Critiques & Controversies: November 2003 Archives

Among the many riches of Jcecil3's site is a sort of statement of faith designed to show that he is, indeed, a faithful Catholic despite disagreement with some key and controversial church teachings. There are probably a great many things to say with regard to this, but the first and most important is to point out that it is not up to us (meaning those looking in) to decide the nature or breadth of another's faith or in what manner that faith is being lived. It IS up to us to refute error and to correct misdeeds, and to his credit, Mr. Jcecil invites this. But there is a variety of categorization that would suggest that it is up to some of us to decide where Mr. Jcecil is with respect to God--that, of course, is presumption--no one knows.

However, I do find some of the positions delineated by Mr. Jcecil untenable, and I do think it is important to state why. Among these positions "That the ancient rite of adelphopoiesis could be restored as a union for homosexual Catholics." Now, this was counter to my understanding of what the rite was established for, and what it really meant in context. As a result I felt led to do a bit more research and happened upon a very fine paper from The Stephanos Project that addresses, and I believe, successfully refutes this misappropriation of this rite to the blessing of same-sex unions. This entire site has some very interesting work examining many questions from the Orthodox perspective and is recommended reading for those who may already have considered Mr. Jcecil's plea, or those who wish to know more about this largely misinterpreted rite.

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Postmodernist Argument


I have of recent date spent a bit of time elsewhere on the web reading the arguments of some well-intended, but grossly misled people. The following excerpt encapsulates my arguments with postmodern discussions of almost anything:

from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
Lewis Carroll

Chapter 6: Humpty Dumpty

`And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'

`I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'

And so it is among the postmodernists. Because it is important that everything return to the dynamic of power, whether it belongs there or not, a subtle warping of the language occurs. This is most particularly noted in the fact that "racism" has ceased to mean any program that posits the superiority or inferiority of a group of people based on race alone and has come to mean (paraphrasing Robert Hughes's colorful terminology), the mindset of "the pale penile hegemony." This is patent nonsense. It is possible for person other than white males to be both racist and sexist. It is not completely a societal power issue. It is or can be a personal power issue. When I was not hired for a position that I was extremely well-qualified because that position "required" a female--sexism was in force. When I make a judgment based solely on race, even if I have no power over the individual and cannot affect anything that happens, I am being racist.

So too with any person of any color who makes a predetermination based solely on race or sex. It is racist or sexist--even if they have no power to affect me directly.

I am disturbed by wishing to see the dynamic entirely in the marxist sense of class struggle. Decisions based on race alone are a sin against charity and an offense to God. To remand such decisions made against white persons to a different class of actions is both irresponsible and perhaps even sinful in itself, because it is a step toward justifying them.

The problem is that when the disagreement is this bone-deep, there is no point in discussing it, because you can't even agree on initial premises. A postmodern thinker would wander through and try to convince me that my definitions are wrong--but I could not accede. I would point out that Robert Mugabe's actions in Zimbabwe are racist, and they would respond that they are postcolonial restorative actions. When you are this far apart merely on definitions, what can you really discuss? You won't even be using the same language (which is another part of the post-modern doctrine.)

So I simply state my grievance here because I have spent many hours considering it and it is time to let it rest so that I might return to a more equilibrated state. Words do not mean what you want them to when you define them. Political reality is not the only reality in which to work--in fact, it isn't even reality--it is Orwellian distortion most of the time. And that, it seems, is one of the primary errors of postmodern vision. For those desiring a more intense, but very humorous look, see James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale.

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I continue to be annoyed that there is more legislation from the bench than from the legislature. And yet, if the legislature acts to overturn this judicial fiat (as in Terri Schiavo's case) we are somehow tampering with the (almost entirely imaginary*) balance of powers. What "balance" is there to unrestrained judicial fiat? Or, in other words, when do we get our democracy back.

(By the way, I don't know where I stand with respect to the issue at hand in a civil context. I think it's bad law to declare what is morally wrong to be legally right. On the other hand, I don't get as het up about this issue as some.)

*For those unaware--John Marshall invented the "right" of judicial review almost out of whole cloth in the famous Marbury v. Madison case. He decided single-handedly to change what the framers of the Contstitution had set in place (with woeful results down to the present day) and made possible the judicial usurpation of both legislative and executive branches.

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Not For Children. . .

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But thank goodness




are coming to more prominent public attention.

I was feeling bad the other day for buying a toy rack that was made in Thailand because there is no question but that terrible exploitation of children and women take place in the country. And then I thought, at least if the children are working here they are not in a worse place. (Yes, I know JB, hardly a salve to conscience--it's becoming impossible to buy ANYTHING any more. But I don't have the skills to make it all for myself.)

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On the Use of Labels

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Jcecil posts an interesting article of "conservative's use of language," by which he seems to aim largely at the very intemperate language Mr. Shea tends to use at his blogspot. (Direct linking not available, look for the article, "The Misuse of Language by Conservatives." The very title begs the question--then language is not misused and manipulated by "liberals"?)

I have a number of problems with the reasoning of some of the portions of these posts, as it seems that the source of the information on Africa is largely the Portland Baseline Essays on Multiculturism with their emphasis on warm "Mama Africa" and icy cold "Eurotrash." Much of what is said is simply not substantiated, nor, is it likely substantiatable. (One could point out innumerable examples of cultures in Africa, such as the Ik where what is said is patently untrue). But let me reserve those comments for another time. Something I did want to bring to notice is this:

from Jcecil3's Progressive Catholic Reflections

Look throughout Catholic blogdom and we see "heretics", "dissidents", "feminazis", "bleeding hearts", "lefties", "commies", "racist", "nazis", "bullies", "fascists", "brownshirts", "fuzzy wuzzies", "cafeteria catholics", etc...etc...all thrown about rather loosely, with little discussion of facts and little in the way of a coherent and logical argument.

I am not denouncing the use of labels in general, such as "liberal" or "conservative". This is not name calling so much as trying to locate an opinion on a spectrum. Nor do I mind an occassional playful verbal jab done in humor (I post many of the Curt Jester's playful spoofs on liberals in my humor section).

I agree wholeheartedly with the first paragraph, and have substantial disagreement with the second. I do not think labels "locate" something on a spectrum because the labels themselves are largely meaningless out of context. For example, Mr. Jcecil3 himself labels me as "conservative," but nearly everyone else I know thinks that I have rather liberal attitudes on most things. What Mr. Jcecil3 may mean by this is that among adherents to the true teaching of the church, I tend to be on the conservative side of Catholic Issues. As Catholic Teaching at root tends to be on the "liberal" side of politics (a preferential option for the poor, restricted or eliminated Death Penalty, etc.), the labels become hieroglyphics, interpretable in any number of ways. They more often than not serve as a shortcut for dismissing an opinion. Many of my friends label anything they don't care for "fundamentalist." Now that it is well and properly labelled, it can be shoved on the far side of the table and ignored.

So, I suppose I simply nuance Mr. Jcecil's noble sentiment (and I do not mean that sarcastically or sardonically). It is better to eschew a label that has no real content. In fact, it is better to simply deal with the idea at hand and not use a label that contextually may be perjorative of its very nature. Just as Mr. Shea would do better to exercise some restraint in speaking of people whose views differ from his own, we might all do well to consider that we should deal compassionately with a person and ruthlessly with an idea, without labeling the person for holding the idea.

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There seems to be an opinion in some circles that an ex cathedra pronouncement of dogma is essentially an innovation in thought, sprung new-formed from the head of whatever Pope happens to make the pronouncement. I look particularly at the oddities that surround both the Assumption of Mary and the Immaculate Conception. Both of these dogmatic pronouncements had extremely long histories of belief before they were articulated in priniciple by their respective posts.

I am reminded of this because of one of the pictures I saw either at the El Greco exhibit or in an adjacent gallery. The painting was of sixteenth century Spanish vintage and it was titled, "Mary {or perhaps "The Mother of God") of the Immaculate Conception." This was centuries before the pronouncement in 1854(?)

Why then the feeling that something new came to light with this dogmatic definition?

(1) It's a convenient club to further drub the Catholic Church about the head and shoulders.

(2) Protestants do not of their nature care for "tradition." They do not distinguish between "Tradition" and "tradition." Note that the enormously popular book by Rick Warren articulates this once again. A recent article by Christopher Hall in Christianity Today states why Evangelicals can honor the Church Fathers, but pretty much ignore the rest of Catholic Tradition (although his reasoning is somewhat better than Warren's).

So, to those who think that we invent new things to add on to what scripture reveals willy-nilly; please be aware that even very serious dogmatic pronouncements are not innovation, they are articulation--precise definition of what what has long been believed anyhow.

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Inclusive Language

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Please see Mr. Bogner's note on the desirability of inclusive language and democratic election in the Church and comment more intelligibly than I could bring myself to do.

The only question I keep bringing to the fore is "Why are we so afraid of God the Father, of Him who is?" Why do some feel the need to geld God in the name of inclusion. God contains the perfection of all that is male and female, and yet revelation teaches us to call Him Father. It would seem to follow from that, that there is a reason for doing so. The calls to change every "Him" to "God" strike me as very misled altruism--the desire for inclusion at the cost of revelation.

Wittgenstein showed us that to some degree language shapes our perception of reality. Mr. Bogner posits that there should be a dual liturgy--one with inclusive language and one without. That seems to suggest building polarization into the Catholic Church in the very liturgy, which would only lead to the same destination as all polarization--further riving and fragmentation.

Later: A wonderful response from Ms. Peony Moss

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On The Da Vinci Code

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I thought I'd offer a few assists for those battling the literalist reading of The Da Vinci Code (Heaven help us if these people start to read everything is so literal a fashion--I'd hate to see what a nation of literalist O'Connor readers migth do to us all. "Wouldn'a been a bad person if there'da been somebody there to shoot him every minute of his life."

Start with this image of The Last Supper. If the person next to Christ is actually female, what are we to make of the second figure from the left and the fourth and fifth figures from the right. (That fifth one looks as though he has breasts.) Our conclusion should not be that Da Vinci inserted a woman into the last supper, but rather than Da Vinci tended to paint very effeminate men.

That supposed disembodied hand holding the knife--look at it. It is obviously being held by the man comforting (not making a chopping motion) the supposed "Mary Madgalene" figure. I think this man is supposed to be Peter.

Absurdities uncollected elsewhere--one of the rhymes near the end of the book requires a eulogy from a pope in England. One of the near idiot intelligence characters from the book points out that "It didn't say the Pope had to be Catholic" (I paraphrase). Well, they are referring to Alexander Pope's eulogy over Sir Isaac Newton, and for anyone interested, that Pope most certainly is Catholic.

Ms. Meisel has done a far more thorough approach to hacking this apart. But I thought I'd add these couple of points.

When I read the book I was astounded at the sheer plodding nature of these supposedly brilliant minds. These people were so slow on the uptake I wanted to knock them upside the head to get them moving.

The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction. No more and no less real that Stephen King's Castle Rock or Michael Crichton's island of dinosaurs. Because a few cranks in the past have held odd notions about Jesus and religion makes them no more valid than if I were to declare the obvious truths of Stephen King's Cujo. The history of religion is the history of odd notions that are suppressed or die out on their own. Many of them were mutually contradictory. If we were to credit each of these with the validity granted The Da Vinci Code, we would have no time to get on with our lives. These notions are being grasped by the same faction of the Catholic Church that wants desperately to see the ordination of women; by people who do not realize that women do not need empowerment--they have enough of that themselves--but women need the courage to live what God has already given them. As with all people the goal is not to seek to be other than what we are, but to seek to be true to God's vision of us.

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Mr. Lane Core offers a lengthy excerpt from Zell Miller's new book about Southern Conservative Democrats (I wish we in Florida could find such a thing--but no such luck). I normally don't do politics, and when I stray into them it is a disaster--so far better for me to recommend some interesting reading at a better-informed source.

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I finished reading The House of the Seven Gables a night or so ago and have allowed myself time to crystallize some thoughts.

Hawthorne never claimed to write novels. He referred to all of his works as romances. This puzzles me, because it is hard to make The Scarlet Letter into a romance unless we view it as an ultimately failed romance. However, he was quite accurate as to the characterization in the sense that the characters in the novels never quite behave as real characters, but take on a fairy-tale like dimension in which they act some role to fulfill a purpose.

So in Seven Gables we have five main characters--Hepzibah, Phoebe, Clifford, Judge Pyncheon, and Holford (or Holworth or something like that--a Daguerreotypist). In addition there is a scattering of other characters--a young boy who patronizes Hepzibah's shop to the point nearly of terrorizing her.

Hepzibah and Clifford live in Seven Gables, a house of ill omen which is said to have brought about the deaths of several residents. Judge Pyncheon has actually inherited the vast majority of the other wealth once associated with the house and is out to get more. Phoebe is some sort of semi-detached cousin who floats in to start up a romance with the Daguerreotypist.

The novel suffers a bit from excesses. There is an entire chapter devoted to exhorting a dead man to rise from his chair and kind of looking at the ghosts that pass parade-like around him. There is a subplot involving mesmerism and of course the obligatory curse from the past that has come to roost on the present family.

What is most remarkable about the novel, despite its divergences from what we commonly consider the novelist endeavor, is how readable and how interesting it really is. I took quite a while to get through it because I read in fits and starts according to mood. This book requires a sustained reading and I am sure the atmosphere would be powerful and interesting. This is what Hawthorne excels at --atmosphere. But also, unexpectedly, he has a penchant for a dry and subtle sort of humor. Take for example this scene from very early on in the book:

IT still lacked half an hour of sunrise, when Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon-we will not say awoke, it being doubtful whether the poor lady had so much as closed her eyes during the brief night of midsummer - but, at all events, arose from her solitary pillow, and began what it would be mockery to term the adornment of her person. Far from us be the indecorum of assisting, even in imagination, at a maiden lady's toilet! Our story must therefore await Miss Hepzibah at the threshold of her chamber; only presuming, meanwhile, to note some of the heavy sighs that labored from her bosom, with little restraint as to their lugubrious depth and volume of sound, inasmuch as they could be audible to nobody save a disembodied listener like ourself. . . .

The maiden lady's devotions are concluded. Will she now issue forth over the threshold of our story? Not yet, by many moments. First, every drawer in the tall, old-fashioned bureau is to be opened, with difficulty, and with a succession of spasmodic jerks then, all must close again, with the same fidgety reluctance. There is a rustling of stiff silks; a tread of backward and forward footsteps to and fro across the chamber. We suspect Miss Hepzibah, moreover, of taking a step upward into a chair, in order to give heedful regard to her appearance on all sides, and at full length, in the oval, dingy-framed toilet-glass, that hangs above her table. Truly! well, indeed! who would have thought it! Is all this precious time to be lavished on the matutinal repair and beautifying of an elderly person, who never goes abroad, whom nobody ever visits, and from whom, when she shall have done her utmost, it were the best charity to turn one's eyes another way?

There is a sly current under this, an amusing undertone that sets certain expectations for the book that certainly are fulfilled.

Everyone should spend some time with the old books. For every modern piece read C.S. Lewis suggested that one of some vintage should be consumed to counterbalance our chronological chauvinism. If you are in the market for such an adventure--you could do much worse than to spend some time in The House of the Seven Gables

Next Report likely to be Death Comes for the Archbishop Willa Cather's masterpiece of the Southwest.

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An erudite and to-the-point commentary on a subject I feel no competence to comment on from Mr. Morrison. His blog might also be a place to explore for a better understanding of the Church's teaching on homosexuality.

And as much as I admire this well considered and nicely reasoned piece by Fr. Jim, I cannot help but disagree on several major points. I find it difficult to imagine how a man living in obvious sin and holding this up as a model for all to follow will lead souls to Christ. Truly, I hope that it happens, but I don't find it likely. Moreover, I sense a certain air of "I told you so" in the remarks that say we should be unsurprised by these developments. I suppose that the stage had truly been set; however, this is a dangerous departure not simply for the Episcopal Church but for all churches that rely upon the authority of the Bible in any degree. This action simply says that what we find difficult or do not care for wasn't really written with our understanding or for us anyway. Thus, we are free to ignore it. The tendency is already pronounced in our own Church, I fear this will give it greater momentum. But perhaps my difference of opinion is merely of degree, not of kind.

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Mr. Bogner asks a question below that I fear I do not have the expertise to address properly, but which I feel should be addressed, and so I place it here.

It also reminds me of Catholicism's approach to homosexual clergy - we all know there is a fair number of homosexual priests, but as long as they are celibate then it seems our bishops don't really pay much attention to them. If homosexuality is wrong, then isn't it wrong whether someone is celibate or not? Or is it? I don't have that figured out, not even close to it.

I venture into this area with trepidation, but I am certain that there are many more studied than I am who can correct my understanding of Church teaching. The church teaches that the inclination to homosexuality is intrinsically disordered but not in itself sinful. Just as the inclination to polygamy and promiscuity is gravely disordered, if it is not acted upon, it is not sinful. Homosexuality is not a sin. Being a homosexual is not a sin. Engaging in homosexual acts either physically or, as with heterosexual acts, entertaining thoughts and encouraging them, is sinful. A chaste homosexual is not committing a sin. He is defying no commandment and no law. Just as a person inclined to theft commits no sin so long as he takes nothing belonging to another. To be attracted to something is not in itself sinful--acting on that attraction can be so.

That's how I understand it, and I admit that it is very crude and not terribly nuanced. But the reason bishops care little if a person is a homosexual is that Priests are called to live a chaste life. I introduce this word because often we use celibate, which technically means only unmarried to mean chaste which refers to conduct. It is entirely possible to be celibate and unchaste and uncelibate but chaste. In the Carmelite Order we make promises of "chastity according to station in life." That is a married person is chaste when faithful to his or her spouse. A celibate person is chaste when he or she refrains from indulging the sexual impulse. A chaste, celibate homosexual should present no more problem for a bishop than a chaste, celibate heterosexual. There are theories and expositors to the contrary, but I will not argue that as I am on even shakier ground than this initial discussion. And I do invite those better informed, more aware, or more skillful in conveying proper Church teaching to jump in and help us all understand better exactly what the Church does teach.

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About this Archive

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

Critiques & Controversies: October 2003 is the previous archive.

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