Government: Servant or Master?

“A government system of education in Prussia is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society, for there all wisdom is supposed to be lodged in the government. But the thing is wholly inadmissible here [in the U.S.]; not because the government may be in the hands of Whigs or Democrats, but because, according to our theory, the people are supposed to be wiser than the government. Here the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give the law to the government. To entrust, then, the government with the power of determining the education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power to be our master. … In a free government, there can be no teaching by authority, and all attempts to teach by authority are so many blows struck at its freedom. We may as well have a religion established by law, as a system of education, and the government educate and appoint the pastors of our churches, as well as the instructors of our children.”

Orestes Augustus Brownson, Boston Quarterly Review, Vol. 2, 1839, p. 408.

[H/T to Yard Sale of the Mind.]

What determines God’s nature?

The blog Facts About Religion asks, “[W]hy is Gods nature like A, and not like B? What determines Gods nature? (And if the pat answer is ‘well God determined his own nature to be Nature-A, not like Nature-B’ why did he determine Nature-A instead of Nature-B?'”

Undoubtedly there are better answers, but here is mine:

God must be as he is because if he were to change in any way, he would no longer be perfect, and therefore no longer God.

Suppose you had drawn a perfect circle and someone asked, “Why does the perfect circle have to be perfectly round? If it’s because that’s its nature, then why is it the nature of a perfect circle to be perfectly round instead of imperfectly round? or perfectly triangular?” Quite simply that’s just what a perfect circle is:  It’s the nature of a perfect circle to be perfectly round instead of imperfectly round, because if it were imperfectly round, or if it were triangular, it would not be a perfect circle.

Similarly, if God were not e.g. perfectly powerful (not limited by anything outside himself) or perfectly actual (not dependent on anything outside himself), he wouldn’t be God.

In what way could you change God such that he would still be perfect? This is like asking, in what way could you change a perfect circle such that it would still be a perfect circle? You can’t. Any change in the circle (that is, the circle in its essence as a circle, disregarding what color ink it’s drawn in, or how large it is, etc., which are accidental, not essential properties of a circle) could only detract from its perfection and therefore make it no longer a perfect circle but an imperfect one.

By the same token, any change in God could only detract from his perfection and would therefore make him no longer God.

Is taking the Pill the same as NFP? part 2

“Two interesting analogies help to illustrate the moral difference between a contra-life will which simply wants ‘no baby’ through abstention and a contra-life will that wants to prevent a baby.

“The first analogy concerns truth-telling. Perhaps Smith knows an important truth which honesty requires him to divulge, but he is loathe to reveal it. He wants to bury it. Smith has a contra-truth will, but perhaps it only goes so far. He is willing to keep silent (abstain from speaking) but not willing to lie (add a counter-measure to speaking). Smith may be doing wrong in keeping silent; but as long as he keeps his mouth shut, he is at least not lying (contracepting).

“The second analogy concerns poker. Jones likes to play with a group of friends, but he fears that his long winning-streak is over. He doesn’t want to give his friends a chance to win their money back. Unfairly, he refuses to play. He has a contra-fairness will. But perhaps it only goes so far. Jones is willing to deprive them of their chance, but he is not willing to cheat. He is not willing to put an ace up his sleeve or bring out a marked deck, though these counter-measures would prevent the losses he fears. He may be wrong not to play (abstain); but so long as he doesn’t play, he doesn’t cheat (contracept).

“Of course Smith should be told that his silence is dishonest; he should come to understand that lying is not the only form of dishonesty. And Jones should be told that his refusal to play is taking unfair advantage and so is more like cheating than he’d care to admit. But a moralist only compromises his own ability to persuade these men, if he says that their actions are a lie and a cheat, respectively.

“I conclude that couples choosing to abstain periodically are never contracepting.”

William H. Marshner, “Can a Couple Practicing NFP Be Practicing Contraception?“, Gregorianum 77 (4):677-704 (1996).

[See part 1 HERE.]

Prove It

[Reposted from Scriptural Postscript.]

Many learned Christians offer rational proofs of God’s existence and attributes to the incredulous who seek such proof. St. Thomas Aquinas offered five superbly logical proofs in his Summa Theologica (I, 2, 3). Even Aristotle, centuries before, offered similar proofs.

But knowledge obviates faith inasmuch as one cannot know a thing with certainty and believe in it in the same respect. Belief necessarily involves some degree of objective uncertainty. The believer believes in divine truths as if he possesses scientific certainty of them, though he actually does not possess such certainty. His faith affords him subjective certainty where objective certainty is lacking.

Christ would have us value faith above certainty. He said: “Blessed are they who believe without seeing” (Jn 20:29). And St. Paul taught that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).

The sort of faith that enables one to attain everlasting life is supernatural faith, a gift from God enabling a person to assent to divine truths with his will. It is not a human faith, the kind we use daily when we accept the word of others and build upon the scientific knowledge of those who have gone before us.

Should an unbeliever’s doubt be replaced by nothing more than rationally demonstrable certainty, his new-found confidence would not enable him to reach Heaven. But should his doubt be replaced by a willful assent to all that God’s duly-appointed teachers have proposed to him as necessary to believe concerning matters of faith and morals, even though he does not adequately understand these things by human reasoning alone, then he would be well on his way to his proper end in God. Rational proofs may signal the start of a journey, but faith carries one through to a clear knowledge of God and everlasting life in Him.

God bless!

The religion of anti-religion

“[Jesuit theologian] Bernard Coughlin … warned that the American principle separating church and state, when joined with our religious pluralism, becomes ‘a principle separating church and society.’ It confines Christian faith to the private sphere, as if it were an inward and invisible thing. Christianity is an outward and public thing, as Chesterton called it, an unabashedly communal and thus an irreducibly political reality. The Church’s mission, therefore, is to worship the triune God and to practice its ethical life in full accord with its historic convictions. The Church is thus called to make prophetic witness against all pretensions to secular autonomy. When the nation-state pretends to such sovereignty, it is in fact no longer secular. It transforms itself into what Fr. Coughlin named as ‘an antireligious religion.’ ‘To the Christian,’ he cautioned in June of 1963, ‘secularism is a form of idolatry—the deification of man-made things.’”

Ralph C. Wood, “Flannery O’Connor: Stamped But Not Cancelled“, FirstThings.com, June 16, 2015.

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Gnosticism

Fr. Robert Barron argues that transgenderism is a form of the early Christian heresy of Gnosticism, in that its pits the soul against the body, and in fact treats the body as if it were something standing in the way of the full functioning and happiness of the soul. The distinctive mark of Gnosticism is “precisely the denigration of matter and the tendency to set the spirit and the body in an antagonistic relationship.”

Against the Gnostic heresy, St. Irenaeus argued that “Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection, the theology of the Church, sacraments, redemption, the Eucharist, etc. all involve, … bodiliness, materiality. For Irenaeus, redemption is decidedly not tantamount to the escape of the soul from the body; rather, it is the salvation and perfection of the body.”

The body is every bit a part of who we are as the soul: “For Biblical people,” Fr. Barron writes, “the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul’s manipulation.”

“[T]he mind or will is not the ‘true self’ standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self. Until we realize that the lionization of Caitlyn Jenner amounts to an embracing of Gnosticism, we haven’t grasped the nettle of the issue.”

Fr. Robert Barron, “Jenner’s Gnosticism, the ‘Shadow Council,’ and St. Irenaeus“, pathoes.com, June 9, 2015.

Faith, culture and happiness

I grew up in a lower-class neighborhood in a lower-class town, a suburb of Los Angeles. It was a gang-infested area where graffitti was ubiquitous. Whites may have been a slight majority when I was little, but by the time I reached junior high school they had begun to flee the area, and I had become a minority. (I am white.)

My parents got married when my mom was 17, ostensibly because she was pregnant with my eldest sister. But my mom told me that she purposely got pregnant in order to get out of her parents’ house, because her dad was molesting (though not raping) her sexually.

My parents separated when I was around 5, and their divorce was final by the time I was 7. Within a couple of years, my mom’s new boyfriend started staying at our house on weekends. I found out years later that he was married at the time, and cheating on his then-wife. Eventually he divorced his wife and married my mom, and moved in full-time.

My three elder sisters all ran away from home during what should have been their high school years, and two of them had babies out of wedlock during that time, which they gave up for adoption.

Both my mom and my stepdad worked full-time, so we were unsupervised after school and throughout the summer. I started smoking marijuana during the summer between 8th and 9th grade (at age 14). A friend of mine had stolen it from his dad and invited me to try it with him. I loved it, and for the next several years I smoked pot pretty much as often as I could get it. My mom and stepdad didn’t seem to notice. In any event they never mentioned it.

My dad was an alcoholic and also liked to smoke marijuana on occasion. I moved out of my mom’s house and into my dad’s when I was around 19, and he and I would get high together. I didn’t drink with him because I didn’t want to spur a drinking bout in which he would miss a week or two of work and not be able to pay the rent. About 25 years later, he committed suicide with an overdose of pills.

I previously posted about my conversion to Catholicism via Mormonism, but in a nutshell, when I was in high school my mom started going to evening Mass on her way home from work. She dropped in one day out of curiosity. She hadn’t been to Mass in years and from all she heard in the media and elsewhere, she expected the church to be empty (this was the early ’80s). But to her surprise, Mass was underway and there were actually people in attendance on a weekday evening.

I began to notice a change in her around this time, and eventually she started talking about her newly rediscovered faith. Of course, faith was foreign to me at this point. I had been raised for all intents and purposes as an atheist, only going to Mass once or twice a year if I happened to be visiting my grandparents. But, making a long story short, after a gradual conversion process spanning about 5 years, I was eventually received back into the Church (I was baptized as a baby and so technically was already Catholic).

I am now married with two grown children in college. My sons have never been in any but the most trivial kinds of trouble. Both were valedictorians of their high school graduating classes. My younger son earned a full tuition and room-and-board scholarship to a large state university, and was named Outstanding Freshman in its Computer Science department this year. I have been married for 22 years and people have said that we are one of the happiest married couples they know.

All this was brought to mind by this article on NationalReview.com. I agree with the article. I think poverty is self-perpetuating and generally is a matter of culture, not race, as evidenced by the fact that black kids raised in middle-class neighborhoods do fine; whereas white kids raised in poverty tend to stay poor.

Which is why, when I look back on my life, and the culture in which I was raised, I can’t understand why I didn’t turn out poor. I’m not well-off. I work in a clerical job that just pays our bills. We live in a modest three-bedroom house and have two cars: the “good” car is 11 years old and the “spare” one is 15 years old. But we’re financially stable, and conspicuously absent from our lives are habitual drunkenness and drug use, premarital sex and pregnancy, violence, sexual molestation, truancy and adultery. We’re not rich, but we’re happy.

I can only attribute it to the faith, putting it in basic terms, showing us the way to what’s right and wrong, good and bad; what virtues and vices are, the cardinal virtues and the cardinal sins. That you must do good and avoid evil: It’s not just a good idea but is mandatory, your eternal destiny may depend on it.

But what’s good for your eternal destiny is also good for your life on earth: When you avoid adultery and divorce but are faithful to your wife, you have a happy marriage. When you avoid the deadly sin of sloth and work diligently, your income is stable. When you avoid drunkenness and mind-altering drugs, you see things more clearly and act more rationally. And all of this is a good example to your kids, who are then trained to do the same, and the cycle of poverty and divorce and out-of-wedlock births is broken. (I’m speaking here of the obvious cause-and-effect relations between standards and behavior, and behavior and outcomes. But obviously I never would have changed my heart and thus my behavior and attitudes, absent God’s grace.)

My eldest sister “reverted” to the faith as well. She is single and happy, makes a very good living and lives in a beautiful California coastal town.

Of the two sisters who never did revert, one of them engaged in one unhappy romantic relationship after another, including habitual fornication. She had a baby out of wedlock and raised it as a single mom, until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer (due, I suspect, to chronic smoking and use of birth control pills) and died at the age of 35. Her daughter now has two children out of wedlock.

The other sister has been married several times. After giving up her first baby for adoption, she had another, which she kept and raised as a single mom. Her son is now in his 20s and recently had a baby out of wedlock himself, with a woman whom he has no plans to marry. His mother (my sister) has a history of stealing and addiction to prescription drugs. One boyfriend and husband after another broke off with her upon finding that she had run up his credit cards behind his back, and similar behaviors. One of her several husbands committed suicide.

We all come from the same family background. What is the difference between us? In the case of my eldest sister and I, it seems that our faith compensated for what we lacked in terms of the culture in which we were raised.

There but for the grace of God …