Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reflections on Conscience and Utilitarianism

The Argument to Consider

Major Premise: We Must always Do Good and always Avoid Evil

Minor Premise: [X] is Good or [Y] is Evil.

Conclusion: We must do [X] or We must not do [Y]

The major premise cannot be denied.  While people may argue over whether [X] is truly good or whether [Y] is truly evil, normal people do not say it is permissible to do evil.  If a person's conscience tells him that something is evil, he must not do it.  This is where the questions of morality come into play, invoking situations where it is not always right to do [X] or wrong to do [Y].  For example, it is wrong to withhold a person's property from him.  However, if the neighbor is drunk and wants me to give him his car keys, it would be wrong to give him his car keys until that situation has changed.  Once that situation is changed however, I do not have the right to continue to withhold his keys from him.  These are questions that are in line with the major premise of, "We Must always Do Good and always Avoid Evil."

This Major Premise is the concept of conscience.  It says, I must do [X].  I must not do [Y].  Yet too many people think of conscience as an impulse that puts a stamp of approval on what we want to do and a stamp of disapproval for what we oppose.  Such people are indeed following an impulse, but that impulse is not conscience.

Impulse and Conscience

Impulse tells me:

  • "I am hungry, I want food."
  • "I have sexual desires, I want conjugal relations."
  • "I am in fear for my life, I want to flee."

Conscience, on the other hand, counters my impulse and tells me:

  • "Even though I am hungry, I must not eat the whole pizza."
  • "Even though I have sexual desires, I must not have sexual relations with my neighbor's wife who is making her body available for me."
  • "Even though I am afraid for my life, I must not flee because innocents will be harmed if I do."

Impulses can be right at some times and wrong at other times.  I seem to recall CS Lewis making reference to impulses as the keys on a piano… each one can be right or wrong depending on whether they are used in the proper time or not.  Conscience then, must be thought of as the conductor, telling us when it is the right time to act on the impulse and when it is not. 

Unfortunately, in America, we have tended to deaden our conscience and give in to our impulses.  "Why shouldn't I have sexual relations with my neighbor's wife?  She is willing and I want gratification."  When faced with conscience which tells us we did wrong, the response is to react with anger, often blaming people who say what the conscience says for "attempting to impose guilt."

Remember, people don't get outraged when a religion teaches something not involving conscience.  Non Jews (normally) don't get offended because Jews keep Kosher laws in their personal life or in their businesses.  They don't demand a Jewish deli serve them a ham sandwich.  They do get angry when a religion speaks on a topic which the conscience also condemns. 

  1. Conscience tells us we must not do [X]
  2. The Catholic Church tells us we must not do [X]
  3. Therefore the Church is accused of causing guilt over [X]

The problem comes when we go from "How Can I Be Just?" to "How Can I Justify This?"

To escape guilt, many move from "How must I act to be just?" to asking "How can I justify my Act?"  It is sometimes argued by moral relativists that there are no absolutes, and right and wrong are entirely dependent on the circumstances, the culture and many other considerations.

This argument is absurd.  If slavery is wrong, it was always wrong and will always be wrong.  A society that practiced it in the past was wrong, even if the society considered it morally acceptable.  It was not wrong in the Northern United States and right in the Southern United States.  Nor was it right prior to 1865 and wrong after 1865.

Likewise, if genocide is wrong, a society which practices it is wrong.  No sane person would argue that because Nazi Germany had the "Final Solution," it was right in Germany but wrong elsewhere.

These two examples show we can indeed know that some things are absolutely (in all cases, circumstances and times) wrong, even if a society practiced them.  We look back to those times with sorrow and revulsion – we DON'T think they were right then but not now.

Indeed, these principles show us something key.  That is the fact that it is irrelevant to appeal to the fact that a thing is popular.  If 99% of the population decides that it is expedient to persecute an innocent 1% of the population, that 99% is wrong, because it is true that it is not right to deliberately harm innocent people. 

If you question this, consider whether it would be right for someone to push your child into the path of a speeding car as a way to warn a larger group of people to get out of the path of the car.

Utilitarianism vs. Catholicism

"Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel."

- H.L. Mencken

The above question isn't just an imaginary example in poor taste.  This is an application of utilitarianism.

  ■ noun the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.
   ▶      the doctrine that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.

The principles of utilitarianism can be held to different degrees of course, but generally utilitarianism will recognize that no act can harm no person, so if a small number of people are harmed or inconvenienced when the greater good is invoked, that harm can be justified.  This is how the justification of abortion tends to work (even if those taking part in abortion aren't formally utilitarians).  "Even if the unborn is a person, the right to abortion will benefit women, therefore it can be justified."

It also is used to justify the current HHS attack on religion.  "Some religions may be inconvenienced by being forced to pay for contraception and abortion coverage, but more people may benefit from such a requirement.  Therefore religions can be compelled to pay for such coverage."

Ultimately, Utilitarianism justifies tyranny in the name of "good."  If a government program can benefit many at the cost of harming a few (say the rich, landowners, the Jews…) then it is acceptable to harm the few to benefit the many.  That kind of utilitarianism can be brutal (Nazism, Stalinism) or mild (America today), but it still operates under the principle of, "The Ends Justify the Means."

The danger of course is the fact that the person making the decision of what is more important will never put themselves in the position of being "less important" – though they might consider placing YOU in that category.

In contrast, the Catholic position says, evil may never be done so good may come from it.  This isn't merely two conflicting ideologies.  This is a statement on the importance of the human person.  Under Utilitarianism, a conservative could argue, "Since most AIDS cases come from homosexuals, we should place all homosexuals in relocation camps.  Many would benefit and only a few would be harmed."

The Catholic view would condemn that view because such a view treats human persons as mere pawns to be used instead of looking at them as persons who must be treated as persons even if they do wrong (whether by choice or by disordered passion).  That doesn't mean we treat felons as if they were innocent, or treat homosexuality as the same as heterosexuality.  That which is wrong must be opposed, even if the person doing wrong thinks it is right.

It does mean we may not treat a person as if he were less than human because he is a felon, because he is not white, because he is religious and so on.


The difference between the view of utilitarianism (so prominent in America today) and the Catholic view can be summed up this way:

The Golden Rule states that we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Would we have others treat us as a means to an end where we can be harmed for a greater good?  No?  Then we must not treat others in such a way.

Ultimately, we must then do what is good and avoid what is evil in all our actions.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Commenting on the New Comment Period

Reports are that we're having a new comment period for those institutions which are non-profit, but don't fall under the Obama administration's exceptionally narrow definition of a religious organization, like say Catholic Hospitals and Universities.  I'm not impressed.

First of all, the Obama administration doesn't even have the Constitutional authority to do this.  The Constitution forbids laws which interfere with the free practice of religion.  The only reason this can happen is because members of our government aren't bothering to stand up to the Obama administration's violation of the Constitution and the Presidential Oath of Office:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." (US Constitution Article II, Section I).

Merely commenting on the extent of the violation of the Constitution ought to be allowed falls short of the defense of the Constitution.

Second, Those who have freedom of religion under the Constitution do not merely consist of churches and non-profit organizations.  Men and women who are religious believers but also work in a for-profit business also have the freedom of free exercise of religion.  If Catholics in the Insurance industry believe it is their moral obligation not to cooperate with the moral evils of contraception by funding them, and if the government forces insurers to fund contraception and abortion, then it follows that the government is interfering with their moral obligations according to their religion.

No matter how Obama and his supporters may spin it, the HHS Mandate, and even the Comment Period are open and flagrant violations of the Constitution simply by their existence.

Ultimately, the morality of contraception and abortion will have to be settled in America, and the Catholic Church will certainly need to make clear why our teaching is not mere opinion in order to lead people to the truth – and this is what they are trying to do.  They are not trying to pass any "stealth legislation" to ban these things by trickery.  So long as the voters and politicians of America fail to recognize this truth, the issues of contraception and abortifacients will continue to be accepted.

However, even the acceptance by a majority does not mean it is permitted to force the minority, who believes it to be evil, to accept it.

We used to recognize this was tyranny (oppressive and arbitrary rule seized without legal right to do so).

Why not now?


+Pray for our Country

Friday, March 16, 2012

TFTD: Even Pagans Recognized Abortion Was Wrong

I came across this passage by Aulus Gelius (AD 125-180) in his work, Attic Nights (Noctus Atticae).

In so doing they show the same madness as those who strive by evil devices to cause abortion of the fetus itself which they have conceived, in order that their beauty may not be spoiled by the weight of the burden they bear and by the labour of parturition. (12.1.1)

Compare that with today, where such a concern for appearance is considered a valid reason for abortion.  We've really lost the moral sense that people once knew.

It kind of makes you wonder when comparing ancient Rome with modern America – why is it ancient Rome that is considered the vicious and cruel society and America is considered the enlightened society?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reflections on Truth and the Current American Crisis

To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.

—Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b 25

One of the sad problems of America today is our tendency to reject that which is old on the grounds that it is old.  We are automatically interested in what is new.  Have a two week old computer?  Junk!  Have a 2012 car?  Trade it in!  Talk about Greeks living close to 2500 years ago – are you crazy?  The problem is, just because mechanical items become quickly replaceable and new science replaces older views of science as our abilities to observe become more precise, does not mean that what is true becomes obsolete.


In fact, if something is true, it is always true even if at some time it was not known by a culture.  Slavery, for example, was not "right" in the times of the Greeks and Romans and wrong after 1865.  It was always wrong even if some cultures did not recognize this.  It will be wrong in the future, even if a future civilization decides that all people with an IQ of less than 125 can be treated as an object.

Likewise, the Earth did not begin revolving around the Sun beginning with the Copernican system, but prior to that was stationary with the Sun revolving around it.  The Earth always revolved around the Sun, whether people were aware of it or not.

The point of stating the obvious is, despite what a person may say, it is either true or false depending on whether it accurately speaks of what is.

Truth and American Discourse

I think this is important when it comes to considering the political discourse in America, both public and private.  When a person says a thing is, he or she speaks truly if that is correct, but speaks falsely if it is not correct.

In terms of the current crisis, we have people who are saying that access to contraceptives and abortion in Health Care is a Choice, Choice is a right, and therefore everyone must pay for these services, even if they believe contraception and abortion are morally wrong.

The problem is, "Freedom of Choice" is a meaningless phrase if it is not defined.  So is the term "Rights."  During the Civil War (and even with some people I have met in real life) declared that the issue of the war was the issue of State's Rights and to say the war was about slavery was to oversimplify.  The question though is, The Right to do what?  Um, well… the right of the State to determine whether or not slavery should be permitted.  The problem however was that if Slavery was objectively wrong, no state had the right to permit it to begin with.

The Choice to Do What?

Likewise today, people like Pelosi champion the freedom of "Choice."  The problem is, we can ask the same question, The Choice to do what?  Whether or not we have that freedom, depends on what is.

In terms of abortion, the action being defended is the right of a woman to destroy the fetus in her body.  Whether or not one is free to do this depends on whether the fetus is a person or not.  We already recognize that one person may not have arbitrary control over another person's life.  If the state must end a person's life, it may only be because the crime is heinous and this is the only possible way to protect innocents from harm.  I don't have the right to shoot a neighbor because he plays the stereo too damn loud late at night.

So, if a woman has the freedom of "choice" regarding abortion, it assumes as proven that the fetus is not a person.  The fetus either is or is not a person.  If the fetus is a person, then whoever says the fetus is not a person does not speak truth.

History Shows the Horrors of Treating Persons as Non-Persons

This is not some academic philosophical issue.  The 20th century's worst regime declared that Jews and Slavs and Gypsies were not persons, and went out of their way to enslave and eventually destroy them.  We recognize that the Nazis did not speak the truth in declaring that the Jews were not persons and thus to treat the Jews as non humans was horrendously wrong.

I don't bring this up to say America is on the fast track to becoming the next Nazi Germany.  Instead I say this to bring home an important point – The government does NOT have the authority to determine who is and who is not a person.  Personhood is independent of what the government decrees.  If the government declares that a person is a non-person, then that government does horrific evil.

Partisanship Replaces Truth Today… But Catholic Moral Teaching Predates the Ideologies We are Accused of Embracing

The problem is, in popular thought, nobody even thinks of truth any more.  Nowadays, it is all partisanship… the ideology one likes is right and those who challenge that ideology are maliciously wrong, seeking to impose their views out of a lust for power and a hatred to whatever the ideologue invokes.

As a result, we see that the Catholic teachings of morality, which has existed far longer than the existence of the United States of America, is labeled as "Right Wing, Republican Propaganda."  The belief that the fetus is a person and the belief that sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife were taught in the first century AD.

Our beliefs were taught long before there was a Republican Party in existence or a Right Wing vs. Left Wing conflict or even a United States.  We do not teach them because of a lust for power (we taught them when Christianity was hated by the Roman Empire) or a hatred of women (the Pagan Romans derided Christianity as a "religion for women").  We teach them because we believe this is how the God of All intended it to be when he created humanity – and that which goes against what God intended is harmful to persons whether they recognize the teaching of God or not.

Regardless of whether or not people today accept the Catholic moral teaching as true or not, this is what Catholics do believe.  Because all of us are called to follow what is true, and Catholics do believe their moral teaching is true, Catholics must do what they believe is true, regardless of whether the state agrees or not.

An Unjust Law is No Law at All

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, some 500 years before the United States came into being:

I answer that, As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) "that which is not just seems to be no law at all": wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91, 2, ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.

But it must be noted that something may be derived from the natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from premises, secondly, by way of determination of certain generalities. The first way is like to that by which, in sciences, demonstrated conclusions are drawn from the principles: while the second mode is likened to that whereby, in the arts, general forms are particularized as to details: thus the craftsman needs to determine the general form of a house to some particular shape. Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions; e.g. that "one must not kill" may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that "one should do harm to no man": while some are derived therefrom by way of determination; e.g. the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.

Summa Theologica (I-II. Q.95. A.2)

Because we believe that the current HHS mandate violates the law of nature, we believe the mandate is a perversion of law.  People may argue that what was written by a medieval theologian can be ignored, but that goes back to the original problem Americans have of rejecting something which is true because it is old.

Because we recognize the principle, "one should do harm to no man," and we recognize that the current law does harm to man, Catholics are not unreasonable in opposing this law, because it is no law at all and has no force outside of the state using coercion to force compliance.  Since the First Amendment forbids the government from laws concerning the establishment of religion and the free exercise of religion, we can say that even under the Constitution we are governed by, this mandate is no law at all, but an act of coercion and tyranny.

Thus, even if one disagrees with what the Catholic Church teaches, one must reasonably oppose this mandate as being nothing more than tyranny imposed.

Conclusion: Truth and Law

These considerations are important and not merely theoretical.  If the government is to create a good law, a just law, then it must be a law grounded in what is true.  The government cannot make truth however.  The government can only follow truth.  If a government follows truth and grounds the law in truth, it is a good government. 

Some may argue that the Catholic position is not true and not grounded in truth.  So you disagree with me.  But disagreement with me is not proving your position to be true.  The Catholic Church certainly has written vast amounts on why she holds what she believes.  Those who disagree with her in this current crisis don't even bother to prove what they believe.  "Choice" is repeated as a mantra, and people are not allowed to choose as to whether America should embrace "Choice."

Ultimately, many believers are being forced to accept something they believe is a bad and unjust law, not grounded in truth, but in the embrace of vice.  Such a mandate is no just law and those who recognize this as wrong are not bound to obey it.  The government may coerce and exact penalties, but this is nothing more than the use of force to make people comply.

We used to recognize that was tyranny.  Now, nobody seems to recognize what we have lost because we have forgotten long held truths.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

—From the Declaration of Independence

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thoughts on America, Freedom and Catholicism

Introduction: The Problem

The most disputed issue in America today is over the issue of freedom.  The target of this dispute is the Catholic Church and reason for this debate is over the recent government mandate that all employers must pay for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs unless that employer exclusively hires and serves co-religionists.

Since faithful Catholics believe that contraceptives and abortion are intrinsically evil acts (that is, can never be considered good regardless of intention), they believe they cannot participate in these acts either directly (by distributing contraceptives or performing abortions) or indirectly (paying for these things), this mandate by the government is seen as forcing Catholic institutions to do something which God forbids, and therefore they must not do regardless of what the government decrees.

15 The king of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Puah,16 “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women and see them giving birth, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.”
17 The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live.
(Exodus 1)

Moreover, since Catholics believe that they are called to help all in need regardless of whether they are Catholic or not (see Matt 25:31-46), it is not an option for them to limit the care provided by their institutions to Catholics alone (see Matthew 5:46)… to act such would be to disobey the command of our Lord.

Thus, if the government persists in this mandate, the only way the Catholic Church can be faithful to God is to defy the state – which will sooner or later result in some sort of repercussions (fines, confiscations, prosecutions) which will eventually shut down these Catholic institutions.  Thus the Catholic bishops of America feel called to speak out against this unjust and coercive legislation.

Church Authority: Real and Perceived

The opponents of the Church take advantage of the widespread ignorance about the Church.  Many believe that the violent and autocratic culture of the 16th and 17th centuries was mandated by the teachings of the Catholic Church and that the Church is by nature a coercive, power hungry group which is by nature contrary to the American concept of freedom.  Thus, Catholics are portrayed as"forcing" people to comply with "archaic" rules.

The problem is, such views are untrue.  Nobody is forced to remain a Catholic.  If Nancy Pelosi were to formally leave the Catholic faith tomorrow, the magisterium would not put a death sentence on her.  Rather, we believe that God Himself will judge us all.  Vatican II teaches:

Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. (Lumen Gentium #14)


All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged. (ibid)

So, the only powers the Church possesses is the claim to be the Church established by Christ with the authority given by Christ (see Matt 16:18-19, Matt 18:17-18).  If what the Catholic Church claims about herself is true, then what she teaches should be taken seriously.  If one does not believe this to be true, then why remain a Catholic to begin with?

The Constitution and the Bishops' Appeal

Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. For not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but it is incumbent on the lover of truth, by all means, and if death be threatened, even before his own life, to choose to do and say what is right. Do you, then, since ye are called pious and philosophers, guardians of justice and lovers of learning, give good heed, and hearken to my address; and if ye are indeed such, it will be manifested. For we have come, not to flatter you by this writing, nor please you by our address, but to beg that you pass judgment, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumours which have long been prevalent, to give a decision which will prove to be against yourselves. For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers, or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us.

(First Apology of Justin Martyr, Chapter 2)

In the Second Century AD, when Christianity was illegal, St. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) wrote to the Emperor (Antonius Pius), appealing to the Empire to treat Christianity with justice.  In this defense of the Church, he appealed to the standards the Emperor and his associates held important: To behave honorably and justly and not to condemn without learning the truth of the matter.

Likewise, the bishops today, in speaking out to the fact that this mandate is unjust are making a similar appeal.  If one holds to the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they cannot violate these simply because the Catholic belief is unpopular today.  The bishops do recognize that most Americans don't recognize the fact that truth is never outdated – that most Americans feel they can reject a true moral statement simply on the grounds that it is old.  Therefore, they make an appeal to what most Americans still do recognize – even if they regard Catholicism with antipathy – that if America wants to consider herself a nation based on freedom, she must apply those freedoms to Catholics.

The First Amendment, in full, reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What is listed in the First Amendment are fundamental rights that the government may not interfere with.  The government may not restrict us from doing what is right, speaking out on what is right, nor to assemble and peacefully challenge the government to do what is right.  In this case, we can see the bishops are exercising their First Amendment rights in opposing the Obama administration mandate, while the Obama administration is violating the First Amendment by hindering the free exercise of the Catholic faith to aid those in need without violating what God requires of us.

Fundamentally Distorting the Issue

Proponents of the mandate have made all sorts of appeals to support the demands of the government.  The bishops are accused of trying to use the government to impose Catholicism on non-Catholics.  This is false – so much so that those who repeat it are either grossly ignorant or are guilty of slander/libel.

The Catholic Church is not seeking to force other institutions to accept Catholic beliefs.  Yes the American embrace of contraception and abortion is a grave evil for everyone and must be opposed and, yes, the Catholic Church seeks to appeal to people of good will to understand why these things are gravely evil.  However, if the Catholic Bishops were to have their way and the Obama administration were to admit they were in the wrong (rescinding the mandate), there would be no change in what the non-Catholic can legally do.

What the proponents of the mandate are insisting is that Catholic institutions financially support what they believe is evil.

(Picture source: Catholic

Those who are so irresponsible as to view sex as recreation and refuse to recognize the fact that the sexual act is one designed to bring forth new human life insist that they be free to engage in this activity freely – but those who think differently should be forced to subsidize their behavior.  It should be clear that it is not the bishops seeking to impose anything on others.  It is others that are trying to impose things on the Catholic Church.

The argument that the Catholic Church is forcing their views on non-Catholic employees is also false.  If one works for a religious institution which holds different values than what the individual believes, the individual should recognize that their motivations and views are different.  I wouldn't expect a restaurant owned by Muslims to provide me with a wine list or a Jewish deli to make me a ham sandwich on my lunch break even though my Christian values permit me to make use of wine and pork.  If I wanted the wine or the ham so much, I'd go elsewhere for lunch and not insist my non-Christian employer provide something they believe to be wrong.

That's being respectful.  Of course, I believe the Jew or the Muslim should accept Christ and perhaps through prayer and dialogue they might through the grace of God – but I wouldn't try to force them to do something they believed would put them in defiance of God.


I don't want to give the impression that everything is relative of course.  Catholics believe that their teaching on sexuality is not merely true for them, but that it is absolutely true for all people at all times, and it is certainly something that should be explained to others so they accept it freely.  However, even those who deny the Catholic teaching or the authority of the Church should recognize that the Catholic Church has the same freedoms under the constitution that other groups do, and that we have the right to practice our faith without the government forcing us to do what we believe God condemns.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

TFTD: Dangerous Signs From the White House

Sometimes one can pick up what a person thinks by their choice of language.

While reading about a recent Virginia law designed to protect religious based adoption agencies, I came across this White House issued statement:

While the president does not weigh in on every single action taken by legislative bodies in our country, he has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals based on their interest in offering a loving home, not based on discriminatory and irrelevant factors.

In other words, the Obama administration views issues of religious conscience which says homosexuality is wrong as "discriminatory and irrelevant."

It seems to me that such an attitude displays a sense of contempt for religious belief and a warning sign that we cannot expect the Obama administration to protect our constitutional rights from those who wish us to either disobey God or close our doors.

Certainly Catholics should stop casting a blind eye towards this administration's hostility to religion.  Non-Catholics should recognize that if this attitude towards religious freedom is accepted, then it is a weapon which can be aimed at any belief that a future government decides they don't like.

Suggested Readings for these Troubled Times

With the election season coming up, we need to be informed about the Catholic teachings and how they apply to the American political system. We need to be informed about what is right and moral before entering the voting booth.

Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles Chaput.  Written before the 2008 elections, the Archbishop speaks on what Catholics need to consider when voting, recognizing the moral considerations vs. the culture of today.

American Babylon by Fr. Richard Neuhaus.  Not Babylon in the wretched Left Behind sense, but in the sense of we are exiles in America just as the Jews were once exiles in Babylon.  The Jews then were called to work for the good of Babylon but refusing to be unfaithful to God.  We in America are called to do the same.

We Hold These Truths by Fr. John Courtney Murray SJ.  Written in 1960, this book is still an amazing insight into America and the political dangers which threaten her.  The things he wrote about over 50 years ago are still true today… in fact he seems to have accurately described the mindset of the Obama administration a year before Obama was even born.

What We Can't Not Know by J. Budziszewski.  An excellent explanation of Natural Law, and how even those who disagree with the Church can know (even if they choose to ignore it) the basic sense of right and wrong.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The American Bishops, Pius XII and their Detractors

I really don't write much any more to be sure.  My life has been more complicated these past few months.  That doesn't mean I'm not keeping up with what is going on in the world.  Mostly I lurk and pass links on to relatives and friends on Facebook to articles I think helps explain or exhort.  In doing this, I tend to catch the trends of the Catholic blogosphere.

Unfortunately, there is a trend arising among certain conservative Catholics taking issue with the response of the American Bishops towards the Obama administration's attack on religious freedom, and this trend is the claim that if the Bishops were serious they would have done more and continue to do more then they are.

The general thrust of this claim runs as follows:

  1. If the bishops were serious they would do [X].
  2. The bishops are not doing [X].
  3. Therefore the bishops are not serious.

[X] can be the excommunication of certain quisling Catholics in government or speaking out more from the ambo about what the Church really teaches.  The fact that the bishops do not appear to be doing these things is taken as grounds for criticism.

I've written on this before, and I believe the points I made are relevant here as well.

I believe both criticisms are wrong now, just as they were wrong in attacking the Bishops of New York back in July.

I think one of the problems here is the fact that these conservative Catholics are making the same attack on American Bishops that liberals made against Pope Pius XII during WWII.  That argument was that if Pius XII really [Opposed the Nazis, Wanted to save the Jews] he would [Excommunicate Hitler, Spoke publically denouncing the Nazis].  He didn't [Excommunicate Hitler, Speak publically denouncing the Nazis]. Therefore he didn't oppose the Nazis or want to save the Jews.

That's the kind of argument against Pope Pius XII that shows up in Hochhuth's play The Deputy and John Cornwell's book Hitler's Pope and gets repeated constantly despite evidence that the Pope was more interested in saving Jews than in rhetoric which would not only fail to accomplish something positive, but also probably accelerate greater levels of evil.

In other words, while excommunicating Hitler or denouncing the Nazis by name were one possible approach for Pope Pius XII to take, he chose a different approach – one that often required private communication and secrecy – to oppose Hitler and save Jews.  It would be wrong to claim that Pius XII was indifferent or pro-Nazi or ineffectual just because his plan of action did not match our approval.

I believe that this same error is being committed by those conservative Catholics who are belittling the efforts of our Bishops (every Catholic diocese in the US has condemned the Obama administration's action).

The problem is, these complaints are unjust.  Logically, they are the fallacy of Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant conclusion).  While one may prefer the bishops taking a hard, "**** You!" approach to the Obama administration and those quisling Catholics who support him, those arguments favoring such an approach do not in fact reach the conclusion that the bishops are doing nothing or not enough.

We really need to recognize that when it comes to barring from communion, it doesn't always work.  Kathleen Sebelius is already barred (since 2008) from receiving communion, and that seems to have no effect whatsoever on her acting in defiance of the Catholic faith she claims allegiance to.  Are we supposed to believe that excommunication is automatically going to change the minds of Pelosi or Biden or the Catholic senators who voted against religious freedom?  Might they not use it as propaganda to argue "Look!  The Bishops are trying to control the government!"?

Now I believe that canonical sanctions would be good as a warning to those Catholics in the government that they are endangering their immortal souls, but I do not believe that we can justly argue that because the bishops have not opted to take this route that they are failing in their task as bishops.

As for the speaking out accusation, can any informed Catholic claim that they do not know what the Catholic Church teaches on the issue of contraception?  Every bishop who leads a diocese has come out against the Obama administration.  They are speaking out publicly and to the government saying, "This is wrong."

Those Catholics who still employ contraception or vote in favor of contraception and abortion do not do so out of invincible ignorance, but out of defiance or out of laziness to discover the truth.  Did we not have Humanae VitaeVeritatis SplendorEvangelium Vitae?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church?

We have the continual witness of the Church, and the bishops are public with affirming the teaching of the Church.  Any Catholic can learn what the Church teaches with ease.  It is simply a matter of being willing to look.

So as Catholics, let us cease our useless murmuring about how everything would be fine if the bishops would only do [X].  Yes it is legitimate to favor certain approaches (so long as they are compatible with the Church).  But we must remember: Before claiming the bishops aren't doing "enough" we must ask ourselves whether we have the full knowledge to declare what we think should be done is automatically the only approach that can be taken.

Otherwise our treatment of the bishops become as ignorant as the attacks on Pope Pius XII.