Minute Particulars

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Catholics in Political Life is the most recent statement from the USCCB about, uh, Catholics in political life. I think it's interesting and, if I may say so, appropriate that the bishops have left the decision about how best to respond to professed Catholics who publicly disagree with Church Teaching to each bishop:
The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times.
As an aside, maybe the need to summarize these statements is reflexive and standard for any statement regardless of length; but at what point ought we be expected to read the actual text of such statements rather than a summary? In this case, the actual text contains 974 words. The summary, which seems the basis for many of the reports I've seen in the media, contains 584.




Please answer the following:
The slogan:
Planned Parenthood helps women and men have the families they choose.
a) a pro-life statement mocking the eugenic philosophy behind Planned Parenthood

b) a Planned Parenthood approved and promoted slogan
Now, I'm really not trying to be cute. I think I would have guessed "a" if I had come upon the slogan without any context. It turns out that this catchy phrase was actually on Planned Parenthood's little Father's Day e-card.

(link via E-Pression)


Friday, June 18, 2004


Here (via Disputations) is an interesting interview with Cardinal Georges Cottier. As I mentioned in a comment to the post on Disputations, I found the following bit especially challenging:
The refusal to distinguish what is distinct leads to confusion and denies what maybe you wanted to defend in the first place. If everything is grace, then grace is no more. One of the dangers, that I note for example in the theology of religions, is that of attributing univocally to the Holy Spirit all that is religious. There are very praiseworthy human religious values, but that doesn’t mean they are salvific. They belong to a different order than the grace of Christ that saves. The distinction between grace and nature has perhaps at times been presented badly, as if there were an overlap of grace upon nature. That is never the thinking of Thomas. Grace operates from within nature. But nature has its own consistence. . . .

For example a certain “panchristism” doesn’t seem appropriate to me. A theological system that absorbs all realities into Christ ends by turning Christ into a kind of metaphysical postulate of the affirmation of human values. And it makes us incapable of engaging in serious dialogue, even on the level of human rights. And then, saying that everybody is already of Christ, whether they know it or no, can make the mission futile.
When I say "challenging," I don't mean "I disagree but don't know how to state my case." My initial reaction to the cardinal's words was shaky agreement. But here's what's challenging for me. While I'm not disagreeing with anything the cardinal has said, it's a tricky distinction he's calling for. We profess in the Creed, "Through him all things were made." Now what? How do we make the kind of distinction suggested by Cardinal Cottier? Haven't we absorbed "all realities into Christ" in our Profession of Faith? I think I have a sense of what the cardinal is suggesting. I think we really do have to insist that "nature has its own consistence;" and we indeed need to be careful about "turning Christ into a kind of metaphysical postulate of the affirmation of human values." But what does that distinction look like? Perhaps more after the weekend and a proper catalyst.




There's an old joke that goes something like this:
A couple who run a farm can no longer go to Mass together because someone must remain on the farm at all times and they no longer have any help. So they decide to go at different times. After a few weeks of this, the wife starts to think the husband might be heading to the pub rather than Mass each Sunday.

The following Sunday, she goes to the early Mass, comes home, sees him off to the later Mass, and then waits for him to return. He does so and there seems to be just a hint of Guinness on his breath.

So she asks him as he's heading out to the barn, "Did you like Father's homily?"
"Sure," he replies.
"What was it about"? she asks.
Acting a bit puzzled at her tone, he calmly replies, "Sin."
"What'd he have to say about it?" she inquires further.
"He was against it," he says, as he turns and walks out to the barn.
You'd think that in a grave moral matter like torture, one would be able to say, "The Church is against it," and not have to follow the statement with all sorts of exceptions and qualifications. But in light of recent discussions about torture on various blogs, it seems unlikely a simple statement like "The Church is against torture" could make it very far without an asterisk or two.

I think there's some blurring here of the difference between a principled statement and the application of the statement. Everyone knows that making moral statements and applying them are different. That's not what I mean here. Many of the folks qualifying the prohibition against torture are concerned about the definition of torture, an obviously critical distinction to any sober discussion. But I do get the sense that this concern sometimes ends up chipping away at the principled prohibition of torture.




Ha! I had a little post about atheism that I was going to plop onto the blog one of these days. But after reading this eloquent post I think I'll just slap a Moestein on my silly musings and move on. This was particularly nice:
Faith that can be demonstrated from reason is not faith. The atheist and the Christian agree that the Christian faith cannot be demonstrated from reason, but the Christian never said it could, and the atheist never proved it had to.
As I've mentioned before, one of the biggest misunderstandings between theists and atheists is the failure to distinguish knowledge derived by reason from knowledge derived by faith. This might seem an easy distinction at first, but you see a failure to make this distinction whenever the existence of God is denied because the content of what He has revealed can't be known from reason alone.

Something is "revealed" because it cannot be known apart from it being revealed.* A simple but profound example is your name. Unless you're named "Red" and have bright red hair -- and even then one couldn't really be sure "Red" was your name even if one guessed it -- your name is something that another person can never know unless you, or one who knows you, reveal it. This is the same dynamic involved in God's personal revelation to human beings. To claim that revelation is superstition simply because the content of what is revealed could not be known from reason alone is to claim that believing me when I tell you my name is "Mark" is superstitious and silly because you can't know it from reason alone.

* - Aquinas does point out that:
The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature, and perfection supposes something that can be perfected. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated.
And so, we might say that the existence of God can be known by believing His revelation, but this, in context, doesn't vitiate the distinction between reason and faith, hence the important distinction Aquinas makes between "articles" and "preambles" of faith.


Friday, June 11, 2004


For me, this story presents the most explicit challenge to me about the morality of torture:
Gäfgen kidnapped Jakob von Metzler on Sept. 27, 2002, as the boy was on his way home from school. The same day he suffocated Metzler, he demanded €1 million from the Metzler family for the boy's release, which they paid. The police, who had been observing Gäfgen for days, arrested him at the Frankfurt airport. While interrogating Gäfgen, Deputy Police President Wolfgang Daschner threatened to have a martial arts expert hurt the suspect if he didn't reveal where Metzler was being held. Gäfgen then told the police where he had hid the child, who was already dead at the time.
Were it my child in this situation I'm not sure I could refrain from torture.

There you have it. While I'm absolutely opposed to torture, I'm not sure I'd refrain under circumstances like those in the above story.

But that, of course, is why we have laws and, more profoundly, why we pray "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Laws against torture prevent me or someone like me from torturing someone when we're placed in just this kind of unbearable situation. And it would likely be unbearable. Let's not fool ourselves. To expect a parent to refrain from torturing someone who has information that could save his child's life is inattentive to the pressures and temptations we're all exposed to when our loved ones are in peril.

Laws are meant to protect us from others; but laws are also meant to protect others from us.




That anyone might argue that in some circumstances torture would not be condemned by the Church is unbelievable. Tom of Disputations stomps out this lunacy in a recent post (scroll up for additional posts). What concerns me about those who think there are exceptions to using torture in Church Teaching, though, is that they seem to appeal to the ink (or pixels) of Church Teaching more than the living truth. They seem more interested in wiggling around Church statements rather than addressing the act and consequences of torture itself in light of Church Teaching. This is an odd way to justify torture. Here's what I think might be going on:

Look at these two statements:
Because torture is immoral, the Church teaches that it is immoral.

Torture is immoral because the Church teaches that it is immoral.
Both of these statements are true in their proper context. The first leans more on the fact that reason can conclude from human nature and natural law that torture is immoral. The second rests on revealed truths that the Church puts forward about human integrity and dignity that imply that torture is immoral. Church Teaching on moral issues appeals to arguments from both reason and revealed truth. The two approaches complement each other and are emphasized in various ways when appropriate. But what seems to be happening when folks look for loopholes in Church Teaching, especially with regard to the morality of torture, is that they accept the second approach and forget the first.

To the extent that the prohibition against torture derives from Revelation, then, yes, one can say that torture is immoral because the Church teaches it is immoral. But to then look for loopholes in the language of the teaching to justify instances of torture that are not considered immoral is just weird. It's a complete misunderstanding of revealed truth. Revelation assumes that incarnate beings (that's us) will look first to the Incarnate Truth when applying revealed truths. If you work through Church Teaching on torture, you'll discover that whatever is hostile to human life, integrity, and dignity is central to any teaching on morality and certainly to the prohibition of torture. And you'll also notice that any teaching on morality will derive from those things that we can know by reason and those things we can only know by faith, revealed truths. Separating the two in moral matters is, in my opinion, a denial of the Incarnation. It treats Church Teaching as if it were a list of lapidary laws rather than an expression of the Word made Flesh.

If you understand why torture is wrong according to the Church, you'll understand that looking for some loophole in Church statements is silly. As I've suggested before, torture obviously devastates the one tortured; but it also devastates the one doing the torture. The torturer and the tortured enter a nightmare that neither can emerge from completely. The difference of course, is that the torturer is the cause of the nightmare. When someone tortures another person, the obvious conclusion we can draw is that the torturer doesn't recognize the full humanity of his victim. But the act of inflicting torture also necessarily distorts the torturer's ability to recognize any human person fully. And that way leads to a complete disintegration of the moral universe in which we all dwell.


Thursday, June 10, 2004


Timothy Radcliffe, OP is a former Master of the Order of Preachers. He was the 86th successor of St. Dominic. I've heard him preach, I've read quite a few of his homilies, and I've enjoyed a recent book of his. I, as if it could really matter, find his life and insights remarkable. I mention this because this purports to be the text of a recent homily of his (I say "purports to be" because it's not an official Dominican site and so it's possible it's wrongly attributed or not an accurate text). I liked the homily. Andrew Sullivan liked it and linked to it. Dale of Dyspeptic Mutterings (via Mark Shea) didn't really didn't like it. Here's the beginning of his long post tearing the homily apart:
This is "insightful"?

Yeesh. Then I'd hate to see his example of cliched pablum. It's the same ol' inclusivity-as-next-to-godliness, don't-get-hung-up-on-dogma, Thou-Shalt-Not-Be-Self-Righteous-Like-Those-Conservatives, All-That-Matters-Is-Community uber-twaddle that's been spewed for the past two generations.

Far from being insightful, it's hackneyed. In fact, you have a better than even chance of hearing the sentiments of Fr. Radcliffe's opus regurgitated--verbatim--on any given Sunday.

I think similar thoughts come with the adult Happy Meals these days. On a related note: read this and try imagining if any of it would offend an Oprah audience or a devout NPR listener.
The comments box has quite a cheering crowd for Dale's thorough rebuke of the homily.

I don't know.

I guess if you're not familiar with Radcliffe and haven't read other homilies and statements of his you might have this kind of reaction -- but I doubt it. Something seems amiss in Dale's treatment. What's the point of such derision? We're not talking about some neophyte preacher who mumbled some nonsense. This is a former Master of the Dominican Order, a careful and deep thinker, and a holy man. That, of course, doesn't mean his homilies can't be critiqued. Of course not. But criticism with such extreme condescension? Criticism with such a mocking tone? What's the point?


Monday, June 07, 2004


I had a high school algebra teacher who would keep things lively by calling on students randomly and have them answer a problem we were looking at in the textbook. If a student mumbled something outrageous the teacher would stop, make an exaggerated look at his book, look at the student, look again at the book and ask:
Are we looking at the same book?!
After reading Mark Shea's lengthy and careful response, in part, to a journalist who thought at least part of this ad limina statement by Francis Cardinal George was "a load of self-serving nonsense," I do wonder if the journalist was looking at the same statement as the rest of us. I hope those following the lively discussion actually read Cardinal George's statement and not just little excerpts from it.

I thought the cardinal's statement was quite insightful. I found this especially interesting:
The public conversation in the United States speaks easily of individual rights; it cannot give voice to considerations of the common good. Matters that should fall outside the purview of law in a constitutional democracy with a limited government -- the nature of life, of marriage, even of faith itself -- are now determined by courts designed only to protect individual rights.
Pope John Paul II, in his address to the bishops participating with Cardinal George in the ad limina visit, doesn't mince words about the role of the "lay faithful":
Now is above all the hour of the lay faithful, who, by their specific vocation to shape the secular world in accordance with the Gospel, are called to carry forward the church's prophetic mission by evangelizing the various spheres of family, social, professional and cultural life.


Thursday, June 03, 2004


The problem with the increasingly popular love-it-or-leave-it approach to publicly admonishing Catholic politicians is that it's simplistic and, well, silly. And as I've pointed out before (here and here), I think it does a lot of damage to efforts to evangelize smart, sober, serious people. It makes the Church sound like a club or perhaps some exclusive and delicate community that might fracture at the slightest provocation. The latest love-it-or-leave-it approach I've seen comes from an open letter and statements by Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, President of Human Life International.

The Open Letter to Congresswoman Pelosi ends with:
The door of the Church that opens wide to welcome every repentant sinner swings both ways. In the Name of Jesus, use it and spare the rest of us your perversity.

I hold out hope that some day you will see the light and want to reconcile with the Church you have so brazenly betrayed. If so, call me. I will hear your confession. But get ready to do some serious penance.
The statements include this:
"I have one very simple suggestion for all 'Catholic' Pharisees who want to be in the Church but not of the Church: spare us all your scandal mongering and get the hell out."
If your jaw has dropped but you at least take some comfort that others don't share Rev. Euteneuer's sentiments, you might be surprised. Take a look at some of the comment box discussion in this smart response to the letter over on Disputations.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004


My son, who will soon be two and a half, was in the other room playing with his Hot Wheels set. We like to set it up in different configurations and then see which cars can get through the course and which can't. Sometimes we just set up a jump and see which car can jump the farthest.

Anyway, I was in earshot while he was running cars through a loop-the-loop configuration and I heard him say,
That one works.
That one doesn't work.
That one doesn't work.
That one doesn't work . . . .
It was a little odd because out of the 20 (well there were 20 in the set once, but the house has absorbed six) 14 cars he has usually half work on most course configurations. I finally walked over to see what was up and discovered this:

Quite a stack up! I guess I forgot that a two year old might not think to clear the wreckage before testing the next car.