Holy Saturday a profile of our time

There is a Gospel scene which in an extraordinary way anticipates the silence of Holy Saturday and which …, therefore, seems to be a profile of the moment in history we are living now. Christ is asleep on a boat which, buffeted by a storm, is about to sink. The prophet Elijah had once made fun of the priests of Baal who were futilely invoking their god to send down fire on their sacrifice. He urged them to cry out louder in case their god was asleep. But is it true that God does not sleep? Does not the prophet’s scorn also fall upon the heads of the faithful of the God of Israel who are sailing with him in a boat about to sink? God sleeps while his very own are about to drown – is not this the experience of our lives? Don’t the Church, the faith, resemble a small boat about to sink, struggling futilely against the waves and the wind, and all the time God is absent? The disciples cry out in dire desperation and they shake the Lord to wake him but he is surprised at this and rebukes them for their small faith. But are things any different for us? When the storm passes we will realize just how much this small faith of ours was charged with stupidity. And yet, O Lord, we cannot help shaking you, God, you who persist in keeping your silence, in sleeping, and we cannot help crying to you: Wake up, can’t you see we are sinking? Stir yourself, don’t let the darkness of Holy Saturday last for ever, let a ray of Easter fall, even on these times of ours, accompany us when we set out in our desperation towards Emmaus so that our hearts may be enflamed by the warmth of your nearness. You who, hidden, charted the paths of Israel only to become a man in the end with men – don’t leave us in the dark, don’t let your word be lost in these days of great squandering of words. Lord, grant us your help, because without you we will sink.

Amen. 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 30Giorni magazine, Easter 2006.

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.

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.

Why sexual sins make you stupid

Almost everything Edward Feser posts is worth linking to, but I think this topic is especially in need of clear explanation in today’s world. It’s a wonderful analysis and explanation of why sexual sins are “such a big deal”:

[One of the] morally significant aspect[s] of sex, … that the unique intensity of sexual pleasure can lead us to act irrationally, is perhaps less often discussed these days. So let’s talk about that.

*  *  *

[P]recisely because sexual pleasure is unusually intense, it is even more likely than other pleasures are to impair our ability to perceive what is true and good when what we take pleasure in is something that is in fact bad. In particular, habitually indulging one’s desire to carry out sexual acts that are disordered will tend to make it harder and harder for one to see that they are disordered. For one thing, the pleasure a person repeatedly takes in those acts will give the acts the false appearance of goodness; for another, the person will be inclined to look for reasons to regard the acts as good or at least harmless, and disinclined to look for, or give a dispassionate hearing to, reasons to think them bad. Hence indulgence in disordered sexual behavior has a tendency to impair one’s ability to perceive the true and the good, particularly in matters of sexual morality. In short, sexual vice makes you stupid.

*  *  *

[I]in contemporary intellectual life most people know nothing of, or at best know only crude caricatures of, [the general metaphysical framework underlying traditional natural law theory]…. Hence they fail to understand the rational foundations of traditional sexual morality.

But the Thomist is bound to judge that mere intellectual error is not the only problem. For it’s not just that people in contemporary Western society commonly disagree, at an intellectual level, with the natural law theorist’s judgments about what is disordered. It’s that they commonly act in ways that natural law theory says are disordered. And if such behavior has a tendency to impair one’s capacity to perceive what is true and good, especially where sex is concerned, then it follows that widespread rejection of traditional sexual morality is bound to have as much to do with the sort of cognitive corruption that Aquinas calls “blindness of mind” as it does with the making of honest intellectual mistakes. That people who don’t behave in accordance with traditional sexual moral norms also don’t believe that these norms have any solid intellectual foundation is thus in no way surprising. On the contrary, that’s exactly what natural law theory itself predicts will happen.

*  *  *

And thus it is no surprise that Christian theologians have traditionally emphasized the dangers sexual sins pose to one’s immortal soul. This is not because such sins are the worst sins — they are not — but rather because the pleasure associated with them makes them very easy to fall into and, if they become habitual, very difficult to get out of. (Churchmen who want to downplay the significance of sexual sins in the name of compassion are thus acting in a way that is in fact anything but compassionate.)

I highly recommend reading the whole thing, as these excerpts come nowhere near doing it justice.

Edward Feser, “What’s the deal with sex? Part II“, Edward Feser blog, February 6, 2015.

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.

God comes when the night seems longest

It is fitting that Christ should have been born at night, that most of sinful humanity should have slept through the event, and that those who were awake to see it were practiced in vigilance. The shepherds, about whom we read in today’s gospel, kept watch over their sheep through the night. To stay awake was their job, and the angels in a blaze of blinding light appeared to them as they kept vigil. Then they went to find the Babe in the manger who was the Light of the World, and in the morning glow they amazed the people of Bethlehem with their story of the Child who came in the midst of darkness.

One night changed everything. And so night became the enchantment of colored lights and carols in many tongues, and the daystar became a symbol of the Son of God and the hope of the future.

We celebrate Christmas during the very time of year when the night is longest. G.K. Chesterton remarked on this when he said:

Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate (The New Jerusalem, Ch. 5).

Fr. Andrew Geiger, “Christmas Mass at Dawn” Mary Victrix blog, December 25, 2016.

The government can’t change reality

“The idea that a government would see it as its duty or within its power to redefine what a family is is a sign of a fatal misapprehension. A culture is not defined by its laws; rather, the laws are defined by the living culture. It’s not like murder and theft become bad because governments enact laws against them. Neither do families become different because judges decide that laws will be misconstrued and votes overturned to redefine what a family is. All that does is assure that the police powers of the state will now be used against anyone who does not go along with the insanity.”

Joseph Moore, “Politics as the Least Important Thing“, Yard Sale of the Mind blog, September 16, 2016.