Friday, July 29, 2005

Actually, Billy, It's a Matter of Morality

Speaking of the Problem of Evil, what's up with Bill Frist? He's not really a moron, so how can he be so confused about the moral difficulties involved in stem cell research, calling it a matter of science rather than a matter of faith? Dorothy Rabinowitz, whom I love dearly as a social commentator, made a similar mistake on the PBS show Journal Editorial Report, when she complained that holding up stem cell research is about as smart as holding up research into viral innoculations, which requires the use of live viruses to produce the serum. She apparently thinks there is no difference between a human being and a virus. I guess her strong point is social commentary rather than biology, but let that pass. What's Bill's problem? He presumably knows something about biology, unless he got his medical degree in Jamaica or some place like that.

He seems to believe, along with other genuinely sloppy moral thinkers, that the acquisition of knowledge is worth whatever price we have to pay for it. So, even though we don't actually have any guarantee that stem cell research really will bring about cure after remarkable cure, he thinks we should sacrifice human lives now on the off chance that we'll save a few in the future.

One cannot help but be reminded of the discovery, a few years ago, of data collected by the Nazis during the 30s and 40s regarding the effects of hypothermia. Unwilling subjects were frozen--sometimes to death--in order to facillitate the study of cold on the human body and the discovery of new treatments for hypothermia. When this data was found lying around not so long ago, there was a debate among current researchers over how it ought to be used, if at all. Can we ethically use data gathered from unwilling subjects by such evil mad scientists? Some thought not--some thought that the pursuit of knowledge ought to be tempered by just conduct. Some things, in other words, may not be worth the cost of knowing.

The Tuskeegee Experiment, in which African Americans were unknowingly exposed to syphillis, in another such case. Is it right to use human beings in this way, merely to gather more information that might be useful to the rest of us? It is impossible for anyone who understands morality to condone this sort of thing.

And yet that is exactly what Bill Frist is recommending that we do now: make it easier to use human beings--against their will, obviously, since embryos are not yet sentient and hence cannot possibly give consent--in the pursuit of knowledge at any cost. These particular human beings, of course, will die in this pursuit, but the rest of us might be able to live a little longer or a little more comfortably thanks to their "sacrifice". Too bad they couldn't give consent but, hey, what's a little technical detail like that when it comes to scientific progress?

Bill might change his mind if someone decides to use him in a scientific experiment against his will. But if he is to be consistent in his view he will not be able to protest when the utilitarian argument is made that his death will make other lives better.

Way to go, Bill. Welcome to the ranks of the morally bankrupt.

What Problem?

I just posted a reply to an essay at Pontifications by Michael Liccione, an able and articulate writer who also happens to have some expertise in philosophy. One sometimes hesitates to rush in where angels fear to tread, but his essay--quite well done and also somewhat moving--addresses a philosophical argument about a theological question, and that mix--the attempt of skeptical philosophers to say something meaningful and important about theology--has always made me nervous.

The argument at issus is the so-called Problem of Evil. I write "so-called" because in my opinion it isn't really a problem at all; but it has been a perennial favorite of philosophers since antiquity, and has given rise to a whole sub-division in the philosophy of religion called Theodicy (< Gr. theos, god, + dikê, justice), the investigation into how to reconcile God's justice with the existence of pain, suffering, and evil in the world.

In its barest outline, a simplified version of the Problem of Evil would go something like this:

1. If God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent, then there will be no evil in the world.
2. But there is evil in the world.
3. Therefore, God is either not Omnipotent, not Omniscient, or not Omnibenevolent.

Since omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence are necessary properties of the God of Christianty, this argument is sometimes taken to prove that God does not exist at all; others take it only to mean that God does not have all of the perfections that are traditionally ascribed to him.

Clearly the first premise is crucial: it claims a necessary connection between God's key properties and the absence of evil in the world. Just as clearly, this premise is open to question. In fact, St Augustine, famously, offered a solution to the problem of evil in the form of a rejection of this first premise, on the grounds that it simply isn't necessary that evil will not exist even if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Why? Because what evil and suffering does exist in the world is brought about by human agents who possess free will, itself a good thing but capable of producing evil results when used incorrectly (i.e., not in accordance with what God himself wills).

I think it is worth making a methodological point here. Answering the "problem of evil" cannot be necessary for belief for the Christian, since the whole Christian religion, in itself, offes a counter-claim to that first premise in the form of an extremely elaborate explanation as to why there is, in fact, suffering in this particular God's creation. St. Augustine was not the first to recognize this, nor will he be the last--it is at the heart of John Paul the Great's encyclical The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. So aside from sheer intellectual curiosity--not an ignoble goal in and of itself--the only real purpose in finding a confutation of this problem, for the Christian, will have to be for the purpose of persuading non-believers. That also is not an ignoble goal, but it is not a goal that must necessarily be met in this particular way.

There are plenty of objections that could be raised to the Christian position. Why didn't God create a world in which free creatures freely choose only good things? Why doesn't God intervene to prevent natural disasters, since that would not compromisee free will but it would prevent apparently needless suffering? But these are all hypothetical objections, and they carry force only for those who find it impossible to believe that a world in which free creatures actually fall short of God's will once in a while can be better, in some sense, than a world in which that is a mere potentiality. For the Christian, the human condition would be difficult to make sense of had we never fallen short of God's will. We might be tempted to believe that we are God. Hey, wait a minute--that's what did happen!

Oh well, so much for that problem. For the philosopher, of course, that isn't the end of the story, because the philosopher always wants a solution that doesn't have any loopholes, or at least that has as few loopholes as possible. But because there are about as many different perspectives and first principles in philosophy as there are individual philosophers, it simply isn't possible to construct an argument that has absolutely no loopholes whatsoever, and it is virtually impossible to construct one with few loopholes. So the discussion of this so-called Problem of Evil will continue, not only among philosophers, who find the problem intellectually interesting, but also among believers, who have an honest and salutary desire to make sense of a loving God who permits us to suffer and do evil things. In the end, though, the Christian knows that, however the Holocaust, or Stalin's purges, or natural disasters, might appear to those of us who stand on the sidelines observing the intensity of the pain and the extraordinary numbers of deaths brought about by such things, nevertheless each individual innocent soul is precious to God and is not harmed in the least by the nasty things that might happen to the material body. When the physical suffering is over, these very same innocent individuals, like our own Christian Martyrs, find themselves in a place where every eye is dried and every tear wiped away, a place of peace that surpasses all understanding.

And all philosophical argument.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


RomanCatholicBlog has this piece on a formerly Catholic school run by Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters and their reasons for going, well, Outside the Fold, as it were. Here's an interesting quote:
"We'll start fresh," Charnley said. "We're appealing to continue playing in the Catholic League as Covenant."
Surely the operative phrase there is "playing in the Catholic League". What one would like, of course, are folks who are really in the Catholic League rather than merely playing at it.

Wait! I Meant REALLY Strict Constructivism!

An excellent article in the 24 July edition of the Chicago Sun-Times Online by Mark Steyn about how the Democrats love it when Justices legislate from the bench, but only if the Democrats come out as winners.

Only a Bureaucracy...

...could create an entity called a Commission on Decommissioning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

On Wretched Mistakes

I certainly did not intend to write about Jim Tucker's blog twice in a row, but it's been something of a slow week, and something he posted on Tuesday struck me as quite puzzling. In particular, I was struck by this bit:
It's a wretched mistake for Americans to give uncritical support to the modern Israel because the ancient Israel holds a privileged place in the Scriptures.
He goes on to suggest that "the ancient Israel" of the Scriptures is now embodied by the Christian Church. I can only imagine what a Jew might have to say about that, but I think there's already plenty to say about the small passage quoted.

A number of interesting terms jump out of the text. It's one thing to say that it's a mistake to give uncritical support to something, but to characterize the mistake of giving uncritical support as "wretched" calls out for analysis. The Oxford English Dictionary says that "wretched" means "distinguished by base, vile, or unworthy character or quality" and says that something that is "wretched" is also "contemptible". So a "wretched mistake" is a pretty bad mistake. Surely it's right to to frown upon "uncritical" support for anything, but when I come across students in my classroom who defend their views in an uncritical way, I don't usually think of them as wretches who are base, vile, or downright contemptible. I think that they are young and inexperienced and that they will eventually learn to be more critical.

On the other hand, when someone like John Kerry comes along, claiming to be a Catholic while at the same time saying that there is nothing at all wrong with endorsing policies that would make it much easier to get abortions, I don't hesitate for a moment to think that such a person is wretched, because that is a person who ought to know better, whether or not he does, in fact, know better. So perhaps Tucker thinks that the folks who are less critical than he in their support of the modern state of Israel ought to know better, whether or not they do, in fact, know better.

Ought to know what better? That they should be more critical of the modern state of Israel? Critical of what? Tucker doesn't say. He seems to think that the faults of the modern state of Israel are obvious enough that he doesn't need to say what they are. If you support the state of Israel, he appears to be saying, there is a good chance that you are doing so uncritically, since any critical person would hesitate to give them support, especially in light of the fact that, Hey, these folks aren't even the real Jews of Scripture anyway!

But what of that last bit? We're not supposed to give Israel "uncritical" support merely on the grounds that the Scriptures speak of them as the Chosen People of God. Granting for a moment that "uncritical" support is not an intellectually sound approach to geopolitical problems, surely there is an implication running through this text that one of the reasons why we need to be more critical in our support of Israel is because they are not the Chosen People of Scritpure, we> are. If they were the Chosen People of Scripture, we might be warranted in cutting them a little more slack.

This has got to be one of the most naive and dangerous views about the Middle East Problem that I have ever seen. Forget the Chosen People of Scripture argument--as laughable as that is it is at least roughly within the bounds of sanity. But to think that folks who support Israel do so "uncritically" because they don't, in the end, feel the same way about Israel that Jim Tucker appears to feel, is just plain bizarre. It seems to me that it is at least possible that the folks who support the state of Israel simply have different first principles than Jim Tucker, and that is why they come to different conclusions about what level of support is warranted.

So Tucker has conflated the truth that we are all Sons and Daughters of Abraham with the strangely familiar accusation that contemporary Jews aren't the Real Jews of Scripture. That accusation, of course, has been bandied about by plenty of folks for the last 150 years or so, if not longer, but it is distressing to find it in a 21st century Catholic writer.

In fact, it's more than distressing: it's wretched.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Close, But No Pipe

In an essay in today's edition of his blog Dappled Things the Ordinarily Straight-Thinking Occasionally Pipe-Smoking Jim Tucker complains about homemade wedding vows in which putative couples deliberately leave out any reference to their pairing lasting "'till death do us part", and he's not angry merely because of the further paring down of Hopkinsesque language in our rituals. What irks him is that nobody is complaining about this sort of thing the way they complain about civil "unions" between homosexual couples. He says that it is "inconsistent" to protest the one but not the other. His reasoning appears to be that, since folks who protest civil unions for homosexual couples do so on moral grounds, then anyone who has any objection to any other kind of pairing on moral grounds ought to protest as loudly.

But that doesn't follow at all, and for two reasons. The first is merely practical. It may be that I do not approve of "marriages" in which the couples have no intention of staying together forever, but that's not to say that I find that kind of arrangement as worrisome as other possible arrangements. To say that all morally dubious arrangements ought to be protested with equal vigor would entail that we protest unjust parking tickets with the same vehemence that we protest abortion. Both are cases of injustice, after all. Or, in a more realistic example, it is to say that we ought to invade North Korea and bring down its government, because that's what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The second reason why Tucker's argument won't work is more philosophical. The reason why conservatives are opposed to civil unions among homosexual couples has nothing to do with the moral status of the proposed union. Not all conservatives agree that such unions are, in fact, immoral. What all, or at least most, conservatives would agree on is that the government has no reason to involve itself in legislation--either pro or con--regarding friendships between private citizens. This means that, in fact, the government not only has no business "recognizing" civil unions between homosexual couples, it doesn't really have any business recognizing unions between heterosexual couples either. Marriage, in a perfect world, would be entirely within the domain of the Church. The fact that most governments do recognize heterosexual unions has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with protecting the interests of the state: it is in the state's interest to see to it that its population does not dwindle to zero. For that reason it provides incentives, in the form of various government-sponsored perks, for heterosexual unions. The value of these unions is independent of how long they last, just so long as they are more likely than not to produce offspring. Civil unions between homosexual couples cannot produce new life, even in principle, so no state has any particular interest in promoting such unions.

Catholics, as a matter of doctrine, must oppose civil and private unions between homosexual and heterosexual couples if those unions violate either the divine or the natural law, as both would if there were any sexual relations outside of the Sacrament of Matrimony. In this regard everyone is treated equally. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that homosexuals have no particular inclination to have sex with folks of the opposite sex, and so they are not inclined to enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony. What they tend to want is recognition of the love they feel for their partners, on the one hand, and some sort of share in the government-sponsored perks of heterosexual marriage on the other. There's no compelling reason to think that it is inconsistent to think that civil unions of the homosexual kind could lead to the recognition of all sorts of bizarre things being granted government-sponsored perks while thinking that those of the heterosexual kind are less likely to have that effect.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

In Honor of the First Covenant

On Saturdays I like to go to Confession. Not because I have a plethora of grievous sins to own up to each week, mind you, though I certainly have my share. Even if I had none, I would still go so as to make some reparation, however insignificant in comparison with Christ's, for the little ways in which I have failed to live up to my calling to be an image of God in the order of creation. It is a fine preparation for Communion and, if you live in a parish like mine, there's never any waiting because academics are far and away too pompous to admit that they've done anything wrong, being far more interested in pointing out the faults of others. Sometimes, when I'm finished, the priest will try to chat me up, knowing full well that once I leave he'll be sitting in lonely isolation until time for the vigil Mass.

Saturday has become one of my favorite days of the week. I like it that I can humble myself before the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession, making right my wayard path. I like it that I can pray an Office in honor of Our Lady during Ordinary Time when there is no competing memorial. I like it that I can be with my family in a special way, a way that continues through Sunday and that reminds me that simply to live, to move, and to have any being at all is a blessing beyond reckoning.

Today was a particularly beautiful Saturday, too, and that can help. I was up before dawn, at about 5:45, to pray the Office and read the Martyrology. By 7:00 I was done and ready for my bike-ride. We have a very nice bike-path here in Athens County, running nearly 20 miles from the east side of Athens to the south side of Nelsonville. It travels along an old canal tow-path, which, in turn, tends to follow the Hocking River, of Harvard on the Hocking fame. I like to ride about 20 miles, so I usually head up towards Nelsonville for about 10 miles and then come back. Today the temperature was perfect for going fast, though my top speed, even on the relatively flat bike path, is really only about 25 miles per hour, a snail's pace compared to the resting speed of really serious bikers. The path goes through cool wooded areas as well as open meadows, and with the sun low in the sky and the air still moist from the cool night the ride is just about as pleasant as one could wish. You have to watch for rabbits, deer, box turtles, and other critters, but if you keep your eyes peeled you'll be OK. Other creatures are more dangerous. About a month ago I was headed up my usual route when I say a large figure in the middle of the path. The bike path is only wide enough for three bikes to go abreast, and as I approached I saw that this particular figure was effectively blocking the whole path. It was a man, laid out right across the path and snoring loudly. Beside him in the grass was his own bike, along with his backpack. I had to go off the path to get around him. As I biked back in the other direction, nearly 40 minutes later, he was still there, soundly sleeping.

The day was getting ever more beautiful, so I decided to say my Rosary out in the hammock. It just don't get no better 'n that, folks. On days like this one must simply breathe in life and be grateful.

On Saturdays I like to remember the First Covenant. The Old Sabbath day is a good day for that, I think, and the Office often reflects it, with readings that refer to God's promise to His people and in the frequent commemoration of Our Lady, the last type of the Old People and the first type of the New, a bridge between the Covenants. The Jews were Chosen to be an image of God in the world--to represent what it is to live according to God's precepts. Though they did not always succeed, they are still to be honored for this role that was so graciously given them. We, too, are called to live as Imagines Dei, living a life that is full of praise and thanksgiving to our God and Redeemer. It's difficult to think of a more fitting way to bring a day such as this to an end than by kneeling down before God's minister and offering up those ways in which we have squandered, through our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault, the beautiful promise that has been handed on to us.

But the natural beauty of a day like this is not, I don't think, a coal that we ought to heap upon our own head. Rather, let it serve as a promise of what awaits us in the Confessional--let it be a physical sign of the ineffable beauty of Absolution, and of a return to life as it was meant to be lived. Confession can be difficult--especially if, like me, you are sometimes embarrassed to find yourself confessing sins you've confessed many times before. But it should also be beautiful, invigorating, and cleansing, like a fine Saturday filled with the joy and love that comes of being alive in God's presence.


If I had even a fraction of Tom Kreitzberg's theological insight I could retire a happy man, but as it is it looks like I'm going to be working for many long years to come. That's not to say that I always agree with him, though it is to say that probably I would be a lot better off if I did.

In a recent post of his on his blog Disputations he refers to one of my own posts as saying that I think that Cardinal Schönborn doesn't know what he's talking about when he enters into the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. I would just like to say that, although it looks like I did say that, I did not say exactly that. I don't really want to be accused of being a sophist, either, though, so I will also apologize if I left the impression that I think that the good Cardinal is a know-nothing.

What I said was that the Cardinal is not in a position to speak "authoritatively" about evolution, since that is not his field of expertise, and that anyone who wants to speak authoritatively on that subject must first meet the necessary condition of knowing a great deal more about the field than the Cardinal does.

As Tom rightly points out, the Cardinal may have been speaking theologically and not scientifically. If so, then he is eminently qualified to speak. But there do seem to me to be cases where folks who are trying to make theological or philosophical points wind up making scientific claims instead, and vice versa.

It is a claim of science, not of theology, to say that evolution is or is not a strongly confirmed theory, and that intelligent design is not a scientific theory at all and hence, a fortiori, not a serious contender to be a rival to evolutionary theory--and that was the main point I was making. If what you want to claim is that evolutionary theory is not the final answer as to how or why there is ensouled life in the universe, then that is a theological and not a scientific claim, and I would certainly agree that there's nothing that evolution in particular or science in general can possibly say on that score. Certainly we must, as orthodox Catholics, believe that the universe is shot-through with meaning, is a teleological place in which everything has some sort of purpose (whether empirically verifiable or not) and, as I mentioned at the end of my other essay, we must loudly reject both materialism and empiricism (though we may, of course, accept limited versions of them--versions that apply only withint the very limited domain of discourse of science).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Lot of Good It Does Us

OK, so he’s Catholic. Do we care? Does it matter? At first glance it may seem rather promising, but as I’ve mentioned in several installments this week, calling oneself a Catholic and actually acting like one don’t always go hand in hand. This is particularly true of folks who have to pass through Senate confirmation processes. The reason, of course, is that as soon as they find out you’re Catholic they do everything they can get away with to make sure you don’t actually vote your conscience (assuming that you actually have a properly formed conscience to begin with), so anyone who makes it to SCOTUS while claiming to be a Catholic is probably someone who is willing to say and do what it takes to get through the gauntlet. Such folks are not all that likely to be pleasant surprises on the bench.

This is not how it should be, of course. It’s pretty lame to pretend that there are no litmus tests, because literally everything is by definition a litmus test. You want someone who will uphold Roe? That’s a litmus test. You want someone who will overturn Roe? That’s a litmus test. You want someone who will not legislate from the bench? That’s a litmus test. You want someone who is immune to litmus tests? That’s a litmus test. In short, whatever necessary and sufficient conditions one puts on candidates for SCOTUS become, ipso facto, the litmus test. There is no principled reason why a Catholic who promises to vote his properly-formed conscience should not sit on the Supreme Court—it is a fiction to pretend that the folks who make it there are somehow value-neutral with respect to issues touching on matters of life and death and the rest.

What we want, of course, is someone who applies constitutional principles in a non-constructivist way. That’s our litmus test. But such a person could still believe that abortion is the unjust taking of innocent human life. Such a person ought to be able to say so to a confirmation hearing. And since there are no constitutional grounds for regarding any particular court decision as in principle non-reversible, such a person ought to be able to subscribe to the view that Roe is eminently overturnable. But of course nobody in his right mind would say that, if what he really wanted was to serve on the Supreme Court.

Given that he has not been involved in cases involving Roe, he will be able to say, as he must to win confirmation, that he cannot speak to any such cases in the abstract, that he will do his best, if confronted with such a case, to apply constitutional principles strictly construed, without letting personal bias or conviction sway him. Perhaps that will be enough to win confirmation. Who knows what else it will be enough for.

Blossoming Blossers

Just a quickie to promote another blog. If you like profound thought, careful argument, theological insight, and philosophical clarity, you couldn't do much better than reading Ad Limina Apostolorum.

Over One Billion Served

A recent report from the Catholic News Service draws attention to the fact that, whereas the number of Roman Catholics in the United States continues to grow, the number of baptisms, weddings, and first Communions is shrinking. Further evidence, if more were needed, that there are more people calling themselves “Catholic” than really are such, I suppose, except for the fact that I run into so many people who are not Catholic, don’t call themselves such, and yet somehow manage to find access to the Sacraments anyway. This is even more of a problem for other denominations, I think. I have a colleague who had his freshly adopted infant baptized in the local Episcopal church, even though both he and his wife are atheists. The new mom's parents, however, are Episcopalian, so to please them....

There have probably always been folks who have abused the Sacraments in one way or another. Even in St Augustine's day we find folks entering the Church primarily for political reasons (especially in the large urban centers, like Rome). These folks often did not seek Baptism right away, though putting off Baptism was actually fairly common anyway. St Augustine himself mentions the delay of his own Baptism in his Confessions. These days, in addition to folks like my colleague, for whom "membership" in the Church is meaningless, but a ritual like Baptism can play an important social role, we also find folks who do think of themselves as "members" of the Church in some sense, and for whom such membership appears to be meaningful, but the meaning that it has for them is entirely outside what the Church herself wishes to be understood by the conception of membership in the Mystical Body of Christ. In my parish there are a lot of folks who do not believe in the Real Presence, the reality of the Resurrection, and a whole host of other teachings that they proclaim that they do believe every time they publicly recite the Creed--but for these people even the public recitation of the Creed is merely a social act, a means of expressing a kind of "solidarity" with a certain community. This would appear to be just the thing that Ms. Mathewes-Green, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, thinks is the problem with the principle of unity as found in the Roman Catholic Church.

Though I do not agree with Ms. Mathewes-Green about this as evidence for a kind of unity in diversity, this is nevertheless a troubling trend. There is still a core of believers, of course, folks who take the Magisterium seriously and at its word. But these folks are getting harder and harder to pick out in a crowd. There was a time when the Church stood out from the rest of society--believers were easy to recognize. Now, instead of pointing to the Church as standing out from Pagan society we find ourselves trying to find the real members of the Church who will stand out from the other "members". This is not the first time in the history of the Church that this has been the case nor, in all probability, will it be the last. But it is a difficult time, in some ways, since the human spirit naturally craves a community of like-minded folk, and this is particularly true of those humans in whom the Spirit rests.

Ut Unum Sint

Yes, I know, that’s a terribly pretentious title for a blog installment, but as a title for a papal encyclical it can’t be beat, and it’s in that capacity that I’m borrowing it for this little nuga. It’s certainly better than “…and One For All!”, the title that I was going to use but which I decided against in the end, Deo gratias. That latter title suggested itself to me when I read “All for One?” by Frederica Mathewes-Green in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. (No link: it’s a pay site.) Ms. Mathewes-Green is an Orthodox Christian with some thoughts about what is wrong with the concept of papal primacy.

In her view, there is an important difference between the sort of unity promoted by the Roman Catholic Church and that which can be found in the Orthodox Churches. She writes:

From a Roman Catholic perspective, unity is created by the institution of the church. Within that unity there can be diversity; not everyone agrees with official teaching, some very loudly. What holds things together is membership. This kind of unity makes immediate sense to Americans: Whatever their disagreements, everyone salutes the flag, and all Catholics salute, if not technically obey, Rome’s magisterium.

From an Orthodox perspective, unity is created by believing the same things. It’s like the unity among vegetarians or Red Sox fans. You don’t need a big bureaucracy to keep them faithful. Across wildly diverse cultures, Orthodox Christians show remarkable unity in their faith.
For Ms. Mathewes-Green, this difference adds up to “two different definitions of ‘unity’.” It’s worth pointing out, however, that the sad divisions that plague Roman Catholics are probably a lot more noticeable than any differences plaguing Orthodox Christians simply by virtue of the fact that there’s over a billion of us and fewer than 100 million of them, and Roman Catholics are much more culturally assimilated than Orthodox. But be that as it may, it is somewhat disingenuous to suggest that the unity of the magisterium is not, in fact, the same thing as “believing the same things.” Roman Catholics are supposed to give rational assent to the magisterium, whether or not they actually succeed in doing so. What Ms. Mathewes-Green is talking about are the same old “power struggles and plain old sin” that she admits are also present in the Orthodox Churches; they’re just a lot more noticeable in the Roman Catholic Church.

Her thesis appears to be that unity between Roman Catholics and Orthodox will be more difficult, given this difference of opinion over what unity means. I would suggest that, yes, it will be difficult, but only because unity means the same thing to Roman Catholics that it does to Orthodox: it means believing the same things, and the Orthodox seem to take a certain delight in pointing out how they are not about to believe some of the things that Catholics believe. Ms. Mathewes-Green herself picks a few of these items to name, and in addition to the same old shibboleths of papal primacy and double procession, she also mentions “how salvation is achieved” among the radical departures from orthodoxy-with-a-small-o introduced by the Papists.

If that is the extent of her theological insight, then I suppose we are lucky that Ms. Mathewes-Green is a writer and not a theologian. She will not be the last person to mistakenly suppose that Rome has tinkered with and changed unchangeable teachings, but it is always a little disappointing to find such sloppy thinking out there.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bye Bye Bear

For its fans, Golf is a singular sport, and Jack Nicklaus is a singular golfer. I was never all that interested in golf--or indeed any sport--when I was growing up, but recently I began to follow the game rather closely. It all began in January of 1998 when I was stuck at home during a blizzard. The snow was so bad that even Ohio University closed down--something that happens only very rarely. I happened to have the TV on, and as I surfed I suddenly found myself watching something that I didn't even know existed: The Golf Channel. It was a Tuesday morning in Januray, so of course there wasn't much happening in the world of golf--not that I would have known about it if it had been. What wason was an old, black-and-white repeat of an episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf from sometime in the early- to mid-1960s, featuring Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in a stroke-play match.

My father had been an avid golfer all of his life. He sometimes voiced some regret that he hadn't played professionally. Instead he was an engineer in charge of truck tire design at Goodyear, in Akron, Ohio. Because of his position he got to play a lot of golf with big-wigs, and he enjoyed showing them how the game ought to be played. I myself never got to play golf with my father, because he died, just three weeks after his 48th birthday, when I was just 7 years old.

As I watched the rerun of Jack and Gary I remembered watching grainy black-and-white TV tournaments with my dad--he sitting in his chair, I crawling around on his lap--and I suddenly felt cheated. Cheated out of a life-that-could-have-been with my father. Instead of getting all maudlin and sentimental about it, though, I decided upon a much more rational course of action: I took up golf. At the age of 40.

I started watching golf on TV regularly--in color this time, following Tiger instead of the Bear as my father had done. I started going to the driving range with an old half-set of clubs that I got at a garage sale for $20. Before the summer was over, I had played half a dozen rounds at the OU golf course (a 9-hole par three, at the time; since then it has been upgraded considerably).

Since I was interested in Tiger, and Tiger is interested in Jack, I learned a lot about Jack, too, and watching the tapes of his very early career, when they were on, always reminded me of my father. I began to love the game of golf--perhaps in a way not unlike the way my dad loved it. But my dad was a scratch golfer, while I totally suck.

On the other hand, I'm having a great time. Golf is a lot of fun to play, even when it is frustrating--which for me it usually is--and as I walk the fairways (or, well, in the tall grass or bushes that run alongside of them) I often think of my dad. It's fair to say that we never really knew each other, but I can't help but feel that, when I'm having a good time playing golf, I'm knowing him just a little bit.

I spent this morning watching Jack Nicklaus play his last-ever round of golf at the British Open. It was a stirring performance--he only just barely missed the cut--and while I can't say as how I approve of sentimentality, I'm kind of a sentimentalist deep down, and I won't say that I wasn't a little misty eyed as he walked up the fairway on the 18th, to thunderous applause from galleries that were bursting at the seams, and paused on the bridge for photos with Luke Donald, Tom Watson, and the caddies.

Where did that mist come from? Jack will play again. So will I. But I'll never get to play with my dad, and perhaps that's all it is: regret over what could have been. But I also think that, through golf, I have access to at least a small part of that life. And insofar as I love my own family the way my dad loved his, I carry that part forward. My son has only a mild interest in golf, but he is already 11 and I am already 47--it looks like we'll have a much better chance, than my dad and I had, of living a whole life together.

When Michael watches Tiger Woods play his final round at a British Open, I'll be sitting right there next to him.

Hopefully in the Gallery at the 18th.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

When In Rome

In thinking about the Present State of Affairs I'm sometimes reminded of the situation at the end of the Roman Republic, when Rome was beginning to establish itself as a powerful force in the Mediterranean but was grappling with unpleasant pirates harrassing sea trade and local communities ashore. Like the Roman Republic, we're pretty difficult to beat on a fair field of battle. In fact, I would defend the proposition that it's never happened, in spite of what some nattering nabobs would have us believe about Vietnam. What do you do when you want to fight with somebody whom you know to be fully capable of kicking your ass? You turn to acts of piracy.

The thuggish attacks on civilians that we see not only in our own backyard but in many other places around the globe are almost universally reviled as cowardly acts, and rightly so, for that is what they are. No courageous person blows himself up in a sneaky attempt to kill innocent persons who are denied any chance of defending themselves. But what are the courageous to do about these boils on the bum of society?

The armies and navies of the Roman Republic were unable to do much about the pirates, both because of the way the pirates operated and because of restrictions on how the Roman armies and navies could operate. So the Roman Senate voted to give Pompey the Great extraordinary powers in hunting down and eliminating the pirates, which he proceeded to do in rather short order. He was not bound by the ordinary restrictions put on Roman armies and navies.

My conservative hackles are always raised when government is given greater lattitude in procedures for monitoring, controlling, or restricting ordinary folk, and I confess that the Patriot Act sometimes gives me pause. But in the face of what we presently face, I'm not fully convinced that some extraordinary measures may not be in order. Pompey relinquished his command when his job was done, but we are more cynical today: conservatives especially are distrustful of those who have been given power by the government to do things that none of the rest of us are permitted to do. This is a healthy fear, for the most part, but just as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus did not ruin the American Republic (and, contrary to what some have argued, it was not unconstitutional for him to suspend it), it seems to me just this side of possible that we will not always have to live with our present restrictions, just so long as those of us who are not in power are careful to keep close tabs on those who are, and see to it that our modern day Pompeys follow the example of the Great one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Positivity of Negativity

An article at Catholic News Service today informs us that Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, England, is worried that some Anglican clergy are going to bail out of the C of E and swim the Tiber now that the Church of England has removed obstacles to the consecration of women as bishops. Bishop Lang's worry is that this is not the sort of reason why one should join the Catholic Church. One should have some sort of "positive" reason for joinging the Catholic Church, and his view appears to be that not liking what the Church of Enland is doing is really a "negative" reason, making the Catholic Church look some kind of sloppy seconds to the C of E.

How about this: one eminently good reason for joining the Catholic Church is because you believe that its teachings are true. Maybe some Anglicans are beginning to realize that the Catholic Church's perennial teaching on the ordination of women just might be true. It turns out that Bishop Lang is the co-chairman of the Enlgish Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee. I wonder if membership in a committee like that is a positive or a negative reason for opposing the entrance of people into the Catholic Church. Frankly, in the interests of ecumenism, I would like to propose a trade: we'll take all the Anglicans who want to join because they think the Anglican Communion is growing ever more heretical, and well send over all the "Roman Catholics" who hold the same heretical views about women priests, sex outside of marriage (including, obviously, the same-sex kind), etc. as seem to be growing more popular within certain diminutive parts of the Anglican Communion. We seem to have plenty of them to spare, and they will feel right at home in the AC these days.

When the Episcopal Church voted to allow the consecration of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy, one of my old friends and mentors, Peter James Lee, presently the bishop of Virginia, said that the decision to vote the way he did was a difficult one, but heresy is better than schism. I guess the Episcopal seminaries have forgotten that heresy forms a part of schism. I suppose it's convenient to forget that when your entire communion exists simply because the king of England once decided to enter into schism.

When I knew Peter Lee, he was the Rector at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and I admired him greatly. But I also admired the Associate Rector there, Robert Duncan, who is now the bishop of Pittsburgh and on the other side of the wall separating Peter Lee from orthodoxy. Fr. Bob (as we all once knew him--maybe they still know him by that moniker in Pittsburgh) has given moral and other forms of support to those within the Episcopal Church who oppose their denomination's official stance towards sexual relations outside of the Sacrament of Matrimony as manifested in the decision to consecrate an individual who makes no secret of his rejection of the Universal Church's constant teaching that sex is only licit within Matrimony, and who lives his life accordingly.

One mistake that is often made in this particular case is to say that the whole issue is about homosexual relations. Those who opposed the consecration of Robinson were often portrayed as homophobes or worse. But the issue has nothing whatever to do with that--it is about the Sacrament of Matrimony. To say that is not to say that homosexual sex, in itself, is acceptable--but that is a separate question.

Another mistake, less often made but made sometimes nonetheless, is to say that Church leaders are either foolish or mistaken if they think that there hasn't been plenty of compromsing of the Sacrament of Matrimony by priests and bishops in the history of the Church. The plain fact of the matter is that the Church has been filled with sinful people right from the start, and it should come as no surprise to anyone to find that priests and bishops sometimes commit sins, too, particularly if they are people who should never have become priests or bishops in the first place. But the Church has never officially endorsed sin before as a means of excusing the actions of some of its members--but that is precisely what the Episcopal Church has done. Or something very like it: it has said that something that has always been regarded as sinful is not, in fact, sinful at all. And it has said that after only very limited, unilateral deliberation by a very small minority within the Communion.

I wonder if that is a positive or a negative reason for changing one of the Church's oldest teachings? Either way, it seems like a pretty good reason for leaving that Church and joining a real one, where the teachings don't change to suit the whims of the times.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Harvard on the Hocking

When I went on the job market I was fortunate to get, for reasons that are still mysterious to me, several different job offers from which to choose. During my on-campus interview at Ohio University, while the chair of the search committee was showing me around the joint, I asked about the comptetitveness of OU, and he assured me that it is, indeed, very competitive:
Perhaps you've heard of the schools that are called the "public Ivys"--some of us refer to Ohio University as Harvard on the Hocking.
What's that, you say? He's referring to the Hocking River, which meanders its way around the southern part of the OU campus. Oh--that--yes, he's also referring to Harvard University, a quaint little school in Massachussetts. I was still a graduate student at Duke University, and this incident reminded me of something that some of the undergraduates there--presumably the ones who couldn't get into Princeton--used to say about Duke: it's the Princeton of the South. Right.

At the time I assumed my tour guide was just joking around. Philosophers are rarely, if ever, very serious, and on those few occasions when they actually are being serious they certainly have no right to suppose that anybody else is going to take them seriously. But when I came to OU that fall I found that there are certain people here, mostly administrators, who take the bon mot about Harvard on the Hocking more than half seriously.

At least, when it suits them. During this past academic year, with a new president recently installed, the administration decided to jilt our long-time "peer institution", Miami of Ohio, in favor of the sexier University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (the University of Michigan of the South). Nobody in their right mind thinks that there's much chance of OU becoming even remotely like UNC any time soon, at least not with the current president and Board of Trustees in place; but then, you have to be out of your mind to take these things seriously anyway.

An even more outrageous example of administrative wackiness occurred last year, when the Board of Trustees mandated a $500,000 increase in the athletics budget while mandating cuts in academic budgets across the board. The reason? Our football team stinks. It is one of the worst teams in one of the worst conferences. So lets throw a ton of money at it. (Great thinking, that--maybe if I want to grow the budget for the philosophy department, I should start handing out more Fs.) The "thinking" seems to be that a big and successful athletic program goes hand in hand with a big and successful academic program.

Yep, that's how they look at it at Harvard on the Charles, all right! You won't find a better football team anywhere.

Anyway, what about this selectiveness thing? Are the students here as good as the students at Harvard? Or UNC? Or Miami?

Well, not all of them. I recently had this exchange with a student in a class in which we were reading Plato's Gorgias, a dialogue about, among other things, the differences between living a life characterized by self-control and foresight as opposed to a life characterized by self-indulgent hedonism (I wonder which life they prefer at that Other Harvard?):
Magister: What can we say about the soundness of Socrates' argument that a wrongdoer is bound to be unhappy?
Discipulus: I think it's dumb.
M: You think it's a dumb argument? What about it strikes you as dumb?

D: I think the whole thing is dumb.

M: The whole argument?

D: This whole thing [flips book on desk].

M: You think the whole dialogue is dumb?

D: I guess so.
There's that Harvard Attitude again.
M: How do you think it fails?

D: I dunno. I just think it's dumb. I guess. Never mind.
Well, you get the idea. Or, you would get the idea if there were any ideas there to be got. Fortunately, having just hired Frank Solitch (another great administrative idea--lets you know where our priorities are), we can be assured that our numer-1 ranked football team will pull Ohio University into the Ivy League in no time, and those intellectually curious students will be banging down our doors.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Quick! Before They Wake Up!

Do you find it difficult to "accept new prayers" at Mass? I find that the number of optional variants permitted under the new rubrics is so vast that it's difficult, if not impossible, to tell when a particular prayer is really "new" and when it is just something that I've never heard before. At any rate, a story at Catholic News Service yesterday notes that Vox Clara, an advisory committee to the Vatican on English translations of liturgical texts, says that
The sooner new English translations of Mass prayers are ready the easier they will be for Catholics to accept.
Forget the bad logic there (what possible connection can there be between getting the texts ready sooner and the texts themselves being easier "to accept"?). Do they imagine that we will be standing in the pews scratching our heads in wonderment if we hear something less pedestrian than what we're normally treated to by the ICEL (Internaltional Commision on English in the Liturgy)? The article also reminds us that the ICEL exists "to promote uniformity in the prayer texts used by English-speaking Catholics". Back in the good old days the Latin language itself managed to pull that off--without needing any tweaking from an international commission--just by virtue of being the Latin language, but let that pass. The ICEL seems to think that uniformity in prayer is best accomplished by simplification and banalification. In fact, I noticed at Mass today that the Collect did not sound very much like its Latin original:
God our Father, your light of truth guides us to the way of Christ. May all who follow him reject what is contrary to the Gospel.

Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire, veritatis tuae lumen ostendis, da cunctis qui christiana professione censentur, et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini, et ea quae sunt apta sectari.
A more literal translation would run something like this:
God, you show the light of your truth to those in error that they might return to the Way; grant to all those who profess the Christian life both to reject those things that are inimical to this name, and to follow those things that are fitting to it.
OK, I guess I'm not really all that much better than the ICEL when it comes to pedestrian translation, but at least I'm willing to make a decent attempt to convey the full sense of the Latin. If I were a better translator (or maybe just a better writer) I might be able to pull off something more elegant--but that Latin is certainly more sublime than either my translation or the ICEL's.

But what about that general principle being invoked by the ICEL? It's too bad that our liturgies are made to conform by being made plainer. It's rather like the communist principle that says everyone should be reduced to the least common denominator, rather than the free-market principle that says all should strive to achieve the most that they can. What's that, you say? A few people in tonight's audience aren't familiar with Shakespeare? OK then, instead of performing King Lear we'll do Nunsense. No need to introduce them to something really grand if they're not prepared for it!

I had hoped that with the promulgation of the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal we might be treated to all new, more literate translations, but based on what I've seen so far that hope seems to have been dashed. Too bad that Cranmer fellow was such a heretic--we could really use him right about now.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I'm a Monkey and a Flower

That's a line from a Talking Heads song, for those of you who may be worried that I'm pondering a new career as a mime. But it occurred to me when I saw a piece in the New York Times about Cardinal Shoenborn's latest statements about evolutionary theory. It reminded me of all the muddled thinking I've seen on evolutionary theory in the course of teaching the philosophy of science to students who know little about either philosophy or science. There's muddled thinking everywhere these days, of course, but it's striking how much of it comes from otherwise sensible folk. And I don't just mean from those who don't know much about biology, to paraphrase another pop song; there's muddled thinking from scientists as well.

My favorite muddle-headed scientists are those who think that evolutionary theory as been "proved" in the sense that we can know that it is "true" to the exclusion of all other hypotheses about the origins of life. Only a moron would think that science is capable of establishing one theory as true to the exclusion of all others, but you'd be surprised how many famous scientists are also morons in this sense. Richard Dawkins comes to mind, but he's only the most egregiously moronic, seeing as how he seems to think it's worth trumpeting his myopia to the world in the form of books and lectures.

But equally muddled is the view, apparently held by Cardinal Shoenborn, that evolutionary theory has not really been "proved" in any sense. This view is often expressed in the form of the proposition "Evolution is just a theory."

Well, universal gravitation is also "just a theory", but I don't see anybody insisting that we find alternative theories (say, Aristotle's) about attraction among bodies and teach them in the schools alongside Newton's quaint little fantasy. The fact is, evolutionary theory is among the best confirmed and most robustly tested scientific theories in history. That does not make it "true to the exclusion of all other possible hypotheses", but it does make it true in the same sense that Newton's theory of gravitation is "true". It's the best explanation we have, at present, of the observable phenomena.

Part of the problem, I think, lies with the press, because the New York Times does not help matters any with headlines like "Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution". As important as he is to the Magisterium, a single Cardinal writing an OpEd piece in the New York Times is not someone who is "Redefining the Church's View" on anything. Pope Benedict XVI is not the first Pope to have declared that there are no contradictions between evolutionary theory and Church teaching on the origins of life, and it will take more than a stinging letter to the Times to change that. Based on what he wrote to the Times it seems fair to say that Cardinal Shoenborn, whether or not he is a great theologian or philosopher, is not much of a scientist, and at the very least it would seem that a necessary condition on pronouncing authoritatively on a subject such as this would be something like "knowing what you're talking about".

What is particularly worrisome about all of this, at least to me, is that the kind of bone-headed fundamentalist literalism that would prompt someone to think that evolutionary theory is not compatible with Church teaching is totally inimical to the Church's long and illustrious history of taking an active and salutary interest in the growth of all areas of human knowledge, including scientific knowledge. Just as the Dawkinses of the world want to shut the door on all discussion of rival theories to evolution (to say that is not to concede that Intelligent Design counts as a "rival theory" to evolutionary theory), so too the Fundies of the world want to close the door on all discussion of rival theories to the idea that Genesis must be interpreted literally. Both sides are acting contrary to the Church's tradition of Christian humanism.

Having said all that, I must also admit that I am sympathetic to those who are made uncomfortable by the triumphalism of some scientists. Science is, by its very nature, a materialist and empiricist enterprise, and an orthodox Christian can be neither. So we must be anti-realist about science, and somewhat less positivistic about it as well. But we must take an active interest in the kind of knowledge that it fosters, because the Church has found that to do so is part of what makes us human.

Friday, July 08, 2005

They Also Serve Who Only Keep the Faith

I came across a story today at the Catholic News Service about a priest being turned away by emergency personel from the site of yesterday's tragedy:

"The image of emergency services wanting priests at the scene has finished," said Father Peter Newby of St. Mary Moorfield Parish. "They don't want priests there.

Not because of any lack of respect for clergy, mind you, but because it's important to keep the streets clear for the really important personel who are doing some real work at the scene.

When reading a story like this one can't help but be reminded of the moribund state of the Church of England, in which attendance has been dropping for years reflecting, one presumes, a corresponding drop off in religious belief. The Catholic Church is not exactly booming there but at least they can muster up more than a clergyman and two servers for a service. Indeed, considering the way things have been going recently it is tempting to imagine that in a few years the Anglican Communion will be a denomination that consists entirely of clergy, since the only people who seem to actually want to belong to it are people who can't find a way to become priests or bishops anywhere else.

But enough with the catty ex-Episcopalian sneers. Something else about that CNS story was of more interest to me: there was a mention in it of St. Etheldreda Church, the oldest (surviving) Roman Catholic Church in England and a Church that I have actually visited. When last I was in London I took a self-directed tour of historic Churches and other religious landmarks, including the obvious stops like Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's. But I also visited the Roman Catholic Cathedral and, among other places, St. Etheldreda's. (That really is a remarkable name, by the way. Sadly, it is not listed in the most recent (2004) Martyrologium Romanum.) It is a small church in the heart of London's business district, surrounded by modern buildings and busy streets. Step inside, though, and you are in the middle ages.

What is remarkable about the religious heritage of Great Britain is its profound seriousness. In looking at all of these sites, one gets the impression that, when England was a land of faith, it was a land of very deep and serious faith. I suppose one has only to look at the internecene conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries to see just how sadly bloody the differences over the most serious matters of faith became for the English, but putting that aside we also see, in their art and architecture, their music and their liturgies, their abiding joy of faith in Our Lord. How sad, really, for those English of the 21st century who have lost the opportunity for that joy by turning from the faith of their heritage! What a pillar of strength it could be for them now, in this new time of Troubles.

But St. Etheldreda's, though it was virtually empty at Mass yesterday, is nevertheless ordinarily a lively parish, even though its home base is a rather dilapidated looking 13th century stone structure in the middle of The City. There is faith yet in London Town, and it has real work to do, and new martyrs to celebrate. Those of us who have not lost the faith are joined in brotherhood with those who suffer unjustly--and those who die unjustly. For today's Daily Office I prayed the Office of the Dead in honor of those who fell in London so that, being far away, I am nevertheless with them in the only way possible for me at the moment. This kind of solidarity is what connects us not only to those far away from us in space, but to those far away in time--it is our connection to the martyrs of the past and to our heritage. Although the emergency personel in London may not recognize it, our bond of faith serves an important purpose: it unites us. We are one Body.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Fidelium Animae per Misericordiam Dei Requiescant in Pace

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: Sure, yet another self-indulgent blog is just the thing the Internet needs.

I had intended to write something today about God's mercy and forgiveness as my first post. I was going to talk about my fondness for the Collect for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which reads, in the banal version of the ICEL, "Father, you show your almighty power in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom." The Latin really is much better, more sublime:

Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.

The events of this morning in London have given me a rather less self-indulgent theme, but one that still recalls the words of the Collect for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. As I listened to reports on the BBC, I was struck by something one "person-on-the-street" said about the event. Tony Blair had just given his statement about the attack, and this P on the S was complaining about the triumphalism of the statement. He was concerned that the G8 leaders were more concerned with looking strong and united than in looking for the possible motives behind the attacks, and he recommended less bombast and more soul-searching.

We heard similar sorts of worries in this country quite soon after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon: What on earth have we done to these people to make them hate us so? What can we do to make them hate us less? In short, some folks were saying that the attacks were, in some sense, our own fault, not the fault of those who attacked us, or at least not fully their fault.

This is moral banality of the first order. The difficulty lies in seeing these attackers as thoughtful people with reasonable motives and strategies, folks who have some end in mind and employ what appears to them to be the only means to obtaining that end. But this kind of prudential reasoning is not in their league--they are not thoughtful persons, but thugs. There's no point in trying to understand the world from their point of view, because their point of view is sociopathic, and it just doesn't make any sense to begin with, so there's no point in trying to make sense of it. The rational person does not say to such people, Why are you trying to kill me? I'm so sorry that I've driven you to this--he says, rather, Back off, Jack! and defends himself.

Sadly, the sort of moral thinking that prompts folks to say that we need to understand the world from the sociopath's point of view has become more or less the norm in some circles, and it leads to a kind of general moral relativism that has ramifications in many other contexts. David Wharton over at A Little Urbanity gives an excellent example here of how this kind of thinking can cause troubles, and what sort of analysis lays those troubles bare.

When I first heard the news I was, of course, shocked, but I was also angry. I thought to myself, Man, you just really want to slap these people upside the head. My wife's reaction was a little more to the point--she pointed out to me this morning that "It's pretty easy to hate". That, I think, is a danger for us in times like these. It's perfectly appropriate, I think, to be angry, not only at the attackers but at the morons who suggest that we've brought it on ourselves. But if we turn to hate, then we are not very different in kind from our own attackers, whose only justification for what they've done appears to be that they hate us. We don't want to become like them--we don't want to do something to them out of hate. We want to do something to them out of righteous anger: we want to bring them to justice. But who knows what we will desire to do to them if we allow hate to be our motivation.

That's why the Collect for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time is still an appropriate starting point for today's post. We are imagines Dei--we must strive to see the world NOT from the point of view of a sociopath, but from the point of view of God. He manifests his omnipotence most of all in his mercy and forgiveness: do we have the courage to be like him in this, too? We must do something to bring our attackers to justice--not out of hatred or for the sake of revenge or retribution, but because that is what they deserve, it is what is appropriate for them, it is what God requires of those who are like him.