Minute Particulars

"...minute and particular." -- Enormous Generalities

Friday, May 31, 2002

I suppose it’s appropriate on the Feast of the Visitation to touch again upon the central role that recognizing another person must have in any debate on abortion:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
This scriptural reference to various levels of recognition is a powerful testimony to the Church's concerns for the sanctity of a human being from conception to death.

Thanks to Greg Popcak’s gracious response and prompting, I've decided to take another swing at articulating my concerns about the appropriateness of folks taking photos of women entering clinics that provide abortions and then posting these photos on the Internet. I wondered if such an action distorts the dynamic involved in our concern for the unborn in the first place. The dynamic? The manner in which we recognize another person. Here's my earlier post that Greg responded to.

Greg’s points about the moral gravity of abortion are obviously relevant in the abortion debate, but he seems to have missed the crux of my concern – and I attribute this to my clumsy presentation (like wearing fuzzy gloves while trying to work on a fine jeweled watch) not an inability on his part to follow.

As I said before, “Taking a picture of someone entering a clinic and then publishing it on a site are acts that make explicit presumptions about a person based on probability and circumstance.” What are these “explicit presumptions”?
1) The person photographed and displayed on the Internet entering a particular clinic is probably going to have an abortion.
2) The person photographed and displayed on the Internet is probably committing a grave evil.
3) The person photographed and displayed on the Internet probably doesn’t really know the seriousness of her action.
4) The person photographed and displayed on the Internet is probably not enlightened by Christian teachings or is probably deliberately ignoring such teachings.
5) The person photographed and displayed on the Internet is probably . . .
There are two problems here. First, while all of these presumptions might very well be true, there’s always going to be a “probably” since we’re inferring things about a person we can’t know for certain apart from a relationship with and attentive concern for that person. The presumptions are all probable because they’re formed in the sterile air of abstraction. Someone in the distance enters a clinic, we snap a photo, we place the photo on the Internet and imply that they have done something terrible. That’s why “probably” is as close as we’re going to get when attempting to assess these actions in this manner. And what about presuming someone has committed a grave evil? Isn’t that what’s implied in the publication of someone’s photo in this manner? What if we’re mistaken?

You might say that any deterrent is worth trying. But I wonder? Most reasonable people would agree that how you respond to evil deeds matters quite a bit. At the very least, your response should not stem from the same distorted understanding of truth the person you’re responding to holds. And this is the other and more essential concern I have with this tactic.

Taking pictures and then displaying them with an implied presumption of what the person pictured has done and who they are is a parody of how we actually recognize another person. We recognize another person in the concrete particulars that arise within a relationship with that person. We mock this ability when we insist that we “know” someone by abstractions and apart from relationship to him or her. And here’s the clincher . . . this is exactly what those who have no compunctions about abortion are doing.

Ironically, it’s this parody of our recognizing another person that is the dynamic of those who claim that “a clump of cells, or a two-week embryo, or a two-month fetus is not a person.” Don't those who refuse to recognize the sanctity of the human person from conception onward make the same arguments and appeals to probability as those who take pictures at clinics? I think they do.

Take a fertilized human egg shortly after conception and no bigger than the dot on this “i.” Don’t those who claim this is not a human person say something like this?:
1) The “dot” of cells is probably not a person
2) The “dot” of cells is probably not human
3) The “dot” of cells will probably become a human being under the right circumstances
4) The “dot” of cells probably does not have any rights
5) The “dot” of cells probably . . .
These presumptions are all probable because they too are formed in the sterile air of abstraction. Someone looks through a microscope at the “dot” of cells, snaps a photo, places it on a website with the term “blastocyst” under it, and then, and I’ve seen this on many pro-cloning sites, states that it’s [probably] not a human person (most folks who would do this wouldn’t say “probably,” but it’s implied in the science they appeal to).

If we claim to respect human life from conception to death, we do this because we acknowledge the dignity of the human person. And whether we acknowledge this by reason or by faith (or both in the Catholic Tradition), surely recognizing another person becomes a paramount concern. As the Church teaches in Evangelium Vitae:
. . . human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations . . .
And if the manner in which we recognize a human person is trivialized or, in the case of photographing persons entering a clinic, parodied, then we risk becoming blind to the very thing we’re trying to protect. Again, from Evangelium Vitae:
If charity is to be realistic and effective, it demands that the Gospel of life be implemented also by means of certain forms of social activity and commitment in the political field, as a way of defending and promoting the value of life in our ever more complex and pluralistic societies. Individuals, families, groups and associations, albeit for different reasons and in different ways, all have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which, with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced. (my emphasis)
When I act toward a pregnant woman in a manner which does not recognize her as a person, when my relationship is one of conjecture, probability, and presumption, even if my action is animated by concern for a person within her, aren’t my concerns for the child drained of any real weight?

Indeed we all “have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects” which foster respect for human life and each person. But that responsibility is grounded on a foundation of truth that must be applied to all persons from conception to death. If you’re selective here, then are you really acting in a manner that is different from those are selective about granting the rights of a person to the unborn?



. . . on GKC' Blog today.




Though, you’d better be sure the kids in your neighborhood don’t have a BB gun handy when you float over. Here’s the full site (link via InstaPundit).


There are some nice posts on the encyclical Fides et Ratio over on Disputations.

I came upon this essay by David Braine (what a great name for a philosopher!) a few years ago and found it very useful in trying to understand the depth and scope of Fides et Ratio. Braine starts with:
The Encyclical Fides et ratio sees the desire for the fundamental truth about oneself, one's roots and one's goal, and about the world and its wonder, as the ground of the desire for wisdom, in response to which faith and reason cooperatively contribute. Faithful to the tradition of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the Pope traces the development of this cooperation between faith and reason from Romans: 1, through Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Augustine, into medieval times in which St Anselm and St Thomas appear as the supreme exemplars of how one should approach and do philosophy (nn. 36-48). Later, in n. 74, he exhibits the great width of his conception of philosophers or contributors to this wisdom.
He does a nice job placing the “great width of” the pope’s “conception of philosophers” in perspective.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

This blog post, er it’s about 4 feet of scrolling so maybe “article” is more accurate, is quite a feat of historical and theological acumen on the Women's Ordination issue (link via Cranky Professor who’s pulled out some highlights here). If you’re comfortable with the Church’s position on restricting the Sacrament of Ordination to men, it will snuff out any embers of doubt. If you’re uncomfortable with the Church’s position, well . . . you’re in for a rough ride. I did think, however, that Old Oligarch might have been using a sledgehammer where a light tack hammer might have sufficed in his discussion of how our culture resists subordination and gender distinctions (I won’t quote because it’ll be way out of context and you’ll likely dismiss it without getting the proper context).

Update:The permalink to the above Old Oligarch article doesn't seem to be working so you may need to scroll down. The post I mention is "The Ordination of Women" posted "5/30/2002 05:19:48 AM"  

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

This article on the new tactic of taking pictures of women apparently seeking abortions might seem smart. Eugene Volokh has a nice discussion of the legal implications here (link via Relapsed Catholic); but I wonder if, apart from the legal issues, there’s a problem with this tactic that involves the denial of a bedrock dynamic in any concern for human life and dignity. The dynamic? Our ability to recognize a person.

Taking a picture of someone entering a clinic and then publishing it on a site are acts that make explicit presumptions about a person based on probability and circumstance. And isn’t this precisely how we don’t recognize another person? Isn’t this also exactly what someone who claims that a clump of cells, or a two-week embryo, or a two-month fetus is not a person does? Aren’t abstractions like “it’s no bigger than the dot on an ‘i’” or “it’s not able to feel” or “it’s only potentially a human person” the very thing that the pro-life adherents object to? In other words, treasuring human life, human dignity, and the human person can’t be done selectively unless you wish to empty those words and sentiments of all meaning. I wonder if this kind of tactic amounts to a refusal to recognize another human person by making a caricature of how it is that we apprehend another person. And I wonder too if this defeats the cause of those who seek to reverence all persons from conception to death.

Gregory Popcak notes:
Scripture says, "What you do in the dark you must speak in the light." Polite society wants to allow abortion as long as we don't have to look at it. A woman wants to have the right to an abortion, she just doesn't want to have to admit that she had it. Why? It seems to me that if we are going to sin, at least we should have the courage to sin bravely, and if we don't think it is a sin, then why not face the camera proudly?
But I think he doesn’t adequately distinguish “dark” and “light,” “private” and “public,” or the nature of sin in these comments. I know he’s trying to tie things together rhetorically, but the notion that one can have “the courage to sin bravely” conflates virtue and vice into a tangle that’s tough to pull apart again. And the idea that anyone should not do in private what they wouldn’t do in public is a bit of an oversimplification. There are lots of noble acts we do that are private and meant to be (e.g. consummation of marriage, discourse among close friends, parents discussing things that children shouldn’t hear, etc.)

Of course, a few blog posts aren’t going to slice through this tough issue; but I still think we need to be careful about how we respond to these urgent issues and keep our actions in line with those very truths we’re trying to uphold. When we discuss or act on issues that touch on the protection of human life, the respect for human dignity, and the solicitude for the human person, we shouldn’t just fling the doors of debate and action into wide open simplicity. Our ability to recognize another human being is difficult to describe. Yet it’s the rock-ribbed fact of all authentic concerns about the sanctity of every human being. Our approach to these issues will be no less difficult to define and adhere to. And if our approach doesn’t at least respect the mysterious manner in which we apprehend another human person, if our approach distorts this or makes a parody of it, aren’t we going to end up lost in contradictions and blind to the persons involved?


Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Make room in the bloghouse. E. L. Core's The View from the Core now has a blog, and a fine one at that.




It were certainly to be wished that some expedient were fallen upon to reconcile philosophy and common sense, which . . . have waged most cruel wars with each other.

   ~~~ Hume



. . . over on GKC’s Blog today. Here’s a bit of it:
The one hell which imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human.




So, we picked up one of these activity saucers for Dominic the other day. You plop him in it and he can spin around and play with all of the attached toys. He seems to like it. Of course, he focuses on the one attachment that makes me nervous, a curved metal rod with beads on it. It’s pretty secure, but I might remove it just to be safe.

You might be amazed at some of the warnings in the saucer’s manual; here’s a partial list:
NEVER use near stairs.
NEVER use as a floatation device.
NEVER use as a sled.
KEEP child away from ranges, radiators, space heaters, fireplaces.
“NEVER use as a sled?!?!” I suppose they have to cover themselves for legal reasons, but what parent would stick a child in this and shove him down a snow covered hill? Probably the one letting the baby roast marshmallows in the fireplace.

Monday, May 27, 2002

You may have noticed that my “PRO” designation for some bloggers is gone and they’ve joined the “IL MIGLIOR FABBRO” list.

My response to Jonah Goldberg’s “Attack of the blogs” column got me thinking and then Richard Bennett’s claim that the “practice of separating links to ‘pro’ journalists from ‘merely amateur’ bloggers” is snobbery pushed me to eliminate the label.

The list used to represent the order in which I’d come across blogs, a sort of journal of discovery. Now it’s just a mess and I suppose I ought to alphabetize it. Or maybe I should categorize them according to Borges’ Animals? (link via Eve Tushnet)
Borges’ Animals
In "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins," Borges describes “a certain Chinese Encyclopedia,” the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it is written that animals are divided into:

1. those that belong to the Emperor,
2. embalmed ones,
3. those that are trained,
4. suckling pigs,
5. mermaids,
6. fabulous ones,
7. stray dogs,
8. those included in the present classification,
9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
10. innumerable ones,
11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
12. others,
13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

This classification has been used by many writers. It "shattered all the familiar landmarks of his thought" for Michel Foucault. Anthropologists and ethnographers, German teachers, postmodern feminists, Australian museum curators, and artists quote it.
Hmm . . . this could be fun!



Jonah Goldberg’s "Attack of the blogs" column struck me as somewhat elitist. Maybe that’s inevitable. If you’re a successful blogger (The Corner he contributes to and his Goldberg File have zillions of readers) perhaps negative comments about blogging and bloggers are going to sound condescending at worst and patronizing at best. While I loved his image of journalists and bloggers:
The New York Times has reporters in Kinshasa, Moscow and Baghdad; the bloggers spend their days discussing what those reporters report. It's horse-and-sparrow journalism. The horse blazes the trail and eats the hay. The sparrows feed on what the horse leaves behind in steamy piles on the road.
It’s just plain wrong. It assumes that the only significant aspect of journalism is getting to the events as they occur and reporting them. That’s the essential first step in marking the tabula rasa that opinions then congregate around. But it’s the interpretation of events that is the next step and where the mainstream media horse is not so adept. This interpretive function of journalism is the reason why mainstream media has so many pundits and why personalities (the horse’s ass in some cases?) seem so disproportionately important. Isn’t this, in fact, Jonah’s raison d’être or at least raison de . . . whatever the French is for “writing columns”? He’s a sparrow just like the bloggers he disparages. Sure his chirp is clear, witty, and informed, but it’s still a chirp among the cacophony of bird calls.

When we say “mainstream media” after all, we’re signifying a group of individuals, not some monolith of automatons. The “monolithic” appearance stems from the organizing principle of the group of individual journalists: conservative, progressive, liberal, republican, democrat, Catholic, Jewish, etc. But, as again Jonah must know when he cashes his paychecks from his many gigs, people want the interpretive sparrow to chirp about what the horse poops; if they wanted news straight from the horse’s . . . uh, I better say “mouth” here, they wouldn't read a columnist.

Jonah’s classroom analogy:
Imagine a bunch of students in large classroom. If one student rises up and shouts his disagreement with the professor, that's lively and interesting. But if 50 students do the same thing, it's just noise. And, besides, there's a reason most students are paying to hear what the professor thinks, not what their fellow students have to say.
works on some levels. The only difference in theory between an amateur blogger and a pro is a paycheck and so the student-professor image sort of works. But Jonah swerves into the elitist notion that professors will typically have more interesting opinions than their students. And that’s patently false.

A professor like Prof. Glenn Reynolds surely knows more about law than his students, but his blog opinions are not necessarily related to his expertise in law; I’d suggest that that’s why he’s been so successful. Instapundit is not InstaLawyer (which is still available!). It’s a portal with commentary on many diverse topics. But the classroom image limps further because, as Glenn points out here: “ . . . I think Jonah expects revolutions to be noisy, loud and destructive.” He then continues with:
The Blogosphere Revolution, if there is one, will be far more subtle and will take things over so insidiously people won't know the difference at first. Gradually establishment journalists like Eric Alterman or Chris Matthews will start blogging, staid publications like the National Review will get blogs, publications and big-media websites like Fox or Slate will start to incorporate bloggers into their regular content, well-known journalists will tout their latest columns to bloggers and respond angrily to attacks from the blogosphere. . . .
Nah, couldn't happen.
So, while Jonah’s descriptions of journalists and bloggers have some truth to them, he seems to be missing the more important aspects of what makes blogs something “new.” It’s not the content, but the availability of the content that is “new.” Just about anyone with an Internet connection can make their thoughts available with a blog, an online column or magazine, or even an entire book. Will it be any good? Probably not. But it could be. And that should concern the horses.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Ever since I heard of the death of Stephen Jay Gould I’ve been trying to find a column he wrote about the events of 9/11. I’ve been unable to find a link to the original that appeared, I think, in the Boston Globe. So, here’s the text of it. It seems an appropriate tribute to him and to the tragic events last September during this Memorial Day weekend:
Two September Days - 100 Years Apart
By Stephen Jay Gould, 9/30/2001

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.- Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

I HAVE a large collection of antiquarian books in science, some with beautiful bindings and plates; others dating to the earliest days of printing in the late 15th century. But my most precious possession, the pearl beyond all price in my collection, cost 5 cents when a 13-year-old immigrant, named Joseph Arthur Rosenberg, just off the boat from Hungary, bought it on Oct. 25, 1901. This book, ''Studies in English Grammar,'' written by J.M. Greenwood and published in 1892, carries a small stamp identifying the place of purchase: ''Carroll's book store. Old, rare and curious books. Fulton and Pearl Sts. Brooklyn.'' CONTINUED . . .



There’s a nice reflection on “God and Marriage” over at Summa Contra Mundum today.



Here’s a great explanation of logical fallacies (link via View from the Core’s E. L. Core who has this nice collection of sundry links). How many logical fallacies can you spot in today’s paper, some of your favorite blogs, or a book you’re reading? How many apply to arguments on today’s hot topics? I’ve noticed lots of fallacies of the “Appeals to Motives in Place of Support”, “Attacking the Person”, and “Hasty Generalization” variety in many of the issues that bloggers are buzzing about.

Of course, giving fancy labels to ill-conceived arguments is not the point. Rather, getting into the habit of spotting fallacies is. And I use “habit” deliberately. We are inundated with so much information, so many opinions, so many rhetorical flourishes of persuasion that it can seem like reason is just some sterile and esoteric technique that you can take or leave. But the ability to move from one certainty to another is how rational creatures operate. Getting into the “habit” of reasoning well is noble not because we’ll be able to kick down the poorly constructed arguments all around us, but because it’s how we arrive at those truths which are not immediately evident.

We all know those truths that are self evident. Here’s a partial list from L. M. Régis’ Epistemology:
1) A thing either is or is not.
2) It is impossible that something both be and not be.
3) Everything is identical with itself.
4) We cannot both affirm and deny at the same time.
As Régis explains, these are “judgements whose necessity and evidence is universal, that is, common to every human being by virtue of the very nature of his intellect.”

It’s interesting that these “most evident” and “universal” judgments are also the least interesting to us. In fact, they really have no meaning for us as human beings until we apply them to the world. And this is the work of reason. Applying these immediately evident truths to the world is how we extend the number of judgments that we are certain of.

Friday, May 24, 2002

Trinity Sunday approaches.
When it is asked three what, then the great poverty from which our language suffers becomes apparent. But the formula three persons has been coined, not in order to give a complete explanation by means of it, but in order that we might not be obliged to remain silent.
~~~ St. Augustine
While this quote is often cited humorously before a homily to suggest that maybe silence is the better option, speculation on the Trinity is the source of some of the Church’s deepest insights on the nature and dignity of a person. Nota Bene has a very nice gloss on a sermon by Cardinal Newman on the Trinity.

Here are Sunday’s Readings if you want to do some prep work.




No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the mistake is to do it solemnly.

   ~~~ Montaigne



The Name-O-Meter (link via Virginia Postrel) “graphs the top 1000 names of each decade of the 20th century. Some of the 4,139 names that make the cut are consistently high, others fade in and out of popularity. Some names appear only in one or two decades.”


Thursday, May 23, 2002

So, here’s the likely original story:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A crucifix is not simply a piece of jewelry, so wearing one should be accompanied by acts of Christian charity, said the Vatican's Fides news agency. "Wearing crucifixes made of diamonds and precious metals is a spreading fashion," said the agency in a brief May 21 commentary. "Stars of the world of entertainment and fashion have made it the mania of the moment," said the guest commentary by Andrea Piersanti, president of an Italian Catholic cinema organization. He pointed out that Jennifer Aniston, a member of the cast of the television program "Friends," wears a platinum crucifix decorated with diamonds. The model "Naomi Campbell has a collection of gigantic and very precious crucifixes" and the Italian designer Giuliana Cella "has more than 400." The actress Catherine Zeta-Jones "wears one of yellow gold and diamonds," he said. "It's an incomprehensible mania," he said.*
Here’s what the source Sullivan linked to, This Is London, apparently does with it:
The Pope today condemned stars such as Victoria and David Beckham for sporting crucifixes as fashion accessories because they contradict "the spirit of the Gospel". The Vatican, which named Jennifer Aniston, Naomi Campbell and Catherine Zeta-Jones among the culprits, said: "Is it right to spend thousands on a sacred symbol of Christianity and then in a non-Christian manner forget those who suffer and die from hunger in the world?"*
And here’s what Andrew Sullivan does with it:
MORE PAPAL PRIORITIES: The Pope doesn't want to deal with the profound issues of priestly celibacy, ecclesiastical abuse of power and sexual morality that are wreaking havoc in the American church. He has far more important things to do - like complain about some celebrities wearing crucifixes and tend to his sparse flock in Azerbaijan. There are two priests in Azerbaijan. Two. This papacy is now descending into self-parody. While Rome burns ...
Wow! Maybe a quick checking of sources was in order? The distortion is rhetorically convenient, but I think Sullivan’s concerns lose their force when he takes the bait like this from an unreliable source. Does he really think he’s going to get the Vatican’s position from This Is London?



. . . over on GKC's Blog this morning. Here's a glimpse:
Now there are very deep reasons for talking about the weather, reasons that are delicate as well as deep; they lie in layer upon layer of stratified sagacity. . . .



Nice post on the prevalent misunderstanding about whether a human clone would have a soul here on the new blog Heart, Mind & Strength. I’d humbly add the following:

In the statement:
Here's the important point for those concerned about "soulless clones": we do not derive our souls from our parents. They are created directly by God. How he does this, we don't know. That he does it is an article of faith.
It’s true we don’t know “How He does this,” and it’s true that the fact that a soul is “created directly by God” is an article of faith in the sense that we find it in Revelation ("Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you Jer.1:5) and in Church Teaching. But you might be surprised to know that the creation of the human soul can be arrived at through reason.

St. Thomas Aquinas has this to say when answering the question “Whether the soul was produced by creation?”:
The rational soul can be made only by creation; which, however, is not true of other forms. The reason is because, since to be made is the way to existence, a thing must be made in such a way as is suitable to its mode of existence. Now that properly exists which itself has existence; as it were, subsisting in its own existence. Wherefore only substances are properly and truly called beings; whereas an accident has not existence, but something is (modified) by it, and so far is it called a being; for instance, whiteness is called a being, because by it something is white. Hence it is said Metaph. vii, Did. vi, 1 that an accident should be described as "of something rather than as something." The same is to be said of all non-subsistent forms. Therefore, properly speaking, it does not belong to any non-existing form to be made; but such are said to be made through the composite substances being made. On the other hand, the rational soul is a subsistent form, as above explained (75, 2). Wherefore it is competent to be and to be made. And since it cannot be made of pre-existing matter--whether corporeal, which would render it a corporeal being--or spiritual, which would involve the transmutation of one spiritual substance into another, we must conclude that it cannot exist except by creation. ST Ia, 90, 2
Notice the argument doesn’t hinge on Scripture or an Article of Faith strictly speaking. This is important because the fact that reason can arrive at the truth that a human soul has to be “created” to exist is an important tool in the tool belt of anyone in dialogue with those who dismiss truths of faith (i.e. unbelievers). As I’ve pointed out before, much of the debate in cloning and other human life issues can be done by appeal to reason and thus there’s plenty of common ground for believers and unbelievers. Let’s not toss that away by prematurely tossing reason.

The statement, “The real question is not ‘Does a clone have a soul?’ but ‘Do cloners?’", equivocates the term “soul”: the former is used meaning “principle of life,” the latter “moral integrity.” This is rhetorically nice, but kind of unravels the point of the post which was to clarify “soul,” no?


Here’s a nice post that exemplifies the blogger’s point in content and tone. In fact, as I read some of the posts on my first visit to Kairos, it struck me as one of the more level-headed and sound blogs around. Spend a little time there if you haven’t visited.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

More on what would be more accurately phrased the “point of a pin” question over on Mark Shea’s blog.

Here’s my earlier post on this issue. A reader sent the following interesting tidbit on this:
My own speculation has been that the question was not (if it in fact existed), a subject of serious discussion, but a sort of mnemonic for beginning theological students (like a simple word problem in arithmetic), which encapsulates a number of statements about angels, namely
(1) They are subject to God's will,
(2) They do not have bodies (else there would be some limit to the number),
(3) They can assume bodily form (else they could not dance).



Probably the only thing more challenging than grappling with the Women’s Ordination issue raised so sincerely over on Sursum Corda last week is trying to come up with a blog-sized response. If you click around the “IL MIGLIOR FABBRO” list you’ll find many responses to the round of debate stirred up by the Sursum Corda post. These tended to either:
1) point out that the issue has been infallibly declared and is thus a non-issue
2) point out the historical and scriptural reasons for or against
But if theology is “faith seeking understanding,” where are the attempts to understand how Women’s Ordination does or doesn’t make sense? What I missed or would like to have seen fleshed out better is some of the “understanding” that “faith seeks” whenever we grapple with a tough theological issue. After all, as a sacrament, Holy Orders reveals something to us. What is revealed?

That’s what I’d like to look at because that’s where I get a glimmer of understanding. I agree with many that when Pope John Paul II took the extraordinary step in the Apostolic Letter (not "Encyclical" as many claim – there is a distinction) Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of declaring that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful,” that the issue is no longer open for debate in the usual manner. But this doesn’t reduce the issue to a blind leap of faith. In fact, the very act of assenting to this teaching, of “definitively” holding it, is an act that inevitably seeks understanding. And before you click that “EMAIL” link up there, let me stress that I’m not saying “faith requires understanding,” I’m saying, with the Tradition, “faith inevitably seeks understanding”; it may not find it, but the search is inevitable and instinctive and healthy in rational creatures.

I’ve just come across a nice quote that’s apt for how I want to approach the volatile issue of Women’s Ordination:
You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.
You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
-- Naguib Mahfouz
I’d like to avoid being clever and I’d never claim to be wise, but I wonder if asking a question is the better approach than simply rattling off the answers that, apparently for many, don’t satisfy the thirst for clarity. The question I’d ask is this: Is there any significance to the gender of Jesus? If the Gospels reveal the words and actions of Jesus, is there anything revealed to us through the fact that he assumed a male human body? Why I think this is responsive to the issue of Women’s Ordination I hope will be evident as my posts on this proceed. PART II soon.



As you sit down to write, journal, blog, or just doodle . . . would this be an apt description of you?
He said what he had to say, and yet not all he had to say. Wild pictures, possible stories, tantalising and attractive trains of thought, perspectives of adventure, crowded so continually upon his mind that at the end there was a vast mass of them left over, ideas that he literally had not the opportunity to develop, tales that he literally had not the time to tell. This is shown clearly in his private notes and letters, which are full of schemes singularly striking and suggestive, schemes which he never carried out.*
"Wild pictures, possible stories, tantalising and attractive trains of thought, perspectives of adventure . . . ." Well if I ever do experience this it’s unfortunately fleeting. I think such potential is a constant for children. But it’s rare in grownups and that’s a shame. Shakespeare would also fit this description, no? Think of all the characters and plots and plays that were left unwritten.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

If I say someone I know is a very active homosexual, you’d probably say “So what?” If I say one of a group of 13 well-known Americans is a very active homosexual, you’d probably say “So what?” If I say one of the 13 American Cardinals is a very active homosexual, then you’d probably say . . . well you’d probably sigh in despair. Here’s the problem. The first statement is uninteresting. The second would depend on how the 13 are considered a “group.” The third suggests a scandal. If someone states or implies that an American Cardinal is a very active homosexual without an admission of this by the cardinal or credible allegations that are then cited, that person simply drags 13 men’s reputations through the quagmire of purported impropriety. Why do it? To get a scoop? To seem to be in the know? Why say such a thing?


Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.
Henry IV, Part 2, Shakespeare

See here, here, here, and here for sage comments on the blight of gossip storming through some blogs.


I don’t mean to malign the science of sociology or the value of the reams of statistics that go into most sociological studies. But I do think sociology or any science in the modern sense (hypothesis, experimentation, drawing conclusions from the repetition of phenomena) can say nothing about the human heart and the nature of an evil act. Andrew Sullivan is pretty steamed about this article by Stanley Kurtz. As typically happens when discussing sexuality, Sullivan is all over the place and I never really grasp his point. But he does make a good point when he says:
So let me tackle a simple premise in Kurtz's argument that bears examination. This is the notion that all homosexuals are alike, that the expression of homosexuality in society at all times and in all contexts will be the same . . . .
He’s right. When Kurtz says:
The priesthood scandal is a stunningly clear case in which the opening of an institution to large numbers of homosexuals, far from strengthening norms of sexual restraint, has instead resulted in the conscious and successful subversion of the norms themselves.
his point is that the presence of “large numbers of homosexuals” subverted “norms” to such a degree that the sexual abuse scandal was possible. Notice the illicit leap from “large numbers” to “subversion of the norms.” It’s illicit because the “norms” in this case refer to guidelines that individuals either observe or don’t. Describing people like a herd of animals doesn’t work in the realm of morality. Watch what Kurtz does here: he cites a study by Jason Berry “of 50 gay Catholic priests, only two of whom said that they were abstaining from sexual activity”:
Berry reports a study of 50 gay Catholic priests, only two of whom said that they were abstaining from sexual activity: "Sixty percent said they felt no guilt about breaking their vows. Ninety percent strongly rejected mandatory celibacy . . . and slightly less than half reported that they engaged in sex in public toilets or parks." According to Berry, Richard Wagner, author of the original study of these gay priests, found that 34 percent of his interviewees called their sexual partners "distinctly younger." (Wagner did not say how young.) What's clear from Berry's account is that sexual abuse of boys by homosexual priests (the typical form of abuse in the current scandal) was part and parcel of a larger gay subculture within the priesthood, a subculture that effectively enabled the abuse of minors by encouraging flagrant homosexuality, and openly flouting the rule of celibacy itself.
Notice the jump from “sexual abuse” to “a larger gay subculture within the priesthood.”

Sexual abuse of any kind does not arise because 34 percent of folks say one thing and 60 percent say another. It’s not the result of a failure to observe celibacy. It’s not the result of a subculture of some kind. Sexual abuse of children, adolescents, and adults is a great evil that “is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God.*.” It is the result of the ability of every human being to sin, to commit evil acts, to gravely harm another. It’s a failure of a purity of heart and a deep inability to recognize the dignity of another human being. My objection to statistics and sociological studies of certain “types” of people and how a “group” is responsible is that this trivializes the evil and individual culpability of the perpetrators at the core of the Church sexual abuse scandal.


Ive noticed a lot of the "IL MIGLIOR FABBRO" links that are on Blogspot are down. If you're one of these you may need to publish or republish to get your blog back. Here's the message from Blogger. 

Monday, May 20, 2002

Okay, I’ve had a few email exchanges about the “SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY” post below and so I obviously haven’t eschewed obfuscation. Let me take another swing: My point was that if you acknowledge a slippery slope argument, you have to have, as Lindsey puts it, a "continuum" for it to apply. When someone denies that a blastocyst is a person as someone like Charles Krauthammer does in his arguments against research cloning, and then invokes a slippery slope argument, as Krauthammer does, they have denied the continuum required for a slippery slope argument to take effect. Here I think Lindsey is correct. No continuum = no slippery slope argument. But I was suggesting that Lindsey, in denying the continuum when he says "It seems totally obvious to me that a zygote is not the moral equal of a living, breathing person . . .", is still going to have a problem because "no continuum" implies that the blastocyst has to become a person at some point. CONTINUED . . .


Brink Lindsey has a thoughtful post (link via Eve Tushnet) on slippery slope argumentation. Here’s how he says they arise
Slippery-slope arguments arise when: (a) there is a continuum of cases; (b) one pole of the continuum is unobjectionable, but the other pole is objectionable; and (c) there is apprehension that acquiescence in an unobjectionable case will somehow degrade the ability to distinguish between unobjectionable and objectionable cases. The argument is deployed to oppose an unobjectionable case on the ground that it will lead to objectionable cases.
Agreed that a “continuum of cases” is required. Disagreed that “one pole of the continuum is unobjectionable, but the other pole is objectionable” and that “there is apprehension that acquiescence in an unobjectionable case will somehow degrade the ability to distinguish between unobjectionable and objectionable cases.”

What I disagree with is the notion that an “unobjectionable” case can lead to an “objectionable” one on a continuum. You can’t have a “continuum” of contraries. Something either is or it is not, there’s no “kinda is” or “kinda is not” when you speak of the existence of something in the truest sense. CONTINUED . . .


GKC discusses “the men with the largest of earthly fortunes and the smallest of earthly aims” in today’s post.


This from Summa Contra Mundum seemed like a great idea but then I saw this from the Cranky Professor and I wasn't sure what to think anymore.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Twain once wrote:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness—all foes to real understanding. Likewise tolerance or broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in our little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
It’s an apt sentiment for blogging as well. I hope you occasionally wander out of your daily cluster of blogs and make some nice discoveries. I have to say, though, that it can get kind of rough out there. I swerved into this post on Keep Trying that begins by asking, “As I read the blogs I am wondering why there is such a disdain for the search for truth.” It was an interesting post . . . I moved on and a little later ran into this response to the post with the title “Keep Trying Meets F*** It Give Up” and the following answer to why folks disdain truth: “I dunno . . . because it's so f***ing incredibly crashingly boring?” (I probably don’t need to tell you the asterisks aren’t in the original.) Hmm . . . talk about trying to find some common ground. Compared to the usual blogs I read, some of the parody, satire, and vitriol I find leveled at folks in these blogs make relapsed catholic look tame.

But it got me thinking that while there’s a wide variety in the blogs I normally read in my “Il Miglior Fabbro” list, it’s easy to take for granted the many things that we have in common. It’s good to stray a bit and discover that many folks would find reflections on scripture, philosophical discussions about reason and faith, the nature of the sacraments, the value of celibacy, the ethics of cloning, and other such topics “incredibly crashingly boring.” And while meeting and engaging diverse folks is at the heart of any witness to the Gospel and the truth we hold dear, it is nice to know that there are folks you can discuss things with and not have to battle for every inch of common ground.


Some nice posts celebrating Pope John Paul II’s birthday on Gerard Serafin’s new blog.



This article headlined “A Vatican Lawyer Says Bishops Should Not Reveal Abuse Claims” is causing quite a stir. Looks like Anthony over at Veni Sancte Spiritus is filling in for Mark Shea this morning with this post subtitled “Church official to laity: ‘Screw You’.” I don't know, maybe “Come Holy Ire” is more apt today? I agree with Amy Welborn’s initial response where she admits she’s “wary of commenting on American press reports of lengthy articles written in Italian.”

This is not another article on a priest sexually abusing someone. It’s an article that suggests nefarious Vatican officials plotting evil deeds. If anyone thinks they’re really going to get a glimmer of illumination about what Vatican officials are contemplating by reading the NY Times, then I suggest they peruse some of the archived entries of Smarter Times to get a sense of how much bias and inaccuracy emerges even in a prestigious newspaper (of course, “Smarter Times” has its own agenda as well). If they can’t even get the facts and context right with secular issues, how can you expect any insight about the Vatican? The point is that if you really wanted to know what the Vatican is pondering why not read the many documents available almost daily right from the source. Doing so might ease some of the “them against us” mentality that only cripples our understanding of the mystery of the Church. The “them against us” posture simply results in an “us against ourselves” mindset that hobbles all of us and hinders genuine healing.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Disputations has a nice reply to the concern Mark Butterworth expresses about those who ponder the equivalent of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” (which, as Cecil suggests below, would be a sharper question if “on the point of a pin” were the image, no?). I especially liked Disputation’s statement:
I even suspect that the reason this image endures as the proverbial knock at empty scholasticism is, not that people are so appalled by the thought of empty scholasticism, but that they are so attracted by the thought of dancing angels.
Very nice way of putting it.

And if you want the real scoop on this angels-pin debate that doesn’t seem to have ever really taken place, check out this take on it from the irrepressible Cecil Adams whose column The Straight Dope has been “Fighting Ignorance since 1973 (It’s Taking Longer Than We Thought).”


There’s a bit of fallacious ad hominem argumentation going on over at Michael Dubruiel’s Annunciations with this post. If you’ve read any of Emily’s entries on celibacy over at Fool’s Folly you know that they’re well-reasoned and insightful. So, when Michael implies that Emily's reasoning is suspect because a priest she admires (who converted from the Anglican Church) is “married and if he really believes in it [celibacy], he'd dismiss his wife or live as brother and sister” he commits an error in logic. He’s dismissing Emily’s arguments on celibacy because she thinks the married priest is wise. He’s dismissing the priest’s arguments on celibacy because the priest isn’t celibate. This is the classic ad hominem fallacy where:
The person presenting an argument is attacked instead of the argument itself. This takes many forms. For example, the person's character, nationality or religion may be attacked. Alternatively, it may be pointed out that a person stands to gain from a favorable outcome. Or, finally, a person may be attacked by association, or by the company he keeps.
While consistency in thought and action has a central role in ethics, it really has no place in argumentation. If you abandon the fact that one’s actions and circumstances have no logical force in the validity of one’s argument, you abandon civil and cogent discourse. Can someone advocate the virtues of celibacy while not living a celibate life? Of course. Would we tend to find one who is celibate more convincing? Perhaps, but then the conviction is not one of argument, but of words and actions corresponding.

My wife and I were prepared for marriage by a celibate priest. He did not speak to us about what it’s like to be married, but of what the Sacrament of Marriage is, how we could make solid judgments about it, and how we could prepare for it. We also had married couples help with our preparation. Their advice was generally very different and came from their experience of being married. Both of these were valuable though I actually felt better prepared by our sessions with the priest.

My being married to the most wonderful, gracious, and loving person in the world (I'm checking to see if she reads my blog these days) doesn't make anything I post here on marriage any sounder, nor should it. If you knew me and thought that I was a terrible husband then you would probably be suspicious about my ideas on marriage – and maybe rightly so. But, your suspicions would have been provoked by my actions, not the argument I presented. What would make my argument sound is my reasoning and ability to communicate clearly. What would make it unsound is committing fallacies of reason and communicating poorly.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Dave of Redwood Dragon fame sent the following with regard to the Chesterton quote below:
Reminds me of Aristotle's one syllable definition of truth, which goes something like this:
If one says of that which is that it is, or of that which is not that it is not, then one speaks the truth. But if one says of that which is that it is not, or of that which is not that it is, then one does not speak the truth.
But I wonder, is it easier, or harder, to do it one-syllabled in Greek?
Having “little Latin and less Greek,” I’ll have to wait for a learned reader to give it a try.

Hey Eve, maybe a one-syllable-opinions contest?



This article (link via The Christian Conscience) had the above disconcerting headline. It turns out the data was extrapolated from long ago:
the conclusion is based on church family records kept in Finland for a nomadic people called the Sami during the period 1640 to 1870. He [evolutionary biologist Samuli Helle] said the toll on mothers lives of having sons may not apply in the era of modern medicine.
Still, it seems like a nice fact for mothers to keep in their tool belts. I wonder if my son Dominic will hear the following from his Mom in a few years: “You’ve already shortened my life. Don’t you think you could at least straighten up your room once in a while?”



Nice entry on GKC's Blog. Here's a taste:
Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable.
Um, I think that would be difficult . . .er . . . hard to do.


Wednesday, May 15, 2002

The new blog, Disputations, has a nice though inevitably brief discussion on reprobation, i.e. the state of being reprobate . . er . . . the state of being predestined to damnation. I think Disputations is right in saying that most of the misunderstanding around this issue is due to “a failure to understand the timelessness of God.” I think it also involves the mystery of human freedom and its resistance to our ever comprehending it totally. And it occurred to me that I ought to post one of the nicest explanations on human freedom I’ve come across.

C.S. Lewis, in his profound work The Problem of Pain, says the following about human freedom:
The inexorable “laws of Nature” which operate in defiance of human suffering or desert, which are not turned aside by prayer, seem at first sight to furnish a strong argument against the goodness and power of God. I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and “inexorable” Nature. CONTINUED . . .



Eric Olsen of Tres Producers was gracious enough to respond to an email of mine where I wondered if he was claiming that a truth of reason and a truth of faith can contradict each other. All this was spawned from this article. I won’t rehash our positions here, since if you're so inclined you can see my initial response to the article here, his response to the article here, and his response to my email here. Let me just briefly touch on the manner in which I’ve used the terms “belief” and “faith.” CONTINUED . . .


Monday, May 13, 2002

“Minute Particulars” was mentioned again here on InstaPundit. I like the lean and simple approach Glenn Reynolds brings to blogging. He has one of the most influential blogs on the Internet and yet it costs him next to nothing to run it.


Mark Twain wrote, “’Twere not best that we all think alike, it’s difference of opinion that makes for horse races.” I was reminded of this quote when I read this article in Sunday’s NY Times. It’s a report on an attempt to assess “the probability of the Resurrection” and it’s a sad commentary on a common misunderstanding of faith:
In plain English, this means that, by Mr. Swinburne's calculations, the probability of the Resurrection comes out to be a whopping 97 percent.

While his highly technical lectures may not net Christianity many fresh converts, Mr. Swinburne's efforts to bring inductive logic to bear on questions of faith have earned him a considerable reputation in the small but vibrant world of Christian academic philosophy. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Swinburne and a handful of other nimble scholarly minds - including Alvin Plantinga at the University of Notre Dame and Nicholas Wolterstorff at Yale - religious belief no longer languishes in a state of
philosophical disrepute.
Is it just me or is there a lack of plain ol’ horse sense causing this misconception about the mechanics of faith? I’ve touched on this before, so I’ll just make a brief pass here. CONTINUED . . .



Here’s the address John Paul II gave that mentions using the Internet. Here’s a taste:
We must enter into this modern and every more replete communications network with realism and confidence, convinced that, if it is used with competence and conscientious responsibility, it can offer useful opportunities for spreading the Gospel message.
Of related interest is this document entitled The Church and Internet released last February.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

On being presented with Volume 2 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Duke of Gloucester is purported to have said, “Ah Mr. Gibbon, another damned, fat, square book. Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh?” Here’s an article on a 1,197-page whopper of a book titled, A New Kind of Science. As it happens, this seems a particularly apt “Minute Particulars” link. Stephen Wolfram (whose photo in the NY Times article made him look uncannily like Seinfeld’s George Costanza) has apparently found the “simple rules [or minute particulars?] behind the most sophisticated processes in the universe”:
Not only can complex designs and processes arise out of the simplest of rules, but, Mr. Wolfram asserts, simple rules actually lie behind the most sophisticated processes in the universe. Indeed, the universe itself, he argues, is generated by such rules. He presents an example of one cellular automaton program that produces such sophisticated patterns that it can act like a powerful computer. The details are highly technical, but this automaton can actually replicate other processes and patterns just as a computer can be turned into a word-processor one minute and a game machine the next. It has what are called "universal" properties.
Be sure to check out Wolfram’s Website, it’s quite well done.

I’ve got lots of damned, fat, square books sitting unread on my shelves, but I’m a sucker for these kinds of science books. Especially promising is Wolfram’s claim that the book requires
. . . no specialized scientific or other knowledge to follow. Mathematical formulas are eliminated; illustrations predominate; professional prose is avoided.


Friday, May 10, 2002

Mark Shea recently discussed St. Thomas Aquinas and intelligent extraterrestrial life here and here. His comments got me thinking a bit.

When we speculate on how things might be, how, for example, there might be some non-human intelligent corporeal being, we should be on guard that we are really saying something intelligible. In fairly telegraphic remarks found in several texts, Aquinas reminds us that
it cannot be objected that God can make things other, since with regard to the establishment of nature it is not asked what God was able to make, but what the nature of things undergoes as made.
This admonition suggests that Aquinas wants to ensure that any discussion of possible beings can really only result in demonstrative certainty if it involves speculation about their intrinsic or logical impossibility, of which we can only know abstractly from first principles. Speculation about their physical possibility, like the possibility of a “gold mountain,” can only result in probability. In our consideration of physically possible things, we are bound by the nature of things in the universe we experience.

So, if we rephrase the ET question a bit and ask whether an intelligent corporeal being can have a form other than the human form, we'll discover that it's a bit like asking whether a “square circle” is possible. In the very formulation of the words “intelligent,” “corporeal,” “being,” “form,” and “human form,” we imply certain principles given this universe, the nature of things as made, which drift from intelligibility when we introduce a concept suggesting other than. This, of course, is not to say that such an exercise is not useful, but rather, that such an exercise should properly reaffirm the principles we start with regarding what the nature of things undergoes as made and what we observe and conclude about such a world.

Aquinas wrote,
that there is only one species of rational animal, and many existing species of irrational animals arises from this, that the rational animal is so constituted that corporeal nature at its highest point touches the nature of spiritual substances at its lowest.
Following Aristotelian principles of act and potency, and principles of perfection and continuity found in Neoplatonic works such as Pseudo-Dionysius and the Liber de Causis, Aquinas’s conclusion here offers us both a starting point and many avenues of speculation about the human being. The human being is unique among all other creatures by the fact that, among the lowest corporeal things to the highest incorporeal things, it alone resides between corporeal and incorporeal worlds.  


Here's the ranking of top 1,000 baby names for 2001. How’d some of the Blog Babies do?

Michael, whose Dad runs Nota Bene, will probably have a few friends named Mike, since “Michael” was the second most popular name of 2001.

Joseph, whose Mom authors In Between Naps, has a name that is seventh most popular.

Dominic, my son who is over four months old now, has the 107th most popular name of 2001 and apparently shares his name with 3588 other little guys in the U.S.

Oh, and Emily over at Fool’s Folly must be delighted to see that more girls were given the name “Emily” than any other last year – no doubt a testament to the influence Fool’s Folly wields these days.




If you know the television series Get Smart, you’ll know that Maxwell Smart would sometimes approach a rather stout bad guy with the comment, “Okay Fatso, let’s see what you’re made of.” He’d then proceed to punch the bad guy, the bad guy wouldn't budge, Max would rub his fist, smile sheepishly and say, “Uh, about that ‘Fatso’ remark . . .”
I mention this because there seems to be a lot of posts in Blogville these days that begin with "About that _______ remark,” and then retract or explain the remark. Integrity has a nice post that inquires about:
why so many bloggers feel the need (or that they have the right) to share every rant or frustration with everyone else on the globe.
I'm curious about this as well. As I mentioned in my SPEED + CREED = SCREED post earlier, I wonder if bloggers are getting caught up in a damaging “post first, ask questions later” mentality?

Thursday, May 09, 2002


This article by Peter Beinart (link via Amy Welborn) makes the following point:
There's nothing wrong with Catholic thinkers writing or talking--as Catholics--about their vision of the Church . . . . But the media should be clear about what it's doing: It's facilitating an essentially private debate within one religious community. In debates over government policy-- say affirmative action or abortion--it's dangerous to imply that some people's opinions are more valid by virtue of their identity. But in this case, it's dangerous not to--because non-Catholics don't have a legitimate role in determining the character of the Catholic Church.
Well, yes, I suppose non-Catholics would consider discussions about celibacy, women’s ordination, language in the liturgy, and the like, matters for “private debate within” the Catholic community. Amy’s post suggests one reason these issues inevitably move into the public forum is the proliferation of boisterous Catholic journalists. There’s probably something to that. But I wonder if it’s also the plain fact of diversity of people and opinions in the Catholic Church that foists the issues into the public light.

Beinart seems to suggest that the Church is a monolith of uniform opinion, which is a very interesting thing to suggest. On the face of it, this seems patently false. In fact, there’s a microcosm of this private versus public debate always playing out among Catholics. There are many reasons for this. One is the failure to understand terms that are, in fact, very precise. Here’s an example:

It’s not too surprising that non-Catholics might think “Franco Harris” when hearing the term “Immaculate Conception,” having the derivative “Immaculate Reception” in mind; yet many Catholics think the Immaculate Conception refers to the virgin birth of Jesus; it doesn’t. And this is not an obscure term tucked away in the labyrinth of the Code of Canon Law. It’s central to the Faith and one of the few “infallible” doctrines proclaimed in the last few centuries. Oops! there’s another one, “ Infallibility.” It’s a hot point of misunderstanding not only among Catholics, but among Christians in general; and it’s hopelessly misunderstood whenever the major media folks kick it around.

But Beinart’s suggestion of uniform opinion is right on the mark in a deeper sense, though I’m not sure he realized this. The tradition of Church teaching and the solicitude the Church demonstrates for scripture and its interpretation has been and continues to be one of the few sources of stable, consistent opinion throughout the last two millennia. Ironically, this consistency involves dialogue and debate that can be very animated and involve widely divergent ideas. Look again at this article on the Immaculate Conception (scroll down to “The Controversy”) and you’ll see a great example of this. And while you may laugh at the old joke of a telegram arriving while Vatican II was in session with the words:
Sorry I won’t be able to make it.
The Holy Spirit

it is a central truth of the Catholic Faith that consistency is ensured by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, I suppose you could claim that this “internal” consistency of the Catholic Church makes debate within it “private” in the manner Beinart describes.

But I just don’t think a failure to maintain a separation between private and public debate (and let’s not swerve into a Separation-of-Church-and-State diversion here! That’s a very different issue) is the problem with how the media, how anyone discusses the Church sexual abuse scandal or any other volatile topic. No, to tweak the “Cool Hand Luke” phrase, What we have here is a failure to distinguish.

There’s a wonderful Dominican maxim that states:
Never Deny
Seldom Affirm
Always Distinguish
Now, like any maxim, you’ll punch through this if you lean too heavily on it. But I like the emphasis that is placed primarily on our ability, paramount in any notion of “intelligence,” to distinguish. What’s missing in all the commotion is not a failure to keep what’s private private and public public, but a failure to make an effort to understand how terms are used, their context, their texture, their core meaning under all of the rhetorical ornamentation. If we want to “begin to do justice to those intelligences that are really behind”* an idea we don’t like, agree with, or maybe even fully understand, we need to find common ground to stand on. If we can’t even agree on the terms, stalling in the air of hot debate won’t be the problem: we’ll stall before we even get off the ground.

So, when Beinart ends his article with:
The punditocracy's premise is that everybody is entitled to an opinion about everything; we take polls seriously even when most of the respondents know virtually nothing about the topic. Overall, that's probably a good thing: Better an uninformed but open debate than an educated but closed one. But there are some topics on which everyone's opinion isn't equally valid because, if they were, communities would lose their autonomy--and, ultimately, some part of their freedom.What is my opinion about how the American Catholic Church should respond to the pedophilia scandal that engulfs it today? My opinion is that my opinion really doesn't matter at all.
I would want to distinguish, to poke and prod some of his notions to get at his concerns.

To start, I’d want to ask: Does he really think “uninformed but open debate” is better than “an educated but closed one”? Are there really “some topics on which everyone's opinion isn't equally valid” or do we need to further clarify the “topics” these might be and the manner in which an “opinion” is formed. And in the first quote above, the terms “private” and “public” sway all over the place in meaning and context. When we too easily thrust a wall between private and public concerns, we risk losing what’s common to all of us as human beings. The Church firmly teaches truths that are meant for all, believer and unbeliever, saint and sinner, journalist and blogger, in private and public. We should be careful we don’t let a poorly nuanced distinction of what is private and what is public unnecessarily limit participants in important debates.


I'm back after an unexpected hiatus. Apologies for not posting an "I won't be posting from . . . " message. I went to a wedding in Minnesota (Lileks country), brought my laptop, and was all set to continue with blogging as usual. Unfortunately I didn't have any Internet access. I've got lots of posts coming; I just want to review the usual suspects to make sure I'm not rehashing old news -- things go stale very fast in Blogland!


Thursday, May 02, 2002

Nice quote by Josef Pieper on QQ today


Dispatches from Outland makes a good point by asking
I dunno, Martin, can a blog be "Christian"? I can see calling a blogger Christian, but I have a bit of trouble hanging that label on a thing. Maybe it's just me...
I’d take it further and ask if it’s ever useful to say “Christian anything” these days. Don’t get me wrong, I think Martin’s list is a great idea and gives some exposure to many great blogs. But look what happened over at InstaPundit yesterday when the term “Christian Bloggers” was used:
Here’s what I said that Glenn linked to:
I have to say I was quite impressed with Glenn Reynolds’s willingness to link to a long list of “Christian Bloggers,” most of whom disagree with Glenn's position on therapeutic cloning.
Here’s what Glenn said in his link:
MINUTE PARTICULARS calls me magnanimous for linking to a list of Christian bloggers even though most of them disagree with me on cloning. I'll take the praise, I guess, but it's not like you have to agree with me to get a link.
So far, so good. But look what happened later in the day. A “Christian Blogger” wrote to Glenn to complain. Here’s Glenn’s description:
By the way, in a response to an earlier post of mine Christian blogger Phillip Winn takes issue with the idea that Christian bloggers are necessarily anti-cloning. "I am on that list myself, and I certainly don't support any government-imposed limits on cloning, therapeutic, reproductive, or otherwise."
Well, yes. The notion that Christian bloggers must be anti-cloning wasn't mine, but Minute Particulars' -- I certainly don't think that Christianity necessitates opposition to cloning.
Of course, if you look at what I said you’ll see that Glenn mischaracterized my point – and he emailed to apologize. The mischaracterization is not a big deal since anyone who really cared about what I said could simply click to me via the link Glenn provided. But I really think the introduction of the term “Christian Blogger” confused things. I think Martin’s list is great and I’m happy to be on the list, whether it be “Christian Blogs," "Christian Bloggers” or even “Loonies with a Blog,” since folks will know my thoughts when they click to my blog. Where the term is not so helpful is in a serious debate like cloning. When it’s introduced in such a context it typically splinters into various different interpretations that obscure rather than enlighten.


Yesterday, my Site Meter looked like this:
Referring URL
Well, you get the idea. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link. I’m reminded of something Flannery O’Connor wrote:
The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.
If you’re here because you were riding the InstaPundit Express that roared through, Welcome! I hope you’ll click around a bit and visit some of the fine folks under IL MIGLIOR FABBRO to the right.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

"Sursum Corda" has a very nice reflection on "Labor and the Church" today. An encyclical he cites, Laborem Exercens, was issued in 1981, yet it's as timely as ever and worth careful reading. Here's a taste:
We are celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum on the eve of new developments in technological, economic and political conditions which, according to many experts, will influence the world of work and production no less than the industrial revolution of the last century. There are many factors of a general nature: the widespread introduction of automation into many spheres of production, the increase in the cost of energy and raw materials, the growing realization that the heritage of nature is limited and that it is being intolerably polluted, and the emergence on the political scene of peoples who, after centuries of subjection, are demanding their rightful place among the nations and in international decision-making. These new conditions and demands will require a reordering and adjustment of the structures of the modern economy and of the distribution of work. Unfortunately, for millions of skilled workers these changes may perhaps mean unemployment, at least for a time, or the need for retraining. They will very probably involve a reduction or a less rapid increase in material well-being for the more developed countries. But they can also bring relief and hope to the millions who today live in conditions of shameful and unworthy poverty.

It is not for the Church to analyze scientifically the consequences that these changes may have on human society. But the Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide the above-mentioned changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.(my emphasis)