Friday, March 30, 2007

Bishop Daniel Herzog Comes Home

According to a story at The Living Church Foundation, Bishop Daniel Herzog, the retired Episcopal Bishop of Albany, NY, has entered into full communion with the See of Rome. While I don't think salvation hangs on such things, I do confess to a certain amount of excitement at such news. Is it nothing more than a feeling of pride that yet one more person is out there who sees things more or less the way I do, or is it genuine joy at the prospect of at least some partial restoration of that Unity for which Our Lord prayed so fervently? I suppose if I were honest I would have to say it's both, though I hope that someday I will grow up enough to feel only the latter. In writing to the new Bishop, William Love, of his decision, Bishop Herzog had this to say:
My sense of duty to the diocese, its clergy and people required that I not walk away from my office and leave vulnerable this diocese which I love. I believed that it was my responsibility to provide for a transition to the future. Your subsequent election and consecration discharged that duty and has given me the liberty to follow my conscience, and now resign my orders and membership in the House of Bishops.

It is certainly no reflection on you or your ministry which Carol and I both admire and respect and for which we pray daily. Needless to say, we have only fondness and appreciation for you and the diocese in whose ministry Carol and I have invested the past 35 years of our lives.
I can think of at least one other Episcopal Bishop that I would like to see make a similar decision, even prior to retirement. Then all would indeed be right with the world in my tiny little mind. Failing that, I take comfort in knowing that plenty of non-Catholics are already in a state similarity, if not Unity, that surpasses even what some of my fellow Catholics are able to muster. So things are, perhaps, not as bleak as they sometimes seem.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Moderate" vs Authentic

According to the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Daniel Maguire of Marquette University has been "corrected", so to speak, by the Committee on Doctrine of the USCCB for his non-Catholic views regarding contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Last June he sent out pamphlets to all the Catholic bishops in the United States called "The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion" and "A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage". According to the Committee on Doctrine:
Since it is apparent that considerable efforts have been made to give these views the widest possible distribution as if they were a valid alternative to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Committee on Doctrine...considers it important to offer a public correction of the erroneous views proposed in these pamphlets.
There is the usual language of proper formation of conscience, and an appeal to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for proper direction on these topics.

Daniel Maguire, a frequent Talking Head in the media when it comes to the solicitation of the "Catholic" point of view, is not widely known as the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to the intellectual defense of Catholic teaching, so his present case of foot-in-mouth disease comes as no surprise. Nor is it surprising, even while it is rather embarrassing, that he is a professor in the Theology department of Marquette University, a nominally Catholic university. Least surprising of all is Dan Maguire's reaction to the statement by the Committee on Doctrine:
A pity beyond all telling.
His website, The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, boasts an interview with Maguire in which he laments the "bishops' failure to get off pelvic issues and talk about peace, poverty and other cutting-edge issues" (and yet he was the one who published a whole book with Oxford University Press in 2003 on precisely the "pelvic issues" that he accuses the bishops of being obsessed with). For those of you who may be interested, there is also a piece about Frances Kissling on the website. You'll be glad to know that she "keeps the faith" while "backing abortion".

There is one last item on the Maguire website that interests me. It is called a "Letter from a Catholic Theologian to All 270 United States Catholic Bishops". It turns out that the "theologian" in question here is none other than Dan Maguire. Maguire's training is in ethics, though he did earn a degree in "theology" from the Gregorian in Rome (more grade inflation). I have a friend here in the Math department who likes to tell me that he is a philosopher because he earned a PhD (philosophiae doctor) degree in mathematics. So I suppose Maguire thinks he is a theologian because he has the STD degree. That sort of reasoning would dovetail rather nicely with the rest of his logic.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's All About the Blood

I went to see 300 the other day with my son. It was more his speed than mine, even though I'm a lot closer to being 300 years old than he is. He's 13, and in spite of the R rating the movie seemed to have been aimed at 13 year old boys, so it was perfect for him. I didn't think it was a bad movie, but it wasn't really a good movie, either. It was about as cartoonish as a movie can be without actually being a cartoon, and it bore little resemblance to the actual historical details, other than the fact that Leonidas and all his pals get killed in the end (oops! that was a spoiler, wasn't it? Well it shouldn't be: shame on you if it was for not knowing more about one of the most important events in Greek history). There was a rather curious attention to gory detail in this movie. Watching this movie you might get the impression that there are upwards of five gallons, rather than pints, of blood in an average human being. Even the final title sequence at the end of the movie is formed by blood spatter patterns being splashed up onto the screen in slow motion.

The day before we saw 300 the whole family went to see The Road to Terebithia. A very different movie, though there is loss involved in it, too. When a movie is well made, though, a single death turns out to be much more moving than 3000. Indeed, I found myself depressed for two days after watching The Road to Terebithia, whereas the slaughter and mayhem of 300 was so over the top that I actually laughed out loud at one particularly graphic decapitation that unfolded in the ubiquitous slow motion.

It occurs to me that history ought to serve to humanize, rather than dehumanize us. The story of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans and 2800 allies ought to have been much more moving than it was in 300. When the focus is on the killing, however, we become like Leontius from Plato's Republic who, upon noticing that corpses, victims of the plague during the Peloponnesian War, were being piled up outside the walls of Athens, cursed his own eyes for desiring to see such a spectacle. Leonidas and his 300 made a valiant sacrifice of their own lives that day, buying time for their allies and for the Greek fleet. That fact was completely lost in the movie, even while we watched their sacrifice unfold before us. It reminded me of Saving Private Ryan, another war movie where death and dying overshadowed history and story-telling. Critics claimed that Saving Private Ryan was a kind of cri de coeur against war in general, and I suppose that a movie like 300 could also be interpreted that way: both movies give us very graphic arguments against resorting to war to settle our differences. But All Quiet on the Western Front accomplishes the same thing without making us feel like Leontius. When you notice the gore and body parts more than you notice the message, the movie as a medium has become degraded, and it's no longer about telling us an important story, it's just about blood and our own debauched rubber-necking that finds in the blood an easy excuse to forget about the causes of war and our responsibility for avoiding it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Get Paid for Doing This

Remember Steve Martin's old stand up routine from the late 1970s? That's OK, I don't remember it very well, either, but I do remember that he used to sing a song while playing his banjo and wearing a fake arrow-through-the-head about how much fun it is to be a stand up comic. The chorus of the song including the line "I can't believe I get paid for doing this." Sometimes I get the same feeling about being a professional philosopher.

In the most recent issue of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies (vol. 15.1, March 2007) there is a short essay called "Hyperheaps" by W. D. Hart. The essay is only two pages long, but it manages to introduce one of the most important concepts in the history of philosophy: a formal definition of a "heap". A "heap", it seems, consists of at least four items: three to form a "base" and a fourth that is stacked on top of them. This is a proposed "solution" to a paradox that is variously called the Sorites Paradox (from the Greek word for a heap) or the Paradox of the Heap. The alleged paradox is that it is hard to tell what constitutes a heap if one is to try to give a formal definition of a heap in the form of an algorithm. You see, if you have only one grain of sand, or one grape, you evidently do not have a "heap" of sand or a "heap" of grapes. Now, suppose you propose the following algorithm: adding one more element to something that is not a heap does not constitute a heap. So adding one more grain of sand, give you two grains, does not make a heap; adding one more grape, giving you two grapes, does not make a heap. But surely if you apply the algorithm enough times, eventually you will get a heap. How could you not? But as the algorithm is defined you will never get a heap, which seems paradoxical.

See how important philosophy can be in the real world?

The purpose of the paradox is not to make you declare that there are no heaps, but to get you to think about the nature of boundary conditions, especially seemingly vague boundary conditions. But now that we have an official definition of "heap" I suppose we won't have much occasion to think about such things any more.

It is a tremendous loss to philosophy and to our culture generally.

Plus ça change

Here is the abstract for a very interesting article to be found in volume 17 (2006) of Acta Patristica et Byzantina:
According to a report of Gregory of Tours a controversy arose in the course of the 2nd Council of Mâcon (585 AD) on the question whether women can be called "man". Some historians have interpreted this as a minor incident merely concerned with aspects of the meaning and usage of the Latin word homo. Through exploring the possible intellectual background and the general historical context of the 2nd Council of Mâcon this article, however, shows that the discussion led in Mâcon was concerned with the fundamental theological-anthropological question whether women have the same status before God as men.
The article is by Katharina Bracht of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The journal is hard to find but I recommend perusing it now and then if you can get your hands on it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Secret Codes

I have never been a huge fan of the Straussian approach to interpreting Plato. Straussians often have very interesting and valuable things to say about Plato, but they sometimes read more into the text than seems to me to be warranted by what Plato actually says. In defense of their views they will often cite a passage from Aristotle where he says something about "Plato's 'unwritten doctrine'", that is, they claim that Plato often says things rather cryptically, his texts making arguments that are quite different from what the words actually say, and you have to be in on the secret code underlying the text in order to know what Plato really thinks on a particular issue. Needless to say, the Straussians sometimes think that they know this secret code and, hence, are in a better position to interpret Plato than those who do not know the code.

That's a rather cartoonish sketch of the Straussian position, but it gets across something of the flavor. At any rate, as I said, I'm not a huge fan of the approach, but if I were perhaps I would be able make some sense out of the comments made about me today at Reformed Catholicism. In particular, the claim is made there that I criticized their use of the Vincentian Canon when I posted on the topic yesterday. For the life of me I fail to see how my post could be interpreted as a criticism of their use of the Canon as a motto, but I confess that I may not be in on the Secret Code that reveals how any discussion of the Canon itself can be construed as a criticism of someone who quotes it.

They also suggest that I am being pedantic in pointing out that the motto as they have it is inaccurate. One can forgive a popularizer for using popular sources, perhaps, but I note with some satisfaction that the trend among Reformed Christians generally tends rather more to a salutary and refreshing exactitude with respect to textual references, indeed, almost to the point of scrupulosity in some cases, and so this particular defense of devil-may-care laxity is perhaps not so very disappointing, however (unintentionally) ironic it may be in the present case. I suppose there may be some connection between careful scholarship and the capacity to give and respond to reasons, however; it may serve to explain, at any rate, the level of discourse to be found at Reformed Catholicism. Too bad there are not more people like Socrates running about these days: he, rather famously, averred as to how he regarded it as a favor to have someone correct him when he was in error Nowadays the tendency seems to be to defend the error as truth at all costs, as though dialectic were some sort of zero sum game where saving face is the principal intellectual value.

As for the other misapprehensions and distortions to be found there today, I will leave their discovery to the reader as an exercise; as pedantic as I am, I am not so very pedantic as to feel the need to respond to every vapid banality that comes my way. If you choose to go there looking for further howlers, have fun: it may be that you will not need the skills of a Straussian to find them all.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On Rallying Cries

Fr. Al Kimel of Pontifications has drawn my attention to a post at a blog called Reformed Catholicism (where, apparently, at least one person thinks that the title of Augustine's Retractationes means "retractions"!) that argues, in effect, that the truth is out there. One may seriously disagree with certain elements of the Reformed tradition, it is suggested, but they are certainly right to criticize the tendency of some Roman Catholic apologists to begin from the assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is "the Church" and only then to investigate the history of the Church in an attempt to fit the facts to the hypothesis: "it’s high time that popular Catholic apologists take the time to offer real arguments for the legitimacy of their understanding of Church history."

Well. I hope Fr. Al wasn't too offended by that, since it makes it rather obvious that the author never reads Pontifications. Be that as it may, I couldn't help noticing that the blog has a little motto in the upper-right corner: "quod semper, quod ubique, et quod ab omnibus." That, in case your Latin is a little rusty, is a misquotation of the so-called "Vincentian Canon", a little nuga posited by St. Vincent of Lérins in his "Commonitorium" (II.3) as a means of distinguishing between true and false Tradition. The actual text is "quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est." Perhaps the actual order of the elements doesn't matter too much, since most people who quote it want to use all three elements as part of a single test of "catholicity", that is, a test for what really does count as "the Church". Since St. Vincent was writing in the 5th century the "semper" had a decidedly more limited extension than it does now, but his own view was that Scripture was more important than Tradition, and the Church's authority was invoked only for the purpose of determining what the correct interpretation of Scripture was. No danger of question begging there! He did not rule out the possibility of doctrinal development, as he explicitly states in the "Commonitorium" that the truth of Scripture becomes more fully explicated in the process of history.

Since the "Commonitorium" is the first text to assert this principle it would not be unreasonable to wonder whether the Vincentian Canon itself can pass its own test: was this Canon itself "believed everywhere, always, and by all"? Possibly, though there is no empirical evidence in support of such a claim, nor is the meaning of the principle itself obviously clear. Since St. Vincent himself endorsed the principle of the development of doctrine through historical exegesis, did he himself intend the Canon to exclude exegesis as well as eisegesis, as some would maintain? What sort of test is required to ascertain whether a particular belief really has been held by everyone in all times and places? What level of authority is required to interpret claims to have satisfied the test? The problems go on and on: the Canon creates many more difficulties than it solves, though it does offer some degree of hope to those who find comfort in a priori principles.

In any event, it does make for a rather nice rallying cry. Interestingly it is used as such by Reformed Protestants, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics alike. Nobody seems to dispute the value of the Canon; what is disputed is rather its meaning and application. Sadly, the Canon itself cannot settle such disputes without begging the question, and any other method of settling them would, if the Canon is being defended, need to pass the Canon's test - - which obviously cannot be applied until disputes about its meaning and application are settled.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mohr on MacIntyre on Stein

Two books about Edith Stein by Alasdair MacIntyre get "thumbs up" from Eric Mohr of Duquesne University (quondam universitatis ohioensis) at The Charioteer. MacIntyre is perhaps best known for his work in communitarian moral theory, a brand of ethics that traces its lineage back through Saint Thomas Aquinas to Aristotle and Plato. (He was teaching at Duke when I was a graduate student there; he was the only professor to assign a Greek text [the OCT of the Nicomachean Ethics] as the basic textbook for a course.) The books are Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue 1913-1922 (Rowman and Littlefield 2005), and Edith Stein: The Philosophical Background (The Origin and Development of her Thought) (Continuum 2006) and, as Eric notes, the titles suggest that there is more to come. One hopes that there is Mohr to come as well from that excellent blog.

Sorry about that. I'm up to my ears in grading of final papers, and one gets a little giddy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Thy Will Be Done

One of the most basic prayers of Jesus in the Synoptic tradition is that the Father may bring about the accomplishment of His will (Matt 6.10; Mark 14.36). The life of the Johannine Jesus is a perpetual "Your will be done," because Jesus does nothing on his own (John 5.19). His very food is to do the will of the Father (4.34). It is this prayerful attitude that is summed up in John 11.42: "I knew that you always hear me." His is a supreme confidence in the Father because he always does what is pleasing to the Father (1 John 3.21-22). He knows that whatever he asks is according to the Father's will and that, therefore, he is heard (1 John 5.14). He demands this same confidence in the prayer of his followers (John 14.12-13, 15.16, 16.23, 36).

Raymond E. Brown

Monday, March 12, 2007

Further Proof that Google is in League with Oceania

As many of my readers know, this site has a mirror at StBlogs.com. Using the testing site, GreatFireWallofChina, I've discovered that this version of An Examined Life, the version running under Google's Blogger, is not blocked in China, but the other version, the version running under StBlog's version of WordPress, is blocked. I suppose this means not that the Chinese government has mixed feelings about my blogging but that Google is kissing their ass. But we already knew that.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Saint Paul the Docetist

As I mentioned last week, one of my Lenten activities each year is to read through the New Testament in Greek from cover to cover, beginning on Ash Wednesday and finishing up on Holy Saturday. That amounts to roughly 15 pages per day, which doesn't sound like all that much until you actually sit down and try to do it every day. Now, New Testament Greek is famously very easy to read - - much easier than most of the classical Greek that I have to work with (Plato and Aristotle). Indeed, there is a story about Oscar Wilde taking a scholarship examination viva voce at Oxford and being asked to translate the Passion of St. John's Gospel before a committee of examiners that underscores just how easy it is. After reading several paragraphs quite fluently, his examiners told him "That will be enough Mr. Wilde, thank you," but Wilde kept reading. The examiners repeated that he could stop, but he said "No no! I'm quite keen to see how it ends!"

After reading a text day in and day out for several days one begins to notice the little things. Like how many times Jesus says idou (behold) or how tenderly some scenes are rendered in their very simplicity. Today I noticed something that reminded me of an essay I read over at Adoremus.org. In the first chapter of Luke's Gospel, when the angel Gabriel is telling Our Lady that her son will be great he says: houtos estai megas kai huios hupsistou klêthêsetai. Literally, that says: "This one will be great and he will be called the son of the most high." What jumped out at me was the verb klêthêsetai, "he will be called." He won't just be called that, I thought to myself as I read it, he'll be that. This reminded me of an essay at Adoremus by Ralph Wright, who criticizes (rightly, in many instances) the "Infelicities in the New Lectionary for Mass." One such infelicity is the translation of Philippians 2.7, which the Lectionary renders as:
Rather He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance.
Wright worries that this smacks of Docetism:
The Word, after all, did not take on the "appearance" or the "likeness" of human nature; He took our very manhood into His divine nature in the mystery of the hypostatic union, and we believe that He will continue to have that nature for ever.
True enough. What does Fr. Wright prefer? The alternative that he gives is from the old Jerusalem Bible:
but emptied Himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are
Now that's great literature for you. But I digress. The interesting thing here is that the Greek text is actually much closer to the Lectionary version than to the Jerusalem Bible version:
alla heauton ekenôsen morphên doulou labôn, en homoiômati anthrôpôn genomenos, kai skhêmati heuretheis hôs anthrôpos
Here the words morphên, homoiômati, and skhêmati all smack of the very sort of Docetism that Wright is worried about (to say nothing of that rascally word heuretheis - - sounds like something Gabriel might say). I notice that Wright does not give the Greek here, as he does in most of the other cases of passages he finds fault with - - possibly because he knows he's on shaky ground. What he's really after in his essay are those cases where the new Lectionary uses inclusive language and comes off sounding stilted, and in most cases I think he's right to point out the genuine infelicities of style that result from trying to pander to political interests.

On the theological front, I should add that Saint Paul is not really a Docetist (though I'm sure I'll manage to boost my hits with my title). Some of the words in this passage are fascinating. The word morphê, for example, cannot help but remind one of Plato's doctrine of Forms; homoiôma is straight out of Aristotle (Plato uses it too) as the word designating the precursor of the conceptual entity that arises in the soul when we grasp the universal in the particular by means of our intellect; and skhêma has a long and fascinating history in Neoplatonism. Saint Paul wasn't a Docetist; he was a Platonist! Christ is the image of the Father, literally a likeness (homoiôma) of him, but his humanity is as real as - - indeed it is the very same as - - ours, according to the Church, so perhaps it is not good to push these connections too hard. It is preferable, however, to say that Christ's humanity is in accordance with the same Platonic Form as ours is, rather than to say that Christ is somehow just an image of a human the way he is an image of the Father.

Tomorrow I begin my discourse on the word kai.

What Sam Brownback Should Have Said

This morning I listened to an interview with Sam Brownback on NPR (now available online here). The interviewer was Renee Montagne, and she used a rather clever rhetorical device on the self-styled "Bleeding Heart Conservative." In her lead-up to a question about abortion, she began by talking about something she characterized as a kind of political "compromise":
...the late governor of California, Pat Brown, who was against the death penalty as a Catholic, but he was also a Democrat and a liberal — but he was against the death penalty personally and morally, and yet he signed off on executions because it was the law. He separated out even his moral position from what he had to do as the representative of those who had voted for him.
The question, of course, had nothing to do with the death penalty (which Brownback, a convert to Catholicism, already opposes), but abortion:
Taken to other issues such as abortion or stem cell research, if stem cell research was the law and you were president, what would you do?
I called this a clever move on Montagne's part because her lead-up to the question was an instance of what rhetoricians call a captatio benevolentiae, a "seizing of good will", that is, it was intended to lull her interlocutor into a comfort zone, perhaps thinking "Oh, this question is a slow pitch" prior to springing the actual question, which was not intended as a slow pitch at all. It is extremely likely that Renee Montagne opposes the death penalty, and just as extremely unlikely that she opposes abortion. She wants to feel comfortable with the prospect of someone like Brownback holding public office. She wants to come right out and say, "You're not one of those nut cases who wants to play moral watchdog and rob women of their hard-earned rights are you?" But she can't ask that on national radio (though you can pretty much get away with it on national public radio, but there's this pretense of objectivity that's always getting in the way). So instead of saying something like that outright, she takes a case that she thinks everyone will find extremely congenial - - a governor who signed off on executions even though he was opposed to them - - in the hope that any sane and rational person will feel the same way about abortion: sure I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I would never dream of letting my own personal moral views have any effect on how I perform my public duties. This was the same fix that John Kennedy found himself in as long ago as 1960 when he tried to reassure a group of Baptists that, if he were to be elected president, he would not be taking his orders directly from the Vatican.

And just as John Kennedy dropped the Catholic football on that occasion, Sam Brownback dropped it on this one:
Well, I'm going to execute the law. I'm a constitutional officer now; I'd be a constitutional officer then. I'm going to comply and do the law. That will not keep me from advocating a different system or a different scenario. But I'm going to comply with the law as a constitutional officer sworn to uphold the constitution.
There's a subtle subtext here. By saying that he would be "advocating" a different system while emphasizing that he would "comply with the law", Brownback leaves the impression that his pro-life activities will consist principally in verbal opposition but peaceful co-existence with the status quo. That may not be what he was thinking when he said that, but I suspect that he chooses his words very carefully, especially when he's being interviewed for a liberal outlet like National Public Radio.

In reality, "advocating" is not good enough, especially if one understands just why it is that one ought to oppose abortion and stem cell research. Just because one is a "constitutional officer" there is no reason to think that there are no constitutionally acceptable ways to actively oppose abortion. One can make it a point to nominate pro-life candidates for the federal bench, for example, or veto laws that threaten human life. Saying that you intend to do such things, however, would probably be political suicide, since to openly express such sentiments prior to being elected would be tantamount to hanging a sign around your neck reading "right wing extremist" or "religious fanatic". Instead it's a lot easier to say that you will "advocate" for what you believe in, rather than actually "working for" what you believe in. Politicians aren't beyond a little captatio benevolentiae of their own, after all.

One does grow rather tired, however, of the pretense that there is no place for personally held convictions in politics. Oh, I know, it's only the religious convictions that we're supposed to be too ashamed of to mention in public. It's OK to say that we think illegal aliens ought to be hunted down like dogs in the desert and shipped back to wherever they came from in four-panel trucks, or that we're outraged by drug trafficking. Nobody ever characterizes those kinds of issues as things that one should keep to oneself, even if one is "personally opposed" to such things. You would never find anyone looking embarrassed upon hearing a politician do more than merely "advocate" for equal rights for African Americans - - indeed, a politician who did nothing more than "advocate" such things would quickly lose support, since nowadays we expect our politicians to do something about such injustices, not merely "advocate" for something better.

Why should religious convictions be any different? When you hear that a politician is in favor of a living wage, do you ask if he favors it for religious reasons? If she is in favor of ending discrimination against African Americans, do you ask if she has religious reasons for thinking that all people are equal? Maybe she thinks people are equal "in the eyes of God" or some such rot, so we needn't take her seriously. All moral judgments are grounded in values that are particular to the individual who makes the judgment, and yet we act as though religious values are somehow more to be avoided than, say, utilitarian calculations.

I'd be willing to bet that the folks who complain the loudest about religious convictions creeping into politics don't really care about religious convictions at all, they only care about keeping abortion safe and legal. Latching on to the shibboleth of religious convictions is just the easiest way, politically, of keeping the pro-lifers on the outskirts of acceptability. You never hear people complaining about anti-death penalty protesters that they are trying to impose their religious convictions on the rest of us, and you never heard such complaints about the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s, and yet both movements had and continue to have many people who believe in them for religious reasons, just as there are plenty of folks who oppose abortion for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

You simply cannot use such a criterion anyway, since it is not testable. Suppose I oppose the death penalty for purely religious reasons, but no one knows that I am religious; it is not a difficult matter to compose arguments against the death penalty that have nothing to do with religion, and I could always say that my convictions against the death penalty are grounded in those arguments. I suppose someone who was really religious would not be too ashamed to give the real reason for his opposition to the death penalty, but then nobody would vote for him, for fear he would feel the same way about abortion and stem cell research. Better to have a sophist in office than some religious nut.

I know that Sam Brownback is not afraid to say what he thinks, because here's what he said when Montagne asked him about the possible benefits of stem cell research:
You know, you could destroy me today and harvest my body parts and save a number of lives — you know — with my heart, kidneys, liver. Is that a greater good? Now, some might suggest it is, but it just is morally wrong to take one human life for the benefit of another.
Not exactly the way I would have put it myself, but it is a version of the same argument that I would have given in response to that question, and it ought to be the end of the discussion for anyone except the most base sort of utilitarian.

So here's what Sam Brownback should have said in answer to Montagne's question about political "compromise":
Well, I'm going to do everything that is within my power, legally, to bring about a change in these morally repugnant policies. I'm a constitutional officer now; I'd be a constitutional officer then. Everything that I do will be within the limits of the law and my constitutional duties, but that will not keep me from doing what I know is the right thing to do and bring about a different system. But of course I'm going to comply with the law as a constitutional officer sworn to uphold the constitution, so all of the change that I help to bring about will be accomplished by democratic means.
Good luck hearing anything like that before November 2008.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ad orientem

Fr. Jay Scott Newman has a nice little post up in defense of the traditional stance of the celebrant during Mass. Our Holy Father has also defended this stance in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy (available from Ignatius). It seems that there are more and more places turning back towards the liturgical East, even in parishes where the newest rubrics are in use (nothing in the current rubrics forbids this orientation), and to me, at least, it seems like a good idea, for the reasons offered by the likes of Fr. Newman and the Holy Father.

HT: Pontifications.