Friday, July 31, 2020

Examining "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"

Throughout Church history the maxim "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" has served as a general principle from which to understand the Christian's obligation to love people while detesting the sins those people may commit. Many erroneously think the quote is from the Bible; in fact, it comes from a letter of St. Augustine of Hippo in which he says "Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum", which literally means "With love for mankind and hatred of sins" (Letter 211).

Even if it is not strictly biblical, the proverb is a more or less accurate summary of biblical teaching. There are many examples we could cite where we are commanded to love sinners. By way of example, let us look at 1 John 1:9-11, which clearly teaches we are to love others:

"He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes"

And later in 1 John 4:21, it says, "And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also." So, we are to love one another if we claim to love God. We could cite many other passages that command us to love our neighbor, but I do not think this is necessary. This principle is without dispute.

However, we are also to hate sin. This, too, is indisputable. Ephesians 5:11 tells us, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Sin is to be exposed; it is a corruption and contamination (Tit. 1:15; 2 Cor. 7:1). It separates us from God and grieves the Holy Spirit (Isa. 59:2, Eph. 4:30). This is why we are told to hate it; Psalm 97:10 enjoins us, "Let those who love the Lord hate evil." The Psalms also tell us that God hates the company of sinners (Ps. 26:5). A hatred of sin is a necessary precondition to a healthy reverence for God: 'The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Prov. 8:13).

I think, however, the biblical verse which best joins these principles together is Leviticus 19:17, which says:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him."
Here we see the obligation to love our brother and refrain from hating him, with the corresponding obligation to "reason" with him if we see him sinning, not only because of the obvious reason that sin is destructive, but because there is a real danger that we will bear guilt for that person's sin if we make no effort to turn them from their vice (cf. Ezekiel 33).

Thus, a Christian cannot be supportive or even indifferent to the sins of another. That doesn't mean we must be judgmental or prying
but it does mean our fundamental orientation must always be towards identifying sin, working to overcome it, and helping others do the same. We do not settle with sin. We do not make truces with it. We do not manage it. We work to eliminate it through the grace of God. This is why the traditional Catholic Act of Condition says "I detest all my sins." Sin is to be the object of detestation. It separates us from God and makes true happiness impossible.

Ergo, we hate sin, but we love the sinner.

It seems simple. Perhaps not always easy to practice, but it's not a difficult concept to grasp.

Nevertheless, the principle has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. If you Google "love the sinner hate the sin", some of the top articles that come up are pieces arguing that the concept is unworkable and that Christians should retire the saying. And in my recent article on the reasons people leave the Church, the persons in question who had left the Church cited "love the sinner, hate the sin" as an unworkable proposition.

For example, this article "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin? Why Christians Should Retire Their Favorite Phrase." In this piece, the author (apparently some sort of progressive Protestant) argues that the principle "love the sinner, hate the sin" is manipulative and meant to make the "lover" feel morally superior to the sinner by allowing them to express negative judgment whilst maintaining the facade that they are "loving."

The central critique in this article is that the principle is transactional
—forgiveness is "exchanged" for amendment of life, which causes love to be viewed as something reserved for those who are "good enough." Love, the article says, must accept uncritically. "To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” 

He also argues that "love the sinner, hate the sin" can be used to justify judgmentalism "associated with bigotry and intolerance." It enables the "lover" to condemn the "sinner" while still feeling like they are a loving person because their judgmentalism is actually "love."

As we can see, at its core, there is a redefinition of values: "Love" is redefined as uncritical acceptance. And w
e can see that this concept of love is detached from any notion of the good. It does not consist in willing someone to attain their highest good, but in merely extending uncritical acceptance. It is not fundamentally transformative.

But there is also an essential confusion of terms. He says "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is unworkable and then critiques persons who refuse to extend forgiveness unless someone makes an amendment of life first. These are two radically different ideas. Christians are always enjoined to forgive, and to do so regardless of whether the sinner has repented. This is the example Christ gave us on the cross: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do"  (Luke 23:34). A Christian who refuses to forgive someone on the premise that their penitence isn't sufficient isn't practicing "Love the sinner, hate the sin"; they are simply not exercising Christian forgiveness. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is not about forgiveness for past sins; it is about how we exercise ongoing love towards people in our lives who are sinning in the present.

Furthermore, even if the definition of love as uncritical acceptance of a person "exactly the way he or she is, right here and now" is deficient, "uncritical acceptance" is not contrary to "Love the sinner, hate the sin." We can absolutely accept people as they are, right here and now, with full empathy while still hating their sin. Have any of you dealt with an addict close to you? Maybe a brother or sister? You always, always accept and love that person. The more you love them, the more you accept them in their brokenness. But do you love your sister's alcoholism? Do you love your brother's heroin addiction? Do you love your son's gaming addiction that keeps him locked in a basement in front of a screen 17 hours a day?

Of course not. You hate these things. What's more, you hate them to the degree that you love your sibling. Those who have had relatives or close friends suffer through addiction understand this. So ultimately, the article above is creating a straw man by saying, "You must forgive without condition and accept people where they are at" as if that proves anything. All Catholics should agree that we forgive without condition and accept people where they are at. But "Love the sinner, hate the sin" does not preclude us from doing either of those things. It does mean that we have to love the person whilst understanding that that person may struggle with certain vices or behaviors that are inimical to their authentic good. These we must not accept. In fact, to accept them would be to enable that person in their problems, to make them worse...and ultimately not love them.

We will have more to say on this, but I want to look at a second article, this one from Psychology Today entitled "Why Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin Doesn't Work by Dr. Gordon Hodson. Dr. Hodson says that the principle is
ultimately about allowing us psychological justification that "enables some people to maintain their negative attitudes without feeling like a prejudiced person." To that end, "Love the sinner, hate the sin" actually is a vehicle of promoting hate, especially towards groups Dr. Hodson defines as "sexual minorities."

This article is full of problems. It reduces the idea of "sin" to focus specifically on so-called "culture war" issues and offers no comment on how the principle applies to, say, gossip, drunkenness, pride, or other such vices. He seems to infer that Christians do not take these sins seriously anyway.

Second, in assuring us that the principle "doesn't work", we might except some definition of what constitutes "working"? How are we judging whether such a principle succeeds or fails? The article assures us that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" fails precisely because it "promotes hate" and engenders a sense of moral superiority. However, when we look at what Dr. Hodson means by "promoting hate", we see that he defines hate as having "negative attitudes" about sexual minorities. Now we can see the real nature of the argument: "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is not problematic because it doesn't help us love the sinner, but because it enjoins we should hate the sin. The only viable solution is "Love the sinner, affirm the sin." The reason it "doesn't work" isn't because it fails as a mechanism to help love people despite their flaws, but because it isn't Woke to view certain behaviors negatively.

So, to wrap this up, I want to turn this on its head. Instead of looking at critiques of "Love the sinner, hate the sin," I want to critique the critiques and demonstrate why they don't hold water:

1. The Sinner is Identified with His Sins

This is honestly the biggest problem with these critiques and is ultimately behind every criticism of "Love the sinner, hate the sin." One of the most revolutionary ideas in Christianity is the notion that a man is not the sum of his sins—a man's worth or value is not determined by the sins he commits, but by the price that was paid for his redemption by the blood of Christ. Every human being has tremendous value as someone redeemed by Christ. God wants to take our sins and throw them behind His back (Isa. 38:17). We are not our sins, we are not defined by our sins, and our sins are not our personhood.

Secular people, however, ultimately define themselves based on their sins. Identity politics has morphed into a broad identitarianism where people are totally identified by their sins—especially the things they do with their genitals. For seculars, what you do with your genitals is who you are. There is no intellectual space for anything like, "I love you even though I disagree with your behavior," because in their mind, if you loved, you would affirm the behavior as well, because the behavior is the person.

Without going down a rabbit-hole on the subject, it is sufficient to say a Christian ought to reject any sort of anthropology that tends to identify people solely by their sins. Obviously we are all sinners; obviously we struggle with specific sins. But to bind up my essential personhood with those sins is an idea is profoundly anti-Christian. Yet all of these critiques presume that the person is essentially the sum of their behaviors, whether they acknowledge them as sinful or not.

2. No Concept of the Good

These objections to "Love the sinner, hate the sin" often do by jettisoning the concept of individual good from their considerations. We never see any discussion over whether it is good that so-and-so is living a sinful lifestyle, or what constitutes the highest good for a person struggling with habitual sin. There is seldom any consideration given to "How do I actually help so-and-so overcome this sin?" These sorts of considerations are abandoned in favor of helping the sinner to feel good about about where he is currently at. Good becomes a feeling instead to be experienced here and now rather than an objective state to be strove for. Hence they can never actually deal with objective questions of morality.

3. Affirmation = Love

Speaking of love, those who object to "Love the sinner, hate the sin" generally have a hard time disentangling love from affirmation. Love, in its most general definition, is sincerely willing the good for any person. That may or may not always be affirming, however. Love often requires the telling of "hard truths" or expressing disagreement about a person's decisions. This should never be an excuse for coldness, uncharity, or a lack of empathy—and honestly, I think traditional Catholics can do better in this regard, as there is a tendency to think that so long as we are speaking the truth it doesn't matter how much of an assface we are whilst speaking it.

Even so, there is this idea that love should never be confrontational, that it should never make a person "feel bad." Bad feelings mean one is not being affirmed, and if one is not feeling affirmed then one is not feeling loved, because love is a feeling of affirmation. This idea is so inimical to the Christian faith, I am surprised so many Christians fall for it. The very beginning of conversion is a feeling of discomfort or disquietude with our current condition that reaches a critical point and causes us to cry out to God for change. Why is it always assumed that a person ought never to feel bad about themselves or their situation? Feeling bad about where one is at is the genesis of change.

We also must keep in mind, when we truly love someone, it is possible for them to still feel affirmed in as a person while confronting them about their behavior. Any teacher knows how to do this. Any good parent or boss knows how to do this. It's the technique that is at the heart of "Love the sinner, hate the sin." It's mystifying that some people can't grasp this.

4. Doesn't Deal With Actual Bible Verses

We will also notice that these people and articles who disapprove of "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" very rarely deal with the actual Bible verses in question. Sure, they might talk about Jesus's dialogue with the woman at the well—and of course "judge not" and "love your neighbor" get trotted out—but they never deal with the plethora of Scripture passages that teach hatred of sin. This is a common problem you run across with people who want to make Christianity a series of platitudes: sketching out very vague, general principles ostensibly based on the Bible while passing entirely over scores of Bible verses that contradict said platitude. It's fine and good to talk about Christians being a force for positive change in the world, but what does the Bible actually say about a Christian's relationship with the world? Or the touchy subject of shunning. "Shunning people is mean and unchristian, mkay?" Alright...but what do the Scriptures actually say about shunning?

These moralizers don't care what the Bible actually says so long as they can take the moral high ground with their obnoxious platitudes. Similarly, people who say "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" isn't a Christian response to sin have not sufficiently studied what the Scriptures say on the subject. They simply toss a Gospel story out there and interpret it via some milquetoast hermeneutic without the context of the rest of the Scriptures. As an exercise in biblical exegesis, critiques of "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" fail miserably.

As always, there's more we could say. Of course, the most important sin we have to hate is our own. We are called to love ourselves and hate our own sin first of all. Needless to say, our attempts to implement the principle when it comes to our brethren work best when we have mastered it in our own lives.

Drop a comment below if you have anything to add, either in support or critique. Even if I hate your comment, I will still love you anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2020

On the Ridiculous Extension of the Term "Pro-Life"

Today I am going to follow up on one of the points I made in my previous post ("On Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church", July 2, 2020). In that article, I noted that the current progressive "Woke" mindset essentially creates and controls the very terms of the discourse it purports to have. Woke ideologues dictate one and only one way to address some social ill and then attack their opponents as uncaring if they do not affirm that specific, particular means of addressing said social ill. It is a ridiculous confusion of the means with the end. We all agree on certain ends, but disagree on the means to attain them. Woke politics insists we identify the end with the means with the result that the window of acceptable discourse is narrowed until there is only one socially tolerated position to hold on any given subject: the Woke position.

This slipshod thinking has made substantial inroads into Christianity in this country as well. The infection has spread so far for various reasons, including
(A) Contemporary Christians don't have a firm moral foundation to their beliefs; they often do not understand why they believe the things they believe and hence are easily swayed from them when some progressive ideology offers an ostensibly "better" explanation for its ideas.
(B) Christianity in the United States is too politicized (left and right) with the effect that Christians are especially susceptible to partisan influences, even without knowing it.
(C) Western affluent Christianity has lost sight of what it means to be "at enmity with the world" (Jas. 4:4). Instead, Christians seek the approbation of the world. They covet a sense of "with-it-ness" when it comes to contemporary issues. They want to look good in the court of public opinion, which necessarily means they seek for that praise on the world's terms. It also makes them sensitive to attempts of worldly people to "shame" them for not living up to the arbitrary definitions of "goodness" established by the virtue-signalling  social media influencers (Related: "Shepherds for the Whole World", USC, May 29, 2015)
(D) The post-conciliar Church has lost its spine when confronting the culture, instead opting to go with the flow and band-wagon behind whatever the zeitgeist says is the dominant issue in any current year. The Church has also lost its credibility on moral issues in light of the sex abuse scandal and is hesitant to try to reclaim it, meaning substantial support from the institutional Church in this struggle is practically non-existent.
The cumulative effect of these conditions is that huge swaths of the Christianity—Protestant and Catholic—are not only taking their moral cues from pop culture, but allowing that culture to define the very parameters of public discourse. The result is a reorientation or "re-branding" of Christian ethics to align them more with secular values while simultaneously applying historical revisionism to the Church's past to try to diminish her triumphs in the realms of socio-economics and culture.

One of the plainest examples of the re-orientation of Christian ethics in light of modern values is the way Christians of late have stretched the term "Pro-Life" to mean almost anything and everything. Have you noticed this trend lately, especially among your Catholic friends of a more progressive stripe? It manifests itself in a very predictable pattern: 

1. The progressive media really wants people to get behind some cause.
2. There is push back from Christians who don't agree with progressive program.
3. Your progressive acquaintances mobilize to apply virtue-signalling and social-shaming to get reluctant Christians on board by trying to argue that the thing under consideration is actually a sensible Christian option;and not only sensible, but really the only "truly" Christian option.

4. The conclusion is then drawn that if you are really a Christian who "claims" to be Pro-Life, you will support the progressive agenda.

This tactic has the effect of removing from the disputant the burden of defending his position and instead shifts that burden to the Christian Pro-Lifer by making his very faith and convictions the locus of debate. Thus, instead of "Ought one support the BLM protests?", the argument instead becomes "Is Jim really a good Christian like he claims?" The original point in dispute is simply taken for granted and now Jim, rather than the question of BLM, is what is being scrutinized. Jim is now personally on the defensive.

I used the example of BLM, but there are all sorts of progressive causes people use this argument to bludgeon us with. For example, did you know you are not really Pro-Life if you don't support the following:

  • Increased funding for public education
  • Expansion of Medicaid benefits
  • Illegal alien amnesty 
  • Opposing the Trump travel bans
  • Vote by mail
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Covid-19 lockdowns, compulsory social distancing, and masks
  • The George Floyd/BLM protests
  • Increased funding for mental health programs
  • Investment in inner city infrastructure and community programs
  • "Defunding" police departments
  • Laws making it more challenging to acquire firearms
  • Progressive environmental legislation
  • #NeverTrump
  • Eating meat
  • Abolition of the death penalty

I have seen each of these issues as a variable in the sentence "You're not really Pro-Life if you don't support ______________________." You probably have too. It's a hammer people use to beat Pro-Lifers over the head to try to guilt them into supporting their obnoxious policy positions.

I, however, am not so interested in why people do this—clearly its to drive a political agenda—rather, I am more interested in why so many otherwise intelligent Christians buy into it and allow their own sincerity to become the point under debate. Why can't they see what's going on?

The reason actually goes back to the origin of the Pro-Life movement in this country. The Pro-Life movement was founded to oppose the legal sanctioning of abortion, which is the murder of a child in the womb (or sometimes out of the womb) of its mother. Abortion is an evil and barbaric practice, intentionally killing and innocent person in the place that should be the safest for them.

Nevertheless, at the time Roe v. Wade was decided, the opponents of abortion recognized that the winds of change were moving in a generally pro-abortion direction. Not wanting to seem reactionary or like crusty barnacles merely opposing everything new, instead of calling themselves Anti-Abortion, they opted for the term Pro-Life. This was a marketing ploy; it's better and more palatable to public opinion to be "for" something than merely against it. It makes you look more "positive."

In its original context, Pro-Life meant to oppose the intentional killing of human beings, which is murder. Understood this way, it covers both abortion (murder at the beginning of life) and euthanasia (murder at the end of life). This is what it means to be Pro-Life: to oppose legalized murder.

The problems, however, is that the term "Pro-Life" gradually expanded, and this was in some sense inevitable given the decision of the movement to market itself that way. What began as just a choice of words for marketing and public relations eventually became internalized many Pro-Lifers. They did not think of themselves as merely anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia, but as supporters of "life." And what does that mean exactly?

Well, to support life means to oppose death, obviously. So anything that caused "death" could reasonably construed as a so-called "life issue." This is how we developed the awful theology of the "Seamless Garment," also known as the idea of the "consistent life ethic", which was the extension of opposition to "killing" to other areas besides abortion and euthanasia. This began not in the culture, but in the Catholic Church itself, where its most perfect exemplification was the sudden opposition of the hierarchy to the death penalty—despite the inconsistency with Scripture, Catholic tradition, and moral theology. The modern opposition to the death penalty was driven entirely by an equivocation about the terms "death" and "killing", specifically, an inexcusable inability to distinguish between killing generally and murder in particular, between justified and unjustified killing. But it didn't matter; how could people who "claimed to be Pro-Life" support something that intentionally inflicted death? Bad optics, bruh.

Thus, the first "you're not really Pro-Life if you don't also support" was foisted on us by our own hierarchy, and the change has been pronounced: a look at this comparison of the Catechisms of 1992, 1997, and 2018 makes plain how profound the shift really was. For more on the Seamless Garment, I recommend "The Corrupt Theology of the "Seamless Garment" from the Coalition for Thomism blog.

There's also this immature inability to distinguish between the intentional taking of life as the primary end of a moral act (e.g., murder) and states of affairs which may incidentally bring about a loss of life as unintended consequences (e.g.,  permissive gun legislation which allows millions of people to access and use firearms responsibly but also results in the unintended or accidental deaths of others). People who get tripped up on this sort of stuff need to go back and study basic ethics and in the meantime stop posting their stupid memes.

But to return to Pro-Lifers for a moment, regarding the terms "killing" and "life", we saw above an equivocation on the term "killing." It was inevitable that we would see something similar surrounding the term "life." A Pro-Lifer in general and a Christian in particular support "life." In arguments about contraception, we say we are "open to life." We encourage women considering abortion to "choose life." What this originally meant was to oppose intentional methods of snuffing out life or preventing its emergence. In other words, "life issues" are those which address the question "Whether life should exist?" Abortion, contraception, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, as well as matters surrounding denial of care. These are "life issues."

But what we began to see happen, I'd say around ten years ago, was a blurring of the concept of life so that the existence of life got conflated with quality of life. "Well so what, Boniface? Life is life." Psshh. Don't be so daft. Actually, these are two radically distinct concepts: the former concerns the right of a living thing to continue in existence, the latter has to do with what sort of existence that thing will have. Quality of life is about whether your life will be easy or difficult, what sorts of opportunities you will have, what your environment will be, your education, what one can expect in terms of socio-economic mobility, and so on. All of these things are very important, and should be of concern to all people of goodwill—but, (a) they are not "life issues", and (b) there is such a diversity of opinion about the best way to succeed in these areas that it is impossible to paint any one solution as the only one permissible, much less (c) be able to anchor one's entire Christian or Pro-Life "cred" to any of them.

Still, none of that mattered. "You're not really Pro-Life unless you also support ________" was such an easy position to stake out, Pro-Lifers were so woefully unprepared to defend their positions against it, and its strength so formidable that in a very short time it has become the tool of choice for progressives—Christian or otherwise—to demoralize Pro-Lifers into supporting or at least not opposing a whole host of progressive policy objectives. At the same time, it has diluted the term "Pro-Life" to where anything whatsoever that could have any bearing on quality of life, income, or education in even an incremental way is now a "life issue." The implications become ridiculous. "What? You don't think an unlimited number of migrants from anywhere and everywhere should be allowed to settle here to improve their lives? HoW cAn YoU clAIm tO bE so pRo-LiFe!?????"

And what is the end game? The goal of all this manipulation is to create a social atmosphere in which progressive policies are a fait accompli; they are to be held up as the only reasonable and permissible social positions for a Christian Pro-Lifer to hold—so self-evident that you have to be a stupid bigoted racist misogynist homophobic moron to not think the same. It's all part of a massive funnel-operation to whittle down the realm of acceptable public discourse to a single set of (liberal) policies, outside of which there can be no discussion, no debate, and no other alternatives, least of all by Christian Pro-Lifers, who will immediately abdicate their moral credibility by not "really" being Pro-Life or Christlike if they walk outside the ever narrowing boundaries—functioning like the explosive collars from the 1987 Schwarzenegger flick The Running Man, which are attached to prisoners' necks and rigged to blow up the moment the prisoner steps over the boundary of the prison camp.

This, then, is the tired, pathetic end of the "consistent life ethic", a philosophy that went astray the moment its proponents became too incompetent to distinguish between killing in general and murder in particular. Once this distinction was obliterated and Catholics started arguing against "killing" and for "life" without any qualification whatsoever, it became inevitable that sooner or later the same band of useful idiots would start confusing the right to life with quality of life and suggesting that every single issue that could possibly have any bearing on quality of life was ergo a "life issue"—and that good Catholics needed to virtue signal their Pro-Life cred by supporting whatever pet issue the secularists were yammering about in current year at the expense of not being considered "really" Pro-Life. And (because of reasons A-D listed at the top of this article) most Pro-Lifers were ill equipped to respond and did not fully process the bait and switch that was being imposed on them. And at the end of the day, they wanted to be pat on the head by the world and told "You, too, are good people."

I'm sorry if I seem bitter, but myself and others have been calling out this nonsense for years, in some cases decades. But the reality is that the more this is pointed out, the worse it seems to get. Continued discussions don't make people think harder or reflect deeper; rather, they just get dumber. And as the moral foundations of Catholic ethics get murkier and murkier, more Catholics fall for this ridiculous "You're not really Pro-Life if" argument. And thus the specter of progressivism grows, lurching ever forward, covering everything in its path.

So, maybe I am angry that so many otherwise educated Catholics seem to not only fall for this nonsense, but are practically tripping over themselves to do so. I don't understand—how can you really claim to be intelligent and fall for this ruse?

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Thursday, July 02, 2020

On Wokeness and Reasons People Leave the Church

The other day I was stunned when an acquaintance of mine announced on social media that she and her husband were leaving the Catholic Church. People leaving the Church is not exactly big news, but I was surprised because this was a family that looked like they were "doing it right" according to the commonly accepted external indicators of what constitutes a "good Catholic family": lots of kids, devout, deeply involved in homeschooling, attended the Traditional Latin Mass,  family were regular participants in parish life and personal devotions, etc. Doing the Catholic family thing for 30 years.

Then, all of the sudden, an announcement via Facebook that the husband and wife were jointly leaving the Church⁠—and not for Protestantism or some other brand of Christianity; they stated that their objections to the Church were pretty much endemic throughout Christianity as a whole. As far as I can tell, they are essentially agnostics now.

At any rate, this post is ultimately not about these folks. People do what they are going to do, and I obviously pray for them and wish the best for them. I am very interested in the comments they made in their public posts about the reasons leading up to their decision, however. These I would like to examine, not in terms of judging or criticizing these peoples' decision, but rather in the abstract. Their reasons are reasons we have heard many times before from many other people who have lost faith; they could have been spoken by any one of the millions of ex-Catholics. Therefore consider them in that light. They are subjects I have grappled with as well. After we look at these issues, I will offer some reflections on "external indicators" of faith as predictive of certain outcomes.

The (public) posts contained a lengthy explanation of their rationale, which could be boiled down to three issues:

(1) The scandal of clerical sex abuse
(2) The scandal of unanswered prayer
(3) The scandal of Catholics not acting with charity

Sex abuse was listed as the top reason why they were choosing to leave the Church. But it was not simply the presence of clerical sex abuse, but rather the radical insufficiency and breakdown of the prevailing conservative narrative about sex abuse that pushed them over the edge. The husband described how for years he had toed the party line on clerical sex abuse, with talking points like "It's just a few bad apples", "There's pedophiles in every profession", "Even Christ had His Judas", "The percent of abusers in the Church isn't any higher than in the general populace", "It's the devil trying to attack the Church and make it look bad," etc.

These sorts of talking-points are what I would loosely refer to as the Neo-Cath answer to clerical sex abuse. I understand this paradigm very well. It is one I used to profess for years. It is comforting because it reassures us that nothing is wrong in our house that is not common to all houses; it casts the Church as the good guys fighting off a demonic attack manifest as biased reporting from a hostile secular press. The demonic attack is fundamentally from outside.

Unfortunately, this narrative is completely false. The husband explained (rightly) that the incidence of abusive priests is much higher within the Church than society at large. That its not confined to dioceses run by a few "bad apple" bishops but that it is ubiquitous throughout the Catholic world. The culture of secrecy around sex abuse is a plague in which the highest members of the hierarchy right up to the pope have been complicit in. The devil was trying to destroy the Church with attacks, but not by means of unfair media bias, but rather from the pedophilic rot within the clergy, which was way more common than previously assumed. The demonic attack was internal. The shock of realizing this was faith-shattering.

I remember back in 2002 when the Cardinal Law sex abuse scandals broke, I was repeating the same talking point. "Other denominations have just as many pedophiles...every profession has its bad apples, etc." Then I read Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men and the scales dropped from my eyes. I realized that the abuse culture was being actively cultivated and perpetuated by a homosexual clique within the hierarchy (in the Vatican, but also local dioceses) and that the bishops were complicit in not only covering it up but actually promoting it. Since then, nothing has surprised me. Now when I hear about things like Msgr. Luigi Capozzi's drug-fuled gay orgy at the Vatican, I shrug and think, "Yup. That's how it is." I don't like it by any means, but I guess I am saying is that uncovering a lot of this filth over the years has left me in a place where I am not surprised by anything any more.

This is why I think it's not helpful to get too invested in the "just a few bad apples" narrative. It's way worse than that. The darkness runs so much deeper. And if you've sheltered yourself from that reality, you're going to be pretty jarred when the truth emerges, as it inevitably will. I'm not saying a more realistic assessment of that would have helped these people, but it has definitely helped me. And that's ultimately what this post is about: not about these folks who lost faith, but about how I have found help in dealing with these same issues.

They also mentioned the scandal of unanswered prayer. And they gave a few examples, things like despite praying for their children and offering Masses for them (Latin masses!), a few of them grew up to become atheists. It seems that prayer didn't affect anything—that despite years of pious prayer, sacrifices, Masses, and devotion, all the words and lamentations poured out to our Lord were so many words just dumped into the void. I think every Christian has had this experience at some time or another; I've had my share of prayers gone unanswered, but I've also had my share of answered prayer as well. I've even experienced (what I consider) miraculous interventions in my life. One of the reasons why I embraced Christianity to begin with when I was 19 was that I witnessed a handful of what I can only describe as miracles. But I've also realized that sort of thing is not normative; miracles, or even prayers answered in exactly the way we hope they will be answered are little treats that happen occasionally, like spiritual candy, but can't be assumed. I have always personally taken the approach that God doesn't owe me anything, not even my own continued existence. He doesn't owe me the lives of children, he doesn't owe me happiness in this world or anything whatsoever. If I live another year without getting bone marrow cancer or go another day without getting hit in the crotch with a golf club, it's sheer grace. God can do whatever He wants to me or anyone else for whatever reasons He chooses and I have peace with that.

I guess I am saying that I have divested myself of the idea that my faith in God will guarantee any specific temporal outcome whatsoever.

The third reason was Catholics not behaving with charity. They elaborated several facets to this scandal. One was just a "Too many hypocritical Catholics makes for a toxic environment" sort of objection—but another was more along the lines of "If grace was efficacious and all of these people spend their lives praying and going to Mass, one would assume they would get better with time?" Yes, obviously as educated Catholics they knew that one has to be disposed to receive grace, but still...what they perceived to be the total lack of transformative power of grace in the lives of people they knew over a long period seemed to be a strong argument that what the faith says about grace is bunk.

I can't speak for anybody else's index of grace; I personally have never been bothered by the idea that we must be disposed to receive grace. It makes sense to me, and if it so happens that 90% of Catholics I know aren't disposed to receive grace, that's just the way that it is. But I don't think that's the reality. I definitely see grace working in the lives of people I know who take their faith seriously. And as I get older I am learning to see it more operative than ever, especially in the small things and little victories. Last winter I had a profound insight into God's grace in me after making a general confession. The victories of grace are often imperceptible, unless you have "eyes to see." It is seldom in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in the "still small voice" (1 Ki. 19:12). This is where I have learned to expect it.

The interesting thing, however, was when these folks went into the details of why they though so many of their fellow Catholics were uncharitable. We've all experienced unkind Catholics, especially if you blog or publish anything online (believe me, I know); occasionally, I have probably been one of them myself. That's sort of par for the course. But these people mentioned something interesting
—basically, that Catholics had by and large failed to adopt the appropriate responses to racism and LGBT issues, which demonstrated that they ultimately lacked love. For (they said) if Catholics were more "loving", they would have been more eager to embrace these causes. It follows that the reticence of Catholics to do so—indeed, their outright hostility to such causes—is a damning condemnation of Catholics' lack of love. Indeed, it is a mark against the Church's very concept of love, where "loving the sinner" is bound up with the idea of "correcting the sinner." As many others who have left the Church have said, this couple ultimately stated that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" was an unworkable proposition. Love needed to be reevaluated in a manner that was not so corrective—meaning, more woke. Basically, they were arguing that Christians aren't woke enough.

Here we come to what I see is grave danger to faith, and one that will only be more dangerous as time goes by: the redefinition of moral values to align them with secular mores. This merits some fleshing out.

It has been long known that liberalism takes sins and redefines them as rights or even as virtues; e.g., the sin of abortion is a "right", contraception is "responsibility", separation of Church and state is a strength, and so on. We are used to liberalism taking BAD things and calling them GOOD. And imperceptibly people adjust their values accordingly over time, if they are not vigilant. This is why so many Catholics think separation of Church and state is great, or that contraception is no big deal, or that homosexual so-called marriage is just fine, etc.

But, liberalism also takes GOOD things and redefines them as BAD, or at least as deficient. St. Teresa of Calcutta's work among the poor wasn't that great because she focused on individuals, not on addressing the systemic causes of poverty. The traditional family structure is not ideal because it reinforces patriarchy. Missionary work is actually deplorable because it can result in the eroding of native cultures. The Christian view of "love the sinner hate the sin" is dangerous because it facilitates judgmentalism. These concepts flow logically from the basic principles of liberalism and serve to undermine the Church's moral position by pulling the rug out from under it—suggesting that the historical Church's humanitarian, educational, or social victories were really not victories at all.

Now, if the good is redefined as bad, then a new good must lifted up to take the place of that which was displaced. In today's incarnation of liberalism, this is where the politics of Woke fit in. One is perceived as "good" to the degree that one can get behind the Woke social agenda; to the degree one won't, one is racist, homophobic, sexist, or whatever the capital sins of liberalism are. This is a creeping problem among the curious demographic of "progressive" Catholics—you know who I mean; the ones whose social media walls consist of 80%+ SJW posts and whose religious posts even have a social justice bent to them. The ones who post preachy, moralizing Twitter screenshots with no commentary other than "THIS" and who clog your feed with graphics whining that "We need to stop doing THIS and start doing THIS instead", and "If you're not doing THIS, you're part of the problem."

But perhaps the biggest fallacy liberalism and Woke politics foist on us is to habitually conflate the end with the means. For example, everyone agrees that we want to address the problem of poverty (end). Liberals will insist on their own specific methodology for addressing poverty in the form of various government programs (means). Then they will insist that if you do not support their specific means, you are not "really" in favor of the end. If you don't support the BLM agenda in particular, you are not against racism in general. If you aren't in favor of vote by mail, you favor discrimination. If you do not agree with every specific premise of the #MeToo crusade, then you are not against sex abuse. If you don't want universal government sponsored health insurance, you don't "really" care for the sick. If you aren't for generous, easy immigration laws in particular then you are a racist in general. If you are skeptical of particular policy proscriptions based on a specific climate-science study, you are "anti-science." If you "really" cared about the poor, you would favor increased funding for various programs. If you were really as loving as your religion claims, you would support various LGBT causes. If you were really Pro-Life, you would support increased funding for public schools, teachers' unions, cancellation of student debt and all variety of things loosely relating to education because somehow education—like a ton of other stuff—is now "also a life issue" (this is going to be a future post—extending "Pro-Life" to mean just about anything).

See how all of this confuses the end with the means? Societal problems are identified, and then one and only one means to address them put forward as the anointed solution. The "national conversation" progressives are always yammering about never happens. Instead we simply get a national lecture, we are told authoritatively that there is only one path forward, and any dissent whatsoever means you don't "really" care about said issue. Weak minded people (desperate to prove they have not committed a racism and fearful of public-shaming) trip over themselves lining up behind whatever the social media Ministry of Truth has decided is the hot button topic in [CURRENT YEAR]. It's a means of relentlessly shoving through social change while bullying dissenting people into silence.

I predict that such "Woke" Christians will eventually lose their faith altogether. We could certainly already say that a liberal Catholic has already suffered an overthrow of faith to the degree that they are affirming principles contrary to Catholic truth. But what I mean is that, ultimately, we will see a lot more of what I described at the top of this post: Christians formally repudiating their Faith because Christianity is not Woke enough, because they have allowed their judgment of what is "good" and what is "moral" to be defined by the culture at large. And when Christianity is judged against these standards and inevitably found wanting (because Christianity historically does not share these novel value judgments), these people will choose Wokeness over Christ in order to feel accepted, to feel that they are "making a difference" or are on the "right side of history."

There's more I could say, of course, but all of this merely reemphasizes the need to take your moral bearings from Catholic Tradition, not one's Twitter feed. And to remember that there is always more than one way to address a problem. If you find yourself believing there is one and only one way to approach a societal problem, such that you have lost the ability to presume the goodwill of those who disagree with your particular pet program, you'd best stop and prayerfully reevaluate how and why you form the opinions that you hold.

Finally—and this is an important message for traditional Catholics—although God gives us a rough set of blueprints for what an ideal Catholic life looks like from the outside, we ought not to assume that any of these external indicators guarantee us any specific outcome. Your marriage won't necessarily be happier if your wife stays home instead of working. Your kids won't necessarily keep the faith because you went to the Latin Mass. You won't necessarily have less struggles with various sins because prayed the "right" prayers. There is no set of boxes you can check that guarantees any particular outcome. To be sure, certain external things can make certain outcomes more likely, but how we manage our lives and our faith is ultimately always a matter of internal transformation, not box checking. It's not about just following the script. You have to take responsibility. You have to cultivate the virtue of prudence. You are not going to be divested of the terrible responsibility for your own soul and your own failings by going through a list of external indicators of "what good Catholics do." Doing such things will always be good, but their goodness does not guarantee you any temporal outcome. They do guarantee you a more beautiful soul, if you do them rightly disposed. But it is best to give up the idea that your life is going to unfold according to a certain design just because you "followed the rules."

Monday, June 29, 2020

Thirteen Years of USC

The official anniversary of the establishment of this blog is June 29th, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. What a different place I was when I founded this blog back in the summer of 2007! I was working for the Church and had to be super careful what I said for fear of offending the powers that be. I was also brand new to traditional Catholicism and using the blogger platform to voice my increasing anger about things like sloppy liturgies, bad music, and the scarcity of Latin in the masses of my diocese. I had no idea at that time how far down this rabbit hole went, nor to what degree the Catholic tradition would form my thinking and alter my view on so many things.

Sorry I have been a bit vacant as of late. I have been working on a series of posts, however, that are all fairly dense and have required a lot of thought and research. Hopefully I will have some more available soon.

Anyhow, a special thanks to all of you who have patronized this little endeavor over the years, and who have put up with my crankiness and occasional bouts of stupidity. I truly value you all. Please pray for me, a sinner.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Our New Civic Religion

So, we have a new civic religion in the United States. It is Black Lives Matter, whose structure and methodology are essentially religious. Consider:

The confession of white privilege that whites were born with and is always present and must always be fought against is Original Sin.

The corresponding soul-searching with resolution to think and act differently is a  form of repentance and Metanoia.

"Taking a knee" is a sacramental symbol, a sign that signifies the believer's translation from the state of denial to a state of Wokeness. It is a rite of Baptism.

The movement has its own prophets, priests, apologists, hierarchy, and missionaries. The various state branches of the movement are its dioceses.

The BLM symbol of the raised fist is the new cross: a symbol of resurrection and victory.

Those who died at unjustly at the hands of police are the new Martyrs, whose cultus the movement venerates.

BLM marches are processions; the images of the martyrs carried in these processions are icons.

It has created it's own calendar with observances such as Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples' Day that are meant to call to mind important themes from salvation history.

It has its own rigid orthodoxy that is to be accepted on Faith; the BLM narrative is the only acceptable narrative, and to question it is an act of heresy, for questioning BLM is not only an act of intellectual disagreement but a manifestation of bad faith. Heretics must be degraded for their bad faith and acts of heresy must be expiated by evidence of contrition, public acts of penance, and professions of orthodoxy.

The virtue of charity, which "in the bond of perfection" that holds all things together (Col. 3:14) is replaced with grievance, which is the one universal "virtue" that binds the entire movement.

The tenets of this BLM orthodoxy are defined by the policy objectives of the movement (e.g., "Defund the Police", "Vote by Mail" etc.), denying any of which is an act of heresy. "Racist" is synonymous with "heretic."

Contrarian statements are deemed "problematic." Problematic means blasphemous.

The progressive Twitterati who scroll through social media history of others looking for such "problematic" statements to expose are the Inquisition of the new religion.

Monuments of the old order must be torn down and expurgated from public consciousness like the temples of pagandom.

The future moment when America "comes to terms" with its racial past is a kind of Day of Reckoning, a Last Judgement where all historical-social injustices are rectified. Nobody knows when or how this will occur; it exists solely in the realm of the eschatological.

I am making no judgment on any of these things other than to note that the BLM movement, in its contemporary incarnation, has all the essential elements of a civic religion. It is the country's new faith here in CURRENT YEAR.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

New Normal: Subjectifying the Sunday Obligation

Anybody tired of the phrase "New Normal" yet?

As part of the New Normal within the Church, I predict we are going to see the total subjectivization of the Sunday obligation. Here's why:

At the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, bishops worldwide dispensed Catholics from keeping the Sunday obligation. This was necessary as the public celebration of the Mass had been suspended in most places, making it impossible for Catholics to keep the obligation anyway.

Catholics who complained about shuttered churches and inability to access the sacraments were taunted and called selfish—in some cases, even by priestsand told to "just" make a spiritual communion and watch Mass on a live stream. In many dioceses, the tone of these bishops' announcements of these directives lacked any empathy for the immense sadness of the faithful at being deprived of the sacraments. Instead they read like bureaucratic memoranda. "Just" watch a live stream. There was a lot of disdain hidden in that "just."

Anyhow, the result of this that tacit inference that the physical attendance at Mass isn't what ultimately matters most; what matters is that "our hearts are in it" and that we at least desire to be at Mass. It also established the premise that the Sunday obligation can be done away with if there is a grave enough threat to health. Given the circumstances, these inferences were certainly not false, but even good things can be twisted.

The next step came when bishops started announcing the tentative re-opening of public Masses. I attended my first Mass in months today, deo gratias. But this is only an interim sort of stage. The bishops understand that the pandemic is not over and that certain populations are still very vulnerable. For this reason, though Masses are being restored, Sunday attendance is remaining optional in most places for the time being. In my diocese, it is still optional until July. Persons who are at risk or don't feel safe can still opt to stay home. Essentially, the bishops at first said, "We don't think this is safe, so we are telling you not to come." Now they are saying, "We think this is pretty much safe, but if you don't feel safe, you're still free not to come." The bishops are asking us to consult our own informed conscience about whether we feel it is safe to return. Sunday attendance is being tossed into the realm of conscience.

Priests are tripping over themselves to assure Catholics it is okay not to return to Mass right now if they don't feel like it. For example:

And again, this isn't necessarily wrong. If the Sunday obligation is still suspended, and the pandemic is still going on, and one feels they might be vulnerable, there's nothing incorrect about this.

However, I do want to draw attention to the way the attendance of Mass is getting shoved into the realm of the subjective, the realm of conscience. The reason is because the bishops consider the current safety of public Masses to be up in the air. It's safe enough to let people return in some sense, but not safe enough that we can go back to normal. Hence we give certain folks leeway to decide to stay away.

Thus, since there is some question about the objective safety of large public Masses, this is where we remain today.

Now, let me predict where we will end up and how this will turn into a gargantuan debacle:

Eventually, the bishops will decide that it is safe enough to reinstate the Sunday obligation. Maybe this summer. Maybe later. But eventually the Sunday obligation will be restored. But after months of non-stop Covid-19 hysteria and media fear-mongering, many Catholics will still "not feel safe" returning to Mass. Indeed, a recent survey found that 1 in 6 Americans will never feel safe going out in public ever again.

This will inevitably result in a large swath of formerly practicing Catholics who "don't feel safe" returning to Mass despite the fact that the bishops declare it safe to return and reinstate the Sunday obligation. These people will be propped up by an army of useful idiots who inundate social media with virtue signaling memes and moralizing soliloquies about how whether to attend Mass is a matter of "conscience" and that we shouldn't be "Mass-shaming" Catholics who don't "feel safe" returning to Sunday Mass. There will be a lot of half-baked cringey attempts to offer theological justifications for this—sometimes centering on the primacy of conscience, sometimes appealing to a slip-shod sacramental theology they probably picked up from reading Patheos. There will be more accusations of Pharisaism towards Catholics who find this objectionable, and your progressive Catholic friends on Facebook will become even more belligerent and annoying. There will be strained, pathetic arguments trying to convince you that watching Mass on a screen is not substantially different than assisting in person.

The bishops will waffle on clarifying the matter and issue contradictory statements, essentially saying that while the Sunday obligation remains in place, one must always follow the dictates of ones conscience. The statements will leave enough ambiguity for persons on both sides of the dispute to argue from. Meanwhile goofy parish priests will take to Twitter to confuse the faithful by affirming the right of any Catholic to abstain from physical attendance at Sunday Mass if they don't "feel safe."

Essentially, the Sunday obligation will transform entirely into a subjective matter of conscience.

But as for us, here's the thing we ought to remember when these absurd arguments cross our screens: whether something is "safe" is not a matter of conscience or feeling. If I have a room that has a clearly lit exit sign, a working fire suppression system, and multiple easily accessible means of egress, then (from a fire safety standpoint), that room is safe. It doesn't matter whether you "feel" safe from fires in the room.  The room is safe. It doesn't mean it couldn't conceivably catch on fire or that something totally unexpected won't happen—after all, life involves risk. But it does mean that by all objectively measurable criteria, the room is safe. It's not a matter of one's opinions or feelings.

The same goes for the restoration of the liturgy. The reason the bishops are currently allowing us to defer to our conscience about Mass attendance is because there is some degree of uncertainty over how safe the situation is objectively. But whenever the bishops do decide to restore the Sunday obligation, it will be because they assess that the situation is now objectively safe. Whether or not someone "feels safe" is not relevant. Safety is an objective state of affairs, and if the bishops restore the Sunday obligation it will mean that state of affairs is such that there is no reason for Catholics to abstain from attendance any longer. Catholics will have no licit reason to refuse attendance at Sunday Masses, regardless of how they feel.

But by that time it will be too late. Catholic social media hacks will flood us with an avalanche of sewage from all quarters that essentially reframes the Sunday obligation as entirely a matter of conscience in the age of corona. And good luck ever getting that horse back in the stable once it's out.

Welcome to the New Normal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

It's not "Crucifying Your Neighbor" to Attend Mass

All around the country bishops are beginning to restore the celebration of public Masses. In response to this, Simcha has published an article on the question of attending these Masses while the pandemic is still going on. Her essential point is that voluntarily abstaining from Mass and Eucharist right now is an act of love for one's neighbor. Conversely, choosing to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist right now is not an act of love but an act of selfishness akin to crucifying our neighbor. It's not too long; if you want to read it you can do so here.

While I understand her concern about the vulnerable, I have some serious reservations about her line of argumentation.

First, Simcha is right that attending Mass right now involves risk. However, it always did. I have five kids and they're all germ factories. They are constantly at risk of spreading their germs to the sick and the elderly at Mass despite our precautions. Every time we get in the car to drive to Mass or elsewhere we are endangering other people's lives. Is that antithetical to love? Well, it can be, depending on the level of recklessness involved in the act of driving, but the mere act of assuming risk isn't reckless. The question that we must discern is not "does this involve risk?" but "how necessary is this risk?" "how much risk is involved?" and "what am I doing to mitigate that risk?" If you run red lights or don't wash your hands (that is, if you don't take precautions) then you've been negligent in your duty to protect those around you. You've been reckless. We have a responsibility to our neighbors not to take unnecessary risks and to mitigate risks when they are present, but we can never act completely without risk, especially in activities that are so essential to our well-being as attending Mass.

Second, like many, I was disappointed when Masses were suspended. We've gone two months without Mass and certain parts of the country may go much longer still. At the time, we were supposed to trustingly accept that our bishops were taking the necessary precautions that the situation at the time demanded. If we were supposed to trust our pastors then, are we not supposed to trust them now that those same bishops are making the decision to gradually reopen access to the Mass with precautions? Everyone should make their own discernment, but that should also involve guidance from our spiritual leaders. Simcha suggests that going to Mass right now is akin to being "willing to kill" for Jesus. It seems absurd to me to frame going to Mass as being "willing to kill for [Jesus]" when our bishops are the ones encouraging the restoration of public Masses. Essentially, you can't wag your finger and say "Trust our bishops!" when they shut Masses down but now say we should not trust them when they decide to open up.

Elsewhere, Simcha states "Take care that, when you say 'I would die for Jesus,' you don’t really mean, 'I’m willing to kill for him.'" However, if going to Mass constitutes killing people, then so does going to the grocery store to buy the food necessary to keep your family alive. I have yet to hear anyone make the argument that by going to the grocery store that we are killing people or that killing people for physical nourishment is justified (hint, it's not). Is killing people to go to Mass permissible? That's an absurd hypothetical with no basis in reality. Better questions are "How essential is Mass?", "What threshold of risk is acceptable when determining to suspend/resume Mass?" and "What precautions should we take when resuming Mass?" Our pastors have been grappling with these questions for months and, again, I want to assume that they are making the best decisions they can with the information available to them when they choose to reopen the Mass. But the essential point is that Mass is not a special circumstance; if it's "killing people" to go to Mass then it is also "killing people" to go get groceries or any of the other things we are still allowed and required to do. 

Finally, Simcha seems to characterize Mass attendance as something that primarily benefits the individual but with social consequences: something that doesn't just affect only ourselves but everyone else as well. That last part is absolutely true. However, we have to be careful not to apply principles capriciously. Making the personal decision to attend Mass certainly affects those around me, but so does the decision not to attend. I have a responsibility not just to society generally but to my family specifically. The spiritual development of my children is probably the single greatest responsibility in my life. They don't really understand why we don't go to church anymore and, despite my best efforts to substitute the Mass, they don't really view it as important anymore. When discerning to attend Mass or not I have to take into account not only my own desires versus the risk to others but also the needs of my family. If I choose to wait longer than what my bishop says is necessary then I must be sure that this does not constitute a reckless neglect of my family's needs and my responsibility to them.

Two concluding thoughts: Simcha's use of sex as a corollary to attending Mass is kind of weird. I get that her point is to say "Love waits", but there is a world of difference between wanting to partake in a physical act we are biologically disposed to and the desire to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

Also, it's interesting to reflect on all the times in history when the mere attendance at Mass put the entire congregation at risk. Ancient Rome during the persecutions. Elizabethan England. Revolutionary France. Mexico during the 1920s. Communist China. In any one of those historical circumstances, all it would have taken was one single Catholic to be captured and talk under duress to expose the entire congregation—as well as their priest—to imprisonment, torture, exile, or death. Any one parishioner assumed a very real risk, not that their fellow parishioners would get an illness from which 98% of people recover from, but that the entire congregation could be destroyed. And yet they all still came and were encouraged to do so by their pastors, who viewed the spiritual treasures of the Mass as justifying the profound risks.

Now, I certainly am in no position to tell anybody how much risk they need to be willing to take—for every Catholic who attended Mass during the Mexican persecution, there were probably five who stayed home for their safety, and that's their call. But, those who do choose to assume the risk should not be called selfish and accused of "crucifying their neighbor" because they are simply attending a religious service that their own bishops have told them it is now allowable to attend.

I also want to thank my friend Christian, whose thoughts formed the genesis of this post.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Kevin Symonds' Review of Infiltration

Last year I published a guest post by Kevin Tierney on the factual and methodological problems with Dr. Taylor Marshall's book, Infiltration

This week I came across another great review of the book by Mr. Kevin Symonds. The review is quite extensive and highlights some of the same issues as our original post. It is broken up into two segments, which you can view below on Kevin Symonds' website:

The real gem in these reviews, however, is the 12 page PDF linked at the end of the second review that catalogs a list of the factual and scholarly problems with the book. If you want to skip right to this, I have linked it here. I highly recommend it.

I want to stress that my posting of these reviews is not indicative of any personal animus against Dr. Marshall. He's done some excellent work on behalf of Traditionalism. But we Traditionalists ought to be critically-minded about our own arguments. Not everything that comes from our own "side" needs to be defended and propped up. "Iron sharpens iron", as the Scriptures say (Prov. 27:17), and we should not shy from critical examination of the works produced by other traditionalists. In the 13 years I have been blogging here, my readers have been very astute and persistent at critiquing my own blathering mind-dumps, for which I am immensely grateful.

Please check out the work of Mr. Symonds. It brings up some excellent points for consideration.

Friday, May 01, 2020

"Utilitarianism": The Latest Word Being Used Incorrectly

In the debate among Catholics about the damage of long-term economic shut down versus the risk posed by COVID-19, one will often hear the word "Utilitarianism" being thrown around. The subject inevitably arises whenever people begin questioning whether the deaths caused by coronavirus are "worth" the total destruction of the economy. As soon as someone starts making a calculus about whether human lives are "worth" some other sacrifice, the party in favor of keeping the economy closed will often retort that such calculations are "Utilitarian" and contrary to an authentic Catholic ethos.

It is not my intention here to discuss the pros or cons of opening the economy back up. However, I do want to address the way the term Utilitarianism is being bandied about in these circumstances and educate people on why it is being used incorrectly.

Many Catholics are under a mistaken notion that a moral act is "Utilitarian" if it tries to calculate the worth of human lives in relation to some other good. For example, saying, "It's not worth destroying 22 million jobs for the sake of a virus that 99% of people recover from." We can see in this statement that there is a kind of calculus happening—there is acknowledgment that 1% of the persons infected will regrettably die, but that this is not "worth" destroying the livelihoods of 22 million people. And therefore this argument is Utilitarian because such a calculus is being made and that such an argument is ipso facto wrong for a Catholic to make, or so it is said.

This, however, is an incorrect application of the term "Utilitarian." Utilitarianism does not simply mean that one calculates the weight between two different sorts of human loss. We do that sort of thing all the time, and it is not Utilitarianism. For example:

  • We know that around 38,000 people will die every year from car crashes in the United States. Tragic as this is, society has collectively decided that vehicular travel is a good that is "worth" the deaths that will regrettably result from it.
  • A general is planning an attack. He can attack with a cavalry charge from the flanks, or an infantry assault head on. He calculates the head on assault will likely result in 5,000 casualties among the infantry, but the cavalry attack will result in only 2,000, mainly from the cavalry. He therefore chooses the cavalry assault to minimize the loss of his forces, even though he knows it will probably result in the deaths of 2,000 cavalrymen. The 2,000 dead cavalrymen are "worth" preserving the 5,000 infantry and winning the battle with less loss of life.
  • A man operates a roofing company that employs 30 roofers. He knows statistically that in an average year at least one of his employees will sustain serious injury from falling off of a roof. Nevertheless, he has decided that the good of running his business and employing 30 people is "worth" the trade off of one employee potentially being injured or killed in any given year.

None of these situations are Utilitarian, despite the fact that there is a calculus of "worth" taking place. Rather, these are examples of risk management. Risk management is what happens when people understand that any course of action possesses certain inherent risks. Being unable to totally avoid those dangers, they proceed with a course of action while doing what they can within their power to mitigate the risks associated with it.

We know people will die in crashes and thus we try to mitigate traffic deaths with traffic laws, enforcement, and driving education. The general knows soldiers will die in a battle and so chooses the plan that tactically exposes his soldiers to the least amount of harm. The man with the roofing company knows at some point an employee will get injured and tries to mitigate this by mandating the proper protective gear and regular safety training. All of these are examples of risk management, not Utilitarianism, despite the fact that there is a sort of calculus or "trade off" that is weighed between the sufferings endured by a few versus the good for the greater number.

What would make an act Utilitarian, then? According to John Stuart Mill's theory, Utilitarianism is not so much that the few suffer on behalf of the many, but that their suffering is required to secure the benefit of the many, which can only come about on behalf of the suffering of the few. In true Utilitarianism, there is an intrinsic, causal connection between the suffering of Class A and the good of Class B. It is not merely accepting that a certain course of action will have unavoidable risks. Rather, it is intentionally willing those negative outcomes to Class A as a means of establishing the good of Class B. But in our examples, we can see that this is not what happens at all.

For example, though we know 38,000 will die in car crashes as a result of keeping the roads open, nobody says that these deaths are necessary to keep the roads open. If there is any doubt about this, we can do a simple test. Suppose through some miracle we were able to maintain our travel without a single traffic fatality in a given year. Would people respond with frustration and anger that we didn't get to kill off 38,000 people? Of course not. There would be rejoicing that we had managed to keep road travel open while avoiding any casualties. This demonstrates that the 38,000 annual traffic deaths are not part of a Utilitarian calculus; rather, they are a risk that society is willing to assume as an unintended side-effect of vehicular traffic. Society actually works to mitigate these fatalities because the relation between driving and fatal car crashes is neither necessary nor causal; our ability to drive is not made possible by traffic fatalities. There is no Utilitarian trade-off.

The general's attack is not made possible because 2,000 cavalrymen will probably die. If he could take the enemy position without losing a single man, he would. The presumed loss of life is an unintended consequent of the attack that is tolerated in order to secure the objective of winning the battle. If the owner of the roofing company goes a year without any accidents, he does not wring his hands and say "Ugh...we really needed at least one or two of you to fall off a roof this year to keep our margins up." Of course not. The statistically probable accidents are neither willed nor are they intrinsic to keeping the business open. The business owner would happily do away with roofing accidents altogether and does everything in his power to mitigate this risk.

Similarly, to argue in favor of opening the country back up, even knowing that people may die as a result, is not a Utilitarian trade off. Even if we mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we cannot stop it. It is inevitable that it will spread, and inevitable that people will die from it. It is also inevitable that the continued closure of the economy will have disastrous consequences that will certainly spiral into its own unique health and safety crisis the longer this goes on. It is not Utilitarianism to say that we are willing to accept the potential risk of COVID-19 in order to stave off long term socio-economic collapse. It is no different than a general choosing the course of action that will lead to the lowest amount of casualties. It is an example of risk management, not Utilitarianism.

And we know it is not Utilitarian simply by this fact: COVID-19 deaths are not necessary for the economy to recover. Even though they may accompany a general re-opening, they do not make the re-opening possible. There is no "good ends through evil means" sort of causal occurrence; rather, there is a choice between two options (each of which has its own inherent risks) and the decision to go with the option that seems less destructive in the long run while continually trying to mitigate the unintended consequences.

A further point to consider is this: in Mill's Utilitarianism, Class A not only suffers to establish the good of Class B, but they are morally obligated to do so. This follows as a consequent of the argument that the necessary harm inflicted on minority Class A is justified as a means of securing the good of the majority Class B. Class A not only suffers for the good of Class B, but they are morally obligated to suffer.

Clearly our examples do not fit this mold. Even if we can expect 38,000 traffic fatalities a year as the cost of keeping the roads open, nobody argues that those 38,000 are morally obligated to die for this end. The soldier attacking the hill is under no obligation to become a casualty. No roofer has an obligation to fall off the roof and injure himself, even if it is statistically certain that at some point someone at the roofing company will. And even though we know COVID-19 will continue to wreak havoc even after the economy is opened up, nobody is under any moral obligation to contract the coronavirus. There is no relationship of obligation between Class A and Class B, and without that theoretical morally obligatory duty of Class A to suffer for the good of Class B, we do not have an actual Utilitarian trade-off happening. Again, this entire argument comes down to risk assessment and risk management, which are always dictated by prudence and admit of various different courses of action which may all be morally justifiable.

But that's not acceptable to some. Many Catholics and others do not want to view this through the realm of prudence or risk management. They want to say "YOU ARE MORALLY OBLIGATED TO SUPPORT THE LOCK DOWNS AT ANY COST OR ELSE YOU ARE UTILITARIAN AND YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DIE."

Yes, "the greatest good for the greatest number" was the slogan of classical Utilitarianism, but the nuts and bolts of Utilitarianism are vastly more complex than that slogan alone. We all attempt to maximize the use of our resources to the greatest extent for the greatest good. But that doesn't make something Utilitarian anymore than saying there is secret knowledge available only to the initiates makes something Gnostic. You may agree or disagree with re-opening the economy, but those of you from the militant "Stay Home Stay Safe" crowd should stop accusing your fellow Catholics who disagree with you of Utilitarianism or Consequentialism who merely disagree on a prudential matter.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Private Communion

The whole thing was a surreal experience. It had been quite useless calling the parish office. All of the employees had been sent home weeks ago and calls simply went to an already full voicemail box. Seeing phone contact to be useless, I got out a piece of paper and scribbled a little note:

"Father X, would it be possible to make an appointment for my family to come receive Holy Communion and receive a blessing? We have not been able to receive the Eucharist for a month. Please call me and let me know if you'd be willing."

I scrawled my phone number on the note and stuffed it in an envelope with the priest's name on it. I drove to the parish and walked about the abandoned campus. The rectory was a sprawling complex with a couple of different buildings and multiple entry ways; I was not certain which door the priest was most likely to come or go from. I found took a guess as to which door looked the most used and affixed the letter to the door, then went my way.

Two days later, after dinner one evening, I heard a text come through. "It's Father X, please call me." I called him back and he said he would grant my request. Distribution of communion has not specifically been forbidden in my diocese, so as I understand it, this was basically a discretionary judgment left to each priest. I told him how many persons I had: "There will be myself and four of my children receiving." We made an appointment for the following day around 11:30 AM.

I called my children in and explained to them that we would be receiving Holy Communion the following day and to prepare themselves as best they could. There was palpable excitement. Receiving any sacrament in the age of Covid-19 is a challenge. They were joyful at being able to receive Christ.

The following morning we arrived at the church a few minutes early to pray in silence and dispose ourselves. We each took a squirt from the massive canister of hand sanitizer by the door and then knelt in silence. A few moments later the priest walked in, vested in a stole. He removed the ciborium from the tabernacle, approached us in the pews, and began proceeding through the text of a communion service.

"Behold the Lamb of God," he said, holding the Body of Christ aloft immediately in front of us. I'd never been so close to a priest at a moment like that. He administered the sacrament to each of us, on the tongue. There was no contact between the priest's fingers and my tongue; indeed, in my 18 years of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, no priest's finger had ever touched me.

After communion, the priest gave us his priestly blessing and departed. We stayed behind a few moments to pray in thanksgiving. It reminded me very much of stories I had read in saints' lives; I remember in the biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, it talked about how before she entered religious life, when she wanted to receive communion she had to approach the parish priest, ask for permission, explain what preparations she'd made to dispose herself, and then receive at a particular Mass scheduled for that purpose.

It was certainly more of a challenge to orchestrate, but this communion meant a lot more. I was more prepared. My children were more prepared. The extra work made it more meaningful. And I started thinking there really is something to the argument that less communions can be more beneficial. Of course I've always known that it was superior to receive fewer communions better prepared than more communions less prepared, but until this present darkness I had no experiential knowledge of the fact.

When this is all over, I think I may voluntarily receive Holy Communion less and spend more time in preparation. Maybe once a month or something.

Also, I am very grateful for this priest for accommodating myself and my children. I suggested a friend in another diocese try the same thing I did for herself and her family; her priest categorically told her no and simply forwarded her a link to an Act of Spiritual Communion. She was understandably disappointed.

May the Lord bless and keep you all.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Some Coronavirus Catch-Up

Greetings, friends. I've had a lot of thoughts over the past several weeks and every time I sat down to share them, something else drew my attention away or some other rumination caused me to pause and reevaluate my thoughts. I finally have some time today, so I intend to just throw some things out there for consideration; please forgive the scattered nature of this post.

I. I understand and support the need for cancellation of public Masses, but these bishops who are forbidding the faithful access to confessions, baptisms, and Catholic burials are simply awful. Reading their statements, it's like they don't really believe the sacraments do anything. Their approach is "Just make a spiritual communion", or "Just make an act of perfect contrition." A lot of innuendo is packed into that little word just. Of course, spiritual communions and acts of perfect contrition are legitimate things we find in the Catholic Tradition. It is not the recommendations themselves, so much as the shoulder-shrugging " can still get what you need elsewhere" attitude that has accompanied them. Their statements do not seem to adequately reflect the sense of deep grief that should accompany the suspension of public worship. "God is not bound by the sacraments"; yes of course, but this saying in context refers to the fact that God—being all-powerful—can act to communicate grace through any means He chooses, even outside of the sacraments. But that presumes also that the sacraments are the normative means for receiving the grace of God. They are the only way we know of that God has established to communicate these special graces. Using an act of perfect contrition in lieu of confession is meant for emergencies where a priest is physically unavailable, such as a plane crash. It is not meant for situations where literally all the priests in the diocese are alive and well and available but being told to not offer confessions because of fear of a virus that 99% of people recover from. And it is not guaranteed that a penitent will have sufficient contrition to perform it; and even if it is performed successfully, the requirement to still go to sacramental confession as soon as possible remains.

It has just been astonishing how little it took to completely eliminate the sacraments. It would be nice if we had more bishops like Bishop Strickland, who is encouraging his priests to find anyway they can to heroically make themselves available for confessions. Instead more are following the lead of Nighty-Night Tobin, telling his priests to forego confessions and encouraging Catholics to do less penance. What a disgrace.

II. Speaking of penance, why aren't there more clergy leading prayers and acts of penance for God to remove the scourge of the coronavirus from us? Most of us know of the procession led by Pope St. Gregory the Great on April 25, 590 pleading for divine mercy on the plague that was then ravaging the city. This was the occasion of the famous apparition of St. Michael sheathing his sword atop the Mausoleum of Hadrian, after which the plague stopped. It should be noted that many infected with the plague partook in this event; eighty infected persons collapsed in the midst of the procession itself. Though I cannot remember the context, I believe Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I led the Frankish nobles in penance on their knees for the ending of a plague that was decimating Frankish troops in Lombardy. Processions for the cessation of the plague were also held in Rome under Adrian VI in 1522, after which the plague rapidly ended. 

Church history affords many other such occasions. It is interesting that we are not seeing such petitions being made by Church authorities today. You may object that Pope Francis led a "Prayer for Protection from the Coronavirus" recently, but if you read the text of the prayer, at no point did he ask God to take away the virus from us. He asked Mary to protect us, asked that we might have the grace to carry our crosses, and conform ourselves to God's will. But he did not ask God to take away the virus. In his Urbi et Orbi speech of March 27th, Pope Francis laudably encouraged Christians to return to Christ and rediscover our faith, but he did not ask God to take away the pandemic. Why aren't we praying for God to end this virus? "You have not, because you ask not" (James 4:2). I think the answer is that to ask God to take away the pandemic implies that He is responsible for it, and few things are more verboten these days than suggesting natural disasters are a result of God's judgment. In what sense do we even believe God is "in control" if we can't affirm His will is behind the pandemic?

III. Stop saying the Church's response to previous plagues is not valid today because they didn't understand how disease was transmitted. It is true that prior peoples did not know about germs and bacteria, but they certainly knew that people who got close to the infected also tended to get the plague. People have always known this. We read that way back in 431 BC during the plague of Athens, the Spartans withdrew their soldiers from the lands around Athens to avoid contagion. During the Black Death quarantines were practiced regularly. Contagion was a concern among the authorities during the Roman procession of 1522. Pre-modern people definitely understood that disease is spread from contact with infected people, even if they did not know the mechanism. And yet, the sacramental life of the Church still continued on, as it should have. The difference in the Church's actions in bygone days is not because they did not know what we know, but because they held different priorities than we do. The Church's responses to past plagues are perfectly valid and praiseworthy templates for today.

IV. There are unintended positive things coming out of this situation though. Two weeks ago I went to the only confession I could find, at a generic Novus Ordo parish in the city. They were offering confessions around the clock all weekend. I came in at 11:30 at night and the place was packed. A CD of Gregorian Chant was playing through the PA system. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar. I had been to confession here before in the past and it wasn't like this. In a crisis, people shed the things that are not helpful to them and hold fast to those which provide real sustenance to their lives. Confession. Eucharistic Adoration. The Church's traditional music. These things were what these people wanted. It was very touching. It's also been pointed out that there are now less sacrilegious communions. And before the total suppression of public masses, we had reception from the chalice restricted to the clergy alone and the sign of peace removed. It was so surreal seeing American bishops reminding their flocks that the sign of peace is only optional. Perhaps it will also teach people that it's better to receive Holy Communion less but be better prepared than to receive it all the time with little preparedness. Maybe it will lead to a renewed appreciation for how important the sacraments are.

V. I do have a concern about some of the folks who have been deprived of Mass though
, especially those folks are are on the older end of the spectrum. I'm thinking of those people who have faithfully come to Mass for many years but perhaps have not cultivated a very deep spiritual life. Now they are being told to stay home and just watch the Mass on the computer. Perhaps they will settle in and think, "This is much easier than going to Mass, and it's pretty much the same," and even after the prohibition on public Masses have been lifted, they will continue to simply stay home and watch the Mass on TV, until eventually they stop even doing that. Thus the cancellation of public Masses becomes the occasion for the total overthrow of faith. Now, you will say, "A person who does that doesn't have faith to begin with"; true, but they are less likely to nurture faith at home than if they had continued their rote Mass attendance unabated. So I do think this period will lead to a further permanent decrease in the amount of people who regularly come to Mass.

VI. I have been saddened and annoyed by the small but vocal army of individuals who have come out of the woodwork to badger us all endlessly about social distancing. Some of these folks are so embittered and angry about it that they not only are supporting the mass shut down of the entire economy—which I can understand, even if I disagree with—but they are angry at you if you don't want to rejoice at the prospect of your entire savings vanishing, your job getting scuttled, and your livelihood wrecked. We are supposed to laud this and we are heartless killers if we don't. A lot of these folks are in the immunocompromised crowd. I was talking to a priest about this last week and he noted that a lot of these people seem to take pride in their illnesses; it makes them special. It's like a badge of righteousness they can hold over others. Unfortunately for them, much of the world doesn't see immune deficiency or other illnesses in this way, nor as an excuse to completely and utterly destroy our economy and society. Their pride makes them very angry people. I agreed with this priest's observation and have myself noticed that (white people in particular) are fond of claiming illnesses as a special status. It’s like, if you’re straight white you can’t get the sympathy of being a minority or LGBT, but the victim culture mentality has still seeped in through other ways, making them “proud” of being immunodeficient, depressed, eating disordered, autistic, mental health problems, whatever. Medical problems are the victim hood culture of white people. And the pandemic itself isn't as bad as the incessant, moralizing nagging of America's mommy-bloggers. 

VII. One observation I made that particularly irked some folks is that people will not tolerate this sort of lock down for too long. A few weeks? But after that they are going to get antsier and antsier about going back to their old routines. The crashing economy will crush more heavily on people, and eventually political momentum will build for a restoration to normalcy. This will be the case regardless of whether the pandemic has abated or not. What will happen is that society will collectively decide to sacrifice the well-being of the immunocompromised in exchange for getting life back to normal—"sacrificed" meaning society will settle for containment measures that are less effective in order to return to something closer to normal economic activity. Society can't simply be put on hold for months and months on end, regardless of what our government or the CDC or the immunocompromised or anybody else might want to believe. The populace at large will simply not stand for it. Not saying that is good or bad, but it's simply how people will respond to prolonged lock down.

VIII. This situation has further confirmed that the so-called "Seamless Garment" Pro-life ethic is not only misguided, but positively dangerous and heretical. The bishops who are prohibiting confession and baptism are doing so on the premise that it is necessary in order to preserve human life. The unspoken assumption is that the preservation of physical life is the highest good that precedes all other goods. I believe this errant thinking is the result of the infection of the Seamless Garment Pro-Life ethic into the Catholic populace. The Seamless Garment Pro-Life ethic holds that all killing is morally wrong; ergo, these people will argue against capital punishment from a Pro-Life perspective, and frequently suggest that if we are "really" Pro-Life we would support things like socialized medicine, entitlement programs, etc. Arguments that begin with "If you were really Pro-Life" give me a headache. At any rate, this is in contradistinction to what I would call the Traditional Pro-Life ethic, which holds that the murder of innocents is wrong. "Killing is wrong" vs. "the murder of innocents is wrong" are two vastly different positions. The traditional Pro-Lifer opposes abortion not primarily because it is killing, as much as that it is the killing of an innocent life; i.e., murder. 

This is why there is no contradiction in a traditional Pro-Lifer supporting the execution of criminals while opposing abortion; it was never about "killing" as such, but about the deliberate murder of the innocent. If we were to adopt the premise that killing is always wrong (which is not what the Church teaches, see here and here) then we are implicitly affirming that the preservation of physical human life is always paramount, which is simply not true and has never been. The Church has always taught that our salvation is more important than the preservation of physical life; even other natural virtues such as justice may take precedence over physical life (i.e., a person willingly sacrifices his life in pursuit of a just cause). But the actions of our hierarchy are sending the message that all that spiritual stuff about salvation takes a back seat to the preservation of physical life, which is not only wrong but very much a heresy. And before one of you ass hats pops in the comments saying "Oh so what, you want people to die? You think physical life doesn't matter? Because what you are saying is you want people to die"—of course physical life is important. Everybody has the right and expectation of seeking to maintain their physical existence. I am not saying it is not important, only that it is not of ultimate importance. There is a hierarchy of goods, and maintaining physical existence is not at the top. But when the faithful are cut off from confession and baptism, this is the message our leaders are sending. Seek ye first the prolongation of your temporal existence.

IX. One final thing, my father is 69 years old and suffers from Stage 4 COPD and is also recovering from lung cancer, so please don't give me any nonsense about "You wouldn't think this way if you had a vulnerable person in your family." I know what it's like to have a vulnerable person close.

Alright, that is enough of my complaining for now. Until next time. God bless you all. Stay safe. May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.