Saturday, September 30, 2006

Heretics

Probably the craziest religion-oriented website I've ever seen is that of the self-styled "Most Holy Family Monastery" of Fillmore, NY. To hear these folks tell it, they are the only genuine Catholics left on the planet: literally everyone else has fallen into heresy. Some of us have fallen into particularly grave heresies, such as wanting to be friendly to non-Catholics. They have a rather amusing item they refer to as "Heresy of the Week" ("changed on Fridays"!), and this week's "major heresy" consists in the fact that our Holy Father prayed Vespers with some Protestants.

In short, these folks don't even know what a heresy is, let alone who might be guilty of one. The irony, which is most assuredly unintentional, is quite delicious, since these folks are among the arch-heretics of our time.

There is probably no better example of the intellectual resources of this group than this:
In addition to the aberrations and sacrileges that are commonplace at the New Mass, the words declared by the Church to be necessary for a valid consecration have been changed.

Words of Consecration – Traditional Mass:

For this is my Body. For this is the Chalice of my Blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith, which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.

Words of Consecration – New Mass:

For this is my body. For this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament: which shall be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.
These folks are confusing the ICEL translation of the Mass with the normative Latin text. In the Latin, of course, the text of the so-called "new" Mass is identical to the text they are calling the "traditional" Mass in reading "pro multis" in the text of the Canon. Rather embarrassing for them, but then people like this have neither pride nor shame, so they constitute a rather special sort of group. They go on to complain about the "omission" of the words "the mystery of faith", but I note they have nothing to say about the omission of the word "unto" and the obviously abusive change of "remission of sins" unto the laxitudinarian formula "so that sins may be forgiven". O tempora! O mores! (That was Latin, for all you heretics out there who have never read Cicero in the language in which Almighty God demands that he be read. Of course, he was only a pagan, so if you read him in any language at all that makes you even more of a heretic than you already are.)

I suppose it is not very charitable to poke fun at people like these--it's rather like laughing at a child having a temper tantrum. It's possible, for example, that these people are actually serious about all of this, and that the things they complain about are genuinely upsetting to them. We don't ridicule people who suffer from Alzheimer's, so how on earth can we justify laughing at this kind of nonsense?

The difference, I think, lies in the nature of the kvetching. Someone who is genuinely a lunatic is suffering from mental dysfunction, but these folks are guilty of that knowing obstinacy and lack of humility that characterizes the true heretic who persists in his own private way in the face of overwhelming evidence and magisterial authority to the contrary. It is sometimes difficult to pray for such people--but I suppose we must pray for them as earnestly as we pray for the Richard Dawkinses and Daniel Dennetts of the world. It is a work of mercy, after all.

Bisho-whaaaat?

Bob Sungenis, falling all over himself to try to keep the funds rolling into his Catholic Apologetics International, offers a rambling cri de coeur cum mea culpa, during the course of which he declares:
Third, the present prelature is God’s ordained authority over us and we should show them the honor and respect they deserve, at all times. Although I am greatly dismayed by the behavior of some in our prelature (e.g., the homosexual/pedophile scandal), we must still appreciate that the papacy and its attending bishoprick are God’s supreme gift to the Church, and we must never get to the point (as some in the traditionalist movement have done) that we either ignore the pope, resist his authority over us, or privately depose him from office. As some of you know, I will be in a debate with a sedevacantist on October 16, and I look forward to defending the papacy against this highly erroneous position.
I'm sure the guy means well, but this has certainly got to be one of those cases of With Friends Like These... This is a guy who defends, among other things, geocentrism, at least in part by suggesting that Catholics are required by their faith to accept it. He is also belligerent and uncharitable towards other apologists for the faith. And don't even get me started on his ideas about Jews. You can check them out for yourself here.

As for the parapraxis in the quotation above, well, as Freud might have said, sometimes a typo is just a typo.

Update: The materials from the link above have been removed, but thanks to Google's cache the contents are still available for your perusal. If you don't know how to download them I can send them by email to any interested parties.

Even Homer Nods....

For a long time now I have been attracted to Benedictine spirituality. About a year ago I got myself a copy of the Rule with commentary (Benedict's Rule: A Translation and Commentary by Terrence G. Kardong, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996) and have been having a good time working my way through it (for you Latin wonks: this is not a new text--it uses the text established by Dom Jean Neufville in Sources Chrétiennes). My attraction to the Benedictine way of doing things is only strengthened by the long and very salutary tradition of liturgical excellence among Benedictines. So you can imagine my horror when I saw this photograph from the Easter preparations of St. Benedict's Parish in Baltimore, MD. In the third photograph down, those are baskets of plastic easter eggs sitting in little niches in the Communion Rail. As the photo caption makes rather excruciatingly explicit, this was not merely the doing of some over-zealous but simple-minded parishioner.

Well, sure, you must be thinking, no right-thinking Christian would use anything less than real eggs to conjure up images of the easter bunny among the folks coming forward to receive Holy Communion. It should be pointed out, however, that in this secular day and age, any symbol of pagan fertility rites will do, just so long as folks are not sleeping at the switch when they make their reception of Our Lord at Easter. To prove how hard the parish is working on this, check out this photo set, where you can see that they have managed to get past that rather old-fashioned "Mary, Mother of God" nonsense and have updated the name of the Feast to "New Year's Day". I think "Celebration" means that it's still counted as a Sollemnity--especially when it falls on a Sunday--but I can't tell whether it's still one of the HDO or not.

Oh well...there's remains one remnant of hope...

Anselm on the Temporal and Atemporal

Here is a passage from St. Anselm's De concordia, section 5, that addresses very nicely the assymetry between the temporal and the atemporal that I was talking about in this post.
When St. Paul says that God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified his saints, none of these actions happen before or after on God's part. They must all be understood as existing simultaneously in an eternal present. For eternity has its own unique simultaneity which contains both all things that happen at the same time and place and that happen at different times and places...

In this way therefore whenever Sacred Scripture speaks of things which occur by free will as though they were necessary, it is speaking acording to the eternity in which truth, and nothing but the truth, is present immutably. It is not speaking of the temporal world in which the acts of our will and behavior are not everlasting; and just as, while they do not exist, there is no necessity for them to do so, so too it is often not necessary that they occur at some time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Strange Words

Anyone following the news of the international religion scene these days will be struck by the repeated use of words like "extremist", "moderate", "fundamentalist", "Islamofascist", and "Islamicist" in connection with Islam. What is usually meant by "extremist", "fundamentalist", "Islamofascist", and "Islamicist", is somebody who is a Muslim and who wants to do something in the neighborhood of destoying the West, killing the Pope, or murder innocent civilians, while what is meant by "moderate" is somebody who is horrified by the thought of such things.

This is a rather curious state of affairs. It seems to me that someone who is "extreme" in their Islamic beliefs will be the "moderate" on this definition, not those whom the media have dubbed the "extremists" and "fundamentalists". Indeed, "fundamentalist" is a particularly strange word to use of Muslims, since it refers to a movement within evangelical Christianity. A "fundamentalist Muslim" will be one who adheres to the fundamentals of the Augsburg Confession, but that doesn't make any sense.

This ought to give you some idea of how the media in particular, and how secular society in general, views religion of any kind, not just Islam. For a secularist, anyone who takes their religious beliefs very seriously is a potentially dangerous person and, it now transpires, any dangerous person is one who takes his religious beliefs very seriously. But this is rot. An "extremist" Christian is not a Christian who wants to burn heretics at the stake and march on Constantinople, but one for whom the teachings of Our Lord dictate the motivation behind every thought and action. A "fundamentalist" Christian is not one for whom creationism is the most important dogma of faith but one for whom only a minimal set of beliefs is necessary for salvation. By parity of reasoning, it would seem, an "extremist" Moslem ought to be one for whom the teachings of the Prophet dictate the motivation behind every thought and action, and a "fundamentalist Moslem" is just an ignorant coinage.

Did the Prophet recommend the destruction of the West, the killing of the Pope, and the murder of innocent civilians? I doubt it, at least not in any sense in which the nutjobs of today's terrorist groups envision such things. Presumably what the Prophet envisioned was a world of peace in which Islam is the religion in everyone's heart, put there not by violent means but by the honey of the Prohpet's own words. The terrorists are not "extremist" Moslems because in an important sense they are not really Moslems at all, any more than Christians who unjustly kill in the name of their religion are genuine Christians.

For the secularists, however, it is all too easy to take the claims of those who act in the name of religion seriously. If somebody says that they are acting qua Muslim in order to spread Islam and destroy the West, then, by golly, that's what that person is doing, regardless of how irrational it is to believe that such an act can be pulled off as part of a religious movement. While there may be religions within which irrational violence is an essential element of belief, I don't know of any, and it is clear that neither Islam nor Christianity is such a religion. It seems quite silly, then, to characterize those who act in irrationally violent ways as "extreme" examples of either Islam or Christianity.

The term "fundamentalist" is just a special case of this phenomenon. The secular media don't like Christian fundamentalists, and for two reasons. First, the tend to be conservative, while the secular media have a tendency to be liberal. Second, the secular journalists employed in the secular media have a very strong dislike for the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. These two reasons result in some very strange portrayals of fundamentalist Christians in the media, and they tend to explain the willingness of journalists to apply the term "fundamentalist" to any "religious nut" who happens to be doing something inexplicable. The phrase "fundamentalist Muslim" is quite meaningless, but try telling that to a media pundit. When one complains about the term, one often hears, as if it were an argument, "Well, you know what they mean." Hey, meaning is use, after all.

That's why we shouldn't misuse our words. We don't want anyone to mistake our true meaning.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Only One Creation

Speaking of creation (as I was in the previous post), I think it's worth pondering an interesting but false distinction that is all too common in arguments between evolutionists and creationists. Evolutionists and other scientists claim that creationism cannot count as science because it is untestable--and they are right, but not for the reasons they claim.

According to the standard story one hears from scientists, the principal difficulty with creationism is that it refers to a unique event in history, something that some folks dub The Creation or Special Creation. Special Creation is supposed to refer to that moment in time at which the material universe began to exist (creationists differ as to how long ago this occured--it was anywhere from 6000 to 13 billion years ago). Since this event was a one-time, one-of-a-kind thing, it is not something that can be subsumed under any law of nature and, hence, is not testable.

But this is not what "Creation" as such is. Or, better, this understanding of Creation is too narrow. As Aristotle might have put it, in one way this moment was The Creation and in another way it is not. It seems to be The Creation because it marks the beginning of the existence of the material universe. But Creation as such is a continuous thing, since God is atemporal and the creative act, for him, transcends all time. To put it another way, the act of creation was not merely that moment in (our) time at which the material universe began to exist, it is all moments in time: God continually holds all of creation in existence by an act of his will. If he were not "continually" willing the material universe to exist, it would cease to do so.

This is a theological point that no scientists who are not themselves religious have articulated, and very few creationists bother to make the point either. It is, however, a point known to the educated; among scientists, for example, Steven Barr has mentioned it in his published works, and among philosophers the idea is at least as old as Pierre Malebranche, if not older.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that this fuller understanding of the nature of The Creation will be of any help to creationists, because no matter how you conceive of The Creation, whether as a moment in time or as a "continous" act of God's will that is outside of time, it remains something untestable and, hence, unscientific. The single-moment conception is untestable because it is not subsumable under any law; the "continuous" act of the will conception is untestable because it is not subject to empirical truth conditions. In fact, the only "test" anyone has ever even suggested is the notoriously fallacious analogy from like effects, a "test" that in itself is not scientific but in any event proves nothing.

The point here is not to bludgeon any further the dead cause of creationism, but to remind all seriously religious folks of the complex and beautiful conception of Creation as it is authentically taught. Accept no fundamentalist substitutes here, folks--you'll be missing out on something truly spectacular, truly miraculous: every instantaneous moment of your existence upheld by an act of God's will!

History and Creation

Paul Halsall of English Eclectic has an interesting post up about how the historian ought to think about creationism. What he says about the possibility that evolution is a material fact that is nonetheless part of a larger metaphysical fact strikes me as just right.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Bloke Called McCartney

I rather enjoyed an item in today's Wall Street Journal about Paul McCartney's new choral work, "Ecce cor meum", forthcoming from EMI next Tuesday. My wife finds him tiresome but I've always thought he was a dear, not so much the Handsome Beatle as the Simple Beatle. I've liked many of his tunes, things like "Can't Buy Me Love", "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "Get Back", that kind of thing. I'm kind of simple myself, it seems. But when, several years ago, after slogging through things like Flaming Pie and Driving Rain, I bought, for reasons that are still mysterious to me, a CD of his "Standing Stone", I began to realize something about Paul McCartney. His lyrics are usually complete gibberish. For example:
Someone's gone out fishing
Someone's high and dry
Someone's on a mission to the lonely Lorelei
Some folk's [sic] got a vision of a castle in the sky
And I'm left stranded, wondering why
Or consider this:
World spinning round
To the next revolution
Sun going down
Gonna rise up again

I watch the sun go down
With some sorrow
And now I know it's gonna
Come back tomorrow
Ain't no reason
It has to do that
It's the season of the culture bat
"It's the season of the culture bat"?!? If there was every any doubt that, for Paul McCartney, task number one is to make a list of words that rhyme first and then string them all together later, well, just listen to the lyrics, people.
Why don't we do it in the road?
Why don't we do it in the road?
Why don't we do it in the road?
Why don't we do it in the road?
No one will be watching us
Why don't we do it in the road.
You thought that was one of John's, didn't you? Come on, admit it. And Paul wrote this one, too:
When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn
And I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom
And I see you again.
Man, it totally brings a tear to my eye. Rockin' great tune, though, and thereby hangs a tale. It seems that even Paul McCartney knows that this is how he writes music:
Because he had no formal musical training, Sir Paul says that when composing, "I'll have some happy accidents, if I'm lucky, and I'll find my way in via the knowledge I gained through the Beatles and Wings and through my pop music career....I'd explore things I'd learned there, like harmony and melodies."

Those harmonies and melodies actually preceded the text of "Ecce cor meum," he says. "Then I had to fit all my words to the music I had already written. Sort of customize it all."
No kidding. Scrambled eggs...scrambled eggs...hmmm...what else has three syllables...oh yeah...Yesteryear...no, wait...Yesterday....

I think my favorite part of the interview, though, was this bit:
[McCartney] was invited by Sir John Tavener [man, is that guy still alive?] to be the narrator in a Tavener work that was being performed at New York's St. Ignatius Loyola Church. "I was a little reluctant," says Sir Paul, "because I thought my voice was, perhaps, a bit regional for a narrator. But John assured me that the Greek poet of his text, a bloke called Cavafy, had been brought up in Alexandria, so he himself would have had the equivalent of a regional accent."
You gotta love that "aw shucks" attitude, not to mention the prospects of yet another collaboration between John and Paul. It's kind of reminiscent of the way in which that other John used to give Paul pep talks about those obviously bad lyrics ("Leave it the way it is--I like it that way!" not that John's were much better, but they were more self-consciously nonsensical. Maybe he was trying to sabbotage ol' Macca?).

There's something endearing about all of this--don't get me wrong, I love the guy, and most of his songs, too. I'm not sure why, actually, but I think it has to do with a sense that he is, in some way, authentic, though of course I have no way of knowing that for sure. He does a great job of faking it, though, if it's all just an act. The other Beatles all caved on that, some sooner than later, but even Ringo seems jaded these days. But Paul, I think, is for real. He'd have to be to say something like this:
In the church [St. Ignatius], Sir Paul's eye was caught by a representation of the Crucifixion, beneath which was the phrase "Ecce cor meum" (the first word of which he pronounces with a hard c, as he was taught in school). "I worked out the translation, 'Behold my heart,' which to me meant 'let me show you what's in my heart, the things that are important to me.'"
For Christians, of course, the Sacred Heart of Jesus signifies the sacrificial love that God has for mankind, a love that is intrinsically self-sacrificing and evocative of self-denial in others: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels." For Paul, by contrast, it is all I Me Me Mine--I want to tell you, I feel hung up and I don't know why. OK, those are George's, but he must have been thinking of Paul when he wrote them, because you couldn't ask for a clearer statement of the narcissism of the 60s than Paul's interpretation of Our Crucified Lord showing us his Sacred Heart. Someone with that outlook is a man in whom there is no guile.

So I like the guy. And I admire him for pronouncing "Ecce" the classical way. You've got to respect a guy who's not afraid to say "waynee weedee weekee" out loud. I have to confess, however, that, in spite of my own lengthy training as a classicist, I use the Italianate pronunciation. I used to prefer the classical, since that was how I was taught in school, too. But over the years, as I started saying the Office in Latin along with most of my other prayers, I found that if you can't beat them you might as well join them, and anybody who is into Latin in the liturgies these days is going to use the Italianate pronunciation. That's just the way it is, and no amount of "silent correction" is going to change things. The classical pronunciation was pretty much gone by the 2nd century anyway, so why try to rescue it? Use it when you read Cicero if you want to be a purist. But I'll bet you don't read Shakespeare with an Elizabethan accent, you faux-pedant! Paul sticks with what he was taught, because he's that kind of a guy--it just makes him even more authentic. Plus, he just might be the greatest rock and roll bassist of all time.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bill Donohue Gets it Right

It's hard not to agree with Catholic League's president Bill Donohue's statement on recent anti-Catholic violence among Muslims:
September 18, 2006
MUSLIM REACTION PROVES POPE’S POINT

Catholic League president Bill Donohue addressed today the Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at Regensburg University:

“One of the points that the pope made in his speech at Regensburg University was the necessity of linking faith to reason. He warned that uncoupling the twin values had horrendous consequences, leading people of faith to resort to violence. Ironically, the violent reaction, and the calls for more violence, on the part of some Muslims underscores the pope’s point. The response of violence to non-violence is barbaric.

“In Somalia, Muslims were urged by a cleric to ‘hunt down’ the pope and kill him. ‘Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim,’ said Sheik Abubakar Hassan Malin. No doubt that this ‘man of God’ must be happy now that a nun was shot outside a children’s hospital in the nation’s capital. The Mujahideen Shura Council referred to the pope as ‘the worshipper of the cross,’ and pledged to ‘break the cross and spill the wine’ in the ‘house of the dog from Rome.’ The group, which posted its call to violence on the Internet, also said that God will enable Muslims ‘to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen.’ Seven churches were firebombed in the West Bank and Gaza by gun-wielding Palestinians, using lighter fluid to burn the churches. And today, in the Pakistani-controlled section of Kashmir, Muslims took to the streets chanting ‘Death to the Pope,’ burning him in effigy.
“No wonder the pope has spoken against Turkey (where an official compared him to Hitler) joining the European Union. Not until Islam matures and Muslims come to reject the wanton destruction of innocent human life is there any chance of a real dialogue. The scene of Muslims calling for Jews and Christians to be murdered with impunity is all too common, as this latest demonstration of hate proves.”

Predestination

Fr. Al Kimel of Pontifications has a post up on election and predestination that, as usual, has me astounded by its lucidity. (Where was this guy when I was first coming to the faith?) It is principally a discussion of some aspects of James Daane's book The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit (Eerdman's 1973), but Fr. Kimel brings his own keen eye and expository powers to the theme in a way that is both challenging and rewarding.

Fr. Kimel's post appears to be something of a promisory note, as it has "(cont)" at the bottom, which I assume means that he will have more to say on this topic in due course. In this opening salvo he addresses specifically the topic of the preachability of election and predestination. To be preachable, on Fr. Kimel's account, is to carry some message of encouragement, something that will build up the body of Christ, and he suggests that some aspects of election and predestination fail in that necessary condition of preachability. An element of this that has always fascinated me is the logical relation that exists between the predestination of the elect, and, well, what certainly looks like the predestination of the rest:
The Reformed preacher, like the Thomist preacher, stands before a congregation composed of elect and reprobate. At this point it doesn’t matter if the preacher is a supralapsarian or infralapsarian, double predestinarian or single predestinarian. As Catholic theologian J. Pohle states, “The absolute predestination of the blessed is at the same time the absolute will of God ‘not to elect’ a priori the rest of mankind (Suarez), or which comes to the same, ‘to exclude them from heaven’ (Gonet), in other words, not to save them.” God has chosen some members of his congregation for eternal glory and has, directly or indirectly (preterition), chosen the others for perdition; but as neither pastor nor congregants know who the elect and reprobate are, the pastor has no choice but to refrain from proclaiming predestination.
It is difficult to disagree with the advice to "refrain from proclaiming predestination", given the epistemological problem involved, but I assume that it is possible to preach against fornication without knowing who, if anyone, in the congregation is a fornicator? What is difficult to avoid, however, is the implication that some folks are predestined to damnation. No matter how you construe it--either as a logical implication, as in the construal of Suarez, or as a necessary feature of God's foreknowledge and the very meaning of election--it looks as though some are predestined for damnation in precisely the same way that others are predestined for salvation. If God already knows who will choose to follow him, presumably he also knows who will choose not to follow him; and if he elects the former for eternal life, simply by choosing some he ipso facto excludes others.

Famously, the Catholic Church prefers not to put things this way. Instead, we find such as the following, taken from the J. Pohle in Fr. Kimel's post--Pohle is the author of the article on Predestination in the old Catholic Encyclopedia:
We may now briefly summarize the whole Catholic doctrine, which is in harmony with our reason as well as our moral sentiments. According to the doctrinal decisions of general and particular synods, God infallibly foresees and immutably preordains from eternity all future events (cf. Denzinger, n. 1784), all fatalistic necessity, however, being barred and human liberty remaining intact (Denz., n. 607). Consequently man is free whether he accepts grace and does good or whether he rejects it and does evil (Denz., n. 797). Just as it is God's true and sincere will that all men, no one excepted, shall obtain eternal happiness, so, too, Christ has died for all (Denz., n. 794), not only for the predestined (Denz., n. 1096), or for the faithful (Denz., n. 1294), though it is true that in reality not all avail themselves of the benefits of redemption (Denz., n. 795). Though God preordained both eternal happiness and the good works of the elect (Denz., n. 322), yet, on the other hand, He predestined no one positively to hell, much less to sin (Denz., nn. 200, 816). Consequently, just as no one is saved against his will (Denz., n. 1363), so the reprobate perish solely on account of their wickedness (Denz., nn. 318, 321). God foresaw the everlasting pains of the impious from all eternity, and preordained this punishment on account of their sins (Denz., n. 322), though He does not fail therefore to hold out the grace of conversion to sinners (Denz., n. 807), or pass over those who are not predestined (Denz., n. 827). As long as the reprobate live on earth, they may be accounted true Christians and members of the Church, just as on the other hand the predestined may be outside the pale of Christianity and of the Church (Denz., nn. 628, 631). Without special revelation no one can know with certainty that he belongs to the number of the elect (Denz., nn. 805 sq., 825 sq.).
Clearly much of this makes a good deal of sense, or, as Pohle puts it, "is in harmony with our reason". Things only begin to fall apart, in my view, in the last three or four sentences. But they do begin to fall apart, and that is why the final sentence is a very good addition to the overall sentiments being expressed.

"Fall apart" may be a little too strong, but certainly there are difficulties. The difficulties appear to arise due to an asymmetry between the finite and temporal order and the infinite and eternal order. Freedom is an essential good in both orders, but because human freedom is constrained, both epistemically and metaphysically, it is difficult to imagine what it would mean to say that there is the same kind of freedom in both orders. To see what I'm getting at, just consider what Pohle has to say about the "theological controversies" that arise from this topic:
Owing to the infallible decisions laid down by the Church, every orthodox theory on predestination and reprobation must keep within the limits marked out by the following theses: (a) At least in the order of execution in time (in ordine executionis) the meritorious works of the predestined are the partial cause of their eternal happiness; (b) hell cannot even in the order of intention (in ordine intentionis) have been positively decreed to the damned, even though it is inflicted on them in time as the just punishment of their misdeeds; (c) there is absolutely no predestination to sin as a means to eternal damnation.
Note how he prefaces his remarks by pointing out that we are constrained by "infallible decisions laid down by the Church". The rest is a rather straightforward appeal to the essential temporality of causal relations, even though God's is an essentially atemporal order. Logical chaos is bound to ensue, independently of any laying down of infallible decisions. What kind of chaos? Well, just for starters:
A. The Theory of Predestination ante praevisa merita

This theory, championed by all Thomists and a few Molinists (as Bellarmine, Suarez, Francis de Lugo), asserts that God, by an absolute decree and without regard to any future supernatural merits, predestined from all eternity certain men to the glory of heaven, and then, in consequence of this decree, decided to give them all the graces necessary for its accomplishment. In the order of time, however, the Divine decree is carried out in the reverse order, the predestined receiving first the graces preappointed to them, and lastly the glory of heaven as the reward of their good works.
Fr. Kimel's advice to preachers to keep silent about predestination and election begins to look better and better. Pohle seems to agree:
B. The Theory of the Negative Reprobation of the Damned

What deters us most strongly from embracing the theory just discussed is not the fact that it cannot be dogmatically proved from Scripture or Tradition, but the logical necessity to which it binds us, of associating an absolute predestination to glory, with a reprobation just as absolute, even though it be but negative. The well-meant efforts of some theologians (e. g. Billot) to make a distinction between the two concepts, and so to escape the evil consequences of negative reprobation, cannot conceal from closer inspection the helplessness of such logical artifices.
Pohle appears to endorse the attempt of St. Frances de Sales in making sense of all this:
C. The Theory of Predestination post prœvisa merita

This theory defended by the earlier Scholastics (Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus), as well as by the majority of the Molinists, and warmly recommended by St. Francis de Sales "as the truer and more attractive opinion", has this as its chief distinction, that it is free from the logical necessity of upholding negative reprobation. It differs from predestination ante prœvisa merita in two points: first, it rejects the absolute decree and assumes a hypothetical predestination to glory; secondly, it does not reverse the succession of grace and glory in the two orders of eternal intention and of execution in time, but makes glory depend on merit in eternity as well as in the order of time. This hypothetical decree reads as follows: Just as in time eternal happiness depends on merit as a condition, so I intended heaven from all eternity only for foreseen merit. -- It is only by reason of the infallible foreknowledge of these merits that the hypothetical decree is changed into an absolute: These and no others shall be saved.

This view not only safeguards the universality and sincerity of God's salvific will, but coincides admirably with the teachings of St. Paul (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8), who knows that there "is laid up" (reposita est, apokeitai) in heaven "a crown of justice", which "the just judge will render" (reddet, apodosei) to him on the day of judgment.
Nothing like throwing in a little Latin or Greek in the hope that it will fool people into thinking that you've shown something to be quite clear that is, in fact, quite obscure. In some ways, of course, it's not very obscure: God chose, from outside the temporal order, the bring into eternal life those whom he has always known, from outside the temporal order, to be all and only those who would freely choose, from within the temporal order, to follow him. That's something that is, indeed, in some harmony with our reason, but if we are also to make sense orf God's justice and human freedom, we are faced again with the problem of the asymmetry between the temporal and the atemporal. It is tempting to say that the freedom to turn away from God is an inviolable part of this picture, but since God desires the salvation of all, putting human freedom in the causal driver seat here appears to give mere humans a leg up on divine omnipotence.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

What If Amnesty International Declared a War Crime, and Nobody Came?

I wanted to make some remarks on Amnesty International's recent report that Hezbollah was guilty of war crimes in its recent war of aggression against Israel, so I Googled "hezbollah war crime amnesty international" and I got about 50 billion hits on items regarding Israel's war crimes, and only one hit on the report of Hezbollah's war crimes.

But the media aren't biased against Israel at all.

Maybe a Fatwa Is In Order

Pope Benedict XVI has drawn some criticism from certain Muslims because of remarks he made about Islamist extremists during his recent trip to Germany. According to the story in the New York Times, Reuters news reports that Aiman Mazyek, head of Germany's Muslim council, said that the Pope is being a hypocrite when he criticizes the actions of certain Muslims who take their religious beliefs to violent extremes:
One only need think of the Crusades or the forced conversions of Jews and Muslims in Spain.
This kind of Tu quoque response, while tiresome in the extreme, is also so very common as to begin warranting a rational response. After all, it's not just Muslims, who may, perhaps, be forgiven for not really knowing much about what they're talking about when it comes to Christianity, but Christians and other Westerners who say such idiotic things.

But where to begin? I suppose one would want to point out, somewhere along the line, that the things that Aiman Mazyek mentions are things that happened a long time ago, as long ago, indeed, as half a millenium and more, and are indeed things that some members of the Church have openly apologized for. Many Westerners are still waiting for an apology for 9-11, but all we get are videos of Palestinians dancing in the street and promises of more, and worse, to come. Christianity has come a very long way since 1204 or 1492; how far has Islam come since 2001?

But of course this is to beg the question entirely. Nobody but the racists and other idiots thinks that 9-11 was something done by Muslims qua Muslims--it was done by Muslims qua madmen, and anyone--Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist--is capable of becoming a madman. That is to say, the fact that the nutjobs who pulled off 9-11 happened to be Muslims is entirely accidental to the fact. That they just happened to justify their actions by appealing to their bizarre and irrational reading of their own religion is irrelevant--other Muslims, the majority, in fact, can point to other, more reasonable interpretations of Islam to show that the actions were entirely wrong. Much the same could be said about the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. The fact that some Christians thought, at one time and place, that such things were a Good Idea, is in fact irrelevant to whether Christianity itself ought to endorse such things.

But the Pope speaks for Christians, so it is not merely a matter of one particular Christian putting forward his own, idiosyncratic opinion. This opinion must be taken more seriously than others, it will be said. But this is true in one way and not true in another. When the Pope speaks on matters of faith and morals, his opinion is worth more than mine or any other Christian's. When he speaks about prudential matters, he is just one Christian among many. Even when he speaks on matters of faith and morals he must speak with the Tradition--it is possible, after all, for a Pope to fall into heresy. But at that moment he ceases to be Pope in any real sense, and he becomes just one more heretic (sadly, among many).

So what about in this case? Was the Pope just blathering, or were his words such as to demand particular attention from Christendom? Here is how the New York Times reported what he said (based on a story from Reuters):
In his speech in Germany on Tuesday, the Pope appeared to endorse a Christian view, contested by most Muslims, that the early Muslims spread their religion by violence.

He repeated criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who is recorded as saying that everything Mohammad brought was evil ''such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.''

Most of the Pope's speech was about faith and reason but his historical references suggested that he shared the emperor's view that the Islamic concept of jihad showed that Islam was irrational and incompatible with God's nature.
Before I discuss this, it is worth pointing out one error in the report. Manuel II Palaeologus did not say that everything Mohammad brought was evil. He said that everything new about Islam--that is, in the areas where it differs from Judaism and Christianity--represented an introduction of evil.

Regarding the other elements of the story, however, there is this to say. First, it is perhaps an emprical matter whether Islam was spread by violence in its early years, but it seems fair to say that, if somebody is going to interpret the Crusades as an attempt to spread Christianity by violence, then there is no rational reason why that same person would not interpret the early spread of Islam as violent in its nature. In short, the criticism is an irrational one given its source. If there were someone who disputed the violent nature of the Crusades, or who disputed whether the Crusades were really relious wars aimed at promoting Christianity, then that person could also rationally dispute whether the Arabic invasions of North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries were also attempts to spread Islam. But you can't rationally criticize the one as violent religious war without admitting the other to be violent religious war as well. So to accuse the Pope of adopting a peculiarly Christian interpretation of history that Muslims reject is just nonsense.

Second, the remarks that the "new" elements of Islam were "evil" is a reference not to the Prophet himself but to the methods adopted for the spread of the religion. Presumably the Prophet, like the Pope, can be regarded as infallible when it comes to understanding God's will for men but fallible when it comes to making personal decisions as to how to tell people about God's will for men, but this is a theological view and of course I have no idea whether any Muslim would agree with me or not. It's worth pointing out, however, that if one is a Christian, and if one believes that human beings, even Prophets, must, from time to time, make prudential judgments based on their own reasoning, then they can sometimes make prudential errors and still preach only the truth as revealed by God. That is to say, from the perspective of a Christian, the criticism of the "new" elements is not an explicit denial of the authority, mission, or dignity of the Prophet. Having said that, I must add that it would be fairly bizarre for anyone to object to a Christian openly proclaiming that he does, in fact, think that Christianity is true, and nobody could deny that if Christianity is true, then other religions are false. And the word "evil" in a Christian context means "falling short of the Good"--it does not mean "an aliance with Satan". So to say that the "new" elements are evil is just to say that they do not accurately reveal God's will to men, and who on earth would criticize a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, or really anybody, for saying that they believe in their religion because they believe it to be true rather than false? Who believes in their religion because they believe it to be false? I'm going to pass over in silence a rather complicated issue--the notion that saying that the Prophet might make errors of prudential judgment yet still be infallible in matters of faith is an insult to the Prophet. Muslims might say "You Christians really get your knickers in a twist when we say anything negative about Jesus, so who are you to insult the Prophet? We at least say that Jesus was a prophet in his own right, and we do not criticize him." In a way that's true--some Muslims are very circumspect about what they say about Jesus. But of course Christians do not believe that Jesus was merely a prophet, we believe that he was God Incarnate, and if Jesus also believed that, then according to Islam he was mistaken. That is, Islam as a religion has built right into it a charge that our prophet not only made a mistake, he made a major theological mistake that reduced him to an abomination in the sight of God. Now them's fightin' words, ordinarily, but we'll let it go for now.

Finally, the implicit implication ("his historical references suggested that he shared the emperor's view"). This is, I suppose, not an unreasonable inference to draw, but it is an inference nonetheless, and it is essentially unfair to attribute to another person an attitude that one has oneself assumed to be the case. At the very least, we must assume that if the Pope does share the emperor's view, the meaning of the view must be interpreted in light of everything else we know about the Pope's attitudes towards other peoples and other faiths, and so far we have every reason to believe that Benedict XVI is a paradigm Christian, loving all men as brothers in God, criticizing not sinners themselves but sad deviations from what he believes to be God's loving plan for all men. Violence and destruction, deliberate killings of innocent civilians, are not part of God's loving plan for all men, and all true Muslims, like all true Christians and Jews, agree. The criticism of the Pope appears to amount to this: he has conflated the acts of some folks who were not true Muslims with the teachings of Islam itself.

I doubt whether that is true, but if it is, I suspect that whether we ever hear the end of it will depend, by and large, on whether Muslims are really interested in finding peace with the rest of the world, or whether what they really care about is saving face and paying back insults. If they are able to forgive and move on, as most religions teach folks to do, that will be salutary for everyone. But if some of them prefer to behave like mobsters, then we're all in trouble--Christians and Jews, perhaps, but Muslims most of all.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Scientific Moronican

If you've been a regular reader of Scientific American for more than about 15 years you will have noticed that the editorial stance has become not merely increasingly politicized over the years, but increasingly leftist in orientation. In general one can avoid this by skipping over much of the front matter, but of late this ideological orientation has been affecting the articles that get printed as well as the editorials that get written. In a general way I don't particularly care about this--why should I get my knickers in a twist about one more popular publication going the way of the Zeitgeist when there are plenty of other reliable places to get unbiased writing about science?--but in the October 2006 issue there appeared an editorial that immediately caught my eye as potentially interesting.

The editors of Scientific American often lament the influence of "non-science" on the public face of scientific research, most notably in the case of the argument over creationism and intelligent design. I confess that I can't help but agree that both creationism and intelligent design are ideas that have little, if anything, to do with science, but there's just something about the snide condescension in the editorial stance that's enough to make you think "with friends like these...." The editors point out, correctly, that these ideas are not scientific and so they have no place in science. Many of the defenders of these ideas are also not scientists (though there are some exceptions to this general rule), and the editors make it clear that it is better to be a scientist than not if one is to draw inferences about the nature of science.

Into this generally acceptable state of affairs comes an editorial called "Let There Be Light", in which the editors aver as to how they think that science and religion are separate domains that ought not to be taken as overlapping in such a way that accepting the validity of the one will exclude the possibility of the validity of the other. This took me by surprise, because some scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, and some philosophers of science, such as Robert Brandon, think that the success of science precludes the possibility of the truth of religion. So to hear the editors of Scientific American admit that the domains are independent was a salutary experience. Some such admissions can be more difficult to make than others for certain people. There was an episode of Happy Days (yes, yes, I watched it, OK? Geez, I was only 13) in which the Fonz was persuaded by Ritchie to admit to one of the other guys that he had misjudged him, but instead of saying "I was wrong", all the Fonz could force from his mouth was "I was wr...I was wr...", but that was enough, apparently, to satisfy those who knew that he couldn't go farther. The Scientific American editorial starts off with
It is practically a rite of passage that scientists who reach a certain level of eminence feel compelled to publicly announce and explain their religious beliefs.
They "feel compelled". What a sad spectacle that must be for the editors of Scientific American. But since these folks have reached "a certain level of eminence" it would be rather difficult for the editors to make too much fun of them, since they spill most of their editorial ink these days extolling the virtues of listening to the views of scientists who have reached a certain level of eminence, especially when it comes to the formation of public policy. It must irk them no end that some of these recalcitrant fellows insist on venting their religious views as well as their political views. How embarrassing for them. Or, as the editors themselves put it: "Why this enduring fascination [with God]?"

This is all very droll, but the best part comes at the end of the editorial:
...most of the debates that are commonly depicted as religion versus science are really not questions of science at all; they are disagreements among various systems of beliefs and morals [my emphasis]. The policy fight over embryonic stem cells, for example, centers on when and how one segment of a pluralistic society should curtail the behaviors of those who hold different values. Our attention should focus not on the illusory fault line between science and religion but on a political system that too often fails to engage with the real issues.
There is a certain element of desperation in this peroration. On the one hand, the editors don't like it when non-specialists, non-scientists, presume to speak with any authority in specialized subjects--don't listen to the creationist when he criticizes evolutionary theory, because creationism isn't science and the creationist isn't a scientist. On the other hand, when it comes to stepping outside the domain of science and into the domain of philosophy, the editors don't hesitate for a second to speak where they have no expertise. For them, it is an easy matter to dismiss certain objections to stem cell research as mere disputes over values rather than genuine scientific disagreements. If you happen to value fetuses in a way that the rest of us don't value them, well, you have no right to "curtail the behaviors of those [of us] who hold different values", because this is merely a matter of morals, not a matter of objective truth, which is what science deals in.

This positivist view of science, combined with the utterly intellectually bankrupt view of the distinction between science and morality, while quaint in its way, is nevertheless a good example of the sort of pathetic pontificating that one grows so tired of in certain kinds of science writers who probably hold degrees in, if anything, science writing or maybe even--gasp!--journalism. It's not all that unusual, of course, for journalists to preach in condescending ways to anyone and everyone who will listen to them--and of course there is a market for their blathering or else magazines like Scientific American would go out of business. But it is tiresome nonetheless, and I think I will continue to skip the front matter of this particular little rag.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tongue or Hand?

I've never been a huge fan of disputes over how best to receive Holy Communion. Some folks seem to prefer receiving on the tongue, others in the hand; some kneeling at a Communion Rail, others while walking in procession. I have my own preference, of course--who doesn't?--but I've usually thought that it was best to "choose your battles", as they say in the childrearing business, and not fuss too much when other folks did things differently than I, just so long as what they do is respectful and licit.

Now Fr. Finigan of The Hermeneutic of Continuity has found some evidence that Communion was received on the tongue as early as the middle of the 7th century. What strikes me about this issue, when presented in this way, is that the evidence shows that Communion on the tongue developed as a response to abuses occuring when Communion was received in the hand. In short, Communion in the hand has, in some times and places, been forbidden or even condemned, while Communion on the tongue has never been either forbidden or condemned. There are those who don't like it, of course, but it would be absurd to suggest that receiving Holy Communion on the tongue could lead to anything like the abuses that could occur when reception is into the hand.

It may come as something of a surprise to learn, then (I suppose), that I myself receive Holy Communion in the hand. My reasons, I'm afraid, have more to do with sanitation than reverence, but I don't think that I'm in any danger of treating the Body of Our Lord with anything but the utmost dignity and reverence. "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." As a matter of general principle, though, I'm beginning to think that I ought to change my ways. Whether or not I am likely to misuse the Sacrament, there is something to be said for the setting of the example. It is also rather humbling to receive on the tongue--it is a rather touching moment of submissiveness, or perhaps even a kind of self-abasement. In this moment we realize that, whether rich or poor, ill or well, strong or weak, we are all one and the same, fully dependent upon Our Lord's grace and love, which he is happy to give to those who love him and who freely come to him in the Sacraments.

My church has removed the Communion Rails, but if they were there I would use them. As it is, I content my self with a genuflexion on my way to reception. It is not something that is provided for in the rubrics, as the bowing of the head is, but neither is it forbidden or condemned (at least not in my diocese). The more such voluntary shows of reverence the better, in my opinion, though of course one does not want a liturgical celebration turning into a kind of liturgical dance with everyone making all sorts of reverences and movements not called for by the rubrics. But some things could become adopted by whole congregations and thus be less disruptive. Consider the threefold crossing that most of us do at the proclamation of the Gospel. This is not called for by the rubrics, but just about everybody does it, even though it is technically something to be done only by the person proclaiming the Gospel. What's wrong with everyone doing it? (On the other hand--literally, in this case--everyone seems to want to hold hands at the Our Father, and I always make it a point to have crippling arthritis on those days. It's hard to think of a more banal gesture for the pollution of our most treasured prayer.)

Thanks to Fr. Finigan for some very interesting thoughts.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ordinary Time

Autumn has officially been upon the Carson household for more than two weeks now. The kids went back to school in late August--Michael started at the Athens Middle School and Olivia started kindergarten at East Elementary (also in Athens, though they don't bother to make that explicit in the name; if only they had talked with Bertrand Russell first!). Both of these are rather Significant Beginnings for us, since we're pretty big on the whole education thing and the kids have pretty much picked up on that. I'm sure they're both going to have huge psychoanalysis bills when they grow up, but for now they're working hard and performing well. The seventh grade, in particular, has brought about a massive change in the home life, because now Michael has to be at school before 7:30 a.m. For the past seven years we've been allowed to sleep in until 8:00 because the elementary school doesn't start until 9:00. So now Michael and I both get up at 6:00, not only because I often say the Office at that time but even if I didn't Michael doesn't like to be downstairs in the dark house all by himself. We don't live far enough away for him to take the bus, but we do live far enough away that he has to start walking at 7:00 in order to get there on time, and he has to carry a trombone the whole way every day. Well, but in my day I had to walk three miles in the snow, uphill both ways....

Olivia loves kindergarten the way all little kids like school at first, before they realize what a bloodthirsty life-stealer it is. Right now it's all coloring and "sharing time" and other fun and games, and they enjoy it because they don't know yet that all of this stuff is just intended to indoctrinate them and socialize them and fit them into a mold so that they don't become sociopaths later on. Once they're wise to that aspect of the game they start to rebel. Olivia is fairly spirited, but she's still in the dark about her socialization, so she's loving the whole thing. I like it too, since I can schmooze with the other moms when I pick her up at 3:30 and she insists on playing "for just 5 minutes" in the playground. You'd be surprised at how much stuff you can find out about just by schmoozing with the other kindergarten moms. I don't know why I'm the only kindergarten dad this year--when Michael was in elementary school there were always one or two other dads picking up kids, but this year it's all moms.

Michael's schedule is not only moved forward by an hour and half, it's also jammed with extra-curricular activities. In addition to playing the bone for his band, he's also on the soccer team, which practices from 5:30-7:00 every freaking night except on days when they're actually playing a game. I don't mind taking him, though, because the practice fields are located right on the bike path, and I can get in a good 20-mile ride during the practice. By the time I get back I'm as sweaty and stinky as anyone on the team. They don't mind telling me so, either.

Classes also got under way here at Ohio University this week, and my department has already had a faculty meeting. It was blissfully short as such things go, only 45 minutes, but you can imagine how interesting the whole thing was when I tell you that we spent fully 15 of those 45 minutes discussing whether the name-plates on our office doors should be changed (presently they all say "Dr. Your-name-here", and there has been lobbying to change them to read "Prof. Your-name-here" or just "Your-name-here"). In spite of appearances it was not a complete waste of time, since I was able to schedule a tee time during the meeting using my Blackberry.

Summer is a beautiful time here in Athens County, but there is something salutary and indeed joyful about getting back into the rhythms and routines of a new school year. I suppose the sense of pleasure that I'm feeling will dissipate once I remember how I'm just being indoctrinated and socialized by my administration, but for now it seems good to be alive.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Truth and Tolerance at Work

The New York Times is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI will be holding one of his annual seminars with former students this weekend and that the topic will be--get this--evolution. Although some folks have speculated that this seminar will provide fodder for the Look How Out Of It The Church Is crowd by endorsing some form of intelligent design, it looks to me as though Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., has hit upon the real purpose of the seminar topic:
Father Fessio and others say the pope, based on his statements and writings, remains deeply concerned specifically about the contention among some supporters of modern evolution that the theory refutes any role of God in creation.
This was, at least in part, a concern that motivated the condemnation of Gallileo, though most critics of the Church are happy to forget that and zero in on the cosmological gaffe, as though the central concern in that case was astronomical and not theological. I suppose that if you don't happen to think that there are any such things as important theological principles to begin with you will always assume that every pronouncement of the Church must ultimately be about some more mundane matter.

The good news here is not the fact that the leaders of the Church "get it" regarding evolution, though that does happen to be a rather nice artifact of the situation. Much more important is the respect for reason and the giving of arguments throughout the sphere of human experience, a posteriori as well as a priori. Science is very much a part of the richness of human experience, and to simply write off one of the best-confirmed scientific theories in the history of human scientific endeavor as a mere ideological shibboleth of the godless left is not merely silly, it is both inhumane and contrary to the Church's own understanding of man's place in nature. Christendom has had a very long and salutary relationship with science--indeed, it was Christian culture that kept scientific inquiry alive up until relatively recently. It is only with the advent of bizarre forms of fundamentalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that we begin to see the very peculiar phenomenon of interpreting nature in accordance with a very strict and irrationally literal interpretation of the scriptures. This disturbing boil on the bum of Christianity is a peculiarly American phenomenon as well, since it is principally in America that you find people who ignore the whole phenomenon of professional expertise, preferring their own private interpretations, not only of scripture, but of biology and physics as well, to those of qualified experts. The very American "every opinion is sacred" principle arises from our love of free speech and free thinking, but it has blessed us with a plethora of useless Christian denominations, where every individual thinker is his or her own expert on literally everything but especially, it seems, religion and science.

As Americans we tolerate this intellectual circus. We don't stone Seventh Day Adventists or burn Mormons alive or do any of the other nasty things that sometimes get done to folks who make up their own religions and set them over against the dominant paradigm--America is not a Christian Mecca in spite of its capacity to attract kooks. Tolerance is a virtue--and a salutary one, since it is a manifestation of the impulse to grant our fellow humans their freedom to choose for themselves between good and evil. But Tolerance of this kind is not a denial of Truth: the Pope is right to demand a skeptical attitude towards evolution. As confident as we can be of the theory, it is, like all other scientific theories, falsifiable. It is a mistake to say, without qualification, as Lawrence Krauss has done, that "Like it or not, evolution happened." Perhaps it did, but it depends on what, precisely, one means by "evolution". Because like it or not we have no reason to suppose that evolution as described by any one particular theory "happened". Even if we were to grant that it certainly did happen, any proper scientific theory, if it is to count as "scientific" in any meaningful sense, will have to be open to modification on the basis of new observational evidence. In spite of all the evidence that has been gathered to date, there is nothing preventing further data from being gathered that will render our present formulation of the theory obsolete. Even the theory of universal gravitation is open to modification in this sense.

In other words, it is a mistake for any scientist to suppose--as some of them do--that the pursuit of Truth has come to an end in any given domain. Nothing in science can be regarded as settled with finality. In fact, creationism is rejected as science for precisely this reason: it is not open to falsification. Once you accept it, you must regard it as a settled fact, something that cannot be proven wrong even in principle. So it would be perverse for a scientist to reject creationism on the grounds that it is not science, only to then foist that same status upon the very theory that he wants to put in its place--evolutionary theory.