Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Latest bit of smarm from St. Hope

Now he wants homosexuality to be an international right. Could this be Obama's "gays in the military moment," an unwanted immediate plunge into the kulturkampf. From the Associated Press:
The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned. ...
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. (CM: Will any member of Congress have the cojones to say nyet to this diktat or make a cause celebre out of it? ... Let's see Wednesday.)
They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all. ...
"In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted (CM: By whom, on what basis??) as an integral part of human freedom'," the official said.
According to negotiators, the Bush team had concerns that those parts could commit the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In some states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military. It was not immediately clear on Tuesday how the Obama administration had come to a different conclusion. (CM: See below; I'm not sure they did.)
When it was voted on in December, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the declaration — which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with anti-gay discrimination.
But 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality — and in several, homosexual acts can be punished by execution. More than 50 nations, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposed the declaration.
Some Islamic countries said at the time that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest. (CM: Now where O where might they have gotten such an idea.) The declaration was also opposed by the Vatican.
I'm frankly torn on this one. Obviously, I don't think sodomy, or any other immoral sexual conduct, should be a capital offense (I won't pretend to be a better man than I am, and I like my neck and spinal cord in one piece). Nor even be an actively prosecuted crime, either.¹

But at the same time, I'm pretty vigorously opposed to making anything a "right" or a "human right" under "international law" or treaties that could be enforceable by the U.N. or any now-realistically-conceivable judicial body. And not for reasons even remotely related to the specifics of homosexual conduct, but rather because I oppose giving the legal class any "words to work with" related to the current kulturkampf, any any words on any topic whatever to the international juridical class ("Davos Man," more or less). Rather, it's to the good of all nations that every nation have the sovereign right, under both the principles of (1) subsidiarity and (2) consent of the governed, to determine its own laws and policies on matters of morality, i.e., all laws and policies. Neither an unelected United Nations nor the international cosmopolitan class are a-priori morally superior to national governments in terms of their values (and more often than not, it's the reverse). And national governments, being closer to the actual people, will be better judges of what morals laws are fitting for a given people.

Further, I frankly doubt that the objective effect of this treaty will include preventing Iran or Afghanistan from hanging or stoning anybody. Iran will simply not sign the treaty, the Iranian Supreme Court will not do a Goodridge or Lawrence, and the Iranians will ignore any international tribunal on the matter. (Though hooray for all these things, in isolation.)

No ... what is much more likely is that some international tribunal or activist U.S. court will cite this treaty, despite its nonbinding nature, as representing some sort of international sensus fidelium and use it or cite it to strike down perceived anti-gay laws. After all, the Supreme Court already has used, as Ed Whelan describes here, a treaty the US did not even ratify as justification for striking down the death penalty for killers under 18. Who knows what can be done with a treaty one does ratify, even if it's nonbinding on its face?

The most cynical part of me, in fact, thinks that's exactly what the Obama administration wants, which is why I don't think the Obama administration necessarily came to a different conclusion from the Bush administration about the legal effects of the treaty. Team Obama just wouldn't mind if some international tribunal or an activist U.S. court were to cite this treaty as a basis for striking down, say, the ban on active homosexuality in the military or the federal or state legal definitions of marriage as a male-female union. Indeed, that'd be the best of both worlds, from their POV.² They and their gay-activist constituencies would get what they want substantively without having to risk political capital in a real political dispute for real stakes. "Hey, we have to do it, it's illegal under ... (bow our heads in reverence) international law."
¹ I think anti-adultery and anti-sodomy laws are useful to have on the books for other purposes, but I don't wanna go down that rabbit hole right now.
² There'd be a striking parallel to Obama's pusillanimous stance on same-sex marriage, which is the most spectacularly incoherent drivel to come out of his mouth, a 200-proof stream of self-serving political cowardice ... regardless of the merits of the issue, even (especially?) if you back gay marriage. Obama says he's against gay marriage (so far, so good; or, in principle, "booooo!!!"). Yet he opposes codifying that belief into law, whether statutorily or constitutionally, whether at the state or federal level, calling every such law (DOMA, Federal Marriage Amendment, Prop 8, etc.) hateful, bigoted, mean-spirited and the restof the litany. But not doing so so loudly as to risk backlash. At the same time, he praises state-court decisions that strike down such state codifications of his supposed beliefs, and he promises, both affirmatively by whom he praises and negatively by whom he damns, more judges in that mould.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

One of the happiest days of life

A few weeks ago I got a call from Dale Price who, in a bout of temporary insanity (I swear I didn't threaten the guy) told me that he and Heather were expecting a fifth child to be born in October and "we need a Godfather." (Heather has already made an announcement, and Dale let it slip en passant in his combox, though I can't find it very quickly.)

I was frankly so nonplussed that I didn't handle it well. The very notion of me as a father of any description is not something that's been in my head for decades. But once I had accepted and talked with Dale for a bit, I was beaming with the same sort of humble pride (if that makes any sense) that I imagine affects men when they find out they'll be biological fathers, though they generally have a little more of an inkling that such news is potentially in the cards.

Goes without saying, of course, that the Prices will be the primary religious educators and parents and authority figures and whatnot. But in several months there will be a human being for whom I have some responsibility before God, a kind of parentage. I can't even type those words in without welling up. I even said to my confessor that "I now have a reason for living," though he (understandably) didn't care for those precise words and said, "you always did, this just makes it clearer to you."

And please forgive the joke pic ... too obvious too pass up.

CM at others' comboxes -- 7

... though with considerable elaborations.

Despite the initial different-looking headline at Jay Anderson's (about Michael Steele) ... I posted the following in response to someone who flatly and dogmatically declared "being gay is not a choice." Something which is simply not true (elaborations here, but not at Jay's, are in italics)
Goreds, anyone who says "being gay is not a choice" doesn't know what in the world he's thinking about. He doesn't know "being" "gay" and "choice" all mean.

To be a little less cryptic, saying "being gay is not a choice," notwithstanding the indubitable fact that our sexual desires feel as if they come from nowhere, presupposes"
  1. sexual orientation as an ontological category ("being") which is, frankly, ass-hattery, as any competent historian of the history of sexuality from Freud to Foucault could tell you. In other words, the very fact that the construction of sexuality and its salient categories are in some sense historical (as the Biblical revisionists insist when they wish to argue that St. Paul and the Hellenistic world had no concept of what we would call "a homosexual orientation"¹) means that it cannot be a human "essence";
  2. sexuality as a binary-exclusive category rather than a continuum (who are the Bs in LGBT, then?). In other words, the minute anyone is bisexual, the whole concept of a gay-straight dichotomy -- which is essential to the "nature" argument about its genesis, the notion that sexuality is a "being," and the rhetorical force of the "discrimination" complaints -- it all collapses. Bisexuals can only act like straights or like gays, which shows that the "essence" of sexuality is doing, not being (or they could act like either at different times, I suppose, but that's just as anti-essentialist);
  3. choice as a self-conscious, pure creative act without condition or influence ("I *will* it thus). I mostly said my piece about this subject here. Homosexuality is a choice in the sense that all acquired personality traits are choices, i.e., they're affected by how we act, but they're not something for which we are conscious of having deliberately opted;
  4. "gay" as a term having nothing to do with self-identification or self-consciousness. See discussion at the end. Though somewhat snarkily, I've actually been told this by the only actively-gay friend I've ever had who knew about my issues. I was a virgin at the time, and I used "we" or "us" in some reference having to do with some cultural aspect of homosexuality. He got offended and said "until you've [locker-room term for sex], you ain't one of us."
Sorry ... but you've just been propagandized all your life with ideas that don't make a lick of sense once you examine them (and not necessarily when you examine them from a specifically "conservative Catholic" POV). And particularly when you examine the general underpinnings outside the context of homosexuality. In a world where the with-it researchers don't even think sex (i.e., male-female) is biologically given, why on earth should this be the only thing in life that biologically given.²

Personality and identity formation are both fascinating subjects, except when the H word gets mentioned, in which case, PC orthodoxy toes the line. There's way more to be said about identity than petulant little "It is not a choice, everyone else is ignorant" squibs.

Just ask yourself this what does "being gay" mean if it does not refer to observable behavior (which is often both chosen and changeable)? If it neither refers to some eternal state separated from matters of behavior, nor primarily a matter of self-identification (either would be both chosen and changeable), then *what* *is* *it*? So is it a biological thing .... but if so, then why can't you give a blood/gene/semen/skin/breath/whatever test for it?
¹ A statement that, as far as it goes, is true enough.
² Don't get me started on the absurd bad-faith of saying that "gender" is socially constructed, while somehow arguing that "who turns you on" is both innate and defined by "gender."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The "God hates shrimp" fallacy

Robert Stacy McCain (HT again to Dad29) preaches that ol' time Bible-thumping religion on homosexuality and gay "marriage" at Cynthia Yockey, who responded at her site "A Newly Conservative Lesbian" by reprinting a letter to Dr. Laura that has been floating around since 2000. Here's an excerpt:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them. ...
b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her? ...
d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
McCain's rejoinder is here, but I've cut Miss Yockey off at (f) because the rest of the letter, which goes from (a) to (j) is essentially redundant ... all variations on the same point, what I call ... well the title of this post -- the "God hates shrimp" fallacy.

I don't particularly have any desire to specifically rebut Miss Yockey (who at least does come across on her site as a level-headed non-hateful person, i.e., not Amanda Marcotte, though they offer the identical argument), But the fallacy is so common that I guarantee you that there's not ten orthodox Catholic persons in the world who haven't heard it. There's even a would-be-parody-of-Fred-Phelps site called God Hates Shrimp, and some pro-gay types do parody protests like those pictured here at the right.

First of all ... in the discharge of my office as shepherd and teacher of all and by virtue of my supreme food authority, I declare, decree and define that the awesomeness of shrimp scampi as pictured atop and displayed throughout the ages must definitively be held by the whole Church. Hence if anyone, may God forbid, willfully deny or call into doubt that which I hath defined, let him be anathema.

But seriously, folks ...

It's hard to know the amount of seriousness with which "God hates shrimp" is offered. It is such a bad, BAD argument, that it is hard to believe that people knowledgeable about Christian belief (note: not at all the same thing as "devout Christians") could either be making it or be paying it any heed. Ignorant people rationalizing post hoc, prejudiced bigots arguing in bad faith, clowns incapable of turning off the snark ... those people I "get."

Yet this argument seems to be popular ... I've seen that "Note to Dr. Laura" at least twice in other forums, and I believe the "God Hates Shrimp" site people when they say at their photo captions that the two dominant reactions they get at Gay Pride parades are laughter (from those who "get it") and anger (from those who don't) -- both groups actually showing a different sort of ignorance, two riffs off the same chord of religious illiteracy. So at the risk of sounding like a square for taking too seriously something not meant seriously ...

It's often said, "scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist." I'd go farther -- contemporary atheism and fundamentalism are really two sides of the same coin as far as reading and use of the Bible are concerned. They both see the Bible as a set of proof texts to be simply applied afresh and anew every day as if directly written by God Himself yesterday, i.e., completely independently of either Tradition or any notion of any binding authority. But of course, that atheist-fundamentalist hermeneutic coin has nothing to do with how the Bible has ever been understood (or the OT by Jews, for that matter). From the first century to possibly as late as the mid-19th century, no matter what Fred Phelps says today, nobody had ever conceived the Bible as a set of free-standing proof-texts waiting to be applied aphoristically to the controversies of every day.

Or in a single phrase: Christian teaching on homosexuality has never rested on proof-texting Leviticus 18:22.

Notably, every single example of other Biblical prohibitions mentioned in the note cited in the letter to Dr. Laura is from elsewhere in the early books of the Old Testament. Which hints right away at the problem -- "Old."¹ The ritual and dietary laws of the "Old" Covenant, and even the details of the Hebrew civic code, have never been considered binding by Christians. They have been superceded by the "New" Covenant in Jesus Christ, as explained in the "New" Testament repeatedly, most extensively in Hebrews. That the Old Testament and New Testament interrelate on some schema like this, however it may shake out in the details -- this isn't esoteric knowledge. It's so central to any understanding of Christianity that the person who doesn't know it (and somebody who makes the God Hates Shrimp argument seriously, by definition, doesn't) is incompetent to make any arguments about Christianity.² Indeed, practically the very first controversy in the Church was over this exact matter -- how binding is Jewish ritual law on matters like diet and circumcision. And the Apostles, led by St. Paul, quickly decided that they were not binding.

To some extent, I have done nothing more than state the obvious -- even the most cursory knowledge of Christian practice or, heck, even two good eyes on a Friday during Lent today, will tell you that Christianity has never proscribed eating shrimp. And to be fair, "God Hates Shrimp" isn't really intended to make Christians stop consuming scampi; it's more intended as the first horn of a (supposed) dilemma, the first move in an intellectual two-step ("suspend your morals / do-si-do").³ The real point is the second horn of the "dilemma," the "do-si-do" -- something like "well, if the Leviticus prohibition on eating shrimp has been superseded, why not 'lying with a man as one does with a woman'?"

Offered in the right spirit, it's a legitimate question, to which the answer is "some parts of the Mosaic law are still parts of the New Convenant, others are not." For example, Our Lord said He didn't come to erase the law, but to fulfill it, which, whatever it means in the details, obviously means that some of the specifics will remain and some will not. To which, the secular rebuttal is entirely obvious: "how does one determine which Specific Detailed Prohibition X remains valid (homosexual acts) and which Specific Detailed Prohibition Y (shrimp, mixing cotton and silk) does not?" And to have an intelligent rejoinder, one must abandon fundamentalism because literal proof-texting has no way, even in principle, to answer this question. If one DOES think of Leviticus 18:22 as an eternal proof text of its own per-se free-standing authority, then Leviticus 11:10 also must be, and the God Hates Shrimp argument is correct (or the Ten Commandments would dissolve also).

But back to the main point -- it is plain and manifest that Christians have always followed some parts of the Mosaic code but not others, the serious question always being "which parts and how do we know." And this is where the New Testament comes in, and Tradition and a binding Magisterium do too. Unlike shrimp, the binding quality of the parts of the Mosaic code related to homosexual acts has been held by Christians and the Church since the 1st century, including in the New Testament itself.

Now, to be sure, homosexual acts are only even arguably mentioned about four times in the New Testament, and a condemnation of them is never actually the point being made. Indeed, I could even subscribe to much of this interesting, if ultimately unpersuasive, piece by gay apologist James Allison, the thrust of which is the perfectly sane and well-developed point that the start of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, the principal New Testament cite on the subject, isn't especially concerned with the morality of homosexuality as a topic. Rather, St. Paul uses it as an example of a wrong in the service of the broader point that's really what (that part of) the letter is about -- that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, that sin has affected all equally. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger's 1986 letter on homosexuality uses similar lingo -- that Paul "is at a loss to find a clearer example" of sin.4 The other New Testament verses cited as proof texts (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Jude 1:7) are the same, only "more" so -- homosexual acts and/or persons who commit them are merely mentioned en passant in a laundry list of condemnations.

But in some ways, that's exactly the way to discern Tradition -- the That Which Does Not Have To Be Argued For, the Premise So Obvious That It Can Remain Unstated. The very fact that St. Paul and St. Jude don't argue for the immorality of homosexual acts because they don't have to -- the "dropped in" quality of the references, without elaboration or argument or detail, proves they could assume automatic assent to the statement "homosexual acts are condemned" and "those who commit them are damned." And keep in mind, the Apostles weren't shy about changing the details of ritual and practice, if they thought the New Covenant reversed anything in the Old. After all, they even moved the day of Sabbath's observance (one of the Ten Commandments).

Going through Church history, the Fathers and the Tradition, we see something similar. Until historically speaking, five minutes ago, whenever homosexual acts are referred to, it has always been in an unfavorable light or in a context where its condemnation was assumed. Natural-law philosophy has always been invoked against homosexual acts and never until about five minutes ago did any orthodox Christian of prominence argue for the morality of homosexual acts. Whatever may be said about the meaning of those facts; that is itself a fact, which is relevant in understanding Tradition. And in response to the rise of the modern gay movement, the Church's Magisterium has produced a rich battery of response, none of which ever states that homosexual actions are acceptable. It's possible, of course, for new developments to overcome traditions, but not on a subject where there is Scripture (however vague) and a constant Apostolic Tradition, both of which are all on one side of the matter.

There is no doubt that sexual sins, of all kinds and all other sins too, may have had greater prominence and wider practice in some times and places than others. But silence does not equal assent; indeed, in the case a prophetic institution, quite the opposite. To get a sense of this apparent paradox, ask yourself: how often and how vigorously does the Church today condemn cannibalism? It wouldn't seem like much, on the proof-text method. If you go to the Vatican English Web site now and search for the word "cannibalism," you find three references. One is in a laundry list of brutalities. The other two (actually one in English and one in Italian) are attacks on scientific research that uses humans or their parts in a way incompatible with human dignity, and in both cases, the author uses "cannibalism" as a rhetorical weapon against using (or "consuming") human beings this way. In other words -- exactly the senses and contexts of the New Testament's references to homosexuality.

So step back -- would anybody care to defend the proposition that the Church does not now condemn cannibalism? Or be prepared to defend a 28th century revisionist citing the Church's few current words on the topic (along with the relevant news reports and works of art on the practice) as showing that the question was open in the 20th and early 21st century? Or argue in advance that the Church's 27th century flurry of condemnation against the then-rising tide of cannibalism will be ungrounded in Tradition (much less Scripture, which has even less to say about cannibalism than it does about homosexuality)?

To ask these questions this way is to answer them.

Now ... if the New Testament or Tradition/Magisterium had been silent or even sometimes been divided on the matter -- then I would be willing to say "maybe Leviticus 18:22 should be seen as a dead letter" and God no more hates lying with a man as one does with a woman any more than He does shrimp.

But of course, that's not the world we live in.
¹ It should I hope go without saying, as the later paragraphs should show, that I'm not engaged in Marcionism, but rather merely saying that the Old Testament, while also divinely inspired, needs to be read in light of the New (and of Tradition) since it reflects various covenants that have been superceded.
² Indeed, when Christians say "atheists and 'brights' think we are all by definition completely stupid illiterates," it's situations like this that we have in mind: thinking that such an obvious "gotcha" hasn't been noticed for 2,000 years and that the Bright pointing this out in a combox in AD 2009 has some kosmos-shattering argument. One could never make the argument without always already having in the head "Christian = stupid" as a controlling mental template, an "of-course" meme. Or to put it another way, the secularist reaction to the manifest undeniable fact that Christians have never had a problem with eating shrimp or pork or with mixing fabrics, etc., isn't "hmmm ... they must not think these passages aren't binding. I wonder why?" but "bwahahaha ... they don't even KNOW these passages exist. Illiterates!!"
³ Exodus 20:12 to Exodus 20:17 would have to go out the window also on this argument. But again, that assumes "OT is not binding" is being argued in a more rigorous, rational spirit than it really is, rather than just being drafted into the theological equivalent of a lawyer's brief on the specific matter of homosexuality. The prophet Nietzsche famously laughed at "moralistic little English fatheads who think they could have Christian morality without the Christian god.
4 "In Romans 1:18-32, still building on the moral traditions of his forebears, but in the new context of the confrontation between Christianity and the pagan society of his day, Paul uses homosexual behaviour as an example of the blindness which has overcome humankind. Instead of the original harmony between Creator and creatures, the acute distortion of idolatry has led to all kinds of moral excess. Paul is at a loss to find a clearer example of this disharmony than homosexual relations." In other words, homosexuality serves as an example in a broader point about man's rebellion from God and the effects of sin; it isn't "the point" per se. What Cardinal Ratzinger wrote is completely compatible with Allison's reading (though the latter man's "read" does not, cannot, take him where he wants to go).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Answer to comboxer

Someone named Konrad sent me three notes in the past few weeks, asking for the Bill Number for the Freedom of Choice Act, which I alluded to in making the point that politics requires that threats pretty much always must be followed through on.

To be honest, I initially dismissed Konrad as a troll, because his unused profile combined with the repetition of his first two notes set off an alarm bell and partially because of a meme making the rounds at the time -- most prominently in this Time magazine (hit) piece by liberal evangelical Amy Sullivan. She assured us that FOCA was a red-herring, a "mythical abortion bill" being railed against by a "well-oiled lobbying campaign" that "some American Catholics are finding ... both curious and troubling ... at a time when the United States is gripped by economic uncertainty and faces serious challenges in hot spots around the globe." Sullivan's piece being in the air meant that Konrad's notes read like the set-up for some liberal's "gotcha" trap ("A-HA ... there IS no such bill ... foiled YOU, Christianist godbagger!!!!").¹

But his latest note, in which he says he has "drafted letter to both the House and Senate and need to insert the bill number" tells me that he deserves an answer. The short answer is that FOCA has not been introduced in the current Congress, so it has no bill number. "Freedom of Choice Act" will suffice for any possible reference, though. Nobody will be confused.

But FOCA will be introduced. Rest assured, according to the sponsor of the legislation, and contrary to Sullivan's earlier report. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
A spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the legislation "is among the congressman's priorities. We expect to reintroduce it sooner rather than later." ...
Ilan Kayatsky, Nadler's spokesman, said he anticipates that the bill's other original sponsor, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will introduce FOCA in the U.S. Senate. "We expect it to be more or less the same bill with some minor tweaks," Kayatsky said.
This does not mean FOCA will pass, of course; my bet is that it won't, for a variety of good reasons (the bill is so extreme that a majority of congresscritters probably do oppose it) and not-so-good reasons (kulturkampf liberals prefer stealthy administrative bodies and courts to democratic debate; the administration has tied itself to the mast on economic issues and has other domestic fish it'd rather fry).

But still ...
¹ Even though true, this view is ridiculously naive (rebuttals at the time were here from Ramesh Ponnuru at NR, here from John McCormack at TWS, and from Matthew Balin at Newsbusters). The indubitable fact that "no such bill has been introduced in the current Congress" does not make FOCA "a piece of legislation that doesn't exist." Or rather it does so only on the most formalist pecksniffery of the sort that would also believe that the U.S. armed forces are dissolved and raised anew with each Congress -- look it up, that's the actual "legal fiction." FOCA has been introduced in several recent Congresses, even though there was no chance of it reaching either chamber's floor and there was a hostile president at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But the fact that a bill got little traction when it had no chance of passage and the party that would mostly favor it had little power -- in the world of Time Magazine senior editors, that actually argues AGAINST its relevance when that party has substantial majorities in both houses and a friendly president who was a former co-sponsor and vowed he would sign it during the campaign. Or at a minimum those new conditions don't change the equation in favor of the bill getting more traction now than in the past.

CM at others' combox -- 6

From a discussion at The Other McCain (HT re site, to Dad29), the first graf, in bold is what I'm responding to (some elaboration by me, now, in italics:
Robert, I'm speechless. Well, not really. Here's my entire problem with Christianity: Christians sin in any manner they want, profess a belief that Christ has paid for their sins, then continue with their sinful ways. THEN ... condemn others for sins, because those sinners haven't said the magic words "I believe and accept Christ".

Sure ... the way many Christians act is objective counter-witness. But you're conflating three different issues as though they were the same thing:

(1) The failure of Christians to meet Moral Standard X. Note that the actual content or subject matter of the Moral Standard is of no consequence.
(2) The rightness of Moral Standard X.
(3) The role of Moral Standard X in public policy.

That (1) has nothing to do with (2) is, I hope, self-evident without explanation. I suppose if a person believes all moral standards to be self-rationalization for what one does or personalist wish-fulfillment toward some arbitrary ego-ideal, one can deny there is is no link. But those are pretty extreme positions that few people self-consciously hold.

And when you think about it, it's hard to see why (1) should have anything more to do with (3) than with (2). After all, if all men are sinners, then who could ever uphold any Moral Standard? Nobody in good-faith and upon reflection can seriously maintain that only the sinless have the moral space to preach virtue (though many people do say it in bad faith, though charity requires the latter guess upon dealing with a stranger). Now it may well be the case that, to take a pertinent example, that it would be impolitic or embarrassing for a tax cheat to oversee the IRS as its Treasury Secretary, say. But nobody would take Tim Geithner's woes to either (a) argue for the moral goodness of tax-cheating, or (b) argue that the IRS has no right to pursue tax cheats according to law.

(That (2) is a separate question from (3) primarily becomes relevant when we discuss the practical wisdom of the extent of morals legislation, i.e., all legislation, in a given time and place. To take a concrete example, abortion, contraception and masturbation are all intrinsically immoral, but I think the law and society ought to take very different stances on all three -- respectively: illegal, legal but legally-discouraged, legal but socially-discouraged.)

Lord, forgive me

I've even managed to ADD a timesuck during Lent -- now Twittering under this persona (been doing it in my own name for a while). Dunno how to set up an RSS feed that Blogger will accept, but for now, just click on the link to the right.  It wasn't an RSS feed I'd seen on other sites ... just a Blogspot widget that I've now added, at the right.

UPDATE: Awesome ... got two followers within an hour, the first historic step coming from Don Schloeder ("just this guy, you know" ... wait wasn't that already taken??), and the second being apologist-extraordinaire Patrick Madrid.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Staying classy

Upon the death of Father Richard John Neuhaus, the always charitable Andrew Sullivan wrote, now that the man cannot provide us with his version of this encounter:
I met Richard John Neuhaus only a couple of times, but he took the second occasion to tell me to my face, with his clerical collar on, that I was "objectively disordered." I remember this rather well because we were in an elevator at the time and I didn't quite know where to look.
I'll go out on a limb though and say, whatever Sullivan says now he remembers rather well, that this is not accurate. I posted Father Scalia's talk below and he goes to excruciating length to tease out what "intrinsically disordered" or "objectively disordered" do in fact mean, and what they refer to. They can never refer to a person. Ever. No Church document has ever said either of those things about persons, and I have read all of those that touch on this topic.

There are four explanations (just speaking the logical possibilities)
  1. Sullivan is flat-out lying and made the story up from whole cloth
  2. Sullivan misheard or misunderstood an actual conversation
  3. Father Neuhaus doesn't understand Church teaching as well as I and/or Father Scalia do
  4. Father Neuhaus spoke imprecisely in an impromptu oral conversation
Simple charity requires me to exclude (1) and simple humility requires me to exclude (3).

Now (4) is a possibility -- even the best of us slip into imprecision or speak casually or forget certain philosophical distinctions that we acknowledge. But it strikes me as unlikely in this case. I've heard Father Neuhaus speak and give interviews, and he's not orally inarticulate or imprecise. And generally, homosexuality has become in recent years such a hot-button issue for the Church and its teaching so often distorted, willfully or otherwise, that any decently-formed priest or Catholic with intellectual pretensions will have the philosophical p's and q's in the front of his head, not the back, when speaking with a homosexual person. (I know I do.)

And it's not as though there isn't a public record of Sullivan doing (2). Read practically anything he's ever written on homosexuality and the Church, and you'll see the same basic misunderstanding -- the identification of the person with the act and/or the feeling. And from the very beginning: I'll post an extensive discussion of his mistake in "Virtually Normal" when I can get done with it.

So, I would bet New York to a donut that Neuhaus said something like the following, all of which are perfectly congruent with Church teaching, and none of which mean what Sullivan hears:
  • "Your orientation or feelings are objectively disordered"
  • "Homosexuality is objectively disordered"
  • "It is unfortunate that you identify with an objective disorder"
Obviously, those choices aren't exhaustive of all the things that could have been said that use the term "objective disorder." But as I said ... it sure was classy for Sully to repeat this anecdote now that Father Neuhaus is in no position to dispute it to the world.

Offer it up

A priest mentioned to me recently a couple of important things about the theology of "offering it up," something that many people in my situation do.
  • "Offering it up" doesn't make "it" go away.
  • "Offering it up" doesn't make "it" not painful.
It is the most natural thing in the world to think these things, but they are incompatible with why one "offers it up." The point of offering it up is to transvalue or sanctify suffering by joining our sufferings to the Cross. Our Lord accepted the Cross, not chucked it aside, i.e., made it go away. And He didn't accept the pain because it was something he was impervious to, like a deaf man standing in front of a bullhorn.

The point of offering up suffering is to transcend it, not end it.

Father Scalia does ToT

Last week, our Courage chaplain spoke at the Arlington Diocese's Theology on Tap program, on "The True Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality."

The Podcast of Father Scalia's talk is here. It's an MP3 file, but it doesn't automatically download the file, just opens a browser window and plays the file, so it's quite safe. And here's the page that links to Podcasts of all the ToT speakers, plus the schedule for Monday nights at Pat Troy's Ireland's Own in Old Town Alexandria.

I believe I was the only person from our chapter; I certainly saw no others and neither did Father, though I can't exclude the possibility that some in the audience were struggling with this issue but have not come forward. Father begins with the overall Church teaching on sex as having meaning, and goes from there. Here's several of the key points.
  • "The Church does not have two different standards for chastity -- one for homosexuals and one for heterosexuals."
  • "Notice that both these groups (gay activists and Fred Phelps) make the same error. They collapse the person into the sexual attractions. They believe that sexual attractions define the person. The Church's view of the person is much deeper and broader than that. That sexual attractions are an aspect of the human person, an aspect of human sexuality, but they do not define the person."
  • "First [the Catechism talks about] homosexual acts, which the church teaches are 'intrinsically disordered' ... The church does not teach that persons are intrinsically disordered, it has never taught that. Second, the Catechism talks about homosexual attractions. Homosexual attractions the Catechism describes as 'objectively disordered.' They are not immoral in themselves ... feelings in and of themselves cannot be morally good or morally bad; they're simply feelings. They become morally charged when we act on them. But there are certain feelings lead us to the wrong things and certain feelings lead us to the right things."
  • "This is one of the boldest paragraphs in the Catechism. It calls those with same-sex attractions to holiness, not just to physical continence -- it's not just saying, 'OK, you've just gotta control yourself and that's it.' No, 'you have a particular weakness, an attraction that is not right, but you're called to holiness.' And as is true for everyone, it is the struggle against our sinful inclinations that makes us holy. We don't become holy despite the struggle -- 'gosh, if I just got over my human weakness, then I could be holy.' No, it is by struggling with our human weakness and availing ourselves of every opportunity for God's grace that we become holy. And that's the Church's message to those with same-sex attractions." And then a joke about the nature of Confession; I admit tearing up a bit at this point.
And he goes on to make a point I never tire of making, immediately and in the Q-and-A -- that the homosexual movement is simply applying the morality of the sexual revolution, which was mostly the fruit of heterosexual sins, most prominently contraception and divorce. (Stonewall came after the Summer of Love, not before. Or in Father's words "given that's the way [most heterosexual couple today] live marriage -- we can do that.")

The questions afterwards were sometimes pointed but always respectful. No ranting "WHY DO YOU HATE ME!!!!" types. My favorite Q-and-A moment was when one person asked something about "how does one rebut 'Gay Argument X'," and Father called that "playing defense" and said he was more interested in playing offense (I winced at where this metaphor could go) and explain the Church's teaching on sexuality, and the beauty of it and what's good about it. The Church is not the Ravens, who can win by relying on a great defense.¹

After the speech, owner Pat Troy said that night's audience was the most people ever to attend a ToT, even outdrawing one by Bishop Loverde (don't get a big head, Padre. I'm thinking that the fact the word "sex" was in the title may have had something to do with it).

But it'd be hard to imagine anyone ever topping it, at least in that venue. The bar was completely packed, and I would be stunned if there was no fire-code violations -- people were standing the aisles two-deep and the waiters and waitresses had to struggle to walk around.
¹ The fact Father said the Ravens, not the Redskins is proof of bona fides -- only a football fan could have said that. Though this Steelers fan hopes the Ravens defense, great though it is, comes up short this weekend against another team that plays great defense.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Rule #1 -- If you make a threat, carry it out

You must carry out threats, if for no better reason than to preserve your ability to threaten something the next time. This basic rule applies to much more than, say, Israel and Hamas. Like to Britain and Catholic adoption agencies.

The BBC is reporting that half of the Catholic adoption agencies are wussing out on threats to shut down rather than comply with a British law requiring all groups providing public services, even religious groups effective Jan. 1, to accede to state morality on homosexuality.

Actually, if you read through to the end of the story, it's worse than 5 of 11 agencies complying with Caesar's unjust law. It's actually 5 of the 8 that the BBC could determine; in three of the 11 cases, it wasn't known what the agency was doing. Even among the three agencies that are not complying with the law, only one has actually closed down; the other two are seeking reclassification as agencies whose mission caters specifically to married couples and singles (I am not holding my breath that Caesar will buy this legerdemain in my opinion).

Now please tell me ... why should the British government, in its threat to force approval of the gay lifestyle on everybody in the Scepter'd Isle, believe Church warnings in the future?

There's a lesson in this case for American bishops in the Age of Obama. Though actual, formal, gauntlet-throwing threats have been rare so far, the Freedom of Choice Act, which Obama has promised to sign, is causing some rumblings among our bishops.

Some bishops have hinted that if FOCA passes, they will close Catholic hospitals (i.e., about 15 percent of the national total, depending on how you measure) rather than perform abortions or dispense contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. Others (e.g., my bishop, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, at right) have said they would keep the hospitals open, ignore the law and let Caesar arrest the bishop if he dare.

Either option would be fine. But anybody who's ever been in a bar, a playground or any athletic contest knows this much: "never let your mouth write a check your ass can't cash"

Thursday, January 01, 2009

CM at others' comboxes -- 5

I spent much of New Year's Eve -- when I was supposed to be working, natch -- arguing over gay "marriage" at the Culture11 blog Confabulum, answering a Twitter call from C11's Joe Carter for more SoCon support (kinda like Commissioner Gordon shining the Bat-Signal).

The thread is here -- as I type, there's 107 comments, a healthy share from Yours Truly. I cannot reach Culture11 from my home computer (stupid porn filter), though I can read but not post from my iPhone.

Anyhow, only two minor things since my last comment from my work computer last night seem worthy of comment, and they're more in the "throw up my hands" genre. Frankly, every day the arguments and conduct of gay, pro-homosex and pro-SSM activists, particularly since the passage of Proposition 8 in California, provide more evidence for the libel that homosexuality is a form of arrested development.

First, I love [sic] how one can be accused of saying something (post 94 ... that I was "comparing my friends' happy relationships to 'bestiality or whatever' ") that one has quite specifically said he doesn't believe (post 68 ... that there is no necessary link between a person's homosexual desire and behavior and that person's wanting the other forms of unions -- polygamy, bestiality, etc. -- that the arguments for gay marriage will legitimate). Particularly when someone else had noted earlier that much I was about the arguments for SSM than SSM itself.

Second and relatedly in Post 94, there's another example of the same tiresome trope -- bigot ("ignorant prejudice"). Laughably, the person even defends his own rationality with "others of us -- certainly myself -- do see opposition to SSM as rooted in bigotry but are still willing to discuss and explain why." Does one laugh or cry? "Bigot" is not an argument or even an objective description -- it's an attempt to delegitimize the person and end the discussion. You do not, in fact cannot, disuss matters with a bigot, because a bigot by definition does not hold a position for rational reasons. The only thing a pro-SSM person need do in such a "discussion" [sic] is make pronunciamentos that arguments X, Y, Z are "bigotry" and issue the appropriate "anathema sit"s of the bigot.

In fact, a certain gay activist once wrote the following warning, regarding what he called the "Prohibitionist" view of homosexuality that is very relevant to this, even though he himself has not only fallen off this-here wagon, but isn't even interested in getting back on.
Perhaps the most depressing and fruitless feature of the current debate about homosexuality is to treat all version of this argument as the equivalent of bigotry. They are not. In an appeal to "nature," the most persuasive form of this argument is rooted in one of the oldest traditions of thought in the West, a tradition that still carries a great deal of intuitive sense. ... And at its most serious, it is not a phobia; it is an argument. And as arguments go, it has a rich literature, an extensive history, a complex philosophical core, and a view of humanity that tells a coherent and at times beautiful story of the meaning of our natural selves.
Andrew Sullivan,
Virtually Normal, pp 21-23
Remember when Sullivan pretended to take arguments seriously. That was awesome.