Thursday, May 31, 2012


Can a Christian be a pessimist? Not in an absolute sense. We can never really despair because Jesus has won the victory. But we can see a bleak future based on spiritual insights. Many of the prophets predicted disaster for Israel yet every one also wrote words of great hope. Sometimes our insights can be wrong. Elijah, even after Mt Carmel, saw no hope and God said you are wrong. I have quietly kept many men from the sins it seemed everyone was doing.

So what about today? Should we be predicting disaster? I have to say I have concerns. I don't have faith in technology. I don't have faith in the strength of the human spirit. I have faith in God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. So when societies move away from that then you can expect that things are going to come undone. I have been pessimistic about Europe for a long time. I saw some enclaves that I thought would hold out against the onslaught of secularism like Ireland and Poland. But in general there was very little faith in Europe, very few going to church, very few children, very little respect for Christian morality. You add to that huge Muslim immigration and you can easily see Western society quietly fading away.

Many don't see that as a bad thing. They think all the western values like human rights and democracy will remain intact. I don't. I see them as having Christian roots. If Europe ceases to be Christian then why would they respect that? I even wonder about values like science and education. Would they just fall apart as well? They would take longer but when the foundation falls then nothing is safe.

Look at the trouble people are having getting democracy and education established in Muslim countries. How long have we basically had total control of Afghanistan? Even 10 years ago I thought if we persisted eventually people would see the benefit and buy in. Now I see the problem as deeper. It is a religious issue. Even the Bush administration, who understand the importance of religion better than most Western governments, was not able to directly address religion.

I did once think the bible belt would save the US from the same fate. It may still. I am just less sure about that. After 8 years of Bush didn't bring very many positives I am wondering. It is not that the Christian cause had temporary gains that were wiped out when Obama was elected. That would have been disappointing. But we went backwards over those 8 years even on social issues. That is when gay marriage gained momentum.

Beyond that, I tend to be less optimistic on environmental issues. More concerned about addictions. Less impressed with the overall quality of political leadership. More concerned with some signs of real moral cracks in the evangelical movement. There are just a lot of reasons to be concerned that the foundations of western society are not going to hold.

The one area of real optimism has been the Catholic church. Even in the few years since I became Catholic it has grown much more orthodox. There are a lot of bishops and a lot of lay leaders who really seem to get this. Pope Benedict has been amazing both in his teachings and in the appointments he has made. It is like the Catholic church hit its low point and is already on the road to recovery. Everyone else is still on the way down.

Of course that is the west. The west is not the whole world. Christianity has long been associated with Europe but it really isn't true anymore. Western countries have much less than half the Christians and Western Christians tend to be more wishy-washy. There are a lot of good things happening in Africa and Asia.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Apparitions and Atheists

Baggini over at the Gardian reacts to a Vatican document on apparitions.
The latest publication of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the body once known as the Inquisition) seems designed to provide cheap entertainment for atheists. "Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations" contains guidelines for deciding whether to validate "apparitions and the revelations often connected with them". While the infidels giggle, those among the theological intelligentsia who insist on the unimportance of superstition for religion and the primacy of practice over doctrines can only despair.
Those two reactions to apparitions are common. One is "giggles." That is not because there is anything to laugh at. It is because they are terrified people won't laugh. It is like a murderer giggling when an eye witness explains that he saw who committed the crime. It is a desperate attempt to discredit someone just because you don't like what they say.

Then there are the anti-supernatural Christians who don't feel comfortable with miracles. They might accept miracles in the bible but they have bought into materialist assumptions. These things just don't happen. Mostly the don't. But when they do they can strengthen our faith. In a society that suffers from a crisis of faith we should not feel we are somehow above these things.
There's little point in rehearsing the reasons why many laugh this off as evidently absurd. In this case, many of the criteria applied to apparitions are perfectly sensible, in so far as the whole enterprise can be seen as sensible. You have to check whether the witnesses display "honesty", "sincerity" and "rectitude of moral life"; that they are free from "psychological disorder or psychopathic tendencies"; that there is no "evidence of a search for profit or gain"; and that the sighting is inspiring "healthy devotion and abundant and constant spiritual fruit".
So why is there no point in saying why you don't take apparitions seriously? The church is saying all the things that atheists might say. The people might be lying. They might be untrustworthy. They might be after money. They might be crazy. If there is evidence that is the case then don't pay much attention. But if there is no evidence of any of those things then what is the reason they can "laugh this off as evidently absurd." The reason is their dogma. They believe this can't be real not based on evidence but based on their personal faith in an atheist world and life view. But they don't want to admit that is their source of knowledge. That would be quite awkward. So laughing is in order.
What's more interesting are the subtler paradoxes of faith that are found in those key tests which maintain the authority of the church to determine truth and doctrine, paradoxes thoughtful believers are well aware of. Sound witnesses are those who show "habitual docility towards ecclesiastical authority". Any revelations offered by apparitions must be of "true theological and spiritual doctrine and immune from error". It is negative evidence against a sighting if any revelations offered in it contain "doctrinal errors attributed to God himself, or to the blessed virgin Mary, or to some saint in their manifestations".
Not all apparitions are real. Some might be someone's pious imagination. One way we can know something is not real is of it makes God seem to contradict Himself. God does not do that. This goes back to Deuteronomy 13 and 18 about false and true prophets. 
Herein contains what we might call the paradox of revelation, which is confronted by any organised religion that is based on revelation, in whole or part. As its meaning makes clear, you can't have a "revelation" that tells everyone what they already know. The supposed revelations of God to humanity through Christ, or the word of God to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel, had the power they did because they indicated new truths, new directions for followers.
This is a false choice. Either a revelation repeats what we already know or it contradicts what we already know. But most things are not known with certainty. Our Lady of Fatima telling us to pray for Russia is a good example. They would not have known the spiritual significance of what was going on in Russia at that time without her telling them. But it did not contradict anything the church taught.

The appearance of Gabriel to Mohammed is a good example the other way. Mohammed claims Gabriel told him Christianity was all wrong. For example, that Jesus was never crucified. So the church would reject that. Either you believe Mohammed or you believe the church. They both can't be right.
However, having established a religion on those revelations, the teachings revealed through them become non-negotiable, and the ecclesiastical authorities become the arbiters of their interpretation. And so that means no further revelation is admissible if it contradicts what is already believed. Revelation of radical new truths, if accepted as real, thus makes future revelation of radical new truths impossible. To put it another way, what was absolutely valid for the establishing of a religion becomes by necessity invalid once it already exists.
This depends on whether you are looking for a new religion or a radically altered religion. This document is not being addressed to people like that. It is addressed to Catholics. Catholics expect God to work through His church and consistent with the way He has worked in the past. So when we process new revelation we interpret it in that way. That is true of new scientific discoveries, new theological ideas, and new supernatural revelations. It is not going to change the faith as it has already been revealed by Jesus through the church. Jesus is God so nothing and no one can correct Him on anything.
This isn't trivial. Although the Catholic church exists to further God's will on earth, the criteria set out by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith make it impossible for the church to accept God's will as being anything other than what they already believe. So while in theory entirely subservient to God's will, God's will actually turns out to be subservient to that of the church.
But you are assuming Catholicism is false. We don't. Jesus is God and is, in a way, bound by what He has said so far. He claims to never lie and never be mistaken. But these are things that describe God more than bind God. God is not love because He said so once and now He can't get out of it. That is just His nature and He revealed it to us. That means we reject any doctrine that contradicts that.
The Sacred Congregation comes so close to seeing what is wrong with this. It says that we must, in assessing the veracity of an apparition, take into account "the possibility that the subject might have added, even unconsciously, purely human elements or some error of the natural order to an authentic supernatural revelation". All it needs to do is take into the account that the church might indeed be such a subject and it would realise it is too fallible to judge the truth of revelation by comparison with what it already believes.
The church is fallible except when she isn't. I don't see any contradiction between believing  there are valid apparitions and believing the doctrine of infallibility. If you believe in the law of non-contradiction, which almost everyone does, then you would reject revelations that are self-contradictory. But you could still be open to revelations that are not. There is nothing about apparitions as a mode of revelation that contradicts it. But the content might or might not. If it does you have a choice. Reject the apparition or reject your previously held belief in the law of non-contradiction or Catholicism or whatever.
A religion that has a place for revelation therefore must not be dogmatic, sure that it knows God's will. Organised religion, however, is not very good at achieving this required level of open-mindedness, perhaps because it requires a severe restriction of ecclesiastical authority. This runs counter to the baroque institutional hierarchy of the church, which in this case gives different levels of authority to ordinaries, the regional or national Conference of Bishops, the Apostolic See and the universal jurisdiction of the supreme pontiff can intervene. Divine revelation has become the property of a very human collection of committees and experts. The irony is that if God agrees, the rules humans have made for validating his revelations mean that he would not be believed even if he told us.
This is startling inability to grasp the facts. He is the one who has a dogma against apparitions. The Catholic church is open-minded. It isn't open minded about all things but about the possibility that God might and has worked in this way it is very open minded. It is not surprising because the evidence that true apparitions have occurred is so strong. The surprising thing is that atheists can ignore what evidence and reason tells us and still proclaim themselves to be the rational ones.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Gay Marriage And The End Of Religious Liberty

CD Host made a longer comment about secularism, Catholicism and homosexuality. We started out about adoption by gay couples. How many gay couples actually want to adopt children? Almost zero. So why has the liberal establishment become consumed with sympathy for this almost non-existent group of people? I think it shows their hatred of conservative Christianity more than it shows any compassion for anyone. That is the problem with sentimentalism. Hate is a sentiment too. It assumes our sentiments are always trustworthy. That just isn't so.

In the case of gay adoption sentimentalism would get the right answer if you went by what would feel right for the child rather than what would feel right for the prospective parents. Why should adoption be focused on affirming the parents and ignore the welfare of the child? Because Christians think it is wrong so it must be right. 
You are shifting the subject here. The original question is, "is the church actively engaging in activities designed to use state pressure to make the lives of gay people worse." You were previously denying that they were engaging in these activities, you are now arguing they were engaging in these activities but they are justified in doing so due to their beliefs that they are advancing child welfare. Why they are doing it, is mostly irrelevant to whether they are doing it.
It all depends on the definition of "worse." You last comment indicates it does not depend on intention but on doing bad in some absolute sense. Definition that is different from what Catholics would call bad in an absolute sense. So if you want to make that clear I agree with you. That Catholics are doing what they consider good but the government is declaring it to be bad. You are saying that the government can punish Catholics in that case and not be violating freedom of religion. I would disagree.
I don't think I've ever discussed with you what I think the law should be. My fantasy world is that the church flips on this teaching like the Protestant churches did on miscegenation. And 100 years from now Catholic conservatives are arguing that the church was always approving of gay rights, sure there were some theologians in times past that disagreed but it was never a teaching of the magisterium and no the church didn't actually order the burning of gays in the 16th century....
The flip is a fantasy. The Catholic church can't flip teaching like Protestant churches can. What I see as possible100 years from now. Guys like you will look at the late 20th century and find "proof" that the Catholic church was pro-sodomy and pedophilia. With all the reaction to the scandals it should not be too hard to find quotes to support this. Then the point will be made that the Catholic opposition to homosexuality was a novel idea invented in the late 20th century for some unknown reason. That the real Catholic tradition was pro-gay and pro-pedophilia and these backward Catholic bishops should just admit they are wrong.
Another possibility that I'd be very happy with is that this teaching becomes so widely disputed by so many agencies in society that it is just ignored by the Catholic population. Masturbation is still technically a mortal sin, but the societal approval for masturbation has grown so strong that churches are unable to make headway against the societal trend on these issues.
I think this has already happened. The rest of the story is that the church maintains its opposition and society eventually either repents or collapses. The problem comes when society tells the church it may not teach that something is wrong. Then he American experiment in human rights ends in failure. Religious persecution comes back in the west and things get really ugly. 
The situation you are describing where the Catholic church and other churches still preach actively against homosexuals and their teachings are widely followed by religious society, while secular society is left having to defend homosexuals via. the law is not my fantasy world at all. That's very close to the situation we've been living through with abortion for the last two generations. Or the situation we've been living with with regard to alcohol since the 1750s.
Again these are not good parallels. Teaching that abortion is wrong is not illegal. It is getting there. The denial of government funding to Catholic relief agencies because they oppose abortion is a very large and very stupid move in that direction by Obama. For someone with an expertise in constitutional law Obama is amazingly clueless about religious freedom. Harvard Law really should give him his money back. He just does not get it.
That being said even if this were the situation, there is no insurmountable conflict between gay rights and freedom of religion. There is nothing unique about a church wanting to engage in activities that are disapproved of or criminal and there is an already existing body of law that covers this. The same laws that made it possible for Catholic churches to get communion wine during prohibition would cover them with regard to the gay rights situation.
You are assuming the courts have not gotten dumber. They have. The courts are more interested in inventing new rights than in defending what is actually in the text of the constitution. They are very caught up in the trend towards ditching traditional thinking. When you do that you don't become a free thinker. You become a fashionable thinker. Being pro-gay is fashionable. Being pro-religion is not. The courts in all western countries have done very little to protect religious freedom.
Assume that homosexuality became a protected class under civil rights law, in precisely the same way race or religion are; which is actually a bit stronger than most homosexuals are even asking for BTW. At that point discrimination solely on the basis of sexual orientation would be illegal for commercial for profit private entities it would still be perfectly legal for churches and religious institutions. So Our Sister of Mercy Orphanage (from here on OSMO) can continue to only give children to heterosexual couples with full protection of law. The state has no ability what-so-ever to challenge the teachings of OSMO . For the state to require OSMO to change their practices or shut down the state would have to have a compelling interest in having every adoption agency provide children to homosexual couples which is a bar they are unlikely to meet. So no, there isn't going to be any persecution.
This has already happened in Illinois and I believe Massachusetts as well. Catholic adoption agencies have been closed down over this issue. So I am confused as to why you still think this could never happen. The one constant is that assurances like you are giving here almost never hold true.
Not being awarded a municipal contract is failure to get an award it is not religious persecution. In other areas like hospitals this sort of thing is happening more as churches are appealing to narrowing segments of the population and alienating others they are losing their positions of privilege given to them as institutions that are seen as benefitting the common good. 
Normally that would be true but in some businesses that is the way almost all the contracts are awarded. Governments control things and to be black listed by a government amounts to being locked out of that line of work. So certain career choices would be unavailable to Catholics. That list would grow over time as everyone who hires Catholics would be labeled a homophobe, a bully, or whatever else they invent.
They would in effect being demoted to the role of niche public interest institutions like PETA. No question that would be bad, which is why people like Sister Keehan who actually understand the law work to prevent that sort of thing from happening; while people like Cardinal Dolan in effect does his best to make sure it happens. This is a choice for the Catholic church does it want the freedom to do whatever it wants that comes with being a niche institution, or the power and privileges of being an institution that works in the broad public interest. Right now the church is divided essentially arguing it should have the autonomy of a niche and the privileges of a broad institution; and denying that is not denying freedom of religion in any sense.
They just want the freedom to be Catholic. What good are power and privilege when you can't use them to do what you know is right? You can only use them to do what society lets you do. That is you may only have this position if you accept a secular definition of right and wrong. Cardinal Dolan understands that this means giving up the very essence of Catholicism.The world is full of people who gained power by making so many compromises that in the end they fail to make a difference. Our society has produced so many of those they are confused by people who actually believe something.
Finally there is "firing" issue you mentioned. Catholic workers at a secular institution being fired for refusing to place gay adoptions. Right now the effective law in the US in non governmental jobs is "right to work", employees can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. I've been fired for refusing to engage in a conspiracy to defraud vendors (i.e. refusing to commit a felony). Religion is however a protected class. The employer would have to show that they couldn't get around the employee's objections that placing gay adoptions that it couldn't be accommodated. Again, likely a fairly high bar. So, no what you are describing wouldn't happen. This is a situation where not only is there loss of religious freedom but it would be fully extended to Catholic workers.
Again, this is already happening. People who have been issuing marriage licenses for years suddenly lose their job because they can't in good conscience process gay marriages. It is not huge yet but in principle it could grow huge. Can a doctor get fired for refusing to perform abortions? Can a pharmacist be fired for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions? Obama has shown a willingness to abuse his power. Narrowing the definition of a religious institution. Targeting the Catholic church. He is scary. He is the first president with the power to execute US citizens without due process. If the worst that happens is Catholics lose their job that would be very good news. I expect it to get a lot uglier than that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why Talk About Heaven And Hell?

I was listening to some excerpts from the Light of the World from Pope Benedict. He talked a bit about being concerned that there was much less eschatological preaching than there used to be. That is preaching about heaven and hell. We preach about how Jesus is important for our personal lives, for our families, for our society, etc. Somehow the importance of Jesus for our eternal salvation is much less emphasized.

The same came across when I was reading The Fulfillment of All Desire. Ralph Martin goes through some of the wisdom from important mystical saints on how to have a close relationship with God. The first point he made was the foundation of what he called a biblical worldview. Just really internalizing the central truths of the faith. Heaven and hell were right at the top of the list. All these doctors of the church thought this was an essential foundation that needed to be in place before we could build any kind of intimacy with God.

Think about Peter's reaction in John 6. They are having trouble with Jesus' teaching on the Eucharist. Many have already left. Jesus asks if they will leave too. What does Peter say? "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life(Jn 6:68)." He does not say you are my key to self improvement. He does not say you are going to teach us how to build a better society.   Jesus is those things for sure but you might imagine other answers to those questions. When talking about temporal matters the Christian answer is always going to be one answer among many. When it comes to the question of eternal life things are different. Where else do we go?

When we focus on temporal matters we have a danger of thinking we have learned all we can learn from the faith. We move on to thinkers that seem to have fresher ideas. After a while mass seems boring as the teaching gets repetitive. Often people raised with this kind of teaching end up thinking like a Catholic in many respects but not regularly celebrating Eucharist and Confession. 

This struck me when listening to a Matthew Kelly CD. He is a great speaker. His favorite line is "becoming the best version of yourself." Very much a self-help spirituality. He makes great claims about the genius of Catholicism. They are true. But he says we have to find ways to make more people realize how brilliant Catholicism is. You will always struggle with that. You make the church one more self-help plan among many. It is the best one but it is also the worst one. Why? That pesky cross. When somebody is thinking self-help they are not going to embrace the idea of taking up your cross and following Jesus. Sure there is resurrection and victory on the other side. You just have to have faith. 

When you are talking about finite benefits it is hard to sell the fact that you can't put any limits on what it might cost you. When you talk about eternity in heaven versus eternity in hell then it makes sense to make your commitment to Jesus and His church absolute and unconditional. That is what we have to get to. Sure you can sweet talk people into taking one small step towards God and it can lead to more steps. There are stories like that. But if Catholicism is true then the only response that makes sense is a total and unconditional Yes. So why not preach that truth and ask for that Yes? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on Tradition

Our discussion is now moving towards tradition and authority. Doesn't it always? Where do we get truth and how do we know when we have it? Those are always big. My words are in bold. CD host is the indented and not bolded.
Catholicism is a religion. It is not a political party.

I agree. The proper political analogy to Catholicism would be something like "Western Democracies", a political ideology not a political party.
Actually the best comparison to any political entity is by an anti-type. That is Catholicism can be understood as being what political entities can never be. Protestant churches act as political institutions. It is when I understood that that I realized that they could never give me what I was trying to get from them -transcendent truth. Catholicism is about grace building on nature. Politics is about the clash of human ideas.
On the other hand the Conservative Bishops like Cardinal Dolan in the United States are a political faction within the church. His battles Carol Keehan about who speaks authoritatively on the matter of Catholic healthcare is a political battle for control.
A political faction is precisely what bishops like Cardinal Dolan are not. Bishops teaching in unity with the pope are a gift of God. Carol Keehan is not a bishop and she is not really in unity with the pope in her teachings. Equating the two is losing track of the truth and just looking at the issue as a political debate. We can't do that. God gives us leaders. We need to follow them.
So we don't find something that will please the largest number of people. We pursue the truth of God as revealed by Jesus and clarified by His church.

The people we are discussing are the vatican authorities and the Bishops. They are the ones doing the "clarifying". They have to make the choices between alternatives. They have to resolve "apparent conflicts" between one aspect of the deposit of faith and another. They are the ones that recently had to decide after centuries that Jesus didn't really reveal the doctrine creation and instead was actually preaching traducianism.
You seem to see some problem here. We look to them for leadership and they give it. Did the bishops actually say  traducianism is a part of the deposit of faith or are you putting words in their mouth? You have to be careful there. But yes, they would be the ones to clarify such matters. I have a suspicion that you are trying to impose and either/or on them and they are not accepting that.

We don't persecute anyone. We believe sex is ordered towards procreation and that sodomy is a distortion of sex. the question is whether or not that is true.

No its not. By and large that it is not the question at all, no one cares much what the Catholic church believes is the order of sexuality. The question is the church actively engaging in activities designed to use state pressure to make the lives of gay people worse. Support for expulsion from the military, bans on adoption, bans on teaching, bans on receiving partnership benefits, no protection against employment discrimination, etc... If it were not for churches using state power to coerce people to their religious views, this whole argument would be far far less heated.
 Actually it is about truth. The state can and does ignore the church. In fact, the state is abusing its power to try and force the Catholic bishops to change their teachings. It is doing that precisely because the Catholic church is right. If it was wrong nobody would care what it teaches. But the truth of what she says is confirmed by people's consciences. They know it. So they want to stop it with force. All the coercion is by the state against the church.There has been no coercion the other way at all. So you are living in a fantasy world.
Tradition is actually on the side of a truth first, evangelism second approach. Catholics were just not following their own tradition for a time.

That's an arbitrary definition of tradition. It turns tradition into whatever you want it to be. I'm going to use an objective definition: whatever Catholics were doing is the Catholic tradition.
I think you are misunderstanding here. I was not defining tradition here. I was saying that what the protestants were doing in  the 70's is very much in keeping with the totality of Catholic tradition. So when the Catholics started doing it more recently they were becoming more Catholic. Sure they were looking more like evangelicals too. That is not that important.

The definition "whatever Catholics were doing is the Catholic tradition" is a bit problematic. Catholics can fall into sin. That does not make that sin part of Catholic tradition. There is often a distinction made between tradition and Tradition. I don't like that because capitalization does not really work for me to make a word different. But there is sacred tradition. That is historical Catholic teaching weighted by authority. The teaching of the council get greatest weight. Then authoritative pronouncements by popes. then doctors, saints, bishops, etc. But then individual teachings are weighed by how long and how strong the church has believed them. Something that has been reiterated by many popes over many generations would be stronger than something taught by one pope in a less authoritative manner and not really brought up again. We do have the notion of infallibility but that is really just the highest peak of this hierarchy.

So saying "whatever Catholics were doing is the Catholic tradition" ends up putting Hans Kung in the same category as Cardinal Ratzinger. Both did what they did as Catholics. Both were celebrated by some Catholics and ridiculed by others. But one was endorsed by the magisterium and one was criticized by the magisterium. So even though both strands of thought were part of Catholicism one is part of Catholic tradition and one is not. It becomes even clearer as time goes on. Who get canonized? Who gets quoted in official church documents? These are all important clues as to which ideas are being embraced by the church and which ones are being left behind.
For example on the Church's relations with the Jews. Antisemitism was a very old error. Just being old does not make it part of sacred tradition

Anti-Semitism the belief that Jews are genetically defective so that baptism is not fully effectual in making them part of European civilization, I'd say was mostly opposed by the Western Rite Catholic church. Yes there were Catholics who believed in the Aryan Christ, but it I wouldn't consider this part of mainstream Catholicism. Particularly if you consider the personal anti-Semitism of Pius IX and Pius XII, the fact that they didn't really do very much I think indicates how inhospitable Catholicism was to a racial religion. 
So you get the example. That is great. The cheap shot at Popes Pius IX and Pius XII is unfortunate. Pope Pius XII has been attacked more recently so I have done some reading and I know the accusations of anti-Semitism against him are horse-pucky. My guess is the same is true for Pope Pius IX.
If you replace "antisemitism" with being "anti-judaic" then I'd say of course it was part of the tradition. And this is a good example to work because we are both opposed to it so there isn't any disagreement about the actual policy. The bible itself screams anti-judaic theology:
Hebrews: Judaism is the burned out dead husk of a formerly valid religion
John: Jews are used as the symbol for those who knowingly reject the wisdom of God / light.
Paul: Judaism as an ethnic covenant has passed and via. rebirth in Jesus gentiles are entitled to the promises of Old Testament.
The New Testament says Judaism is to be rejected in favor of Christianity. No surprise there. 
Replacement theology was part of Catholic theology precisely because it was a consistent teaching of the church. Pius IX felt justified in using state power in Italy to persecute his Jewish population because of tradition not in spite of it. After WWII the Catholic complicity in the Holocaust was a major source of embarrassment. So the teaching changed a little but the emphasis changed a lot. The tradition was, and still is, anti-Judaic.  
I am surprised you seem to swallow every anti-Catholic legend out there. You can think critically about the Catholic church but you can't think critically about this. Seems a little slanted to me.
I think it was pretty much a disaster for Nancy Pelosi.

I don't see that as being a disaster for Nancy Pelosi, why because the church hierarchy disagrees with her? She acknowledged this disagreement in the original statement. 
If I declare that the earth is flat and acknowledge that NASA disagrees with me does it follow that I didn't make a fool of myself? But it is worse than that. If she said the NY Times believes something and the NY Times editorial board disagreed with her then nobody would say that is OK because she knew they would disagree. That would make it worse. Somehow she feels she can disagree with the church hierarchy about church teaching and not get that she is rejecting the Catholic faith. She should just admit that the Catholic faith is pro-life and she rejects the Catholic faith. That is honest.
The USCCB are to put it bluntly, lying. The definition of abortion changed. Their implication that the definition of abortion was consistent with the one in the middle ages is simply false, and provably false. One just has to read the very passages she points to in speeches on this topic. As for "uninformed" I have yet to hear any matter of factual knowledge we possess today that was not present in the middle ages that substantially changes the theories of that time.
The definition of abortion changed. But what is called an abortion now was called contraception then. But both abortion and contraception are immoral. So what the USCCB says is true. Pelosi is confused. I thinks she wants to be confused. She wants to be able to throw up her hands and declare the issue to be so complex. It is not. The Catechism clarifies matters quite nicely. Again, we have a living magisterium. Catholics are not supposed to just declare their interpretation of scripture and tradition to be right. They are supposed to take leadership from their bishops and pope.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Love of Authority

I think your objection is coming from a love of authority
This is the opening comment in CD Host's response to my last post.  It is interesting because it is more of a psychoanalysis than a logical reply. As such it suffers from the ad hominem fallacy. Not that it is an insult. I don't think it was meant that way. It is however an attempt to dismiss my argument by pointing out an issue with my person. That is not a legitimate line of reasoning. Still the issue with my person is worth thinking about.

Do I have a love of authority? I think all humans have a love/hate relationship with authority. We have a desire to understand ourselves as part of something bigger. It is one of those religious urges that atheists keep complaining about. For some reason they complain to Christians rather than to evolutionary scientists but that is another matter. We want significance. We want our life to make a difference even long after we die.  So we become a part of something that we thing will make that difference.

That explains why so many atheists are so liberal. They see the liberal establishment as their vehicle of significance. That is why so few liberals actually step away from fashionable liberal ideas and think for themselves. The authority of that group is more dogmatic and their excommunications less merciful than with Catholic church. They are anything but free thinkers. Like a teenager who rebels against his parents saying he has to be true to himself and then immediately joins a gang. Often when we seek freedom all we get is freedom from the previous situation. We don't get true freedom. It is just a new form of slavery often worse than before.

If we are humble enough to see ourselves as needing authority then we can make better choices. Jesus saw the crowds as sheep needing a shepherd. We often see the crowds that way. But do we see ourselves as just one more sheep? That is a lot harder. Those masses need a shepherd. I need to think for myself. The truth is we need both. We need an authority that enables thought and does not stifle it.

It occurs to me that our authority needs to be legitimate, limited, and logical. I know the 3 L's makes it sound like a sermon but bear with me. It has to be legitimate in the sense of having better access to the truth than I do. I really want more than that. If I trust an authority and it steers me wrong that can ruin my whole life. I need to be sure that is not going to happen. But it has happened to many good people who followed movements that proved to be very wrong. You really want some sort of infallibility. That is some sort of guarantee that your vehicle of significance is not going to crash and burn.

Then you want something that is limited. This is important if you want to be a free thinker. The authority should not try and define in great detail what you should be thinking. It has to set some boundaries. If it does not then there is no purpose to having it. But when humans have power they tend to abuse it. They tend to use it most strongly precisely when they should not use it at all. For example the strong punishment by liberals of anyone opposing gay marriage. It is an attempt to stifle thought through the use of raw power. It is working. All liberals recite the same lines when discussing this issue. Even Obama must bow down and mouth the new creed. Not because it is intelligent. An intelligent idea would not need such bullying to become popular. It is precisely the stupid ideas where we see this effect most strongly.

Lastly, authority has to be in logical. If you force people to accept truths that are against reason then you make a person irrational. There is something inhuman about making a person irrational. We are not really capable of it. People try and believe something on faith despite it being against reason. The trouble is when you do that you can't consistently accept any conclusion based on any logical argument. Who can live that way? So you decide which logical arguments you will accept and which ones you won't. But it is arbitrary. It is a mess.

So do I desire such an authority? I think we all do. I think when we do we are really desiring God. More precisely we are desiring the Catholic church. It is part of the God-shaped vacuum in our hearts that Pascal talked about. Sometimes it is hard to see. Many have left the church precisely because they seek a legitimate, limited, and logical authority. But it is not to be found anywhere else.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Arguments and Choices

Having a great discussion with a guy who calls himself CD Host. It is long but I like it because he makes me think. If you don't get any quality opponents then you can get lazy in your arguments. He is not only smart but also polite. No insults. No cheap shots. So I am happy to have him.

It does make me wonder about the relationship between argument and religion. I have talked about the mutual admiration society where people just reinforce each other other and make each other more and more certain they are right and everyone else is just a bit off. There is a bunch of that happening. But then there is the argument between two people of opposing views. What is the point there? I am wondering if the goal should be to convince and win converts. There are some people who are argued into religion or argued out of it but that is rare. I am not sure that is a good thing when it does happen. I don't think God intended anyone to be coerced into Christianity. He didn't give us the evidence to be able to do it in general. We can if have a weak opponent but should we?

It became clear to me when I tried arguing from history or from sociology that evidence can quite easily be viewed multiple ways. I can look and see the hand of God plain as day. An atheist can look and see nothing remarkable. It ends up being a choice. That is how God wants it. He wants us to freely choose for Him or against Him. He does not want to force Himself on anyone.

So what is the role of argument? Argument, if it is done right, won't really produce converts by the force of logic. What it will do is clarify things. It will clear away all the grand claims and dig down to the most basic assumptions. What is the foundation of the Catholic world and life view and what is the foundation of the atheist world and life view? At that point we won't be able to say one is logical and one is illogical. They will both be valid choices. In the final analysis it won't be logic but beauty that makes Catholicism more attractive.

In the end the materialist world is possible but it is something the human heart will have trouble embracing. A world where love is mere brain chemistry. A world where nobility and greatness are illusions that gave us survival advantages at some point in our development. A world where Hitler can't be considered better or worse than Gandhi in any absolute sense. They just are. If you can strip away everything from atheism that has no foundation within the atheist worldview and make clear exactly what is being proposed then you can expose it's ugliness. You won't be able to disprove it. Some will still hold fast to it based on that alone.

Conversely the Catholic world view is not provable. Not in the absolute sense that someone who denies it will feel they are being irrational. But you can clarify it. You can clear away a lot of the mud that is thrown at it. You can correct the distortions. You can explain the alleged problems. If you do it right you will expose the true faith. People will be able to see the real beauty of the church if they are willing to look. For many, one good look and they are hooked. But that is precisely why many won't look. They feel themselves being sucked in. It is always a choice.

So what changes when you are arguing with a protestant rather than an atheist? Not much. The ugly bits of protestantism are different then the ugly bits of atheism. But they hide the ugliness in similar ways. They both borrow from Catholicism without admitting they are doing it. Atheist love to bring in morals and meaning. Protestants love to bring in the bible and Christian tradition. Things that seem obvious but they can't get them from their own belief system. They need to import them. Once you strip away the imports and you deal with naked atheism or naked protestantism then you have done all you can with logic. Then it is a matter of the Holy Spirit leading their heart to choose beauty.

There were moments like that with CD Host. Where after a few questions he was saying some things that were downright scary. An example:
in real life goods compete with one another and wrongs compete with one another. We often have to do wrongs to avoid greater wrongs. Even if I were convinced the fetus were human and the mother wanted to have the child you could still potentially justify abortion based on the energy argument. If a society needed to use infanticide to avoid massive famine and plague they would be doing the right thing, even though I have no problem considering infanticide a wrong.

This is why frankly I find Christian morality not "too hard" as you keep accusing me of but quite often destructive and evil. It starts with the assumption that moral goods are coordinated rather than understanding that in real situations moral goods are often in conflict and the moral thing to do is weigh between them and decide what is the best outcome. Achieving the greatest good for the greatest number often means doing a thing that in isolation would be wrong.
Could this be right? Logically there is nothing impossible about it. But it means absolutely everything and anything is justifiable in pursuit of the "greatest good." How is that defined? It really isn't. The closest I got was:
Stevenson , "Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms" is a classic philosophical book that defines morality as purely a class of emotional reactions.
So you have emotions (or something similar to them)  being used to define the greater good. Then the greater good is used to justify anything that would in isolation be wrong. Anything ... to anyone ... on any scale ... without limit. At some point a person might see that this if this is the real world it is a pretty ugly. It is a choice.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Boys And Tackle Football

Contact sports are really taking a beating. Hit hockey and tackle football are all over the news. Concussions are the story. People get hurt. Why play a dangerous game? Why not just take the hitting out? Why not choose a nice sport like lawn bowling or something?

The trouble is we don't want to teach our boys to always be nice. God has given boys the impulse to be warriors. They want to compete hard. They need to go beyond nice, polite competition. They need to be aggressive. They even need danger. The important thing is to be able to do all that and stay in control. They need to avoid letting their anger get away and doing something stupid. They need to play hard and play smart at the same time. They can't be afraid to get hurt and can't be afraid to hurt someone else. They need to play within the rules but if the rules allow you  to hit someone hard then you hit them hard. Christian men are not supposed to be soft.

When they get into business or get into politics or whatever they do in life they need to be moral but they can't be afraid. If they have a chance to destroy an opponent they need to be able to do that. It does not typically involve violence but it is a type of aggression. You don't want to raise wimps. Christians need to walk into a danger zone and not only overcome their fears but be able to make the other guy afraid of them. You don't break the rules but you play the game hard and you don't apologize for it.

There are a ton of important life skills learned in a team sports. The importance of hard work. How to perform when you are exhausted or in pain. How to accept leadership. How to deal with more talented teammates and with less talented teammates. How to help each other stay focused and hold each other accountable. How to work with guys you don't like. How to perform when everyone is watching. How to work hard when nobody is watching. So many skills that translate directly into any area of life. But they are learned in a very physical way. There are lectures but they are constantly backed up by the undeniable physical reality of getting hit.

Fr Barron talks about boys becoming men. Rites of passage are needed. Boys need men other than their fathers to push them. To signal to them that they are men and they can take on the world. This is one place where that happens. You go after something that other people want very badly and you try and take it from  them. The winners will be overjoyed. The losers will be bitterly disappointed. Bring it on.

Everything that is worth anything in life needs to be fought for in that way. To many Christians think their job is to just be nice and God will make everything just work out. There is a reason why one of the major Christian virtues is courage. How do we instill that virtue in our boys? I think contact sports help a lot.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Bad Theology Leads To Atheism

I was reading a story of a pastor who became an atheist. He talks about it starting with doubts about the doctrine of hell.
DeWitt's transition from true believer to total skeptic took 25 years. It began, he said, with the idea of hell. How could it be, as he had been taught and preached, that a loving God would damn most people to eternal fire? "This thing called hell, it began to rock my world," he said.
From there he read about universalism — the idea, scorned by most fundamentalist Christians, that salvation is universal, and all people will be restored in their relationship with God without any action on their own part. After universalism, he discovered the idea, supported by some neuroscientists, that God is actually our inner dialogue.
"I went from God loves everybody to God saves everybody to God is in everybody," he said.
So that is a bit scary. Lots of people have trouble with the idea of hell. Are they all going to become atheists? Hopefully not. We need to go back and ask what makes the idea of hell so hard to accept? One source of that problem is when we make heaven too easy to accept. Heaven can seem easy in many fundamentalist churches. You say the sinners prayer and you are saved. Isn't it great? The most amazing gift is available totally free. You just need to ask. But not everyone asks. So they go to hell. How is that fair? It is like God will give you $1 billion but only if you say Rumpelstiltskin. If you don't say it then too bad so sad. What kind of God does that?

The trouble is this view of salvation is wrong. It ignores what heaven is like and it ignores what we are like. The big thing about heaven is it is a community. We often think of it in individual terms. Sometimes we thing of union with God but often not even that. We can think of heave like going to Disneyland. If that is what it is like then there would be no good reason for God to refuse everyone entry.

But the joys of heaven depend completely of the fact that they are shared with God and with each other. We will know each other fully just as we are fully known. That is why it is so important that nobody with any sin at all be in heaven. A community of perfect love requires total self-sacrificing love from everyone involved. If one person breaks that than the whole thing breaks down. So we need to be sure nobody there is going to use us or ignore us or disrespect us. We are to live the way God meant us to live. To love and be loved without limit.

So if you see that we must be perfect in love to enter heaven you can start to see why not everyone will be there. But why does God not just make everyone perfect? Problem solved. But making someone perfect is a big thing. We are serious sinners. We don't just sin big but we sin in the most personal ways. For God to make such sweeping and intimate changes to a person's life requires their permission. We understand that forcing somebody to marry against their will is a violation of their dignity as human persons. Forcing somebody to be supernaturally transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus would be many times worse. God will not do it.

But what if God just makes an argument so convincing that everyone is going to say Yes? The trouble is that would still be forcing. Just in a different way. The nature of love requires it be a real choice. It even requires the choice not be simply self-serving. It must not be a choice we make because everyone else is doing it. Quite the opposite. The option of saying No must look easier. That is the only time we know we really love someone or something.

The other thing we need to know about heaven is how right it is. It is where we are meant to be. It is who we are meant to be with. It is how we are meant to be with them. Everything about it is right and not just right on a superficial level. It is right for you right down to the depths of your soul.

What follows from that is that missing out on heaven is very bad. If we are not forced even in the most sneaky way then many will be excluded. If it is so right then that exclusion will be very sad. We are meant to feel that sadness. We are meant to do something about it through evangelism. But evangelism involves the whole mystery of a person be transformed from a sinner into a saint. To reduce it to walking a aisle and saying a prayer turns the whole thing into nonsense. Once it stops making sense then we will be tempted by atheism.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More Discussion - mostly on abortion

CD Host is green. My words are red

 I am still not clear on how [Consent is the driving principle of sexual morality] becomes different from moral relativism. That is that no sexual act is immoral by it's very nature. That it is a person's reaction to the sex act that makes it moral or immoral.

SSC is a well accepted non-religious morality of sex. A sex act is moral if it meets the 3 criteria:

a) Safe = That is it doesn't expose either party to excessive danger. There needs to be focus on best / safe practices to ensure the maintenance of health for both parties. And wherever there are unavoidable risks the parties need to be fully aware of the risks and consent to those risks.

b) Sane = The people offering consent are capable of good judgement. That means no permanent (like retardation) or temporary (like drug use) mental impairment. This is the rational man standard, that a rational man confronted with this sexual choice would make the sexual choice of the parties involved.

c) Consensual = Even if a person views an activity as safe as sane they still need to desire to partake of it at that time with that partner.

I'd argue that SSC is non-relative but situational moral standard. That is it establishes moral absolutes about sex, but those absolutes can only be applied in the context of consent.
I don't see a lot of absolutes here. I see a few nice words. As soon as you attempt to be precise about what they mean you get into very subjective language. What danger is "excessive?" Who decides "best/safe practices?" Who decides when someone's consent is impaired? Doesn't this just boil down to how I feel? 

Sexual choices are often made when someone's emotions and/or hormones are preventing them from thinking straight. Subjective criteria like this don't work well. In the heat of the moment you can discern something to be right and the next morning you can decide it was wrong. The same act might be deemed moral by one half of the couple and immoral by the other. It seems pretty much unworkable.
It is very similar, to contract law in our society. Sex is seen as essentially a contract between private parties. 
Contract law has one huge difference. There is a government and a court system to make contract law precise. Here there is nothing but my often quite biased opinion. Even the basics of SSC. Where do they come from? Why can't I just change them? The truth is I can. If I want to declare a date rape drug to be OK then I can amend (b) or drop it entirely. But morality is only useful when it gets hard. When we would have done the right thing anyway then it is not really helping us. It is when we would have done something wrong that we need it. But that is when we are going to be tempted to change it. If it has no foundation and no definition outside myself then why wouldn't I change it?
And I don't think consent as a criteria is necessarily that controversial. Most religious conservatives would agree that marital rape can occur (i.e. is definitionally possible) and is immoral.
Consent is not controversial but it can't be the whole thing. It just makes morality based on community opinion rather than personal opinion. In this case the community consists of the participants in the act. That is still relative.
In keeping with this contract view of sex, the SSC criteria says that if an individual engages in SSC actions they become responsible for consequences while if SSC is not met the other party is responsible for the consequences. So for example if a woman decides she loves her husband enough to have sex with him knowing he has AIDS and contracts AIDS she is responsible. If a woman has sex with a man not knowing he has AIDS and contracts AIDS she is not responsible.
I think this woman would know she is responsible in both cases. Counselors would tell her that she is not. They always say that. It does not really matter. Forgiveness is still the key. Can you ask for and accept God's forgiveness for yourself and the other person involved? 
Again this is similar to how we view lots of health related issues. For example as a society we treat liver failure as a result of excess drinking much differently than liver failure as a result of contagious disease.  
We do? I think if the person is still drinking that would tend to make them bad candidates for a liver transplant. Just like a liver disease that would destroy the new liver as well. If the excess drinking problem no longer exists I don't think the fact that the cause was moral rather than medical should be relevant. 
If we apply this to the situation of a conception due to rape to Rita vs. a conception due to birth control failure for Francine.

Francine doesn't want the health effects of hormonal contraception (safe) and so uses a diaphragm with spermicidal gel. She understands there is a risk of conception. They engage in sex. They understand they've increased the risk of pregnancy but did so for sane reasons to compensate for other another risk (i.e. hormonal effects). This act meets the SSC criteria. Francine and her husband are capable of raising the child. Many moderates would view an abortion in this situation as immoral, she consent to a higher chance of conception.

Conversely Rita does not consent. The rapist did not consult with her before failing to use a condom. Thus many moderates would believe that an act of violence took place and just as she is allowed to use violence to avoid the rape, she is allowed to take strong measures to correct for any consequences of the rape. Rita, because she lacked any moral agency, did not engage in sex and is free to treat the health risks of conception with the SSC criteria. Pregnancy is not safe, bearing a rapists baby is not something that any rational person would do and she did not consent.

This moderate position view abortion as a negative. A negative substantial enough to overrule Francine's objections but not such a strong negative as to overrule Rita's legitimate rights. The pro-choice position is that abortion is even less of a negative and thus the negatives of pregnancy are high enough and statistical consent is not strong enough that Francine retains her rights to terminate like Rita.
This is just nonsense. I know you don't hold this position. You would say both Rita and Francine have every right to abort their children. I think you do a good job of trying to show how the "moderate" position is reasonable. I just think it fails completely. Is the fetus human? If it is not then the justification for denying Francine an abortion is just silly. If it is then the justification for saying Rita can abort is worse than silly. It is frightening. 

Say you come upon a man in danger of death and you have a real chance to save him. Should you? What if I answered that it depends how you came upon that man. If it was your idea to go down that road you have to save him. If someone else pressured you or even forced you to go there then you can leave him. Would that make any sense to you? You are there. Who cares how you got there? 

I see the same thing with Francine and Rita. The question of whether they chose to come down this road or not does not matter. They are on the road and they need to make a choice based on the value of the life involved. It might not seem fair but life often seems unfair. 
I also don't agree with what you said about energy consumption and keeping fertility at 1-3 children per woman. Who cares about vague notions like standard of living. We don't need energy to have a good life. We need to love God and love each other. You can live very fulfilling lives and still have what the experts would call a low standard of living.

Not for long. If the median woman is having 10.5 kids at an average age of 30 (i.e. one child every 2 years 18-40) then population is growing 400% every 30 years. That's about 4.75% annual growth in population. Assuming that the one time jolt of introducing that many children only halves global output we are down to about $31t in global output. At about $1000 / yr /person you start having starvation and disease problems. If energy is growing at only 2% per year then living standards are falling 2.75% per year or falling by 14/15ths per century. I want you to think about what your standard of living would be like at 6.6% of your current salary. And then remember you live in the first world, in a rich country what's happening in Bangladesh or Mali?  
So within 100 years most of the population is starving to death or dying from exposure and the "holocaust" of abortion will pale in comparison to what's God's methods of birth control: war, famine, disease and sanitation failure will do. That situation just a century out is totally unacceptable even if you only care about preserving life and not the quality of life.

Math is amoral. If humans choose to breed like rats then they will die like rats.

This is just silly. People don't have 10 children on average (I am guessing you are not married). The human species has been around for a long time. It does not happen. These kinds of arguments actually go back to the 19th century. There was the iron law of wages and some similar thinking by Thomas Malthus. One problem is real data has never really fit the theory. People don't breed like rats.   

The other problem is we are not intended to build utopia. We are to live good moral lives. That is how we avoid being like rats. We just are not competent to figure out how many people should be in the world 100 years from now and manage society towards that goal. We need to let God worry about the big picture and focus our energies on the things we can control. 

The central problem of overpopulation is not the number of people but the way they interact. When people are self-absorbed and constantly using and abusing each other then the world is going to seem overpopulated. When people treat each other with love and respect then more people will seem like a blessing. 

Trying to solve these problems with contraception and abortion is essentially giving up on the concept of human dignity. Human life stops being a great gift and starts being a problem to be solved. It leads to genocide as legitimate government policy. Math is amoral. It sure is. So throw out the math and love the child. I have a university degree in Mathematics. I love equations. But matters of life and death should not be based on global calculations. 

If a Catholic society wanted to avoid a population increase they would have fewer people marry. Marriage would still be about procreation. Just a higher number of people would live as consecrated celibates. They would improve society in other ways while those called to marriage would continue to have large families.

A decrease in marriage decreases fertility greatly no question. It does to some extent decrease sexual activity but not nearly enough. A society with huge numbers of semi to fully sexually active people who aren't socially and/or legally permitted to be pregnant is not going to lead to less abortion.

The problem here is you don't think Catholic morality is actually livable. That celibacy cannot act as a population control because people will always cheat. I believe in grace. That God can enable us to live a life of love and sacrifice that would not be humanly possible. Will some people cheat? Sure. But Catholic sexual morality can be lived as the rule and not the exception in real world societies. 

Look at the Roman empire. Sexual perversity was rampant there. Christianity was able to take hold. It can happen. It is not only possible but it is essential. A lack of respect for sex and for life will cause civilization to fall apart. It is not compatible with human rights and human freedom long term.
That is because science has now shown the fetus to be human right from conception.

And this is where we get to the crucial point. I'd disagree. Moreover I'd argue that this is not a question science is even capable of answering. "What is human" is a moral question not a scientific question.

Science can say that a fetus is a living thing right from conception. Not only that science can tell us the species. It is homo sapien. So we are left with two choices. Just accept that it is human or try and dream us a new category for something that is alive and the same species as humans but not human.

When you take the second option you open the possibility of anyone anywhere doing the same thing with a people group they don't like. It can be based on race or on disability of age or anything else. Once we say being alive and being a member of the homo sapien species is not enough. Once we say we can add arbitrary criteria to the definition of what counts as human then anybody's human rights can be denied.

So the pro-abortion position is really anti-science. Pretending science has this unanswerable question involving what it human. It is only unanswerable because you don't like the obvious answer. Who counts as human? Everyone. Every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us…

The last bit comes from here:
I think we have gotten off point a bit. The original argument was one whether the pro-choice position was utilizing moral relativism in its assessment. You latest post is essentially a series of assertions, you are using the "say it louder" type argument. Catholic theology is going to be much more conducive to moral questions than the utter amorality of science. I'm going to chase you down the rabbit hole because I think you believe these things are true and they are preventing you from seeing that you actually picking criteria arbitrarily.

Not only that science can tell us the species

First off, species is considered by science to be a cultural not a scientific classification. It is determined by breeding patterns. That is genetically compatible animals that don't breed with one another are not considered to be part of the same species. You might have learned the capable of producing fertile offspring definition but that is now considered outdated because it was impossibly to apply consistently. 

I don't know that any of this is true. I have seen reports of scientists saying that species determination involves genetic research.

Moreover, and most importantly, species classification is not applied to individuals but to communities. For example individuals can be infertile and thus not capable of producing fertile offspring at all with anyone.  

So an infertile individual is not a member of the species? I don't think science is that stupid. I mentioned this was anti-science. I think you are twisting the science to make the species question seem hard.

So no in a quite literal sense science can't tell us the species of the "preborn". Moreover biologists who do taxonomy classify young into two phases embryo when species are not fully differentiated and fetus when they are. This change happens in homo-sapiens at the 8th week. So if we are going to rely on the species definition the cut off would be, 8 weeks not conception. This incidentally is precisely what Catholic doctrine held in the 14th century, that at the 8th week the child was "fully formed" and thus inducing labor beyond this point was abortion. E
The key word here is "fully." This differentiation is gradual. So there is no obvious point at 8 weeks where you can say now this thing is human. Certainly the DNA does not change. Certain things happen at certain stages in a person's growth. Teeth grow at a certain point in development.  The child is not more or less human as a result. Differentiation is like that. Just another stage in the process of growing up. Actually many stages because it is not just one event. At no point does the nature of what it is change in a fundamental way.
Experimentally this cutoff is verified daily in drug manufacture. Cloning works on this very process. Because of there are undifferentiated cells you can grow human DNA inside bacterial cells.  
So because we abuse it it must not be human? That was the logic of Row v Wade, if we start killing them then people will stop thinking of them as human. Actually every genocide had the expectation. To some degree it works. Then there that pesky Catholic church with a long institutional memory and principles thinking.
My guess is that at this point you are going to drop "species" and the key cultural and biological components and then go to the genetic argument. Which is going to also fall apart.  
Why? Because you expect me to find this convincing? Science says a fetus is human. You can't get around it. As a Catholic I can embrace science. My creed never forces me into such anti-science position as you have just taken. No disrespect. Fundamentalists take anti-science positions. Lots of people do. I just think it is a sign of an error somewhere.
Once we say we can add arbitrary criteria to the definition of what counts as human then anybody's human rights can be denied.

Which is precisely the argument that PETA makes. They draw the line as what counts for rights as being able to attempt to avoid pain and thus argue that essentially all animals are entitled to rights. They see your "human" as arbitrary. And they have a 2600 year history of being able to apply this doctrine consistently.
They see my "human" as arbitrary. So then it is not "precisely the argument PETA makes." They make the error on the other side. We can lower human dignity by making other things equal to humans or we can lower it by excluding some humans.
Ahimsa, the idea that it is immoral to commit violence, and thus to eat meat, strikes me as morally consist. I may not agree but at least I find it plausible. Frankly, if we are talking about what is obviously true pretending that cell clump without a brain, getting nutrition from absorption not digestion, and unable to respond to stimulus deserves the full protection of homicide laws while an adult dolphin does not deserve any meaningful protection doesn't strike me as obvious, as you had claimed, in any sense.
I find it very sad to see someone be OK with abortion and yet get upset over cruelty to animals. It shows me how far humanity has slipped into immoral and irrational behavior. How choice is not an argument anyone wants to apply consistently. If they are really personally opposed to violence then they should oppose it even when it is politically incorrect.
Going in the other direction up till about 60 years ago people who liked your species definition had strong miscegenation laws. If whites and blacks formed a single breeding group then there were part of the same species. If they didn't breed they were two species. The species definition was key to justifying racial slavery and racial discrimination historically. Similarly this is why German anti-Semites thought breeding with Jews was a race crime, and clarifies what they meant by it. So just to be clear, the species definition does not even produce the ethics you were aiming for.
Like I said. I don't think you species definition is right. But even if it is then why would physically preventing breeding make them a different species. The fact that you have to prevent breeding means it is possible for them to breed. So we are talking about an irrational policy. So what is you point?
Who the society is going to protect is a choice the society makes. The choice is unavoidable there is no obvious natural cutoff. "Everyone" is by its nature meaningless. We as a society have to choose what we value. Right now we are moving towards a consensus on valuing intelligence. So in a widespread way catching dolphins in tuna nets is immoral, even though the whole point of the tuna nets is to kill tuna.  
This is scary. When it comes to human life we need to avoid choosing who to value and who to discard. Everyone is not meaningless. Everyone is the only answer that means anything. Every other answer means we will kill group X today and tomorrow we will kill group Y. Some day we will kill you or your children. 

Who cares about society's consensus. Society gets this wrong all the time. If we value intelligence then we kill Mother Teresa and Ludwig von Beethoven. We simply are not qualified to separate the good humans from the bad.
I applaud legal protections being applied to higher primates. We, the human culture, will create a network of protection which will protect and reinforce our goals as a culture.

As an aside, this post and your previous one contradict. I agree we should aim for a society where people are respected, protected, and cherished. To do that requires the very living standard you dismissed in your previous post. Without enough energy per capita they can't be fed much less cherished.
I know you don't worship the God that I do. Try and accept I don't worship energy per capita the way you do. I will cherish my fellow humans even when you equations say I can't. It does not depend on living standard. St Francis of Assisi talked about the gift of poverty. That being poor brings you closer to God and therefore leads to deeper joy. If living a moral life leads to more poor people that is no reason to be immoral.

I don't think it is true. I think moral societies tend to be more prosperous. I know capitalists say that greed produces wealth. You say that abortion produces wealth. I don't buy it. I would say that virtue leads to wealth. When America and Europe were moral there were prosperous. Since they have abandoned Christianity for secularism their prosperity has diminished. I would even say Christianity leads to scientific and social progress.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

10 Points From Happiness And Well Being Research

I was reading an article about commencement speeches. He does what is typical and talks about how most commencement speeches are useless and his is so much better. As is also typical he is much better at criticizing what others are saying then he is at coming up with something better. Human wisdom is like that. You substitute one opinion for another. But often there is no good reason to believe you are closer to the truth.
In the decades since, I've spent most of my career teaching economics and public policy. In particular, I've studied happiness and well-being, about which we now know a great deal. And I've found that the saccharine and over-optimistic words of the typical commencement address hold few of the lessons young people really need to hear about what lies ahead. Here, then, is what I wish someone had told the Class of 1988:
The key phrase here is "happiness and well-being." What does that mean? Is that what we should be pursuing in life? That is not at all clear to me. It sounds more like big brother has done all the real thinking. All we have to do is follow a few simple steps and all will be well.
1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.
The same goes for the time you spent playing intramural sports, working on the school newspaper or just hanging with friends. Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings. Look around today. Certainly one benchmark of your postgraduation success should be how many of these people are still your close friends in 10 or 20 years.
What are "meaningful connections with other human beings?" Is that the same as just hanging out with friends? I know I would fail his test of keeping up with my friends from college. But in college I didn't know how to have meaningful relationships. So making that a benchmark of my success would have been quite a mistake.
2. Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them.
This is good. People need to be prepared for suffering. It happens to us all and we are shocked when it does. A few words to make us a little less shocked are helpful.

3. Don't make the world worse. I know that I'm supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I'm going to lower the bar here: Just don't use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already.
This is seems to be setting the bar low but in reality people can't do even this. In order to do this you need to know what is good and what is evil. Then you need to choose good over evil. Without God's grace you can't do either of these things.

He uses a lot of terms that imply a sense of how people ought to live. But he gives no hints as to how to get such a sense. A commencement is a time to highlight the important things in life. But he does not seem to be willing to say clearly what they are.

4. Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a "spouse with benefits" is different from having a "friend with benefits.") You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!
So marriage is about a "second economic oar in the water?" He associates it with doing "better in life." So doing better in life is about money? Marriage should be about money too? He says marry someone smart but he immediately translates that into professional and monetary success. What about love? What about children? What about someone who will be faithful? I feel sad for him and his wife that this is the best marriage advise he can give after 25 years.
5. Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids' sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it's fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey.
He is right about this. Especially for teens there is the idea that you have to play a sport very seriously or not at all. I am not sure how much of that is the parents and how much of that is the teens. Drama, music, robotics, etc. are the same deal. Spend endless hours to be the best you can be or opt out completely. The option of doing a little of everything becomes very difficult at a very early age.

6. Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.
So life is messy. But should there not be some central guiding principles that guide it? It is good to reflect on what you want your life to look like when you die. But he seems to think the definition of "interesting" and "successful" are obvious.  I think they are anything but. Which biographies or obituaries will you read? The ones of summa cum laude graduates? What about the saints?

7. Your parents don't want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn't always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices.
He continues his aversion to giving any specifics about what is good or great or worthwhile or successful or any of these other value laden words he uses. But he is sure that a person's parents are going to give the wrong answer. Lots of people have complicated relationships with their parents. Some parents discourage risk taking. Some push their kids too hard. Parents are not all the same and they are not always wrong.
8. Don't model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don't let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are "shirking" your work. But it's also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That's just not how we usually think of it.
This is an interesting thought. I think we get different kinds of peanuts for different kinds of tasks. But it begs the question, if peanuts should not be the driver then what should be? How do we decide how much time at work is too much and how many dinners with friends is too many or too few? But it is true that many people end up spending too much time at work.
9. It's all borrowed time. You shouldn't take anything for granted, not even tomorrow. I offer you the "hit by a bus" rule. Would I regret spending my life this way if I were to get hit by a bus next week or next year? And the important corollary: Does this path lead to a life I will be happy with and proud of in 10 or 20 years if I don't get hit by a bus.
This puts a lot of pressure on. As a Christian I am glad I can let God worry about how much time He is going to give me and whether it is worthwhile. Trying to make sure my life works out in the midst of huge unpredictable events like getting hit by a bus is just beyond what I can do. If I follow God as best I can and let Him worry about the big picture then I don't have to wonder about regrets or whether I will be happy in 10 years.
10. Don't try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn't, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.
What does greatness mean? St Therese of Lisieux saw it as doing little things very well. God made her great. You can call that luck if you want. But she did the best she could with the situations she was given. I think that is what he means by not trying too hard to be great. Just settling for a humble life and not forcing yourself into the center of the action unless there is good reason to do so.

It helps here to believe that it does not depend on "luck and other circumstances beyond your control." That would be quite depressing to think my life's significance depended on such things. Even having to figure out what defines greatness and significance would be quite oppressive. What if you get it wrong? You can spend your life climbing a big mountain but which one should you choose? This is the question he does not want to address. What if I become a big time lawyer and figure out later I should have spent my life helping the poor in Africa? Does it matter? Why does anything I do matter?

It seems like the research on happiness and well-being has a long way to go. Most of this is pretty much common sense. But it is common sense once you have defined what the center of your life is about. It makes no sense if you don't have that figured out. He does not dare give you any explicit help in that area.

He says he wishes he had this advise in 1988. I wonder what point he would have found helpful. Really it makes me think that contemplating life from a secular, scientific perspective rather than a religious perspective is a waste of time.  At best it is a waste of time. At worst it gives you lousy advise that you hope young people are smart enough to ignore.