Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three Links Wednesday (vol. VIII)

"Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life."
-G.K. Chesterton

First, on catechesis (and Catechisms): Mr Mark Stricherz has a short post on the value of the Baltimore Catechism for the blue collar Catholic.
the Baltimore Catechism was not elaborate, overly complex, or opaque. It didn’t require an advanced degree to read and understand. As a result, Catholicism was accessible to ordinary church-goers, including the working classes. It was the way of our people....By accident or design, the American Church has gravitated toward the college educated. It is pulling in great intellectuals and theologians, but losing the non-intellectuals among us. Revising the Baltimore Catechism would help win them back.

There is, of course, nothing wrong (and a lot right) with the Church's appealing to the more intellectual crowd. However, this shouldn't be done at the exclusion of the "blue-collar" Catholics. On a related note, one of my own frustrations as a sometime catechist is that it seems like whenever I give a presentation, I'm told that it goes too deep in the theological context--and I have been told, in so many words, to specifically removed parts of my presentations which are based on the Baltimore Catechism. Suffice it to say that I agree with the thrust of Mr Stricherz's argument that the Baltimore Catechism is well-suited for "blue-collar" Catholics, but also really for all Catholics.

Next up, a post by Dr Stacy Trasancos concerning Catholicism, modernity, science, and scientism:
Faith is based on Divine Revelation, and science is based on Creation, both originate in God – The Objective Truth. [25] All methodical research performed in a “truly scientific manner” will follow moral laws and will not conflict with faith. [26] To admit less freedom in the pursuit of knowledge is to actually admit more knowledge because the authority to which assent is given is to the highest eternal Truth and infinite Wisdom. [27] The Catholic scientist is grateful to his Creator for revealed truths.
With disciplined but child-like humility and perseverance “being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself” he knows more of the important truths than vagabond free-thinkers. [28] Man is given dominion over Creation, and science and technology are resources that serve man and the good of society; but alone they cannot disclose anything about the meaning of existence. [29] There must be guiding principles in the pursuit of knowledge and research must conform to the plan and will of God. [30] The Catholic scientist is guided by the metaphysical principle that God is the Author of all truth, Creator of all things. Every experiment is designed under this principle, every set of data is interpreted under this principle, and every new hypothesis is formulated under this principle.
 Indeed, even the non-Catholic (heck, non-theistic) scientist is not free to be a totally free-thinker. Theory divorced from data is bad theory; on the other hand, data without any principles to interpret it is like so many bricks thrown hapazardly into a pile: not so much as house as just rubble. And both must ultimately fit into a broader metaphysical picture. Unfortunately, this idea "metaphysics" is practically a bad word amongst these "vagabond" scientists, so we are left with knowledge that only occasionally leads to better understanding, and rarely to wisdom, let alone which as allowed to point to Truth.

The Saint Peter's List blog has a nice primer on the 4 Laws (Eternal, Divine, Natural, and Human):
Too often Catholics – both sides of the American political aisle – try to be Catholic according to the precepts and philosophies of modernity and its intellectual trends. We push our Catholicism into the contraints of something alien to it and then wonder why our faith seems tenuous and conflated. The Catholic tradition has long rested on Aquinas’ treatment of the divinely ordered cosmos to answer questions of providence, Scripture, nature and politics. Catholics cannot thrive within philosophies and theologies marked by isolated stomping grounds and modern blinders. Catholics believe in one divinely ordered Creation. Catholics should not judge nor live their Catholic lives according to modernity, but should judge and live within modernity according to Catholicism. To accomplish this feat, one must understand the how existence is ordered and how harmony of these laws promotes the common good.
It's is worth noting (as the writer of the post does note) that human law is not an extension of the ruler's will, but is rather there to enforce (and clarify) the Natural Law (and to some extent also the Divine and Eternal Laws). "Human Law seeks through nature and reason to clarify and determine the gray areas of Natural Law." A bad (human) law is thus one which is contrary to the Natural Law (and thus ultimately to the Divine and Eternal Laws*). Thus, for example, the HHS Mandate as Human Law is a bad law because it does go contrary to the Natural Law, rather than complimenting or enforcing it (or even simply letting it alone); said mandate is thus unjust. Since it also violates conscience rights, it is not only unjust but also downright tyrannical, and should be resisted by all men of good will.

*This is not to say that the whole of the Divine and Eternal Laws must be enforced through Human Laws, but rather that neither should be opposed by Human Law.


It's not rare to find something which is offensive to Catholics (and meant to be) promulgated by one or another media outlet, be it the mainstream media or other sources. However, it seems that there is a recent spate of open bigotry on display in some of the latest offerings, from such sources as the Huffington Post and the New York Daily News (which I think probably qualify as at least quasi-mainstream outlets). This is to say nothing of the Church hating catholics--or Catholycs, or Catholites, or whatever--such as the New York Times' Mr Nicholas Kristof and Mrs Maureen Dowd (who we've had recent reason to consider), or for that matter the "toned-down" anti-Catholicism which makes it into the Washington Post disguised as a political commentary. But this latest round of offerings is nothing short of libel against the Church and her members, and smacks of the same willful ignorance and unbridled malice of the KKK and the know-nothing party (to pick two anti-Catholic groups from American history). This is not about just hating the Magisterium of the Church and those faithful to it, but of hating Catholicism qua Catholicism, hatred of all things Catholic. In the HuffPo (hit)piece in particular, the acrid smell of sulfur pours forth form my computer screen upon reading it. This is not merely dislike of or disagreement with the Church's doctrines but rather hatred of the Church as the visible and unified communal body of Christ. There is indeed a war on the Church, and not only in America; there always will be until the Parousia and the Last Judgment. This war is certainly waged by some people actively and others passively, some intentionally and some not; but it is more important still to recognize who the real enemy is in this war, who is the "general" of the army opposing the Church Militant, who ultimately directs the war against the Church. It may be politically incorrect to say it, but Truth is rarely politically correct, and neither ultimately is acknowledging that there be an enemy of Truth. That enemy is Satan, the devil.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Seven Quick Takes (v 25): NFP and the HHS Mandate

I've spent most of the time during this fight over Obama's tyrannical HHS mandate discussing religious freedom (and the Obama Administration's assault thereof) and contraception. It may be worth looking at the flip side of all this and considering Natural Family Planning (NFP). In part, this is inspired by a guest post on the Washington Post's blogs from earlier this week, in part because of the advice of friends like Mr Nathanael Blake, and in part because I think it would be good to focus on something positive. However, there's also more to be said of the HHS mandate itself.

First, I would like to say that I agree with the thrust of Mrs Ashley McGuire's post concerning three things (at least).
  1. This widescale conversation concerning contraception is a good opportunity for the Church to "renew and refresh" and re-present her teachings concerning both NFP and contraception.
  2. While the Church's teaching on these things is correct, the way in which it is taught needs to be "modernized"--or better yet, just simply improved.
  3. "It would be a little awkward for the church to modernize its teaching if it is footing the bill for the very thing it is teaching against," which seems to me to be the whole point of the mandate.
Let's look at each of these points in turn.

First, the Church has an opportunity to renew, refresh, and re-present her teachings on this issue. This is not the same as saying that the Church needs to modify her teachings, or change them at their core. But on the other hand, what percentage of Catholics have actually heard the Church's teachings on these issues (beyond just "Contraception bad, NFP acceptable"), I wonder? How many have read John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" addresses, or for that matter the commentaries and interpretations of these presented by Christopher West, or Fr Richard Hogan, etc? I'm not saying here that hearing is believing, but I suspect that more people would accept the teachings if they heard the rationale behind them, and head a defense of these teachings given more consistently, whether in the homilies or in special programs sponsored by parishes or even dioceses.

Second, and this is related to the first point, the teaching of the Church is not outdated, nor is the method of NFP. In fact, NFP is actually quite effective*, more so than any form of contraception short of surgery--a fact which even the Guttmacher Institute admits. Unfortunately, the organizations within the Church which teach about NFP, abstinence, chastity, and contraception tend to focus only on the negatives (NFP works just as well as contraception for avoiding children!) or in a very syrupy manner on the positives ("abstinence is cool!") without delivering much substance in between. Some organizations which promote (and educate on) NFP do a little better, but even here is is easy to find "the methodologies overly complicated, the classroom setting awkward, and the marketing corny and outdated." Granted, I don't find the methodology complicated, but I also have the advantage of being a professional scientist; my wife (and plenty of others) has in the past thrown up her hands in despair over this, especially after that first session, which can be pretty daunting. As Mrs McQuire puts it,
"But the method of delivery and communication of the teaching is outdated. Many Catholic women who do practice NFP find themselves overwhelmed selecting from a slew of different methodologies, most of which come with confusing charts that look like they belong on a trading room floor, codes and symbols better suited to Cold War spy novels, and rules and warnings that would make anyone’s head spin."
Unfortunately, this is often the sole focus of many (perhaps most) NFP classes. Perhaps some consideration could be given to putting these courses in the context of Theology of the Body, for example, so that the focus is a bit less on avoiding pregnancy (or even on delaying it) and a bit more on why the Church is so morally opposed to contraception.

*It is more effective at avoiding pregnancy when compared to diaphrams, condoms, spermicides, "withdrawal", and is just as effective as oral contraception but without the side-effects. Oh, and that is true whether we compare perfect use or typical use for all forms of birth control to NFP.

"It would be a little awkward for the church to modernize its teaching if it is footing the bill for the very thing it is teaching against." This would seem to me to be the main point of this mandate. Its about crushing any opposition to the culture of death, which is exactly what President Obama promised he'd do if elected. He originally tried this with the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act"--he went so far as to promise that this would be his first priority as President--which was roundly rebuffed. He's therefore trying a different tact, that of targeting the moral authority of the biggest opponent of the culture of death: the Catholic Church. In this case, he's chosen a a teaching to which only the Church holds as a large and recognizable entity, and to which only a minority of even practicing Catholics hold. I do not think he expected quite so much backlash from within the Catholic community, to say nothing of Protestant, Orthodox, and non-Christians of good will who have stood with the Church on this one. It is a game of divide and conquer--in much the same way as "anti-discrimination" laws are meant to advance that front of the culture war--meant to first erode a moral authority from the bishops on a "little" issue, then perhaps on to bigger issues (be they abortion or "gay marriage").

Concerning the statistics of the issue at hand, it seems to me that the whole point of the "98%" thing is to try an trivialize Catholic teaching as if nobody followed it. Of course, that 98% is misleading at best, and involves some rather sloppy (and self-serving) statistical methods, and is an outright lie at worst. Church doctrine--and the consciences of those faithful to it--is not determined by statistics. However, it occurs to me that there is a very interesting (and blatant) double-standard at work here, as when the message becomes that "only" 2% of Catholic obey the Church on this teaching, therefore it's not significant enough number of people to justify changing policy or even to make an exemption for specifically Catholic institutions. On the other hand, we notice that the same people often resort to horror stories about women who would die without an abortion*, or about women who conceived during a rape (horrible as that is)** while ignoring that this is considerably fewer than 2% of abortions, to say nothing of pregnancies.

*And never mind such things as the principle of double effect or unintended consequences.
**Incidentally, the Church actually does permit emergency contraception use following a rape, provided that the woman in question takes this in a timely matter so that the contraception prevents a conception rather than an implantation--the latter being an abortion. Also of note is that the Church is against abortion even in the case of rape, because abortion still takes an innocent life. It's a hard truth, but murdering a child for the crimes of his father solves nothing.

Concerning NFP itself, I have found from my own use of it that my marriage is better for it. Discernment of children is a constant process between my wife and I (and God), and not something that we just put on the back-burner for a few years and then forget about. She does not have to take pills which completely alter her body's biochemical balance, and we don't have to worry about a defective condom or pill throwing everything off. For that matter, we won't have to worry about whether or not contraception has caused us problems in conceiving when we do start having children (which will probably be sooner rather than later, since we actually both want a large family). During the times of abstinence--it's probably about 10-12 days per month--we find other ways to bond, which is good since even sex is not forever, nor is it lifelong. In a sense, NFP is practicing for when we finally do have children. This is not to say that other people who do contracept can't bond in any way other than sex, though to look at divorce rates among NFP couple and the population as a whole, this might have something to do with it. And, unlike with a contracepting couple, our acts of love do not involve our rejecting some part of each other, nor of withholding that part. In short, we live contraception free and are happier for it.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is normally hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog, but today it's guest-hosted by Mrs Hallie Lord.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Seven Quick Takes (v 24): Seven Not Exactly Quick Thoughts on the HHS Mandate

You can always count on Fr Robbert Barron to have something insightful to say on any topic which touches on the Faith on the culture. Here is his discussion of the the tyrannical HHS mandate (tip of the cap to the American Catholic):

The secularist state wants Catholicism off the public stage and relegated to a private realm where it cannot interfere with secularism’s totalitarian agenda. I realize that in using that particular term, I’m dropping a rhetorical bomb, but I am not doing so casually. A more tolerant liberalism allows, not only for freedom of worship, but also for real freedom of religion, which is to say, the expression of religious values in the public square and the free play of religious ideas in the public conversation. Most of our founding fathers advocated just this type of liberalism. But there is another modality of secularism — sadly on display in the current administration — that is actively aggressive toward religion, precisely because it sees religion as its primary rival in the public arena.
In the video Fr Barron touches nicely on the idea of order, which is fundamental to a civilization. A key part of order is the moral order, and the moral fabric of society. Those who would force us to support their immorality by making us buy contraception for them against our own consciences are attacking this moral order. The end result will not be the destruction of the Church (which may nevertheless be forced to go underground, eventually, at least in the US); rather, it will be the collapse of our society.

As inevitably occurs in discussions of this nature*--namely, that people ought to have the right to exercise their consciences and that the government should not force these individuals to violate their consciences--the comparison was quickly drawn to taxpayer support of the military. Conscientious objectors to war should not be forced to pay taxes which support the military. This argument is ultimately fatally flawed for two reasons. First, the purpose of the military is to defend a country (and to keep the country's citizens safe and free from the whims of foreign powers); this might mean fighting in a war on occasion--but without that military, we could just as easily be embroiled in constant wars to keep invaders out. A military is "for" defending a country, whether or not this defense at some point requires that it go to war. Second, this is the use of taxpayer money to provide for a service which legitimately does belong to the government; but it does not actually force any individual qua individual to support a war, or for that matter the military. The HHS mandate does force this to happen by telling individuals--those who own or run private institutions--to violate their consciences directly by paying for things which they believe are immoral. A better analogy would be that this mandate is analogous to forcing conscientious objectors who own a company to purchase firearms and military training for all of their employees, whether those employees chose to claim either or not**.

*E.g. during the discussions and debates with my liberal-leaning friends concerning the original Obamacare mandate to provide for contraception and abortifacents; or during conversations concerning the thankfully failed FOCA.

**And even that is a bad analogy, since neither firearms nor military training are immoral, either by natural law of by the reasoning of such objectors, since both can be used and enjoyed without ever involving a war or even killing on a small scale.

It is worth noting--as Mr Ross Douthat does note--that the objectors to this round of tyranny do not merely include that supposed 2% of Catholics (some hundreds of thousands of individuals) in the US who do accept (and practice) the Church's teaching on contraception.
But of course they aren’t the only Catholics who have objected. Here Drum glosses over the complexities of religious faith and practice, which ensure that many Catholics’ relationship to the teachings of their Church is more complicated than a simple “agree or disagree.” There are Catholics who accept the Church’s view on contraception but simply don’t live up to it. There are Catholics who respect the general point of the teaching while questioning its application to every individual case. (My sense, elaborated here, is that the current pope has some sympathy for this perspective.) There are many American Catholics, as Daniel McCarthy noted in a perceptive interview recently, who are neither devout nor dissidents — Catholics who practice their faith intermittently, drifting away and then being tugged back, without having any particular desire to see its teachings changed to suit their lifestyles. And then there are Catholics (and this is a large category) who do explicitly dissent from Church teaching, but who also don’t want to see secular governments set the rules for what Catholic institutions can and cannot do. These are people who have been particularly vocal in the current debate (to their great credit), and their voices undercut the entire Drum thesis. If this issue a matter of conscience only for the “formal hierarchy of the Catholic Church,” then why is the White House taking so much criticism from Catholics with a reputation for disagreeing with the hierarchy — from Commonweal Catholics and National Catholic Reporter Catholics, from famous Catholic liberals like E.J. Dionne and Chris Matthews, Catholic Democrats like Tim Kaine and Bob Casey, Jr., and so on? The answer can’t be that they’re all afraid of the bishops, since we’ve just established that most Catholics don’t agree with the bishops on this issue. Something else is going on here.

Speaking of that 2% number (or 98%): it comes from the rather partisan Guttmacher Institute. That is, the institute which was formerly the research arm of Murder Inc, a.k.a. Planned Parenthood. Hmm. But potential bias aside, it is worth noting that this is 98% of Catholics who have at some point in time used contraception. That's a very poor measurement for how many actually support the Church's teaching on this matter. For starters, there are those Catholics who, as Mr Douthat notes above, "practice their faith intermittently, drifting away and then being tugged back, without having any particular desire to see its teachings changed to suit their lifestyles." It also must include people like by colleague at IGNITUM TODAY, Mrs Sarah Babbs, who shares about her own experience with contraception:
Even though we knew it was wrong, we got some condoms. We closed the door on God and said, “Sorry, but just this once, you are uninvited.”

And it was awful. Maybe it was because we had only made love for the first time four days before, and the memory of sex the way it is supposed to be was still fresh in our minds. Or maybe it was just because we both knew we were violating out consciences and each other, but it was just terrible.
We would rather go without sex than to ever use contraception again.
I wonder how many such people can share a similar story--all of whom are lumped by these statistics within the 98% of Catholics who supposedly dissent from Church teachings. Indeed, the statistic is, if not patently false, at the very least very misleading: if 98% are really actively using contraception, then why are there so many Catholic children continuing to be born?

Of course, as others have noted, the number of Catholics who are actually in agreement with their own Church's teachings on this matter is irrelevant. The erosion of liberty for all of us begins with the deliberate erosion of the liberties of some small number of us for the sake or convenience or satisfying selfish interests.

In reference to this post by Mr Jimmy Akin, a friend of mine stated that "the use of phrases such as 'The Mind of Evil' betrays a tone of fanaticism." He later added, "And I would like to (respectfully) assert my use of the term fanatic here as describing one who is willing to dismantle society for their ideological beliefs (not just religious, see: Chinese Cultural Revolution)." Given this definition, his comment on Mr Akin's post is, to be blunt, laughable. The foundation of any society is order, as Edmund Burke (and others) have noted. But order is not the same thing as "Do whatever the government says, even if it violates the moral law and/or your own conscience. Or else": that is rather totalitarianism. There is much more to order than this--social and moral order are more fundamental to society than the order imposed by the government. Ideally, the three should work together, reinforcing each other; occasionally, one may become preeminent, as when a government imposes martial law during a time of anarchy and upheaval. But note that even martial law does not (or does not per se) violate the moral order, as this HHS mandate will. As my wife remarked over breakfast a few days ago, the fundamental building block of society is the family: which this mandate does attack. I'd go a step further by noting, along with Christopher Dawson, that the foundation of culture is the cult (that is, the religion): and this mandate very clearly attacks that by attacking the freedom of the Catholic Church. So it is not Mr Akin (nor myself) who is the fanatic here: it is the Obama administration and their enablers and supporters.

Finally, another friend objected to my classification of Obama's (and Sebelius', and Pelosi's for that matter) motivation in decreeing (or supporting) this mandate as being motivated "from sheer spite, from malice against the Church whom they view as their enemy." If not motivated y spite or malice, it is certainly motivated from hostility towards the Catholic Church (meaning in this case the Church's Magisterium, and those who are faithful to the teachings of the Church). The objection stems from the idea that few people act on such a large scale from spite or malice or hostility alone: can I not at least concede that they are acting for what they believe to be the common good? Aside that one of the more common objections to the "Catholic" (which in this case means "freedom loving") position is, as summarized by Mr Mark Shea, "We have the power to make you crawl. So there." This mandate is a rather blatant and frankly naked exercise of the raw power of the state to attack the Church, albeit through the institutions which she runs (educations, healthcare, etc). It specifically targets Catholics (which other large or recognizable organization would decline, let alone refuse, to provide this coverage in their insurance policies?), and it does so for no particularly good reason. It is an attempt to advance a specific social agenda by using the power of government to force dissenters from that agenda in line.

I suppose we could argue that this isn't really just a matter of malice, spite, or even hostility, that Obama et al. really believe that this is for the common good (giving them the benefit of the doubt) or at the least that it will serve some interest or other of Obama's (e.g. that it will rally the troops for his re-election, in which case: FAIL!). But by the same reasoning, we could argue that (almost) any larger atrocity was really done for something rather than malice, spite, or hostility toward the group against which it was committed. Thus, for example, the Soviet gulags weren't created from hostility (or malice, or spite) against the political dissidents of the Soviet Union, but rather to ensure the stability of the union under soviet rule without the risk of further rebellions.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog--guest hosted this week by Mrs Hallie Lord.