Critiques & Controversies: September 2003 Archives

You Should Be Reading Him


If you are not read this refugee from the calamity of the Episcopal Church, you should be. There is much food for thought:

from an Essay by David Warren

The nonsense most now believe about such legal abstractions as "equality" perfectly illustrates the case. The fiction, for instance, that "same-sex marriage" could be instituted as an "equality issue", can only be spread among people deprived of the intellectual equipment to resist it. For a person of average intelligence, and an old-fashioned grade school education, the idea could never fly: for the institution of marriage has had, from its beginnings in prehistory, nothing to do with equality of any kind.

Let us pray for him as he crosses the Tiber and for all our Episcopalian brothers and sisters who now face the loss of something that has long been precious to them. Perhaps it is awakening from sleep, but it is a most painful awakening--rather like the loss of one's mother.

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Gross Incivility

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I'm often stunned by the gross incivility displayed on both sides of any given debate. This was brought to mind this afternoon by the success of yet another ill-titled, conceivably ill-tempered Al Franken book, pumped up by various media interests to match the insidiously vitriolic and questionable accuracy of Ann Coulter. (She does not miraculously become correct if she happens to express many opinions with which I can agree. I have a bad track record as regards my opinions.) As much as I like to look at Ms. Coulter, I think that being in the same room with her (or with Mr. Franken) would likely be a most unpleasant experience.

Part of this is the human tendency to attribute only the most malign motives to anyone who opposes us. And I think this a mistake. For example, I think it a mistake to attribute malign motives to most people who support a limited right to abortion. They can be wrong and even wrong-headed without any intent to be malign.

It seems to me that the better part of any conversation would be to assume the motive of the conversant is basically driven by good-will. (Mr. da Fiesole has disagreed with me in the past on this, but his reasons did not persuade--it seems the better part of charity to start with the assumption that most people act out of good will or at least with no malignant motive until proven otherwise.) Only in this way may one truly address the issue at hand.

Now this leads to a second assumption, one in which I am more often than not truly disappointed. I assume that two disputants who are talking about a serious issue really seek the truth on the issue. That's not to say that anyone's mind will be changed in a sudden stroke, but rather both are seeking input to modify the worldview accordingly. It may not be input to modify the position they hold, but it may be a deeper understanding of why someone would hold the opposite opinion and what the implications of that may be. In many matters, it is unimportant ("Make it pink, Make it blue.) But in a great many issues to not seek the truth is great folly. However, many people see the ideas they hold as somehow personal possessions, and a challenge to those ideas is a personal affront--an attack on the integrity of the person. I recognize this tendency in myself, and often have to back away to consider what has been said and what it really means to the notions I hold. I take a great deal of time sometimes to assimilate new notions and change my mindset and behavior to accommodate them. It is better to take a short period to cool off and then realize that the idea is not part of the self--to relinquish a bad idea is to strengthen one's Christian armor. Truth is far more important than either my personal opinion or the possibility that I might seem foolish to some. Foolish or not, I need to listen and to try to understand, and to seek God's way--the truth in all things.

And so I know that neither Ms. Coulter (whose previous book I did read, and whose present book I made a stab at but found so full of the pestilence of ill-humor and self-righteousness, not to mention a generous dollop of vitriol, gossip, and acrimony) nor Mr. Franken (ditto, ditto, ditto--and add to it that like many for whom he writes toeing the party line is more important than truth) have much, if anything to say that will enlighten my perpetual darkness.

In fact, why should it surprise anyone that the Right lies or the left lies, or the news is slanted this way or that? It may be dismaying, but as we all learned long ago, every story is told from a point of view--there is no perfect objective point of view in the human realm. That, in part, is what the Fall is about. So why should we be surprised if we find that a reporter has obscured this point or that, or that they have told only half of the story. Anyone willing to believe anything printed in a newspaper or news magazine deserves the world view it is likely to give them.

If we seek the truth, then we should seek it in places where it dwells--in the heart of Jesus Christ, in the center of the Gospel, in the message of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, in the lives of the Saints, in prayer. Seeking the truth beyond these bounds is an endless, fruitless, and ultimately depressing, oppressing, and empty endeavor. Knowledge of truth apart from God is not knowledge at all, but opinion, for in Him resides the fullness of the truth, and all else is inconsequential.

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De Praescriptione Haereticorum

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How to argue with heretics and how not to--with reference to my last post and to recent debacle in the Episcopal Church this synopsis of the On the Prescription of Heretics just packed a wallop.

This book is about how Christians think about heresy and respond to the arguments of heretics. Tertullian is concerned at the way Christians are disputing with heretics and pagans, and the effect this is having on believers. He feels that it is never possible to convict a heretic from the scriptures, because they simply deny the authority of whichever bit of scripture they are quoted, and shift their ground every moment. At the same time the spectacle of the dispute seems to put their opinions on the same level as that of the scriptures. In general, how do we recognise and deal with heretics - people who pretend to be Christians but actually accept no authority but their own opinions?
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An Open Letter to Jeb Bush

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Dear Esteemed Governor,

As a citizen of the State of Florida, I am appalled at the way a rampant judiciary has taken it upon itself to sentence a woman unable to speak for herself to an unspeakably horrible death. I will readily admit that I do not know all the facts in the case, but it seems to me that there are people who would be willing custodians of the precious life of Terri Schiavo, and in that event, these people should be allowed the opportunity to care for her. Obviously there are differences of opinion about Ms. Shiavo's chances and if the person presently in custody no longer cares to be burdened with her, so be it. However, given the present state of disagreement, it is not seemly that anyone should preempt any chance Ms. Schiavo may have to continue her rightful life here on Earth.

It is your right and privilege as Governor of the great State of Florida to issue a stay of execution on any prisoner or an person rightly adjudged of the courts of Florida to have merited death. Ms. Schiavo has been found guilty of being a burden and is thus seen as disposable. Please issue a writ to counter this judicial usurpation of the authority of the state. Ms. Schiavo is not a criminal, nor does she deserve death. She deserves custodians who will care for her and see to it that she is nursed back to health.

Please, please, please for the sake of Ms. Schiavo, and indeed for the sake of the state of Florida and these United States, intervene and overturn this writ of execution. Do not allow our courts to put to death one who has committed no crime. Do not let the State of Florida be the place where the next step down the slippery slope of the culture of death is taken.

most respectfully yours. . .

Oh, and please, see this prayer for Ms. Schiavo

And while we are storming heaven, I encourage every Floridian to storm the governor's office and work on him until he rescinds the court order by executive order. We should not let this go unaddressed; Florida should not lead the way into the next revelation of the Culture of Death.

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More On Fire and Brimstone

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In another comment to the same post referenced below, Jeff Culbreath notes:

Fire and brimstone sermons are a good thing. We need more of them in the Catholic Church. I would hope that neither you nor Erik object to the hellfire in Puritan homiletics, but that you rather object to the Calvinist notion that God's grace is arbitrary, and that certain unfortunate souls were created by God for hell with no possibility of repentance.

I wrote a hasty reply and wished to give this further consideration.

I don't know that "fire and brimstone sermons are a good thing--" part of the purpose of writing this is to explore that notion a bit more. I don't know that they are a bad thing. I suppose I would say that I think they are perhaps a necessary thing. If not fire and brimstone, at least a better articulation of the doctrine of sin, what happens to sinners, and how to avoid that happening. Now this can take a great many forms, from Edwards, discussed below, to Joyce, mentioned below, to many other sophisticated articulations of the same doctrine. However, it seems to largely have vanished from the Catholic scene. The "Spirit of Vatican II" interpreters seem not to care for the harsher side of Catholic Doctrine and it is often left to the lay people to insist upon God's justice as strongly as God's mercy. This is a pity.

If our pastors felt more call to carefully pronounce anathema on those things the Church condemns, and to do it with great regularity, it might serve as a check not only upon wayward congregants but upon wayward inclinations within the clergy itself. Reminders that salvation is not guaranteed, nor merited, nor earned, nor in any way dependent upon ourselves, but utterly dependent upon God's grace and our acceptance thereof (so to some extent dependent upon us, but even His omnipresent grace makes possible that initial acceptance) are salutary. They encourage the overall health of the body, not by terror, but by precaution.

Frequently we should hear from the pulpit that abortion is wrong and procuring one or assisting in the procuring even to the extent of supporting the legality of the action is wrong and incurs de facto excommunication without any such being pronounced. This truth should not be left to the ranks of apologists and pro-life lay people. We should see the spectacle of Bishops refusing communion to prominent pro-choice politicians on a more regular basis. This should not be a point for marveling, but the expected occurrence.

We would do well to hear about everyday sins--taking things home from the office, exploiting other people, adultery, fornication, and all manner of other sins.

I suppose current theory has it that one can catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar. But the impression I get more often from many Catholic sermons and speakers is a sense of complacency. That everything is copacetic and we live in the best of all possible worlds, ice-skating or rollerblading our way into heaven. We should be aware of that great folk song that advises us:

"Oh I can't get to heaven
(Oh I can't get to heaven)
on roller skates
(on roller skates)
Cause I'll roll right by
(Cause I'll roll right by)
those pearly gates
(those pearly gates)


I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more,
I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more,
I ain't gonna grieve my Lord on more.

I cannot believe that Paul wrote "I work out my salvation in fear and trembling" for no reason. Thus, while I do believe in the mercy of God and in the ultimate possibility of heaven, I doubt I would come to any harm if someone were to tell me the consequences of sin, or even speak about what is and is not a sin.

I don't know that I'd want to hear this every day--but perhaps Mr. Culbreath is correct. Perhaps a bit of fire and brimstone is a salutary remedy for the complacency and mediocrity with which many go about their Christian lives. Perhaps a bit of reminder of what we have been freed from and what we are called to through the incredible sacrifice of our Lord is a remedy for many of the ills we are presently tracking in the Church.

Perhaps we need to start the next "Great Awakening."

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This struck home as I read it:

from He Leadeth Me
Walter Ciszek, S.J.

People came to you because you were a priest, not because of what you were personally. They didn't always come, either, expecting wise counsel or spiritual wisdom or an answer to every difficulty; they came expecting absolution from their sins, the power of the sacrament. To realize this was a matter of joy and of humility. You realized that they came to you as a aman of God, a representative of God, a man chosen from among men and ordained for men in the things that are of God. . . For my part, I could not help but see in every encounter with every prisoner the will of God for me, now, at this time and in this place, and the hand of providence that had brought me here by strange and torturous paths.

A man of God, a servant of Men, and a server of sacraments. Not necessarily vessels of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment--not repositories of the solutions to all human problems. Human themselves, prone to error and to sin, but God's merciful gift to us. Perhaps we ask too much sometimes--perhaps often. Perhaps it is time to thank God for His provision and to let those who make so many sacrifices for our sakes know that we truly, deeply appreciate it. Perhaps it is time to expect of our Pastors and Priests proper administration of the sacraments and a human, loving heart that needs everything we all need, and has only as much wisdom as God grants and a human being holds.

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There's a Kind of Hush


There's been a curious sort of silence that has fallen over blogdom. It is hard to coax an answer from a group that must have opinions. But this silent pool is reflective of a larger quiet that gives me pause.

Over the last several days I have gone out to some local places at lunchtime as is my habit. In the course of doing so I have noted the parking lots usually crammed beyond any hope of finding spaces are far more than half empty. I've been able to park "at the door" of such places. The Panera near me, normally a small pandemonium at lunchtime, was so quiet that only the obnoxious order announcer intruded on our conversation.

Again I note it has only been over the past two or three days, and I wondered if it stemmed from some sort of observance on September 11, or if there were some deeper cause at work. Here, in Florida, it could be that I am merely noticing the end of major tourist season. Other parts of the country may be getting back to school, although I would have thought that would have been a week or so ago. (We start in August.)

Whatever the cause it has given an eerie, twilight-zone like aura to the days. Interesting and creepy at the same time.

But in the meantime, surely people other than Alicia have opinions about Category v. Weekly/Monthly. If so, please tell me.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from September 2003.

Critiques & Controversies: August 2003 is the previous archive.

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