I will be very interested to see if and how this works in the public square.  Especially since the permanence and sexual exclusivity only make sense when you are talking about heterosexual marriages, because those relationships procreate children.  The permanence and sexual exclusivity are there to protect those children and attempt to provide the optimal conditions for raising them (i.e., in a stable home with their mother and father).  When you are addressing people who already think marriage is some kind of “government registry of friends with the most ‘feels’, ” I expect most of them would simply say, “yeah, you know, I hadn’t really thought much about that—I guess there’s no real reason why marriage SHOULD be permanent or exclusive.”  

On, in the comments section for this article, I asked Trent how he would respond to that, and I do hope he answers, because from watching him do “on the street” debating on the abortion issue, I know him to be a truly gifted debater.  But in the meantime, also from the comments, here is one absolutely excellent answer:

#2  James Matise
We as Christians are simply going to have to show the world what marriages really are. That means I have to remain in a permanent, procreative, exclusive union even if there are times when I don't want to. It means I can't excuse fornication or no fault divorce or open marriages, or contraceptive marriages, or act as if any of those things are okay and still claim to be holding a rational position. And it means I can't back down and I can't be hateful even if I get angry because my character is under attack. It's going to take courage and compassion.

Peter Kreeft (among others) has said that the one irrefutable argument for the truth of Christianity is the life of a saint.  Go, Saint James Matise and family! 

A Government Registry of "Friends with the Most Feels"

Calling something “marriage,” or even having some legal authorities call something “marriage,” does not make it a reality. (See the oft-cited comment attributed to Abraham Lincoln re: calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it one.) I urge you to consider this question very carefully: What interest, if any, does a government have in recognizing and regulating (including giving certain encouragements to) the thing called “marriage?” 

Once you answer this central question logically and completely, you will have your answer with respect to what marriage actually IS. No matter what any person may wish to call a marriage, there actually is a thing in reality that constitutes that thing which government has any interest in recognizing and regulating. 

Hint: it is NOT a “government registry of friends with the most ‘feels’.” Government doesn’t care about who you have the strongest “feels” for; at least it has no legitimate interest in meddling with that in any way. 

Answer the question for yourself: what DOES the government have a legitimate interest in recognizing and regulating (with the hope of encouraging)? That one question, conscientiously answered, clears away all the obfuscation about feelings which has frankly tainted to the point of ludicrousness the so-called “arguments” on both sides of this issue. I challenge you to pursue the truth of the answer to that central question, courageously, to the very end, on however surprising a path that leads you. It’s eye-opening, I guarantee it.

P.S.  Pursue your answer PROPERLY, don't just look inside your own head (i.e., your OWN "feels"), but inside the heads of people with expertise regarding the societal, cultural, legal, and economic effects of the cultural institution of marriage.  That will take a bit of work; but it is IMPORTANT--as marriage, and resulting family units, are quite literally the "cells" of the "body" of society, as goes marriage so goes the health and ultimately the LIFE of the society.  So don't be a lazy, unknowingly ignorant part of the problem: inform yourself.  One good place to start, for a completely SECULAR examination of the legal ramifications is:

 What Is Marriage? Man and Woman, a Defense , by Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson

Especially if you believe yourself to be in agreement with, and supportive of, the recent Supreme Court decision, it is important to inform yourself of what the legal consequences of this decision will be.   If your position is correct, you have NOTHING TO FEAR from reading thoughtful people's arguments defending the other position; indeed, you can only powerfully strengthen your own arguments by doing just that.  So do it; it's a very little book and easy to read.  When you finish that one, let me know if you'd like other recommendations, on either side of the question.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lessons for Living in a Hostile Culture?

In response to James V. Schall, S.J.'s 


…we see that “evangelization” today has become politically almost impossible. The great project envisioned by the Christian mission from the beginning cannot be pursued today. This is especially true in China, India, the Islamic countries, and increasingly in the secularized and ideological West where Christians are either excluded or forced to accept positions antithetical to the faith. These groupings contain three quarters of the world population.

Cannot?  CANNOT?  But it must be pursued; it is a command; it is the Great Commission.  And “with God all things are possible.”  ALL things.

...we have two sorts of groupings left. The first are those who choose to accommodate themselves to modernity and its tenets on the grounds that [living in a] culture means to do what the culture does; only by so capitulating can we continue to exist. The other alternative is to become a small Church of relatively isolated groupings...

Why must we be “relatively isolated?”  While on the whole, I believe that the internet is definitely a vast and merry playground for the Devil, it does at least afford opportunities for communication that, thoughtfully and carefully employed, can allow people to communicate; through impoverished means, certainly, but better—or at least far more quickly—than a letter sent by donkey or ship during the previous dark ages.

Either way, we need admonishing. We do seem to have “exceptional enemies”. In fact they do admonish us about the way we live. If this principle be true, it probably would not matter if we had friends. We would not listen to them.

Despite the apparent cynicism, I must sadly agree here.  It would have been better had we listened to our friends, but now we will hear our enemies’ admonishments, whether we will or no.

It has been the assumption of Christians that faith depends on no philosophy as such; it could be at home in any culture. Its purpose was only to deepen it, or open it to transcendence, but leave the rest alone after itself putting on the external garb of the culture. If I read him correctly, it is Billings’s view that this approach is much less obvious than Ricci and his followers once thought.

This is a message that all non-Christians really need to hear:  becoming Christian doesn’t turn you into some kind of conformist, mass-produced robot; it is what frees you to be TRULY YOURSELF.  This is yet another thing I so love about the Catholic church (as opposed to all the Protestant churches I have attended); looking around in mass, you see (well, I see here, anyway) so many, so different, kinds of people; united in faith in Christ but distinctly and uniquely and beautifully individual.   

“You are the salt of the earth,” our Lord says.  I once heard a message on this (I don’t think it was a Catholic homily, but a Christian radio sermon) that said, if an alien showed up and was interested in cooking, and you let him taste salt (which has such a strong and distinctive taste), and then told him how you put it in everything you cook—vegetables, meats, casseroles, cakes, cookies, pies, everything!—the alien would assume in dismay that everything we eat must taste the same:  like salt.  Bleh!  But the truth is, of course, precisely the opposite—when you add salt to something, it brings out the distinctive flavor of whatever is in that something, and without the salt, it’s terribly bland--NOT FULLY AND RICHLY ITSELF.  I personally had this amply demonstrated when I baked a pumpkin pie absolutely chock full of spices--I like it really spicy!—but forgot the salt.  Despite the very large amount of spices I put in, it tasted something akin to a mud pie.  “What on earth--?”  I thought, and then realized just what I had done.  The next time, with the same amount of spices and the proper amount of salt, it was delicious.  People need to know that the gospel is an invitation to the tastiest feast in the universe, and that all cuisines are included in that feast, in their individual and unique, perfected glory.
Landscape rendered in salt and spices  :)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Laudato Si : What IS man???

In response to this article by Thomas S. Hibbs:


White detects an alternative, healthy model of religious ecology in Francis of Assisi, whom he dubs a heretical exception to “orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature.”

Interesting for a non-Christian (anti-Christian?) to label one of the great saints of the Catholic church a “heretic.”  Orthodox Christian teaching has NEVER advocated “arrogance”—toward ANYTHING.  We are given the charge to “have dominion” over nature, yes—BUT God’s concept of “dominion” does NOT match the worldly conception of that word.  Our model of dominion is Jesus Christ, who “has dominion over us.”  How does he exercise that dominion?  Does he use, abuse, exploit, destroy, and basically do whatever he FEELS like doing from a perspective of superior power over us—in other words, because He can?  (And he COULD.)  Or does he teach, nurture, heal, provide for, and assist us to become all we were made to be?  Things that make you go, “Hmmmmmmm. . .” 

Francis discerns beneath the contemporary ecological crisis a crisis of the human person, who is now lost in the cosmos, increasingly alienated from self, others, nature, and God.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!!!  This is what I’ve been trying to shout from the rooftops for years; consistently being shouted down by fellow Christians who want to call me a “liberal” and a “loony” and a “green goblin” for speaking the truth that our relationship with God’s creation reflects and deeply affects our relationship with our Creator!

We lack “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.” Thus, “we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it.” 

YES.  The notion that “you can’t stop progress” is absolutely TERRIFYING when we have not one slightest clue, let alone a carefully set course, regarding what we are “progressing” TOWARDS.  We’re like children playing with matches—or worse, children playing with guns, with dirty bombs, with biological weapons—having such “fun” playing with what we CAN do, that, like the “Jurassic Park” character warned us, “We never stop to think about whether or not we SHOULD.”

“Modernity,” he writes, “has been marked by an exces­sive anthropocentrism” (116). Separating the human from the natural, one strain in modernity invites manipulation of nature without limits (118). Reacting against the destructive consequences of such unbridled human autonomy, another strain sees humans as the chief threat to the cosmos. Thus, Francis observes, we find ourselves in a “constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings.”

And here again we see the NARROW ROAD that we must walk, if we are to live rightly in the world.  These days it seems so narrow sometimes it is more like a tightrope, but we MUST balance upon it, if we are to live sanely in the world.  We must get this right, or we fall into error on one side or the other—“We are the Masters and can use and abuse as we see fit” is just as much a fatal error as “We are just another animal and have no right or power to do anything to any other animal.”  The first, typically made by Christians, is an error because it denies the truth that God’s conception of Mastery is SERVING the best interests of the other, NOT “lording it over them.”  The second is an error because it simply defies the purely material truth that, like it or not, whether or not you want to recognize the Source of our power over the rest of creation, we obviously do HAVE such power.  No other animal can wipe out entire other SPECIES of animals with the kind of sweeping, horrifically EASY (we do it without even TRYING to!) finality that we can—and DO. 

The “animal rights” crowd must see simple reason and at least agree that we do have such power (whether or not we “deserve” it); granting this, they must see that such mortal power must have a guiding force direct it in sane ways and toward sane purposes.  It simply isn’t seeing reality to think we could just “not use” that power; power will be used, period—the only question is whether power will be harnessed toward something CONSTRUCTIVE, or allowed to flail around destructively.  Mastery requires power under control, and being directed toward the good.

Christians, quite frankly, need to see the same thing!  There’s honestly no excuse for calling oneself a Christian and still believing that “dominion” means “I’m the boss of you,” or even “I’m the slave master of you,” or worse, “you are just an object to be used any way I like and thrown away.”  If you’ve seen Christ in action at all, you ought to know better.  Remember the feet washing?  Who’s “the boss” of who?  And what does being “the boss” look like???  “He who would be first. . .”

Francis thinks we need to hold on to a proper understanding of human dignity. He suspects that, in its absence, “our overall sense of responsibility wanes.” In contrast to certain influential modern views of the human person as “simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical deter­minism,” the Christian faith recognizes the unique human “capacities of knowledge, will, freedom, and responsibility” (118).  
Yes, yes, yes.  “I’m just a collection of randomly bouncing atoms” is a perfect excuse to just chuck it all and say, “what’s the point?”

The Christian understanding of human dignity does not isolate or separate persons from the whole of nature. The human person is the most peculiar, the strangest, animal in the cosmos, an animal that is open to the whole and capable of assuming a position of mastery over the whole or of adopting a position of receptivity to the gift of nature and being. Francis calls for an aesthetic education that would foster a receptive appreciation of beauty and thus curb the human proclivity to self-interested pragmatism.

YES.  Truth, goodness, and beauty—they are a set; you will not have one without the others, and if you ever once truly grasp one, the others will come with it.  The beauty of nature “everywhere declares Him;” and once you are in right relationship with Him, you can come into right relationship with all He has created—the natural creation, other people, and even YOURSELF (which is a huge problem in modern culture, to the point where people habitually abuse THEMSELVES in so, so many ways). 

In a connection that echoes Chesterton’s surprising association of St. Francis and St. Thomas, the Pope links St. Francis’ praise of God as creator of the elements and the animals to St. Thomas’ metaphysics of creation, understood as divine art: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, name­ly God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end” (80).

Why should this be in any way surprising, since the saints are always going to be pointing us to the same Star, though they may be standing in different places while they are pointing?

Bonaventure, the great pupil of St. Francis, teaches that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves” (233).

This is beautiful!  God, give all your people ears to hear!!!

“Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment. It is not easy to promote this kind of healthy humility or happy sobriety when we consider ourselves autonomous, when we exclude God from our lives or replace him with our own ego, and think that our subjective feelings can define what is right and what is wrong.”

Precisely.  If we believe there is nothing greater than us to hold us account for our behavior, if we believe that “we create our own world,” how can we possibly live rightly within a world that, sanely considered, clearly we did NOT create?  Oh, everybody just needs to read this entire encyclical, over and over! 

Francis insists upon an integral connection between ecology and morality, between care for the environment and receptivity to human life at its most vulnerable and most neglected. The “throwaway culture” that infects our attitude toward the environment finds its correlate in the advocacy of abortion and euthanasia. 

YES.  THIS is what I’ve been trying to say, so unsuccessfully, to Christians for years—it’s all one and the same!  We can never properly value LIFE if we do not properly value LIFE. 

John Paul II argues that, as participants in a created order, human reason and freedom participate in God’s law and wisdom. Instead of alienation, true freedom results from obedience to the limits and order of the whole and from the cultivation wonder and gratitude for the author of the whole. What John Paul II calls, in the moral order, “participated theonomy,” is precisely what Francis counsels in the ecological order.

We modern Westerners have great trouble seeing that FREEDOM results from obedience to LIMITS, but a wonderful analogy is that of the development of flight—human beings could not fly until they understood clearly the physics—the physical LIMITS involved in the relationship between gravity, air pressure and resulting lift, etc.—it is those LIMITS that allow the freedom of flight.   Without gravity, flight is not possible (because everything would just be drifting randomly).  Flight can only happen within strictly understood and followed LIMITS.  Otherwise, you are only drifting—or crashing.

Participating in an order not of our own devising, human persons as makers are, as Tolkien puts it, sub-creators. With few exceptions, contemporary Christian thought and art has focused on the human drama without attending to the shape of the created cosmos or to the way in which we are to perceive and praise God through the created world. The Pope’s encyclical calls for, and offers a guide to, the renewal of the Christian imagination.

HURRAH!  Christian artists, start your engines!!!

Fuel for the engines:
How are we to think about cosmology, about the place of human existence in the capacious orders of time and space? What matter to us, to the universe, or to God is our occupying of a speck of seemingly insignificant space in an incomprehensibly vast universe? How are we to understand and appreciate the order of nature as a reflection of divine art? What we know of modern cosmology and paleontology makes the Psalmist’s question even weightier: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).  

Francis poses the question of the Psalmist, a question much of the contemporary world fails even to articulate, let alone answer. Hence we are lost in the cosmos. In response, the Pope offers a rich and complex account of created nature.

Nature, which “everywhere declares Him;” in which we can see His very thoughts, His values, His truth, His goodness, His beauty—every day, any time, at a glance—God at work, right here, right now, miracle unfolding in a blade of grass, in the song of a bird, in the cells on the back of your hand.  Thank you, Papa, for telling everybody this GOOD NEWS.  Can you see me, I'm dancing for JOY!!!