The Catholic Perspective V: Moral rules

Five hundred years ago, when somebody said that Catholic beliefs don’t make sense, he was probably talking about something like Transubstantiation; today, when somebody says that, he’s almost certainly talking about sex.  While moral rules are not the focal point of Catholicism, they are closely connected to it.  However, to one who holds the Catholic perspective as I have described it–an alertness to the symbolic depth of the public world–the Church’s rules on sex, killing, usury, submission to authority, and the like are no scandal to the intellect.  They are rather such natural conclusions that the Church’s commitment to them is evidence for her reliability.

Continue reading

The virtue of obedience

The Marxist psychologists seek to discredit the virtue of obedience by conflating it with a certain psychological disposition.  The disposition in question is one we all feel to some extent.  We tend to conform to our social environment and feel distress when we find ourselves out of step with this.  Part of this conformity is the tendency to obey whoever this environment singles out as a commanding figure.  (I will not say an authority figure, because authority is a distinctly moral category, and we are now considering only the pre-rational level of psychological pressure.)  The psychologist then cites the Frankfurt School portrayal of the “authoritarian personality type” or Professor Milgram’s ghastly experiments to argue that we obviously need less respect for authority, where by “authority” they mean the residual rivals of their own power:  fathers and priests, never professors and newspapermen.

Now, the disposition to conform and obey is itself a generally positive thing.  In everyday life, the psychologically easy thing to do is usually also the correct thing to do, and I doubt even the liberals’ own order could last a day without this basic instinct to obey.  However, this instinct is not the virtue that we call “respect for authority” or “obedience”.  Obedience is a part of the virtue of justice, and it requires that we obey licit orders from legitimate authorities simply because this is a moral duty.  It may or may not be psychologically easy.  Usually it is, but we shouldn’t hold this against the virtue.  Virtuous acts are usually pleasant, or at least less unpleasant than the alternative.  This only sounds counterintuitive because our moral energies concentrate on those rare times when desire and duty clash.  Ordinarily, eating, wearing clothes, being friendly, paying taxes, and pulling over when the cops signal are the right things to do, but we don’t need to moralize ourselves into them because self-interest suffices.  However, like the other virtues, obedience shows itself most clearly when it is unpleasant, when the virtue is performed for its own sake.  Thus, the best image of obedience is the menial sailor who remains loyal to his captain even when the whole rest of the crew is crying mutiny and demanding he join them; the sailor does this, moreover, not because he particularly likes the captain, but because he knows that the captain is the one he has a duty to obey.  In such a situation, the one with a mere disposition to obey will not remain loyal; he will line up behind the powerful and charismatic leader of the mutiny.

The psychologists slander obedient men as being psychologically weak and ethically shallow, but this is the opposite of the truth.  A true appreciation of authority is only possible to one with a strong moral sense.  It cannot be a substitute for a personal sense of justice since this is its very foundation, and it in no way inclines a man to obey immoral orders.

Finally, I admit to being more than a little put off by these partisans of the anti-authoritarian status quo telling the dissidents that we need to stop being such mindless followers.

Gravitational waves and cosmology, reposted from the Orthosphere

Today, the BICEP2 team announced the detection of what they claim is an imprint of long wavelength gravitational waves in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.  If this holds up (a big if:  lots of exciting discoveries don’t hold up when some neglected systematic error turns up), it will be the most important discovery in cosmology since the first evidence for dark energy, and for physics in general I would rate it more important than the detection of the Higgs boson.

Continue reading

Repost from the Orthosphere: a plea for mercy

We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried.  Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage.  However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces.  Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church.  I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.

Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress.  Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship.  We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love.  Not to condemn them!  To walk with them!  And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.

What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church?  Do we not presume to judge them?  Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort?  Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy?  Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister.  But this is cruelly unrealistic!  A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress.  Illegitimate children might be involved.  Plus, she might be totally hot.

Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful.  Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?

What should the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses.  The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers.  It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion.  But if one, why not the other?  Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament.  The question that is posed in response is:  is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others?  Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?

Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful.  However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars.  Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance.  We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love!  Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people.  So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.

Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior.  Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman.  That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.

Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone:  the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.

“Bravo” “Good for him”

What a disgrace is the American episcopacy, congratulating people for embracing sin and perversion.  I hope to expand on this in the Orthosphere in a few days, but I think this is a major reason the Left feels so emboldened lately to impose their immoralism on the rest of us.  Why fuss over Christians’ conscience rights when Christian leaders (especially the selectively non-judgmental prelates of the Catholic Church) make it so clear that they don’t really believe any of these doctrines anyway?  It’s absurd to demand that our enemies respect our beliefs more than we do.

The danger of a John Paul II canonization

I actually think he was a man of apparent holiness who did a pretty good job as pope.  However, I remember this dust up from a few years ago.  The main facts of the case being 1) Wielgus signed a statement to cooperate with the communist secret police, 2) he indicates it was the price he had to pay for permission to leave the country for work-related reasons, and 3) there was, last time I heard, still no reason to doubt his claim that no one was accused or hurt by his “spying”.  Nevertheless, this was considered a major scandal.

Now, I don’t particularly care about Bishop Wielgus, and behind the drive to expose communist collaborators is at least the rare but laudable recognition that communism is a bad thing.  However, consider this.  In communist Poland, as in any other totalitarian society, you don’t get to climb above the rank of toilet scrubber without in some way giving the regime an assurance that you’re willing to play ball.  You don’t get to leave the country, say to attend an ecumenical council.  You certainly don’t get appointed as bishop, since the communists had a direct veto over episcopal appointments.  The fact that Karol Wojtyla did both means he must have “collaborated” in some way.  At the very least, he must have agreed to avoid anti-communist associations and to report his activities while abroad (which, remember, is all Bishop Wielgus admitted to doing). The entire Polish hierarchy must be implicated to some degree, just because they were allowed to be the hierarchy.

And I don’t blame them for it.  History shows that they manipulated the communist system better than it manipulated them, and Poland and the rest of the world are better places because of it.  However, the general response to clerical collaborators has not set us up to make this case.  The Polish Church behaved quite properly in investigating the behavior of its priests while declining ahead of time to make the results of this investigation public.  There is absolutely nothing to be gained from a public release.  Why would any anti-communist want to humiliate the institution that everyone realizes was the most vigorous opponent of communism?  Even setting aside damage to the Church, it would have been far better for all the former communist states of Eastern Europe to have destroyed the records of their secret police before anyone could see them.  The main revelation of all these records is the great degree to which ordinary people could be induced to spy on their neighbors.  This is a bad thing to know.  A healthy organic community depends on social trust.  Convince people that their neighbors are a bunch of willing Stasi spies, and they will fail to trust their neighbors, turning instead to the government for protection.  The government thus becomes all-powerful and can then institute the actual Stasi and start recruiting actual spies.  The only ultimate beneficiary of a witch hunt against communist collaborators is communism itself.

Anyway, Western Catholics criticized the Polish Church for its culture of secrecy, but I don’t think we’re going to like what they’ve found.  They presumably know the extent to which all the Polish cardinals and bishops were “collaborators” but think they can just sit on the knowledge forever.  However, they’re not the only ones with access to it.  (If they were, Wielgus would still be Archbishop of Warsaw.)  If any damaging information is in the hands of the Church’s enemies, why haven’t we heard it yet?  Well, suppose you are an enemy of Church, and you have what you consider a compromising document–say a written promise by young Father Wojtyla to discourage social unrest and to turn in to the police anyone who he hears plotting the overthrow of the communist state (all of which would be defensible from the Catholic doctrine on duty to established authority, even if he really did mean it and wasn’t just gaming the system by planning to excuse himself whenever his friends started to talk rebellion).  What do you do, run to the press or sit on it?  Well, ask yourself this–which would do the maximum damage:  going to the press the day before John Paul II’s canonization or going to the press the day after?

Nested commenting eliminated

I’m going to try an experiment with comments.  I find them easier to read when there’s only one conversation and all comments are arranged in chronological order.  If most people hate it, we can go back.