Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Positive or Not Negative?

One of the more frequent mistakes made is the assumption that because a thing is not negative, therefore it is positive. This is frequently done in philosophy or theology--and nearly as frequently incorrect--and the result is that even when the premises are right, the conclusion is wrong. Ironically, the philosophy comes from a worldview which looks at the truth as if it is a number line: there are some things which are right, and their opposites must be wrong--just as some numbers are positive and others are negative.

So far, so good, but it does not follow that a thing which is the opposite of a wrong statement is a right one. Indeed, even with numbers this does not hold. Not all non-negative numbers are positive, for zero is neither a negative number nor a positive one. Similarly, remaining silent means giving neither the right answer nor the wrong one. Nor is it correct to say that a telling of the truth which omits some of the facts is the telling of a lie--though if intentional, it is certainly not honest.

There are countless examples of this, but I will limit myself to a few teachings of the Church. Her claim to infallibility means that she will never teach something which is untrue as a matter of faith or morals, to be definitively accepted and assented to by all Catholics; this does not, however, mean that she will always be able to teach to answer every question pertaining to Faith and morals with the fullness of all truth, but rather only of revealed truth. Thus, the teaching of infallibility is a guarantee against lies, not a guarantee of correctly knowing all the answers. Similarly, the belief that Our Lady is without sin is not the same as the belief that she was made perfect, for only God is perfect. It merely means that she does not share that imperfection men, thanks to the grace of Our Lord. After all, inanimate matter--rocks, trees, a stream, etc--is also without sin, yet nobody claims that it is "perfect" in the fullest sense of the word. A Perfect being must also be sinless, but sinlessness alone does not suffice for perfection.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Litany of Gratitude


I finished last week on a sort of "low" note, with a rant followed by a critique of the poor job the outgoing generation ("Baby Boomers") did in passing on the Faith to subsequent generations (particularly, my own). As a more positive beginning to this week, and as a sort of extension of my last post, I'd like to express a bit of gratitude. I cannot, alas, include everything for which I am thankful, or even everybody to whom I am grateful, as such a list would require more time simply to compile than I have to write. I will here limit myself only to those to whom I am grateful for reasons pertaining to my own faith and formation--and even then, this is not an exhaustive list.

I'm thankful for and grateful to both to the living and to the dead, who have fought, struggled, and persevered to keep the Faith alive. I'm grateful to God the Father for His creation, and to the Son for coming to redeem said creation and to the Holy Spirit for coming to renew said creation. I'm grateful for the Lord's promise that against His Church, "even the gates of hell shall not prevail" (see Matthew 16:18). I'm grateful for the gift of His Incarnation, but also for the sending of the Spirit to guide, to protect, and to nourish the Church, even when many members of the Church have turned astray.

I'm grateful to Our Lady's fiat, her decision to cooperate with God's will so that Our Lord might be incarnated as "true God and true man." I am grateful to all of those saints who followed in her footsteps, whose fiat is joined to hers, and through whom God was able to work to guide and renew His Church, to preserve and pass on the Faith. Each one has an impact on our Faith which can scarcely be measured, for it may be obvious or obscure, tangible or intangible. In this life at least, we are never given to know even our own effects on the world to its fullest, let alone the effect of another. I am also thankful for their prayers of intercession on my behalf, and on behalf of the Church as a whole.

I am grateful to the Doctors of the Church. Their writing have helped to pass on Church teaching from gerenation to generation, and have helped to explain those teachings to a people who would ahve remained otherwise ignorant. They have been the teachers of my teachers, for though I have not read all or even many of their works, I see that those whose works I have learned from learned from these men and women. I am especially grateful to Sts Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, for their teachings echo through the ages, and to Sts John of the Cross and Therese de Lisiux, from whom I have learned much and will learn more to come.

I am grateful to our popes, and in particular to the current pope and his immediate predecessor. They have not been perfect--and some have been downright horrible as human beings--but they have faithfully cooperated with God in keeping the Church intact, and in preserving her teachings. Our last two popes in particular have been the voices of orthodoxy, thinkers and teachers who have worked tirelessly to renew the Church, and to teach the faithful. Their witness to the Church and the world has been often ignored, often sneered at, often undermined--even from within the Church--but they stayed the course, giving us the teachings of the Church which they lead. From these two great men, we have a wealth of catechesis, from John Paul the Great's Theology of the Body to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I am grateful to many of our bishops and cardinals, especially some of the recent ones, who have worked with the pope to strengthen the faith and teaching of the Church locally, nationally, and beyond. I am here thinking of such people as Their Excellencies Charles Chaput, Raymond Burke, Timothy Dolan, Thomas Olmsted, Aiden Nichols, Frederick Henry, (the late) Avery Dulles, and George Cardinal Pell. I am grateful to those priests who take seriously their tasks as their collaborators.

I am grateful to my family and especially to my parents, who did the best they could to discharge their duties to raise my brothers and I in the Faith. This was often a thankless struggle, even or perhaps especially in my own case: growing up I had little interest in communion classes or confirmation classes, nor for reading anything about the Faith--at least some (most?) of the time. Nor were they aided in this struggle by many within the local Church community, including our pastor who often worked to undermine parental authority. I am therefore also grateful to the pastor at our other parish, who is kindly and sincere, and who did not work to undermine my parents' attempts to catechize us.

I am thankful for the influx of converts over the years, and am grateful to those who brought with them a zeal to renew the Church. They brought a desire to reform those practices which were adverse to the life of the Church, while at the same time (usually) respecting the doctrines which she cannot change, and indeed admiring those practices which make the Church vibrant. Their are, of course, many such converts in every age, but I will restrict myself to the last century or so: G.K. Chesterton, Peter Kreeft, J Budziszewsi and Rob Koons, Scott Hahn, and many, many more. I am equally grateful to those cradle Catholics who have shown a similar zeal, such as Hillaire Belloc, Fulton Sheen, and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name only three.

I am grateful to those intellectual giants among men--some of whom have already been named--who yet remained faithful to the teachings of the Church, even joyfully so. To the already long list of names, I should add a few more, mostly deceased: John Henry Cardinal Newman, Pierre Duhem, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand, and Stanli L Jaki. I am thankful that these men and women placed humility over pride, choosing to follow the Truth rather than their own self-interests.

I am thankful for the now-burgeoning apologetics movement within the Church. Indeed, to a lesser extend I am grateful to the apologetics movement within Christianity, which is where I got my own start and because of which I discovered Catholic apologetics. This, in turn, (re?)kindled my interest in theology, and so set me to learning more about the Faith. I am grateful especially to Mark Shea, Karl Keating, and Patrick Madrid, in addition to many others already named.

I am grateful to those friends of mine who have helped me to grow in the Faith, both directly and indirectly. I will not name names here, but you know who you are; I will say that this list is predominantly but not exclusively Catholic.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Red Lights, Green Light, Rant


At first, I thought of just including this in my latest round of links, but I think I feel a rant coming on instead. I usually don't read the news feeder that AOL forces on provides its mail clients. However, when I saw the headline 'Red Light Cameras Cause More Accidents', my curiosity was piqued. The article itself questions whether or not red light camera reduce traffic accidents--the studies suggest that there is a decrease in the number of "broadside" collisions, but an increase in the number of rear-end collisions. Ouch. As to whether or not the number of serious accidents were reduced, the studies have wildly varying results.

What really brought the rant on, though, were the concluding two paragraphs of the article:

A key item noted by those who are against red light cameras, though, is the matter of yellow lights. Studies by the ITE have shown that if you slightly increase and standardize the run-time of the yellow light, and leave a slight delay in the cross traffic's transition to green, accidents will be reduced. Still, cities are routinely hauled into court for having made yellow light times ridiculously short -- as if, you know, they're trying to catch people running red lights.

For a final, cynical look at whether red light cameras are truly run for safety or money, take High Point, NC. When the city was court-ordered to pay 90 percent of its citation revenue from red light cameras to the local school system, what did it do? It shut the system down and found a way to break its contract with the operator.

All of which seems to me to be an attempt by the local (or, sometimes, state) governments to make an easy buck (or two hundred) at the expense of drivers, all under the sham excuse of "traffic safety." Making a quick buck is here done one of two ways: catching a person speeding, or catching him running a light. The former* so far largely requires an actual police officer to clock the "speeder," then pull him over and ticket him. The latter, however, is made considerably easier by the use of cameras mounted on every stoplight in a given city.

Now for the rant. I have a little confession to make: I. HATE. Red. Lights. If ever there was a tangible way of showing that government is inefficient as a micro-manager, red lights are it. More specifically, the part about stopping when the light turns red, and then not ever going (save maybe a right-turn) until the light turns green, ever, for any circumstance, under pain of a $200 fine.

I bring this up, because since I moved to Austin, I have wasted countless hours in two-to-five-minute clumps of time sitting at a red light for which there are no other cars present from any direction (usually, this happens at night, when I'm tired and ready to be home and asleep). See, most city lights are on a timer at night, meaning that you are guaranteed to be stopped at every third one, whether or not you're the only car on the road. And of course, "Nanny" does not allow you to continue on your merry way, even if you have a clear view of the road in all 4 directions (and with the number of streetlights in Austin, this is never a problem, even at night).

And, as if to add insult to injury, the lights around here always allow a protected left turn for at least part (and sometimes all) of the green light rotation. This means that rather than waiting 2 minutes while the (non-existent) cross-traffic has the green light, you get to wait 6 minutes for every possible permutation of hypothetical traffic which would need the right-of-way to get its turn at having said right-of-way. There have been moments when, in my boredom after stopping at the second, third, or even fourth such light, I have killed time by trying to guess which set of lights is actually green.

All of which makes me want to ask: why is it that we have the laws which we have concerning red lights? Why force the driver to needlessly wait at the light for fear of that fine? This is especially worth asking given that the vast majority of such lights are set-up in such a way that a driver can quite reasonably (and safely) judge whether or not he is likely to be hit by cross-traffic (or, in the case of a left turn, oncoming traffic). Sure, there may be cases where this isn't true: in which case, a sign can be placed to say "do not proceed on red" (much like the "no right turn on red" signs which are already used by lights which legitimately require such precautions).

In the meantime, our time is held hostage by the red lights, and wasted by a bureaucracy which sees this as just another means of making a quick buck. How is this a means of making a quick buck? Simple. If the driver knows that by getting a red light, he is likely to by held up for five minutes, and that this will be repeated on in 1:3 or 1:4 of the 8-12 lights he encounters in what should be a simple commute, then he is more likely to attempt to run on yellow. Shorten that yellow light, and now you've found a way to "catch" the driver "running" the red light: your municipality just made $200 (or so).

Of course, as the article mentions, simply lengthening the yellow light and then delaying time between red for one lane and green for the cross-traffic fairly consistently reduces broad-side accidents--presumably without increasing the number of rear-end collisions. Instead, we are left with another fairly arbitrary rule handed down by the government for the alleged purpose of improving public safety, which in reality has the main purpose of giving the government another means of taking away its citizens' hard-earned money. It is a law which ultimately helps no one save the government in that the law could have the same positive effects on public safety with fewer negative effects and greater efficiency with a relatively minor change. Instead, the government is content to waste our time and take our money**.
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I should add, by he way, that the AOL news article is not unique in questioning the (safety-related) efficacy of red light cameras (obviously, since the AOL article cited several studies). There is, for example, this article which notes that these cameras increase the number of auto accidents and while increasing insurance premiums (not to mention traffic tickets). Go figure.
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*And don't even get me started on the rant about Texas' speed limits in the flat, straight, easily visible panhandle (=70 mph) vs west Texas, which is dotted with mountains or hills (80 mph).

**Full disclosure: I've not actually been ticketed for running a red light. However, I've wasted plenty of time sitting and waiting behind one, and have had plenty of 3-5 mile trips stretch from 5-10 minutes into 30+ minute affairs as a result.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

QandA: Infallible--Always Right, Never Wrong?


Question: Why do we as Catholics always assume that the Church is right in her teachings on matters of faith and morality?

My answer*: Perhaps a better means of phrasing this statement is to say that we are given the LORD's own guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). But lies are of Satan, the Prince of Hell, and so if he cannot prevail against the Church, then his lies--untruths pertaining to matters of faith and morals--cannot either. But this implies some protection against these lies, that is, a guarantee that the Church's teaching in matters of faith and morality will not lead the faithful astray: this is a guarantee of infallibility in regards to teaching on matters of faith and morals.

This does not mean that the Church is "always right" when teaching faith an morals, for being "right" means answering both correctly and completely. The implication is that the Church has already answered all of the questions which have faced her in matters of faith and morality (she has not), and perhaps by extension that no new question will arise, that no subtleties have been overlooked and no equivocations and "nuances" will be made in the future. If she were to remain silent on a specific question, we could not say that the Church was "right" in her teaching concerning this particular, only that she is "not wrong." Therefore, the assumption we make as Catholics--the assurance we are given--is not that the Church is always right when teaching on these matters, but rather that she is never wrong.

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*I should reiterate here that I am not a theologian by training, so this answer is "for what it's worth."