Thought experiments on reform

We need body cameras on priests, recording 24/7.  We need it 50 years ago, but we’ll have to settle for tomorrow.  The reasons are 1) to protect priests from false accusations and 2) to give bishops something to shut up conservative morons and journalists when they start whining about how bishops “don’t get it” and “aren’t taking clerical abuse seriously”.  24/7 surveillance–it doesn’t get more serious than that!  What the hell more do you want?!  Once implemented, there’s clearly nothing more to do; we can move on to the business of survival.  Oh yes, and we can do a lot less pestering of seminarians about whether they’re really ready to live chastely, because if a man is to have his every moment recorded, it’s certainly going to force him to think very hard about whether he’s got all of his urges under control.

Consider some alternatives:

  1. (From a comment)  Priests should be kept chained in dungeons except when being brought out handcuffed by armed guards to celebrate mass or hear confessions. How could reformers object? Wouldn’t this give them all they’ve wanted: a rebuke to clericalism, no priests having gay or underage sex?  If you object, on what basis?  Suppose instead of dungeons, priests are confined to monasteries, as comfortable as you like, and now you have a serious suggestion.  Not as good as body cameras, though, because how can we prove that priests aren’t sneaking out unless the monastery is being recorded, so we’re back to cameras.
  2. Suppose in each parish, there are 30 men who together celebrate every Mass.  One of them is a priest, but no one but he knows which one.  The 30 men are not monitored any more than any other men, and from time to time one of them will be accused of some sin or crime and will be unable to prove his innocence.  Who cares, though, since the public is only interested in abuse by priests?  The danger, of course, is that the public would start regarding all of them as priests rather than none of them.  We’d just have to record all of them, so we’re back to cameras.

Lastly, a pure thought experiment, to make reformers consider their priorities.

  • Suppose all Catholic priests were (unknown to the public) replaced by super-intelligent androids programmed to behave always in a morally exemplary way.  Thus, the program of reform will have completely accomplished its objective.  In this scenario, would young people be less likely to abandon the faith when they go to college?  Would they be more likely to marry within the faith?  Would Sunday Mass attendance improve?  Would Catholic couples have more children?  Would professional philosophers suddenly start finding Thomism or some other Catholic philosophy credible?  Would Protestants find our claim to be the Church that Christ founded more credible?  Would more adult Catholics know the rudiments of the faith?  Would a significant number stop voting for anti-clerical, pro-abortion, and pro-sodomy politicians?  Would unworthy reception of the Eucharist become less common?  Would Catholics start taking pride in their history?  Would non-Catholics start converting in significant numbers?  The answer to all of these questions is obviously “no”.  At best, one might say that having morally perfect priests would be an asset when we begin some program to address these other issues that deal more directly with our collective survival and flourishing.  So, do we want to let reform absorb all our energy and destroy all our credibility before we even begin to think about the key problems?  I say let’s have body cameras and have done with it.  The reform will be accomplished, and we can begin the work of seeing to our survival.

Jew vs. Catholic: contrasting personality types

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
–Matthew 15

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!…I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
— Romans 11

The message of the Old Testament is that God loves, loves, loves Jews.  In the New Testament, naturally read, God wishes to save only Jews, but like a jilted lover accepts as consolation Gentiles to serve as honorary Jews (and even that perhaps only to make the Jews jealous).  I speak now not of theology but of psychology, not of how the Bible should be interpreted, but how it will be and is.  The Jew’s primal experience of religion is that God loves him and his kin with the ferocity of a tribal god.  To the Jew, God promises descendants, an enduring nation, a collective future.  The Christian’s primal experience of God is His wrath at the Christian’s sinfulness and unworthiness.  The Christian thus knows his soul as loathsome but clings to God for His promise to fashion for the Christian a new and better self, a hope which is not satisfied by his baptismal rebirth but whose fulfillment is postponed until death.

From these basic religious experiences, everything follows.  The Jew is bold, ambitious, with a healthy and virile confidence, sure of his and his people’s righteousness, all but incapable of comprehending opposing views, whose very existence he scorns as “anti-semitism”.  His distinguishing quality is chutzpah, shameless entitlement, making him a natural master over less confident men, the apex parasite.  His unwavering confidence in his people’s moral superiority allows him to be intellectually daring in everything else.  Thus Freud could doubt man’s rationality and Einstein could doubt that spacetime is flat, because beneath it all they never doubted that they were superior to the goyim.  The Jews everywhere set out to demonstrate their moral superiority by attacking the customs of whatever gentiles they live among; this they call “healing the world”.  Their intelligence and aggression has won for them the top moral status for themselves and their odd conception of social justice.  The power of their moral authority makes the Christian admire, love, and fear them all at once.

The Catholic is in every way the opposite.  Paralyzed by morbid guilt, shame, and doubt, he can barely summon the will even to wish for his own people’s survival.  His enemy’s perspective is more real to him than his own.  Thus he routinely condemns his fellow Catholics, his own ancestors and pastors, whether from genuine shame or a pious attempt to absolve God of the discredit of association with us.  He insists that the main reason non-Catholics stay out of the Church is the scandal given by the wickedness of Catholics, by which he primarily means other Catholics, but also himself.  Catholics have not the slightest sense of loyalty.  Does this habitual treachery achieve its effect, convincing outsiders to consider Christ rather than His worthless servants?  I can’t say, but I suspect the main lesson unbelievers take is that becoming a Catholic means nobody having your back, of sitting in pews next to backbiting traitors eager to turn on you at the first sign that you have become bad PR.

Catholics are the one group who don’t take pride in themselves and their history.  In a sense this is admirably Pauline and humble–Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam!–but hardly an effective recruitment or retention tool.  Why then be Catholic?  One common reply is that despite the shame, Catholics have the true faith.  Thus, Catholics of a more intellectual bent subtly come to base their self-worth, what other peoples would have by default from the pride of tribal membership, on having some set of correct beliefs.  They become intellectually timid, far beyond the demands of doctrinal orthodoxy.  Indeed, they seek out profane masters to absolve themselves of the wide intellectual freedom left by orthodoxy, defending every jot and tittle of Aristotle or the Founding Fathers or whoever else.  There have been creative Catholics, but we do nothing to encourage this.

Catholics have a much weaker sense of agency and little concern for their collective future.  Religion is the clergy’s business, and we hate them all the more when we suspect them of taking it seriously.  And the clergy can say that religion is God’s business.  “God will protect His Church!” so we can all just go on with what we are doing.  Forethought and initiative are not considered necessary, so they are never forthcoming.

The Jewish spirit is democratic, egalitarian, cosmopolitan, and everywhere triumphant.  (Then again, when Jews attempt localism and nationalism, they do even that better than us.)  The Catholic spirit is hierarchical, monarchist, ritualistic, and everywhere in retreat.  Are our ideas defeated because they are worse?  I would say that our ideas are perfect, only their champions are unworthy, but that is a very Catholic thing for me to say, isn’t it?

Is there hope for Catholicism?  Certainly, although it is telling that arguments for the survival of the Church nearly always invoke supernatural protection.  The Jews don’t need any miracles to make it through this century.  I admit to being one anti-semite who really is jealous of the Jews–they’re everything I wish I and my people could be:  healthy, brave, loyal, confident, intelligent, and creative.  Unfortunately, all efforts to “reform the Church” move us in the opposite direction, exacerbating our sense of inferiority, sapping any residue of aggression, loyalty, or any other healthy manly virtue.  What little energy we have goes into spying on each other, rote attachment to dead spiritual and intellectual forms (and of all groups, the traditionalists are the least guilty of this–far less than the Vatican II nostalgists!), and a growing tendency to preserve our own moral status by posing as critics of the hierarchy, washing our hands of the Church rather than defending her.  The solution must be a step in the opposite direction:  an embrace of the will to live and the will to fight, an attitude that will surely be called (and perhaps will indeed be) fascism.

More Catholic strategy

I’ve given up reading blogs for Lent, but not writing, so rather than respond to the provocations of the moment (whatever they are), I shall continue with my own monomania.

Overall, Pope Francis is responding admirably to the terrible predicament he is in.  However, having said as much of it as was demanded of him, he needs to drop this “clericalism” nonsense.  The clericalism rathole is even more to be avoided than the lavender mafia rathole.  A crusade against clericalism is a crusade against clergy, because it invites laity to make a fuss over anything a priest does that annoys them.  Clericalism is the microaggressions of the Catholic world, whereby a high moral status majority is invited to scrutinize a low moral status minority* for subtle signs that the latter secretly think themselves superior.  Priests will never be able to grovel to the satisfaction of the laity, any more than whites can to blacks.

On the other hand, “synodality” was a stroke of genius.  One of the things that is desperately needed in the Church is a way to minimize legal liabilities.  The Church makes records of everything, then sends them up the chain to the Vatican, whose scarce personnel usually never read them.  “What did the Pope know, and when did he know it?”, the conservatives keep repeating because it makes those idiot baboons feel clever.  The Holy See must be protected, and for its own protection, it must have no more information than it can actually process and use.  Anything else only makes it legally vulnerable.  There is absolutely no reason why Rome should even be informed about local disciplinary issues–and worse, unsubstantiable rumors–especially now that we’re a synodal Church.  Now if only an excuse can be found to destroy the CDF’s existing records.

In a bishop, I can forgive every sin but stupidity–the one sin the world also will not forgive.  So, their Excellencies have decided they want episcopal accountability, which will certainly lead to an unprecedented reign of terror against priests, because no bishop would dare judge a priest innocent of even the most absurd charge of sexual misconduct lest he later himself be condemned for “covering up”.  As soon as this is widely known, every priest in America will be accused of sexual abuse.  This is easy enough to anticipate.  In addition, their Excellencies have been for about two decades implemented a system of extreme vetting and arduous training in the seminaries, with the result that we probably have the most elite (certainly in terms of dedication, but also presumably in whatever personality qualities they have been discriminating for) cohort of new and upcoming priests that it is possible to have.  Now, if only they would try to put these two thoughts together for once.  How do they intend to protect this enormous investment?  They are like a team of generals whose idea to win a war is to train an elite cadre of warriors and then set them up to be mowed down by enemy machine gun fire.  The injustice doesn’t bother me half so much as the waste of precious human material.

Your Excellencies, your job is not to be holy, not to be faithful or merciful, not to pray or fast, but to anticipate the enemy’s moves and preemptively counteract.  You need to be thinking now about how to make sure that every priest in America is monitored (say, by some sort of body camera) every minute of every day.  These recordings must be impossible to tamper with (because, remember, the whole world thinks that we’re a giant conspiracy to molest children, but they will give us no help with viewing or storing these tapes), timestamped, and long-lasting, the latter because they must be stored forever because there is no reliable statute of limitations for Catholic priests in the public realm and ecclesiastic courts don’t even seem to have the concept.  Current priests are doomed; I can’t think of any way to save them.

The above, involving enormous amounts of data, will seem like a terribly impractical idea.  Give me an alternative.  I don’t want to hear any conservative nonsense about praying and fasting; that’s just an excuse to refuse to serve God with one’s brain.  We must anticipate.  We must counteract.


  • In the case of microaggressions, this fact is obscured by our calling the high status group “minorities” and the low status group the “majority”.  However, heterosexual white men are a minority in every country on Earth.

book review: Reality, A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought

Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought
by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., 1950

Garrigou-Lagrange is a Thomist of the old school.  We hear nothing but bad about these guys from the theological schools that vanquished them, but how accurate are the criticisms?  They are clearly not as arrogantly rationalist as we’ve been told.  Not only does Garrigou-Lagrange deny that theological truths can be proved, he denies that it can be proved that they are not contradictory!  The most theology can do is to show that any given putative contradiction is not conclusive, and it can provide arguments of fittingness to plausibly relate the truths of revelation.

This book covers nearly all the same ground as the Summa Theologiae.  Rather than review the whole thing, I will concentrate on two topics of interest to me:  the claim that potency is only limited by act and the cause of sin, with its related issues of sufficient vs. efficacious grace, human free will, and predestination.

Continue reading

convergence in philosophy

Philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin, interviewed by Scientific American, defends philosophy against the charge that it has made no progress in its long history.  I am sympathetic to the claim and many of his points.  But…

Your colleague David Chalmers has fretted that “there has not been large collective convergence to the truth on the big questions of philosophy,” such as God, free will and consciousness. Does this lack of convergence bother you?

I disagree with Dave here. Overwhelmingly most philosophers are atheists or agnostics, which I take to be convergence to the truth. Most are compatibilist about free will and believe in it, which I also take to be convergence to the truth. Almost all believe in consciousness and most don’t have a clue how to explain it, which is wisdom. It is not that there isn’t convergence, it is that the outliers who do not converge get much more attention than the great mass of convergers, who don’t particularly stand out.

Granted that this convergence has happened, why don’t I find it particularly meaningful?  I think it’s because there is no clear, established narrative to explain how most philosophers came to be compatibilist atheists, which leaves unanswered the suspicion that the change is merely demographic, i.e. more atheist compatibilists are now going into philosophy for wider social reasons.

Contrast this with science, whose progress gains a great deal of credibility because it has a clear history.  Anyone who takes an introductory course in astronomy or modern physics will hear the story of celestial mechanics (Copernicus through Newton) or of special relativity and quantum theory.  Each of these has a before and after.  Before, people believed this-or-that, which is understandable as an intuitive extrapolation of common sense and experience.  Then there was some new experiment or observation, and only some new theory could explain it.  This was recognized at the time, and so scientists understandably modified their beliefs.  No doubt these stories are simplifications–ignoring secondary characters, uncertainties and ambiguities in the initial experiments, theoretical detours and dead-ends–but I would say they are basically correct.  The formation of the scientific consensus makes sense and doesn’t involve non-scientific influences, and this gives students confidence in it.

Compared to physics, philosophy does not have an intelligible history.  This is why philosophy students still consult primary sources–despite progress, the ancient Greeks are still in a meaningful sense our contemporaries.  How did philosophers get to be atheists?  No doubt they could point to philosophical reasons, e.g. “Hume proved that religion is silly.”  But Hume’s contemporaries weren’t satisfied that he had proved this.  When and how was it agreed that he had done so?  In fact, I think most atheist philosophers would agree that it was not philosophy that vanquished religion.  They would probably point to the advance of the natural sciences, encounters with non-Western cultures, advancing technology and social structures.  None of these at any particular time decisively tipped the balance against religion (the ancients also knew that many phenomena have natural explanations and that other cults existed), but at some point the balance got tipped.  Even if this is true, it is a very unsatisfactory story.

I agree that philosophy has progressed, but my idea of its progress is more humble.  Questions have not been answered, but they have been clarified.  Systems have not been proved or disproved, but their hidden assumptions have been brought to the surface.  One can’t get away with certain kinds of sloppiness and be taken seriously anymore.

Catholic in the age of decline: a personal coda

I had meant to slow down with this blog.  If I am ever going to produce anything of enduring value, I must focus my dwindling energies.  In fact, I am exhausted by my ordinary commitments to my children and students, quite apart from any increasingly-unrealistic intellectual ambitions.

But then, I kept reading on the internet, and no one was expressing my opinions.  It’s the thing that drives a man to blog, against his better judgement.

I am, as readers know, a tribalist, and a good part of my elemental survival instinct is (no doubt because I am not now in physical danger) devoted to the survival of my tribe, so that the collective conscience of which I am a part, and hence a part of myself, might survive my personal death.  The prospect of the Catholic Church being defeated and brought to the brink of destruction–and in such an ignominious way!–is a source of continual anguish for me.  I should keep it to myself, I know.  I am driven at least in part by a selfish desire that someone will prove to me that I’m wrong and thus ease my anxiety.

Much that I read irritates me, but nothing enrages me as much as when I read about “getting their own house in order first”.  You see, I, as a Roman Catholic, and hence presumptive child molester, have no moral standing before the world, my moral betters, whom I should never speak against, but before whom I should waste my wretched existence in groveling apologies and self-recrimination.  This is why the null hypothesis matters.

“If God cared about us, He would not have abandoned us to such a shameful end”, I sometimes think to myself with as much bitterness as you would expect, but that’s not quite right.  Even if, suppose, Catholics aren’t God’s favorite people, we still fall within His ubiquitous providence.  There must be a reason he chose us, you and me, to live at this time.

Perhaps there is something about us personally that we are better off, more virtuous or something, for living now.  One thinks of the calls of conservative Catholics, interspersed with their destructive advice, to pray and fast.  Perhaps some of their readers will end up being more conscientious in their spiritual lives for having lived in such bleak times.  I’ve sometimes speculated that I owe my faith, such as it is, to the world’s apostasy.  Religion does not come naturally to me.  Disagreeing with the majority of my peers on the other hand…

Another possibility is that God will allow us to do some noble thing in these days.  Not that we will “reform” or “save” the Church, but that in our fidelity to what must look like a hopeless cause we might do something worthy in itself.  This is performative conservatism.  The goal of performative conservatism is to get me to stop thinking about the long-term, large-scale future and to focus only on my own performance.

This is why I should be using my energies better.  There must be some way I can identify with the Church in her decline and share in a bit of her disrepute.  And yet, I’m such a mediocrity.  Plenty of people know I am a Catholic, but if more knew, would that just be another embarrassment for the Church?  “Oh, look.  The least productive, least intelligent member of the Physics Department is a Catholic.  Figures.”  That’s what they’d say, right?  Should I rather try to improve myself in visible ways first, become a credit to my people?  But that might never happen, might just be an excuse to avoid the performance when its chance comes.  And what could this worthy thing be, anyway?  Probably not any of the things I would like it to be.  I can only hope that God will arrange and make it clear when the time comes.  In the meantime, I should prepare myself intellectually and morally.  Serious reading, intensive thinking, getting my ass off to Confession, doing Lent right this time.

But I’ll probably end up posting here again tomorrow instead.

Catholic strategy in brief

In a recent series of posts, I have argued forcefully (only the reader can say if I have done so convincingly) that we’re not going to be able to “reform” our way out of this.  It wouldn’t matter if there is never another accusation of sexual misconduct against another priest.  The Church’s enemies are careful not only to treat all accusations as true (while providing every possible incentive for false accusations) but also always to look back at least to 1950.  You’ve got to get a big denominator if you want to get a big numerator, and of course only the latter will be given to the gullible, bigoted, innumerate populace.  Every reform effort will only feed the rage against us and our clergy.

Do I instead proposed that the bishops just say “f*k off” to the media and concerned Catholics?  No, I’d like it if that would work, but it won’t.  Now the government is involved in unjustly singling out Catholics, and we clearly can’t blow them off.

If there is a path for the Church to survive, it must be a delicate maneuver.  The movement to reform, punish, and humiliate cannot be defied, but one might try to deflect and contain it.  Define the problem narrowly, and then support the prosecution against it with full and open vigor.

Pope Francis seems to be pursuing this strategy.  Of course, he can’t openly say that that’s what he’s doing.  Phase one is restriction to a class of infractions, one that we know is actually quite uncommon in today’s priests:  sexual abuse of minors.  Piling on every kind of accusation of immorality against priests is not welcome.  This is easily justified.  If you really care about sexual abuse of minors like you say you do, you don’t want to muddy protection efforts with other issues, right?  This is very good.  Narrows the hysteria.

Step two should be to limit the timeframe.  The Church should not volunteer to play along with the secular world in obsessing over unverifiable accusations from the time of the Korean War against dead priests.  Volunteer any sort of effort (if one can think of anything not already being done) to study and pursue wrongdoing alleged to have happened in the past twenty years (not wrongdoing that was reported in the past twenty years).  There are compelling reasons for this.  Older accusations are less reliable and less relevant.  Less reliable because more difficult to check, less relevant because procedures were different then and so tell us less about issues now.  If you really care about protecting the children, you don’t want to contaminate your sample with inferior data.  Of course, the Church’s enemies would protest this, because they know as well as we do that there are few accusations from the past twenty years.  The trick is to make them say that.  Let the public learn that they don’t have enough alleged wrongdoing from recent decades against a group they accuse of being a massive conspiracy to rape children.  If protecting children today is really our focus, how can the ubiquitous 70 year study period possibly be justified?

Third, attempt to broaden attention beyond the Church.  Pope Francis delicately does this by stating his hope that the experience of the Church in reforming herself will be of use to other organizations.  This of course has been followed by howls of “getting their own house in order first”, but His Holiness correctly realizes that a group cannot survive without some self-respect.

In summary, Pope Francis is pursuing the course of action with the best chance of success.  He is clearly a wiser man than I gave him credit for.  For this, he is being attacked by conservative Catholics, who seem to care less about the survival of the Church than venting their grudges against Francis and John Paul II.  I once considered myself one of them, but no longer.

Colorado goes fishing

See Francis J. Pierson at Crisis.  Here and there, a few people are catching on.