In defense of natural law I: The audacity of natural law

Consider the following statements:

  • It is intrinsically immoral to have sexual intercourse with someone who is not one’s spouse.
  • Parents have a duty to raise their children, and children have a duty to obey and revere their parents.  Unless extreme circumstances make it impossible, children should be raised by their biological parents.
  • It is intrinsically immoral to deliberately cause a sexual act to be infertile.
  • It is immoral to drink live blood.
  • Suicide is intrinsically immoral.
  • It is always wrong to kill an innocent person, even if he has low quality of life and wants to die.

Setting aside for the moment the all-important question of whether or not these statements are true, what they have in common is that they all belong to the natural law system of ethics.  They all take a set of biological facts–coitus, filiation, death–and purport to read moral meanings out of them.  The natural law presumes that the human body is charged with meaning, so that biological acts and relations have their significance built into them.  The “natural meaning” of the act exists prior to and independent of what the actor understands or intends by that act, and yet he is morally bound by the natural meaning none the less.

I saw a nice example of natural law reasoning in the movie Vanilla Sky.  (It’s not very good; don’t watch it.)  I don’t remember the characters’ names, but in actors’ names here is the setup:  Tom Cruise has been sleeping with coworker Cameron Diaz in an informal relationship, and then he decides to leave her for Penelope Cruz.  (When you’re Tom Cruise, you can do those sorts of things.)  Diaz’s character becomes distraught and pleads with Cruise that he can’t just leave her like that after they have coupled.  ”Your body makes a promise even if you don’t.”  This is a natural law way of thinking.  We say that fornication is wrong because when you have sex with someone, you make her a promise–whether that’s what you and her want to communicate or not–and that promise is the same one a person makes at a wedding ceremony.

This way of seeing things is very different from the modern mentality (although, as we’ve seen, the old mentality pops up in unexpected places).  Modern man is, whether he admits it or not, strongly shaped by Cartesian dualism to see the body as “brute matter”, as res extensa distinct from the res cogitans (the soul).  Meaning, it is believed, is a distinctly mental phenomenon.  Its origin, and indeed its whole being, is in the mind.  What an act means is what the actor intended it to mean and what he knew his observers would take it to mean–no more, no less.

Modern ethics is usually consequentialist or deontological.  Sin is identified either as harming someone else or instrumentalizing him (treating him as a “mere means”).  Harm and instrumentalization are defined solely in terms of the person’s preferences and choices.  Natural law agrees that harm and instrumentalization are wrong, but it defines them differently, in terms of man’s natural telos and natural meanings.

Modern man finds this idea of normative natural meanings foolish and arbitrary.  Natural law advocates are said to be ignoring the person to focus on the body, of ignoring intention to focus on biological function.  Natural law is accused of committing the “naturalistic fallacy” by hostile philosophers; Catholic heretics accuse it of “physicalism”.  These accusations have the merit of getting at the essence of the disagreement.  It it’s “physicalism” to believe that sex, parenthood, etc. don’t just mean what we decide for them to mean, then we natural lawyers are physicalists.

The modern critique of natural law has an undeniable plausibility.  Biological facts can no doubt affect our and other people’s desires and thus indirectly become morally relevant on modernity’s terms, but it is not obvious how they can dictate duties to the res cogitans independent of these considerations.  And yet, there are strong reasons why we should give the natural law account a careful hearing before we dismiss it.

First of all, one must be clear that to object to physicalism means having a quarrel not only with a few Catholic ethicists, but with the consensus of all mankind.  Across ages and cultures, all peoples have believed in natural meanings.  If nothing else, they have all agreed on the moral import of filiation and kinship.  That one person emerged from the uterus of another is a biological fact.   The social state of “motherhood” recognizes not only this fact, but also duties and rights that are supposed to flow necessarily from it.  A man has no right to expect love from his neighbors or coworkers.  His behavior may warrant their respect, but love can only be an unearned gift.  He has no right to ask his secretary “Why don’t you love me?” nor would she probably have any answer.  Love was never “on the table”.  A man can expect his mother to love him; the very relationship gives him a rightful expectation.  ”Mother, why didn’t you love me?” is a natural question for an unloved son to ask.  There probably is a reason, although no reason could justify so grave a failure of duty.  I have special duties to my children and my kin.  Partly, this is because they happen to be the people who are closest to me, but this isn’t the whole story.  I would fail morally if my brother on the other side of the country were homeless and I didn’t fly him to me and take him under my roof; yet there are homeless strangers in my very county to whom I am not obliged to make such an offer.

The consequentialist and deontologist can only agree with these intuitions by accident.  They will often grant that having children raised by their biological parents is administratively convenient.  As a practical matter, it would be hard for the State to find enough caretakers to replace all these parents.  But the family is only a matter of practicality, and in fact its ultimate value is open to question.  After all, it puts children at the mercy of people with no childcare training and next to no official supervision, all because of a “biological accident”; our bureaucratic age wouldn’t tolerate such feudal anarchy in any other area of life.  Similarly, they may agree that a particular act of adultery was wrong because it hurt the other spouse’s feelings, but they must also admit that this is because that spouse is being irrational.  A regime of universal promiscuity, where sex is “just like shaking hands”, might well be a happier world, and, consent assumed, wouldn’t obviously involve reducing any other person to a “mere means”.

Here is the second reason to consider carefully before rejecting the system of natural meanings.    As the two examples above indicate, a world without them would be a nightmare.  Unchecked by natural law, consent, efficiency, and happiness maximization would replace the love of parents with the expertise of childcare professionals; it would erase the bonds of family, ethnicity, and nation; it would reduce sex to a meaningless pastime.  Our desires would be satisfied.  We would all be happier.  Or would we?  For me, one of the most important aspects of happiness is the knowledge that I personally matter to some particular other people.  Being a man of no great importance, these people are a half-dozen family members.  What I do matters because they depend on me and they care about me.  In the post-natural bureaucratic utopia, there will be nothing like this.  What I do won’t matter much to anyone else–this will be true by construction.  If anyone really depended on me, that would limit both our freedoms.  It would make my dependent unequal, because if I failed that person would suffer, through no fault of his own, relative to those depending on someone else.  There must be supervision, uniform rules, backups and failsafes, so that in the end I can’t be allowed to matter to anyone else.

As Hegel pointed out, there is a leap from abstract right and morality to the ethical life.  We have no way to put abstract moral rules (e.g. utilitarian or Kantian) into effect–no way to know what they mean–until we are embodied in an “ethical society” where everybody has a specific place and duties.  How, though, are we to assign these particular duties?  Modern abstract ethical systems can only produce abstract organizations and can never provide this element.  In the past, it has always come from relationships like marriage and filiation that rely on natural law for their normative character.  After they are wiped out, a utilitarian calculus of the future may register the unhappiness that results, but it could not replace what it had destroyed.  Natural law seems to be the only way to lock particular people in duties to each other.  There is true happiness from the sense of meaning this provides, and the utilitarian rulers of the future might be forced to reinvent natural law as a “noble lie” to fill this void.  Let us then see first if we can defend the theory honestly as truth.

A defense of natural law must establish several points.  To fail on any one of them is to fail overall.  First, it must defend the claim that there are natural meanings.  It must establish that these are not merely projections of our subjective wishes or the mistaking of the customs and assumptions of our own culture for universals of nature.  This will be part 2 of this series.  Next, it must argue that these natural meanings are morally binding.  This step is often skipped over, but I think it’s a crucial and underdeveloped part of the theory.  Suppose we allow, with Cameron Diaz, that sex has a natural meaning that includes commitment.  Why could not the man and woman simply agree that this natural meaning is not the one they intend to give it?  That way, no false expectations would be generated; moving on would not be a betrayal.  That natural meanings are binding I will argue in part 3 of this series.  Finally, we must ask how the two meanings, what something naturally means and what we intend, are meant to relate to each other.  We must show that natural law does not itself fall back into a different sort of dualism.  This will be the subject of part 4.

Should liberals try to understand conservatives?

Sometimes intra-liberal debates can be fun to watch.  Remember that spat some years back between the evolutionary psychologists and the feminists over whether there is an evolutionary explanation for rape?  The ev-psych guys were throwing out their usual “just so” stories, and feminists were outraged, saying that any natural explanation of rape would somehow justify it.  To understand is to approve, so if something is bad, we must try not to understand it.  Now there’s a similar argument going on in the halls of liberaldom about whether or not they should try to understand a phenomenon that most of them would put on a moral par with rape–political conservatism.

Jonathan Haidt is a Leftist psychologist who tries to plumb the reactionary mind.  As always, the Chronicle of Higher Education is the place to go:

To Haidt, the evolution of morality can help make sense of modern political tribes like this one. And in that evolution, the big question is this: How did people come together to build cooperative societies beyond kinship?

Morality is the glue, he answers. Humans are 90-percent chimp, but also 10-percent bee—evolved to bind together for the good of the hive. A big part of Haidt’s moral narrative is faith. He lays out the case that religion is an evolutionary adaptation for binding people into groups and enabling those units to better compete against other groups. Through faith, humans developed the “psychology of sacredness,” the notion that “some people, objects, days, words, values, and ideas are special, set apart, untouchable, and pure.” If people revere the same sacred objects, he writes, they can trust one another and cooperate toward larger goals. But morality also blinds them to arguments from beyond their group.

How much of moral thinking is innate? Haidt sees morality as a “social construction” that varies by time and place. We all live in a “web of shared meanings and values” that become our moral matrix, he writes, and these matrices form what Haidt, quoting the science-fiction writer William Gibson, likens to “a consensual hallucination.” But all humans graft their moralities on psychological systems that evolved to serve various needs, like caring for families and punishing cheaters. Building on ideas from the anthropologist Richard Shweder, Haidt and his colleagues synthesize anthropology, evolutionary theory, and psychology to propose six innate moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation….

And the six moral foundations are central to how Haidt explains politics. The moral mind, to him, resembles an audio equalizer with a series of slider switches that represent different parts of the moral spectrum. All political movements base appeals on different settings of the foundations—and the culture wars arise from what they choose to emphasize. Liberals jack up care, followed by fairness and liberty. They rarely value loyalty and authority. Conservatives dial up all six.

This is not bad.  Note that he’s explained conservatism in a way that isn’t manifestly derogatory.  Some attempt is being made to understand conservatives’ motivations, to understand us on our own terms, even if he doesn’t accept those terms himself.  It’s better than Corey Robin version that we conservatives just want to rob our workers and rape our wives.

As I said, Haidt is a Lefty himself.  His primary concern is to understanding these moral cues so that the liberals he approves of can more effectively manipulate the populace.

Now Haidt wants to change how people think about the culture wars. He first plunged into political research out of frustration with John Kerry’s failure to connect with voters in 2004. A partisan liberal, the University of Virginia professor hoped a better grasp of moral psychology could help Democrats sharpen their knives. But a funny thing happened. Haidt, now a visiting professor at New York University, emerged as a centrist who believes that “conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals.”

So far Haidt hasn’t had much luck interesting political types in his ideas. He reached out to Democratic politicians in his home state of Virginia, like Mark Warner and Tom Perriello, as well as to the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group tightly wired to the White House. But folks in Washington strike Haidt as too fixated on dodging daily bullets to think about the long-term future of liberalism. The few political people who gave him any time seemed more interested in tapping behavioral science for fund raising, or simply too busy to engage with his ideas.

Needless to say, the intelligentsia is outraged that someone is trying to understand conservatives–as opposed to simple condemning them–even if he’s doing it in the interests of liberalism.  One must not admit that there are any moral arguments for conservatism, even invalid ones.

But even as Haidt shakes liberals, some thinkers argue that many of his own beliefs don’t withstand scrutiny. Haidt’s intuitionism overlooks the crucial role reasoning plays in our daily lives, says Bloom. Haidt’s map of innate moral values risks putting “a smiley face on authoritarianism,” says John T. Jost, a political psychologist at NYU. Haidt’s “relentlessly self-deceived” understanding of faith makes it seem as if God and revelation were somehow peripheral issues in religion, fumes Sam Harris, one of “the Four Horsemen of New Atheism and author of The End of Faith.

The theory frustrates some. Patricia S. Churchland, a philosopher and neuroscientist, has called it a nice list with no basis in biology. Jost, the NYU psychologist, feels Haidt makes a weak case for defining morality so broadly. Philosophers have long considered whether it’s “morally good to favor members of your own group, to obey authority, or to enforce standards of purity,” Jost says. “And they have come largely to the conclusion that these things don’t have the same moral standing as being fair to people and trying to minimize harm.” Following leaders can lead to horrific consequences, he notes.

Haidt acknowledges that the same beelike qualities that foster altruism can also enable genocide. But as a psychologist, not a philosopher, he generally sees his job as describing moral judgments, not advising what is right and wrong for individuals.

So, court theologians of the liberal establishment insist that their’s is the one true faith.  Imagine that.  Given how incredibly flawed consequentialism is as an ethical system, I would say that philosophers who prioritize “being fair to people and trying to minimize harm” to the extent liberals do should have a reduced “standing” on our attention.

The comparative perils of gluttony and lust

I think it’s more likely that I’ll end up going to hell for gluttony than for lust.  I’ve struggled much more with sexual temptations than with temptations to overeat, but that’s the point–I struggled against sexual desires; with food temptations it’s been most often immediate surrender.  Lust is a lot easier to fight against, because just about every sexual sin is mortal.  One act of fornication, contraception, or onanism means you’re cut off from the Eucharist and in danger of hellfire, and the only way to fix things is to go to a priest and tell him what you did. (Cringe!  Shutter!)  In fact, impure thoughts are the only potentially venial sin against chastity I can think of, and those just make your temptation to do one of the mortal sins worse.  On the other hand, I don’t think it’s possible to actually commit a mortal sin by overeating.  This can make it hard to curb one’s appetite for strictly moral reasons.  I do, of course, exercise some self control, but because I don’t want to spend too much money or get too fat, not for the sake of temperance itself.  I fast two days out of the year–Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and it’s enough of a novelty that I don’t have much time to get hungry even when I decide to eat nothing that day.

You don’t have to commit a mortal sin to go to hell, though.  You just have to have some attachment that makes you unwilling to give yourself entirely to God.  “You can have everything I have, O Lord, but not this; this one thing is mine!”  The things that hold us back are often small and petty, not things worth getting damned over at all, if we really thought about it.

My family had dogs, and sometimes we’d be generous and get our dog a treat–a biscuit or flavored chew-toy or something.  I remember that sometimes I’d happen to be walking by while the dog was munching away on its treat, and it would give me a warning growl when I got close.  I would think to myself “You stupid dog.  You only have that treat at all because I gave it to you.  You only have anything because I give it to you.  If I wanted your damned dog biscuit, I’d have just given it to myself instead of to you.  Where’s your gratitude?  Even if I took all your stuff, it would only be things I’d given you for nothing in return anyway.  What right would you have to complain even then?”  But I am often like the dog with his treat, when I sense God, with His demands, coming near.

I have sometimes wondered if there’s a sort of anti-purgatory for those who die outside of God’s grace for petty reasons.  The soul is in a mixed state in this life, without the holiness it would need to withstand heaven but with traces of decency and genuine love here and there.  The imperfect souls in a state of grace will slowly cast off their imperfections as their love of God waxes in the fires of purgatory, until each one of them is perfect, saintly and heroic.  What about the damned souls, who die with some goodness still in them.  I imagine that slowly, piece by piece, they cast off their noble traits and renounce every healthy love in order to make their rebellion against God perfect.  At first–during this life–they insisted on only rebelling against God on one point–perhaps a seemingly small one (“I’ll be nice to everyone, but I’ll eat what I want, when I want.”), but in the clarity of anti-purgatory they understand that they are rejecting God’s sovereignty.  God is the Enemy.  They come to see all their remaining virtues and healthy attachments as incursions of God into their souls, and because they despise God and idolize their own autonomy, they cast these things off.  Finally, there is nothing left in the soul except “I’ll eat what I want, when I want (and I’d kill my mother if necessary to keep it that way)”, and the soul is ready for hell.  Indeed, it is already there.

The superstition of divorce

While free love seems to me a heresy, divorce does really seem to me a superstition.  It is not only more of a superstition than free love, but much more of a superstition than strict sacramental marriage; and this point can hardly be made too plain.  In is the partisans of divorce, not the defenders of marriage, who attach a stiff and senseless sanctity to a mere ceremony, apart from the meaning of the ceremony.  It is our opponents, and not we, who hope to be saved by the letter of ritual, instead of the spirit of reality.  It is they who hold that vow or violation, loyalty or disloyalty, can all be disposed of by a mysterious and magic rite, performed first in a law-court and then in a church or registry office.  There is little difference between the two parts of the ritual, except that the law court is much more ritualistic.  But the plainest parallels will show anybody that all this is sheer barbarous credulity.  It may or may not be superstition for a man to believe he must kiss the Bible to show he is telling the truth.  It is certainly the most grovelling superstition for him to believe that, if he kisses the Bible, anything he says will come true.  It would surely be the blackest and most benighted Bible-worship to suggest that the mere kiss on the mere book alters the moral quality of perjury.  Yet this is precisely what is implied in saying that formal re-marriage alters the moral quality of conjugal infidelity.

–Chesterton,  from The Superstition of Divorce

Imaginary vices

If my goal were to corrupt lots of people, I would start with the moral vocabulary.  First, pick a virtue, then make up a new word for that virtue, and say that the new word denotes a vice.  For example, I want to discourage modesty.  So I invent a new word, “prudery”, that is just another word for modesty, but has a negative connotation.  Nothing but evil will come of this.  Many souls have maintained righteousness by asking questions like “am I being cowardly?” or “am I being dishonest?”, but I’m pretty sure that no one has ever become a better person for worrying about being a prude.

Next, I’d distort the meanings of virtue words, making sure that the virtues I really wanted to get rid of would have no well-known word at all.  Being in league with the Devil, I’d be especially eager to snuff out charity–the supernatural love of God that Saint Thomas called the form of all other virtues.  I’d take that word and reassign it to mean something boring, like giving money to poverty relief, and leave no word for the theological virtue.  Or I’d take piety, a word that once referred primarily to the honor we owe our parents, and convince people that being “pious” just means going to church a lot.  Then if someone wanted to refer to the original, down-to-earth virtue, he’d have to say “filial piety”, but not too many people will know Latin-ish words like “filial”.  Why is this so important?  Because virtues we don’t have words for are off our mental radar.

Last, I’d start using words for vices as if they were virtues, e.g. referring to a book or a movie as “irreverent” as if this were a good thing.  This would probably be going to far, though.  I don’t think anybody would be willing to go along with this.

Fortunately, I’m not trying to corrupt people.

Is forgiveness just? Is it supernatural?

Sometimes, people say that Christianity makes some weird and implausible dogmatic claims, but that everyone can agree that it made some decisive contributions to morality.  The idea is that you don’t have to accept specifically Christian doctrines (the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc) to accept what was once thought of as specifically Christian morality (love your enemies, forgive offenses, turn the other cheek, etc).  I’m not so sure.  Let’s take the example of forgiveness.  People who think this is a virtue for export may not realize how radical it is.

To be fair to both Christians and pagans, we must not alter the Lord’s command to forgive offenses in such a way as to make it “reasonable”.  Reasonable it is not, at least by natural standards.  Forgiveness doesn’t just mean to avoid vigilantism and let the police do their job.  It doesn’t just mean not retaliating disproportionately.  Pagans knew all about that.  Forgiveness means not even holding a grudge, not wishing ill.  It certainly doesn’t mean excusing offenses, imagining that the offender didn’t really know what he was doing or couldn’t really control himself.  When Aeneas spared Helen because it wasn’t her or Paris but the gods who brought down Troy, this was not Christian forgiveness.  The latter faces the evil will in all its monstrosity and still forgives.

Forgiveness is not just.  Justice doesn’t mean equal benevolence to all, like the rain falling on good and evil alike.  Justice means giving each person what he deserves.  A tooth for a tooth is justice.  Nor does justice limit itself to praising or condemning acts; it must praise or condemn their actors as well.  Everyone agrees that we should be grateful to those who do us a good turn.  In the same way, natural justice demands that we hold a grudge against those who wrong us.  Treating them the same as those who’ve never harmed us whouldn’t be fair.

Desire that wrongdoers be punished isn’t always selfish.  Not only our self-love, but our love of justice demands vengeance.  We often find it harder to forgive those who harm others rather than ourselves, because in this case the craving for justice stands in all its naked purity, with no mixture of self-interest.  Love of justice is a good thing.  An insensibility to wrongs is not Christian forgiveness.  A dog “forgives” like this, and it’s no virtue.  God–subsistent Justice Himself–shares our love of justice, so much so that He could not simply forget humanity’s transgressions without betraying His own nature, but rather sent His Son to become man and make expiation.

Christian forgiveness in its fulness is, I think, not a natural virtue at all.  It takes supernatural knowledge to see its goodness.  It’s only just to forgive the wicked because Jesus Christ has taken the world’s sins upon himself.  Though sinners, we are members of Christ; he takes our sin and shares his righteousness.  That may be hard to believe–or even understand–but if it’s not true, then vindictiveness is better than forgiveness.

Nonresistance to aggression (“turning the other cheek”) is the same, I think.  Naturally, this is no virtue at all, but rather a contemptible vice.  It only becomes a virtue in light of Jesus’ own nonresistence unto death, Jesus whose example we follow and whose image we more perfectly bear in the act of deliberate nonresistance.

There’s a counterargument to all this.  Even nonbelievers can appreciate the beauty of the Christian way, of forgiveness and passivity.  How can this be if they lack the supernatural knowledge that would justify this way of life?  Perhaps there’s a natural justification for Christian morality that they see and I ignored?  I think there are two cases here.  First, there are those who seem to appreciate Christian morality but actually misunderstand it.  For example, those who don’t believe in sin or personal responsibility may think they like the idea of forgiving, when they really like the idea of excusing.  These will praise Christian saints while thinking God the Father a monster for demanding payment in blood for original sin.  Second, there are those who truly grasp and appreciate the aesthetic of a Christian life.  I suspect that the Holy Spirit is at work in these, and I hope he will finish the work he has begun.

Zmirak flirts with consequentialism

Should one ever lie, even to save lives?  Catholic philosophers are arguing the point back and forth on the web.  Catholic moral theology is anti-consequentialist:  good intentions can only justify intrinsically good or neutral acts, never intrinsically evil acts.  On the other hand, does lying always fall into the latter category?  Are we so sure that we’d allow someone to be killed rather than fib and send the killer in the wrong direction?  John Zmirak has entered this debate on the pro-lying side, but in a distinctly unhelpful way.  People who say lying is intrinsically wrong are “pharisees” for obsessing over whether this or that act is “technically” immoral.  Worse, they are “heretics” who have distorted the gospel, hiding the reality of God’s love behind their scruples.  Oh, sure, there’s a lot of support from the Fathers and Scholastics for this “heresy” that Zmirak has identified, but that doesn’t matter.  Augustine and Aquinas (the two examples he mentions and dismisses) also believed some things that most modern Catholics don’t believe (e.g. that unbaptized infants can’t be saved, although I’m not sure why Zmirak is so convinced that the modern, optimistic view is correct–what evidence does he have?), so they can be ignored.

That lying is okay under extreme circumstances seems to me a defensible position (although I haven’t made my mind up).  It bothers me, though, that Zmirak has, the instant Catholic tradition says something he doesn’t like, embraced wholeheartedly liberal Catholicism’s favorite slogans.  The bull shit about moral absolutes being “technicalities”, that concern about them is being a “pharisee”, that a loving God would necessarily command utilitarian happiness-maximization, all this comes straight, word-for-word from the “Catholics for a Free Choice” play book.  You can use it to justify anything:  abortion, divorce, torture, bombing of civilians, euthanasia, adultery, apostasy, you name it.  Zmirak doesn’t even seem to realize that he’s giving the whole game away.  His goal is to support lying to discredit Planned Parenthood, but to do so, he’s banished the moral absolutism without which it becomes impossible to criticize their murderous business (a business that, after all, makes some people happy).

Suppose lying is not intrinsically immoral, but is immoral only when done with evil intent or in the face of foreseeable evil consequences.  In that case, it would seem that the martyrs were stupid and perhaps wicked.  If somebody points a gun at your head and says “Say that Jesus is not Lord or die”, how do you justify throwing your life away for a little matter like the truth?  Surely the Kingdom of Heaven will not receive “pharisees” who get bent out of shape about stuff like that.

Is Benedict XVI the Right’s Barack Obama?

Consider
1) Regarded, pre-election, by his partisans as a near genius, or at least intellectually far above his peers. His academic background much emphasized. Then, after election, he makes as many silly, thoughtless mistakes as anybody else.
2) Criticized by his opponents for connections to radical movements in his youth.
3) Regarded by his opponents as an ideological radical, who then governs in a fairly moderate way.
4) Often criticized by friends for having the attitude of a professor rather than a statesman.

In the case of BXVI, #4 is backwards. Benedict’s problem is that he isn’t thinking like a German professor. He makes statements that will almost inevitably be misunderstood and then seems surprised when this happens. Some Catholics try to see a bright side in this ineptness, saying that they’d prefer that the Vatican not become expert at public relations and “spin”. That’s not what I’m talking about. Skill in sophistry is not needed (or wanted) in a pastor, but skill in pedagogy is. Right now, as I draw up lession plans for my spring class, I’m constantly thinking about how best to get my ideas across. I have to decide which example will help illustrate a concept and which will cause confusion by drawing students’ attention to unrelated topics. I try to anticipate how students will be most likely to misunderstand a given topic, and then I plan to explicitly counter likely misunderstandings in class. Is it too much to ask for the pope to do a similar mental exercise before he performs his teaching duties?

The language of patriotism

I’ve recently been complaining that Americans don’t know how to express their patriotic sentiments, so they talk nonsense about “freedom” instead.  There are happy exceptions, such as the following from a song I heard at church yesterday:

We pray for our Mother,
the Church upon earth,
And bless, Holy Mary,
the land of our birth.
Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria!

New book review: Man and Woman

I’ve got a new book review up of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Man and Woman:  Love and the Meaning of Intimacy.

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