Sin and (non)procreation

This is in response to a post and comment on the Junior Ganymede blog, regarding the way to “right” the world, which, according to the post, is for good people to raise families and teach their children to do the same. Along the way, the post makes the point that any religion that isn’t having kids is a failure, and “Any institution that isn’t reproducing itself with children is sick.”

Bruce Charlton, in a comment, states that this is a good litmus test for a healthy institution. Basically, if it’s reproducing it passes the litmus test, and if it’s not it doesn’t. Passing the litmus test doesn’t mean that the institution is healthy, since it may be unhealthy in other ways. But failing that litmus test means it is definitely unhealthy.

I don’t disagree that an institution that is not reproducing itself is unhealthy, in the sense that it’s less likely to survive and grow than one which is constantly replenishing itself; though on the other hand, the Christian Church started out very tiny, and look at it today. It may shrink for a generation or two but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will die. Still, for a living thing to shrink rather than grow, even if only temporarily, may fairly be called an illness.

However I’m not so sure that procreation per se is the issue. I think the issue is rather moral laxity in general. And moral laxity in the Christian Church ultimately means the loss of the sense of sin and the fear of God, the failure to realize that sin displeases God, and that sin, and God’s displeasure with sin, is that from which Jesus came to save us.

We have instead adopted the idea that God is never displeased with us, for any reason, and although he would like it if we would be good, he likes us regardless, so no biggie.

Procreation is not a thing that needs to be encouraged by religion or otherwise. People will engage in the procreative act, and the procreative act will result in children. The reason people are having no kids is due to thwarting the natural results of that act. This is what is new in our age which bears directly on reproduction; this is the elephant in the room: We’re procreating less because we have invented new ways of thwarting the natural results of sex, and legitimized others, allowing us to experience its pleasure without its main consequence.

Catholic morality is set up in such a way that if it’s followed seriously and faithfully, procreation will happen virtually automatically.

Catholics at one time (pre-1960s) were known for having large families. The reason for this, mainly, was the prohibition against birth control — which at one time was common to all Christian religions, but after about 1930 became a peculiarly Catholic thing. The prohibition against extra-marital sex was still common to all faiths, so the main thing distinguishing Catholics from most other Christians was their refusal to limit family size through the use of birth control within marriage.

What is the difference between Catholics of that time, and those of our own? Not the Church’s teaching. The moral strictures which resulted in Catholics having unusually large families in the past, are still on the books. The main difference is the moral laxity which has infected the Church’s hierarchy and priesthood. No longer is sexual morality preached from the pulpit (or in religious ed. classes), nor the need to abstain from Communion while in the state of mortal sin. As many have noted, since Vatican II the Communion lines are long, while the Confession lines are short. The focus is on mercy to the exclusion of justice.

If the Church recovered its seriousness in this regard, would large families again be the result? Certainly. Granted, the Church might suddenly lose half its membership. But those who remained would be those who took their faith seriously, and these would either procreate or remain celibate — and most people don’t feel called to celibacy. If you forbid the thwarting of the natural results of sexual intercourse, you will have procreation aplenty, because there is always sexual intercourse aplenty. If the only morally licit way of indulging your sexual appetites is within marriage and in a manner which presents no barrier to procreation, then people who care about morality but don’t want to live celibately, will most certainly procreate.

For the Protestant churches, the answer isn’t so cut-and-dried. For Protestant churches to get serious about their own morality would not necessarily result in more procreation, since for them sex and procreation are morally divisible: It’s perfectly allowable to have sex while thwarting its natural result. So while they will continue having plenty of sexual intercourse, this won’t result in plenty of children.

Some Mormons argue that their religion is uniquely positioned to survive and thrive in our age, because of their emphasis on eternal marriage and family. But they too have no moral objection to thwarting the natural results of sexual intercourse; at least, it’s not categorically forbidden, and is left to the discretion of individuals. Overagainst this obstacle to procreation they place their emphasis on eternal marriage and the family, and other doctrines which provide positive encouragement to procreate. It’s for these reasons, they believe, that they manage to procreate at a higher rate than other Christians generally. Still, their rates of reproduction are lower today than they used to be, just like everyone else’s, and by the same cause.

I submit that it’s the Catholic Church’s moral teachings that would result in the largest increases in procreation, if only they were again seriously and earnestly preached, since they rely not on encouragement or the hope of future blessing as incentives to procreate, but simply on human nature as God made it.

Credit where it’s due

Pope Francis has spoken out against transgender ideology, calling it “a global war against the family” and “the great enemy of marriage.” He distinguishes between transgendered people, whom Christians must “accompany”, and transgender ideology, i.e. “teaching in school about this, to change mentalities.” The latter he calls “ideological colonization.”

He also warned reporters, “Please don’t say that the pope will sanctify trans [transgender people], because I read the headlines in the newspapers.” At least he’s not completely oblivious to the effects that his public comments sometimes have. “I want to be clear, this is a problem of morals. It’s a problem. It’s a human problem that has to be resolved as it can, always with God’s mercy”.

Quotes from “Pope says walk with trans persons, but fight gender theory” by Inés San Martín, Crux, October 2, 2016.

The Pope, through the Congregation for the Clergy, also recently reaffirmed the Church’s ban of candidates to the priesthood who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture,'” saying that “such people are ‘in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women'”, and that “‘[o]ne must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.’”

Congregation for the Clergy, “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation“, December 8, 2016.

For this he is, of course, catching flak.

I criticize him a fair bit so I wanted to give credit where it’s due.

The limits of rationality

“Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.” ~ John Henry Cardinal Newman.

“As Chesterton tells us, the purely rational man will not marry and the purely rational soldier will not fight.” ~ per Jonah Goldberg’s “News”letter, July 29, 2016.

Show them without being angry

“How cruel it is not to allow men to strive for the things which seem to them suitable to their natures and profitable! Yet in a way you are not allowing them to do this, when you are vexed because they do wrong. For they are certainly moved to do things they suppose to be suitable to their natures and profitable to them. ‘But it is not so.’ Teach them then, and show them without being angry.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Ch. 6, para. 27, trans. by George Long.

This struck me as pertinent to the present atmosphere of intolerance of certain political views, even to the point of violence and destruction; though the anger certainly arises on both sides.

Who are the modern fascists?

I had a discussion recently about the “protests” designed to prevent conservatives from speaking on college campuses; specifically the Berkeley riots that shut down Milo Yiannopoulis’ scheduled talk, but there have been many others as is well known.

I contended that the tactics of the “blackshirts” at Berkeley were fascistic tactics. My opponent scoffed at that notion saying, “Armed leftists are fascists. Right.”

This is partly a question of what it means to be a fascist. Does “fascism” refer to the tactics used, or to the underlying goals? Fascism is generally understood to be nationalistic, whereas leftism is supposed to be internationalistic, as in, “Workers of the world, unite!”

But clearly nationalism doesn’t complete the definition of “fascism”. For one thing the original fascists, in Italy and then Germany, were socialists, which is a leftist ideology. Each of those regimes was also characterized by a “centralized, autocratic government“, whereas the modern, American right favors de-centralized government.

But I think what stands uppermost in people’s minds when thinking of the fascism of Germany and Italy is their “forcible suppression of opposition“. This is what is most commonly meant when one is accused of acting like a fascist, for example when police officers in riot gear are criticized for using overly aggressive tactics for purposes of crowd control. When “fascism” is used to criticize behavior, that’s generally what is meant. It may be a fair critique of the Trump administration that it has nationalistic sentiments, but so far as I can tell it has not engaged in fascistic tactics in the form of forcible suppression of opposition. (They couldn’t even push through the travel ban, for pete’s sake.)

I’m not sure what is bad about nationalism per se, though maybe someone can enlighten me. To me it seems the problem with German and Italian nationalism was the way it was implemented, with violent suppression of opposition. And of course, the fact that nationalism was conflated with racism in the notion that the only true German was an “Aryan” German. To the extent that anyone asserts that the only true American is a white American, I condemn that notion unequivocally. But to the extent that “nationalism” simply means “loyalty and devotion to one’s own nation above all others”, I’m all for it in Americans, and fully expect it (and respect it) in citizens of other nations. In my view promoting nationalistic sentiments through persuasion and the democratic process is not fascistic.

Whereas the “protests” are primarily about forcible suppression of ideas. Such force is justified on the ground that the ideas being expressed are wrong (see last sentence of linked article).

This is what the Inquisition is purported to have done. The difference is that the Inquisition would give you a trial in which you could defend yourself, before pronouncing you a heretic and forbidding you to express your ideas in public. Whereas the “protesters” go directly to the suppression of ideas, often using violent and destructive tactics. This fits the definition of fascism as well as anything in modern American life.

[EDIT: I was reading an article on the Crisis magazine website and came across this:

“According to Jonah Goldberg writing in National Review, ‘Seemingly every day there’s another story of a college campus caving into the notion that free speech and unhappy facts are racist.’ Radio and television political commentary are also popular venues for the new Inquisitors who zealously search out these sinners and brand them guilty of crimes against society. At least medieval heretics were given a trial.”

For the record, I said it first! : ) ]

Ruminations on transgenderism

Just some random reflections on this topic, arising out of a comment I posted on another blog.

The very notion of “gender” is meaningless without the concepts of male and female. Aside from that, what could gender possibly mean?

So-called “third genders” are either a supposed neutral ground between male and female, or a boy raised as a girl or vice versa. But the notion of raising a boy as a girl depends on there being an external concept of femaleness to conform to, either innate femaleness or socially constructed femaleness.

If one who is biologically male identifies as a female, which femaleness is he identifying with? Innate, objectively existing femaleness, or socially constructed femaleness? If the former, where does it objectively exist? If only in his mind then it’s subjective, not objective, by definition. If not only in his mind, and not in his body either, but existing objectively nonetheless, then where is it?

If the femaleness that he is identifying with is socially constructed femaleness, then it can’t be something he was born with but must be learned as he grows up. In which case it’s hard to understand in what sense femaleness constitutes his true, objective identity as opposed to something he chooses to identify with.

Possibly what they’re saying is that something within the person makes the socially constructed femaleness he observes more congenial to him than socially constructed maleness, and maybe whatever quality within him causes that congeniality comprises the objective thing within him which we call identification with that gender. Possibly so. But it doesn’t follow from the fact that a man has something in him which causes him to identify with socially constructed femaleness, that this person is “really a female”. In order to draw that conclusion, you would have to assume that socially constructed femaleness is objective femaleness; but that’s a contradiction. If it’s objective then it’s not socially constructed.

If gender is socially constructed and not objective, then we have no basis for saying that the socially constructed femaleness of our time and place, to which the transgendered man feels drawn, is true, objective femaleness. It could be (according to the theory that gender is a social construction) that the socially constructed femaleness of our time and place, if transposed to some other time and place, would be considered maleness.

If a man finds the socially constructed femaleness of our time and place to be more congenial, to match up more closely with what he feels himself to be interiorly, that simply means that he has qualities within himself that the society of our time and place considers effeminate. It doesn’t follow from this fact that he is objectively a female.

Confusion or order?

“The universe is either a confusion, an intermingling of atoms, and a scattering; or it is unity and order and providence. If it is the former, why do I wish to tarry amid such a haphazard confusion and disorder? Why do I care about anything but how I may at last become earth? And why do I trouble myself, for my elements will be scattered, whatever I do. But if the other supposition is true, I revere, I stand firm, and I trust in him who governs.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Ch. VI, para. 10, trans. by George Long.

What’s interesting to me is how this illustrates the fact that faith is a choice, an act of will. We don’t know with scientific certainty which of the two options is the true one, therefore we’re free to choose to believe that the universe is aimless, or that it’s ordered. If it’s the former, then why care what happens? In fact, why not leave this life as soon as possible? The fact that we don’t, perhaps betrays us.