Prayers you don’t hear anymore, Part 2

“Guard me around about with the loving and watchful care of Thy holy angels: and before their most sure defence may the enemies of all good, flee in confusion. For the sake of this dread mystery and by the ministering hand of the holy angel of the sacrifice, do Thou, O Lord, preserve me and all Thy servants from that obstinacy of spirit wherein lies pride and vain-glory, envy and blasphemy, uncleanness and wrong-doing, doubt and mistrust. Let them be confounded that persecute us. Let them perish that are bent upon our ruin.”

Devotions in Preparation for Mass and Communion, prayer for Sunday, in The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

(See Part 1 here.)

The totalitarian diversity cult

‘Why should a Catholic institution not … be itself, precisely to offer to that increasingly homogeneous and nothing-adoring world a different word, the word of Christ and his Church? Have not the secular preachers of diversity instead worked their hardest to efface that difference, to muffle all those who speak with the voice of the Church against the vision that those preachers have to offer—a vision that pretends to be “multicultural,” but that is actually anti-cultural, and is characterized by all the totalitarian impulses to use the massive power of government to bring to heel those who decline to go along?

‘These aren’t idle questions. I notice, on our Diversity page, that incidents of “bias” will be forwarded to a “Bias Response Team,” which is, if I may adopt the phraseology of one of my shrewdest colleagues, a Star Chamber whose constitution and laws and executive power no one will know. “Fear not,” says the angel, “for the great Unwritten Law will come upon you, and the power of Correct Thinking will overshadow you.” How precisely the fear of being hauled before the Star Chamber can possibly bring people together in friendship, is never revealed.

*   *   *

‘In my now extensive experience, Catholic professors in Catholic colleges have been notably tolerant of the limitations of their secular colleagues. We make allowances all the time. We understand, though, that some of them—not all, but then it only takes a few—would silence us for good, if they had the power. They have made life hell for more than one of my friends. All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head.’

Anthony Esolen, “My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult“, Crisis magazine website, September 26, 2016.

Trump

You may have noticed that my posting dropped off precipitously last Fall. We had a death in the family and, at virtually the same time, I went through a major career change, and seemed to have lost my muse. A lot of it, I think, was being forced to focus on temporal matters. Previously I had been in the same job for a long time, and perhaps was on auto-pilot in regard to making a living. But my employer went out of business, and I had to change jobs and could no longer take things for granted.

In the meantime, the great earthquake known as the presidential election took place. It was so upsetting to me that I stopped watching the news months beforehand. Trump was the very last of the Republican candidates that I wanted to be nominated, and the one who I thought had the least chance of beating the Democrats. I simply resigned myself to eight more years and beyond of Democratic rule, and wished to hear no more about it. It was like knowing with certainty that a train was about to crash with catastrophic results. Some would call that a thing that you can’t help watching, but I tend to turn my eyes away from such things (assuming there’s nothing I can do to prevent it). Knowing the tragic outcome is enough for me, I don’t need to see pictures.

I believed Hillary would win, but could foresee no happiness either way. It was time to check out, prepare for martyrdom. I don’t mean that literally. I didn’t think physical martyrdom was imminent. But I must resign myself to living as a Christian in a regime hostile to Christianity.

When Trump won, I was surprised at how happy I was. It was as though a great weight had been lifted. It wasn’t that I loved Trump, but that the political trajectory which I thought was unstoppable, suddenly altered course. Primarily I exulted in the fact that the Democrats would not get to name the replacement for Scalia (peace be upon him). But also, that a huge chunk of the electorate voiced an emphatic “NO!” to political correctness.

I consider Trump a great big boor, a vindictive teenager in an adult body, crude and rude and annoying. Nevertheless, I am a conservative (according to my lights) and a Christian. How can I not be happy when he appoints pro-life Christians like Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos to his cabinet? What an amazing turnaround, when I had resigned myself to the likes of John Kerry and Kathleen Sebelius for the foreseeable future.

I must admit also that I found the inauguration speech encouraging. What struck me most, not as a Christian but as an American, was the slogan “America First”: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” A simple idea, one that you would think would be taken for granted, not needing to be said. And again, “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” Of course it is. We expect other countries to do so, and we should do so ourselves. The job of our government is to look out for our interests, not to “make the world a better place”.

Again I’m not a Trump admirer, and did not vote for him, in the primary or in the general election. But when I hear the anti-Trump rhetoric, I can’t help feeling all the gladder that he won instead of them. If the rhetoric focused on him being an immature jerk, I would have no quarrel with it. I’m embarrassed that someone who conducts himself as he does in public, represents us before the world. But I’m convinced that him being the equivalent of Hitler or the KKK is sheer fantasy. I’m far, far more disturbed by the rhetoric and behavior of the anti-Trump factions, than I am by Trump or his followers. I find them far more divisive, indeed I believe they are deliberately so, as a matter of political strategy, whereas Trump’s divisiveness is accidental, following upon his clumsy and brutish manner of expressing himself.

I have no illusions that the next four years will be wonderful or that Trump’s administration will be beyond reproach and devoid of scandal. He’ll do some things right and some things wrong, like any other president. But he’ll do some good things that the Democrats would never have done, and will avoid some bad things that the Democrats would have done, and I can’t help feeling glad about that.

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is a map showing alleged “incidents of hate” that have occurred since the November 8 presidential election (from the website ThinkProgress.org):

capture

A couple of interesting things that I noticed:

1. The two states with the most incidents are New York and California — notoriously the two big states that the candidates never bother to campaign in, since they are a lock for the Democrats, i.e. states with large liberal majorities. There have been a total of 36 incidents in those two states.

2. The states in green are those which have no reported hate crimes since the election. Many of these are notoriously conservative states. What stands out to me in particular are the Southern states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, all of which have zero reported incidents according to this map. Louisiana has one reported hate incident, Georgia two, Tennessee three, for a total of six incidents in the entirety of the Deep South.

I wonder, if you asked random liberals who hadn’t seen this map, which states they predict would have the most reported “incidents of hate”, and which would have the least, how many would predict that California and New York would have six times as many incidents as the Deep South.

You might say that this is due to the larger populations of California and New York. Let’s look at this: California and New York have a total combined population of 58 million, and there were 36 incidents in those two states. Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee have a total combined population of 37 million, and there were six incidents in those six states. If you do the math, you will see that California and New York have an average of 6.2 incidents per 10 million people, while the Southern states have an average of 1.6 incidents per 10 million people; or in other words about four times as many incidents per capita in the coastal, liberal states compared with the Southern states.

Remember, what is supposedly fueling this “wave of hate” is that Trump supporters are being “emboldened” by his election to act out their hatred. If that’s the case, how is it that people living in states that voted Democrat by wide margins are emboldened to act out their hate, while those living states that voted for Trump, are not?

When you consider that the Deep South states are purportedly those with the highest concentration of haters (read “white conservatives”), and the large majorities by which Trump won those states, why aren’t they going absolutely hog-wild with hate, letting their hate flags fly, burning crosses left and right, confident in the approval of all their friends and neighbors?

There’s something wrong with this theory….

When the spirit necessarily includes the letter

[W]e must say this, that if we take “letter” in the sense of the literal formulation of a commandment and “spirit” in the sense of the intention and meaning of the commandment, it is never possible to fulfill the spirit without fulfilling the letter when moral commandments including an absolute veto are in question. For example, an absolute veto is found in the moral commandments: “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not curse,” or “Thou shalt not sacrifice to idols or deny God.” Here it is absolutely impossible to claim that someone could ever depart from the letter without violating the spirit, that is, without sinning.

It makes no sense to say that although someone committed adultery in the literal sense of the word he remains true to the spirit of the commandment—if we take “spirit” in the sense of the meaning and intention of the commandment. The formulation here is such that “spirit” necessarily includes the letter, so that the possibility of any departure from the letter without violating the spirit is excluded regardless of the circumstances.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, True Morality and Its Counterfeits, New York:David McKay Company (1955).

Truth and innocence are boring

As in the intellectual field there exists a perversion according to which an interesting, complicated, intelligent error is preferred to a simple, evident truth, so there exists also a moral perversion that leads us to prefer the dramatic, interesting tension of a tragic sin to simple innocence.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, True Morality and Its Counterfeits, New York:David McKay Company (1955), pp. 44-45.

Is the physical higher than the spiritual?

Bruce Charlton argues once again that the solid is better than the spiritual, this time on his own blog under the title “Why is incarnation (being embodied) a higher state than life as a pure spirit?“.

THE BREAKTHROUGH

He starts out saying that the idea behind “one of the most profound, yet simple, insights of Mormon theology” is that “God is incarnate”, and that “this mortal life is primarily about ‘getting a body’ – the work of Jesus Christ was (in part) to enable all men to be resurrected, and live eternally incarnate (and cleansed of corruption). This, Bruce says, “was a breakthrough in theology”.

It may be a breakthrough, but it’s entirely consistent with traditional Christian doctrine. Any Catholic can say without fear of violating orthodoxy that God became incarnate, that this mortal life is about us getting bodies, and that Jesus’ work was to enable all men to live eternally in resurrected bodies freed from corruption.

Admittedly when Bruce says “God is incarnate”, what he probably means is that God the Father has a physical body, and not that Jesus – God the Son – became incarnate (though he believes that too). But my point is, Bruce’s statement of Christ’s work and the purpose of our life on earth seems to have no relation to whether or not the Father has a body.

WHAT PROBLEM DOES ‘THE BREAKTHROUGH’ SOLVE?

Why, then, is it a problem to believe that God is not embodied? And why is it a “breakthrough” to believe that he is? By “breakthrough” I assume Bruce means that it solves some previously intractable problem. But what problem does it solve?

According to Bruce the problem is that “the religious tradition has tended strongly towards seeing pure spiritual life as a higher form of life than embodiment.” Christians have “often lapsed into talking about the body as corruption and the spirit as higher and purer and more divine. Consequently, mortal incarnate life was often perceived as intrinsically second rate or actually pointless, compared with spiritual life in Heaven.”

That last sentence is correct, and in fact I will say it right now: Mortal incarnate life as lived by fallen humanity is “second rate” compared with spiritual life in heaven. But not because it’s worse to live in a body. Does Bruce think that traditional Christians believe it’s best to be freed from our bodies, in order to become pure spirits in heaven — and never to be resurrected? Does he think that on the day of resurrection Christians will recoil in horror, begging to be spared the “second rate” life of living in a body once again?

Obviously this has never been the teaching of the traditional Christian Church. It has always been taught dogmatically that Christians who die in the state of grace will be resurrected and will live forever with Christ, in heaven, in their resurrected bodies, and that this is paradise.

Bruce argues that because there has arisen repeatedly thoughout history the heresy that spirit is good and matter is evil, therefore the Mormon doctrine that God the Father is embodied solves this problem once and for all. But there’s another way of solving this problem once and for all:  which is the traditional teaching that matter, like everything else God made, is good, and that the problem with living on earth in a human body is not the body per se but the consequences on the human body resulting from the Fall; and that it’s therefore necessary to discipline the body by fasting and penance in order not to be ruled by the body but to rule it, and thereby to avoid sin and attain to the resurrection of our bodies, after which we will be free from the consequences of the Fall and able to enjoy our bodies to the full without fear of their leading us into sin.

WHY HERETICS DENIGRATE THE BODY

I suppose Bruce’s argument boils down to this: When Christians believe that God is pure spirit, this causes them to consider spirit the highest and best thing, and to denigrate the body. Whereas if they believe God is embodied, then they will respect and revere matter and their own bodies.

But didn’t Christians already believe that God was embodied, before Mormonism came along? Did we not believe that Christ was embodied, and that he was God?

On the other hand, don’t we and the Mormons also believe in the divinity of the Holy Spirit? Yet according to Mormon teaching the Holy Spirit “is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones.” There is no more contradiction between the Father being unembodied and matter being good, than there is between the Holy Spirit being unembodied and matter being good; is there?

The heresy that matter is evil arises not because of the Father being unembodied, but because of man’s fallen nature. The heretic sees that his body leads him into sin through the various lusts of the flesh. He finds it virtually impossible to prevent this. He reads in the scriptures that “[T]he one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Jn. 6:63); “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (Gal. 6:8); “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). He concludes that the spirit is good and the body is evil. If this heresy could be defeated by abandoning the belief in God’s spiritual nature, perhaps it could be defeated even more effectively by excising these verses from the scriptures. But we don’t abandon truth to defeat heresy.

Heresy is always a perversion of truth, a skewing or exaggeration of one truth at the expense of others. People can pervert any doctrine they want. The doctrine of God’s being embodied is itself susceptible of being skewed or exaggerated at the expense of other truths (and I would argue that it has; but that’s another topic), thus giving rise to heresy.

But the heresy of bodies being evil is not a skewing of the belief in God’s spiritual nature. This part they get exactly right: That God is pure spirit and free of bodily concupiscence. The part they skew is the doctrine of the Fall. Rather than thinking of their bodies as good things under a curse as a result of sin, but capable of redemption, they think of them as bad things through and through. They think this way despite the Church’s insistence that the body is good, and despite the proof of the body’s eventual glorification and redemption that is provided by Christ’s Resurrection.

WHAT MAKES THE PHYSICAL HIGHER THAN THE SPIRITUAL?

Bruce asks, “So, why is incarnation a higher state than pure spirit? Why is it a spiritual progression to ‘get a body’?”

He answers by explaining that we’re not “ghosts in machines”, but rather, composites of body and soul. We don’t inhabit our bodies like a man wearing a suit; “rather, the two become one”. But again this is no improvement on traditional orthodoxy, since it is traditional orthodoxy.

Next he explains that by becoming incarnate, “the immaterial spirit comes to inhabit the material world. The soul thereby attains the fullest possible integration with the whole of reality.”

This argument makes sense on the assumption of the Mormon belief that we have all existed from eternity as disembodied “intelligences”. Since it’s the nature of human beings to have a body, naturally we are happier in bodies. Probably it would feel like a great advantage, after an eternity of being disembodied, finally to have a chance to be embodied, not only on this earth but forevermore.

But according to traditional Christian belief, body and soul are created at one and the same time, as a complete whole. There is no time when we exist as disembodied spirits, excepting the interval between death and resurrection. For orthodox Christians there is no eternal, disembodied preexistence from which obtaining a body constitutes a great relief and the solution to a long-endured privation.

CAN SPIRIT BE CONCENTRATED?

Bruce writes that “Incarnation is more a matter of concentration than of constraint”.

Again this seems to address the problem of preexisting, disembodied spirits, or intelligences. Joseph Smith writes in the scriptural book of the Doctrine & Covenants, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” D&C 131:7-8. With this in mind the idea of “concentration” makes sense. Smith seems to have in mind spirits who are not entirely immaterial, but who are made up of a finer matter than that with which we are familiar. In this context it might make sense to speak of the concentration of this “fine”, “pure” matter into something more solid, as being an advantage, enabling us to interact with the denser matter of our world.

But if we’re speaking not of fine matter but of pure spirit, what is there to concentrate into matter? Pure spirit is not dissipated matter in need of concentration; it’s no matter at all.

HOW AGAIN IS THE PHYSICAL HIGHER?

Bruce writes that “enhanced creative power is a product of that greater concentration and of fuller self-awareness, which is characteristic of the incarnate soul”.

Here Bruce makes bald assertions: that the “concentration” involved in becoming embodied gives one fuller self-awareness, resulting in “enhanced creative power”. But what basis is there for saying that a pure spirit is less self-aware than an embodied man? It seems to me the opposite: An embodied man lives within time, and therefore experiences reality one moment at a time. He also lives in space and experiences reality one “space” at a time, the space in which his physical body happens to be located. His eyes see the physical things that are in his field of vision. Can an embodied man see every part of his body at once? Can he see inside his body with his physical eyes? How conscious is he of the workings of his inner organs?

If a physical body is higher than a spiritual mind, this implies that his thoughts have a physical rather than a spiritual basis. Are his thoughts, then, physically contained within his brain? Aside from the philosophical difficulties this presents, how many of his thoughts can he think at one time? Has he perfect awareness of his subconscious at every moment? Has he full and complete understanding of his feelings and emotions?

It seems that a being of pure spirit, not limited in space or time, would have a more complete awareness of his entire self, than a being made up of trillions of cells and dependent on those cells for his self-awareness. All of those cells are him, according to Bruce, since he is, and doesn’t merely inhabit, his body. So full self-awareness must include awareness of every one of those cells. But the cells themselves in a physical being are what provide that self-awareness. Can they be both the means and the object of awareness, simultaneously? Can a sensor sense itself?

Thus there are inherent limits to the self-awareness of a physical being, which don’t apply to a pure spirit.

If on the other hand it is argued that a physical being can be entirely self-aware by means other than his physical organs and the cells which make up his body, what means can those be but spiritual ones? Yet if a physical being attains complete self-awareness through spiritual means, then in what way is the physical said to be higher?

CAN THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL INTERACT?

Bruce argues that by not being incarnated, the pure spirit is excluded from the material realm, and therefore is not in touch with the whole of reality.

This argument rests on the assumption that “the whole of reality” was not created by a pure spirit in the first place; thus in arguing for a Mormon metaphysics, it assumes a Mormon metaphysics.

There is nothing logically contradictory about a pure spirit creating material reality and holding it in existence, as orthodox Christians have held for millennia. And if this is what God does, then clearly he’s not out of touch with material reality.

Bruce himself writes that “What happens with incarnation is that the immaterial spirit comes to inhabit the material world.” But if immaterial spirits can have no contact with the material world, then how can they “come to inhabit” it? Isn’t incarnation (under this description) the fusion, so to speak, of the immaterial with the material, such that the former now interacts with and controls the latter? But if spirit can interact with matter in these circumstances, why can’t it do so under other circumstances?

There is a commonly held notion that the immaterial can’t have awareness of and interaction with the material, on the ground that matter can only be affected by other matter, or at least physical forces. Thus as Bruce asserts, pure spirit is excluded from the material realm. But this is based on scientific findings, science being the observation and testing of physical phenomena using physical organs and instruments. Science obviously can say nothing about spirit, therefore the exclusion of spirit from scientific explanations of material phenomena proves nothing. If spirit were involved in the process of holding material reality in existence, science could know nothing about it. Science also can know nothing as to whether a being of pure spirit can observe material reality or interact with it.

We’re tempted to conclude that because “material” and “immaterial” are opposites, never the twain may meet. But the very concept of immaterial beings “coming to inhabit the material world” belies this conclusion. It’s hard to understand how one can hold both views without contradicting oneself. Can they interact or can’t they?

A MATTER OF SCALE

Bruce says that when a spiritual being is incarnated, he now has the physical realm open to him, from which he previously was excluded. But what if he is incarnated as an amoeba? How much of the physical realm does that give him contact with?

On the other hand, what if he is incarnated as a being the size of the entire universe? Wouldn’t that render life on earth microscopic to him, or indeed, subatomic? How much physical interaction could he then have with the physical realm as we think of it? Since a body must always be of a specific size and scale, isn’t a physical being always excluded from interacting with the great swaths of physical reality that are beyond his scale?

A spirit, not being limited by size, can in theory observe, interact with and grasp everything in the universe, from atoms to the universe as a whole; whereas a physical being, to the extent that he is physical, can only interact with things on more or less the same scale as himself. This isn’t to say that his spirit might not be able to interact with physical things outside of the scale which he inhabits. This is what human beings do when pondering and making discoveries about subatomic particles and aspects of the universe which are beyond our direct observation: When we ponder and theorize about them, we are interacting with them not physically, but mentally; which is another way of saying spiritually. Doesn’t this make the spiritual less limited than the physical? and therefore higher?

CONCLUSION

For these reasons it appears to me that the Father’s having a physical body solves problems that are themselves created by Bruce’s assumed Mormon-based metaphysics. If only the physical can create, and it can only create the physical, and then only by rearranging matter, then all creation must be physical, in which case the non-physical is nothing; and even if we grant that it’s not nothing, it is still cut off from the physical simply by virtue of being non-physical.

Whereas if we assume that God is a spirit who created the material and maintains it constantly in existence, then the spiritual and the material are both good and can interact with each other. But the spiritual is higher since it rules over the physical. In the case of human beings, through the effects of the Fall, the physical rebels, and it’s a struggle for the spiritual to maintain the proper mastery. But we’ve been provided a remedy for this ailment through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By faith in him we believe, not that we will be freed from our bodies, but that they will be resurrected and once again properly subject to the spirit and therefore freed from the effects of concupiscence (of which Christians can have occasional foretastes even in this life).

I agree that being embodied is a higher state than being unembodied or disembodied for a human being, since it’s our nature to be embodied; but that it’s a higher state absolutely, I don’t think Bruce has shown.