Thursday, March 30, 2006

Debate on Religion and Naturalism

Over at the Counsel of Trent I've posted a link to an audio file of a debate on the scientific study of religion which really should not be missed. If you want to understand the contemporary athiestic materialist mindset and to hear an intelligent response it's a must-listen.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Granholm to sign abortion ultrasound law, aide says

Skiing was great, Lack Placid was very nice. I look forward to spending more time in the Adirondacks.

Stumpe notified me of this story before I left for Spring Break. The story is not that interesting in itself, but it illustrates a common behavior exhibited by the extreme advocates of the unlimited abortion agenda.

Here's the reporter's concise summary of the proposed law:

"The new law does not require that ultrasounds be taken but says that if they are, women can see them."

The opposite would be *not* to let them see them. And, pray tell, did Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan support this open access to information? Of course not. She referred to it as a "barrier" to legal abortion. I suppose it's true that the more women who choose to see the ultrasounds, the more women will choose not to exercise their legal right to kill their babies. But is that something to be upset about? The essence of the irony here is that the law would give women the right to choose to receive information!

Ms. Moss said there are no suits planned at this time. The do have challenge on their hands to show it unconstitutional to let women have access to their own medical files, but, hey, this is the ACLU, just give them time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The stages of forgiveness cont'd

Here're some more thoughts on forgiveness.

Psychological stages:
self-pity, anger, desire of vengeance, indifference/resentment. It may stop here. However, if you really cared for your friend, there can be a continuation:
feeling sorry for a lost friend/ reevaluation of the previous relationship, forming a new concept of friendship (or whatever relationship you were in).

Spiritual decisions, actions and attitudes that are helpful in the process of forgiveness:

the faith in basic goodness of every human being;
examination of consciousness in all the areas of life and striving for the virtue of humility;
perseverance, courage and a firm decision to make the best out of the relationship;
contemplating the passion of Christ,
a decision and willing to forgive (which does not necessarily imply the feeling of forgivrness).


Monday, March 13, 2006

Gone Skiing

I'll be backcountry skiing in the Daks this week, so there'll be no new bloggage 'til Sunday at the soonest.

We'll be basing out of Lake Placid so I'll be reminiscing about the Miracle on Ice as I skate on the Olympic Ice. This is the trail we'll be on most of the time. See you when I get back!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Of Popes and Antipopes

I've also recently been asked to address the issue of the Avignon Papacy: the episode in the late Medieval period during which there were as many as three rival claimants to the papacy at one time. Since an issue pertaining to this event was about my last intellectual barrier (the true barrier in the end was not intellectual) to becoming Catholic I immersed myself in the details for quite some time. This actually makes it *harder* to summarize the issue. However, I'm going to try. It will take some time however and in the mean time I wanted to give the punchline away.

There were definitely rival claimants to the Throne of Peter. However, the issue is whether there ever actually were multiple Popes. In philosophy we always try to distinguish between the epistemology of a situation--how things stand in the order of knowing--from the ontological aspects of a situation--how things stand in the order of being. So even if it's hard to tell at some point who the real Pope is--for us anyway--this does not mean there is not a correct answer.

Similar situations exist in science: there are two rival explanations of some phenomenon and they both have a lot going for them. Each one covers the data and is simple, but each is simple according to different parameters: one has few entities but complex laws, the other has many entities but simple laws. Which one is the right explanation? The fact that we can't currently tell doesn't mean there's not a right answer. Examples could be multiplied beyond number.

So when the Cardinals said that they'd been coerced when they elected one Pope and so invalidated that election and held re-elections were they telling the truth? It might be hard to tell, but that doesn't mean there's not a right answer. "But," comes the rejoinder, "how do you know it ended up right." That depends on my prior beliefs. If I already believe there is a God then I am allowed to appeal to that belief in my explanation. For example I can find it implausible that God would let His Church slip away. "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it." (Matt 16:18).

In short, I trust God and look into the evidence. Even if I can't figure out who the real Pope was (and I am just considering this for the sake of argument because I don't have time to summarize the evidence here) God does.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Church and the Care of the Mind and Body in Western Culture

The Church often gets blamed for the the Crusades and the Inquisition, but rarely gets due credit for the invention of the University and the Hospital: two institutions that lasted much longer that the previous two events. The popular understanding of the Crusades is quite confused. I guess that's what happens when most of one's history is gleaned from cartoons and magazines. However, some anti-Catholic historians have also had their finger in the soup from time to time. There's an excellent article on recent scholarship about the Crusades here by Jonathan Riley–Smith is the Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University and Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and the author or editor of twelve books on the crusades and the Latin East, including The Crusades: A Short History (1987) and The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades (1995).

Too many people don't realize how old an institution the University is. Oxford, for example, got it's charter in 1214, the year before the Magna Carta was signed. That's why C.S. Lewis could refer to the buildings in which his offices were housed as the "New Buildings" even though some were built in 1650! Perhaps the oldest university--the University of Paris--grew out of a guild of scholars surrounding Notre Dame Cathedral. This is where Saint Thomas Aquinas taught (lived 1225-1274). Most of the earliest universities grew up out of these guilds of scholars around Cathedrals or major churches. They were supported by Popes and Kings and nurtured into the great universities as we have come to know them. The idea caught on.

(No, those aren't churches, but you're close: it's Oxford University and Holy Cross Hospital)

Hospitals developed in much the same way. For obvious reasons (or perhaps not obvious to some readers: I've been a university student, a professor, or both for 16 years now) I'm less apt to summarize the particulars of the hospital so I quote Wikipedia at length:

The Romans created valetudinaria for the care of sick slaves, gladiators and soldiers around 100 BC. The adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the empire drove an expansion of the provision of care, but not just for the sick. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. urged the Church to provide for the poor, sick, widows and strangers. It ordered the construction of a hospital in every cathedral town. Among the earliest were those built by the physician Saint Sampson in Constantinople and by Basil, bishop of Caesarea. The latter was attached to a monastery and provided lodgings for poor and travelers, as well as treating the sick and infirm. There was a separate section for lepers.

Medieval hospitals in Europe followed a similar pattern. They were religious communities, with care provided by monks and nuns. (An old French term for hospital is hôtel-Dieu, "hostel of God.") Some were attached to monasteries. Others were independent and had their own endowments, usually of property, which provided income for their support. Some were multi-function. Others were founded specifically as leper hospitals, or as refuges for the poor or for pilgrims.

These are two examples of the way the Church nurtured Western Culture. There are many others, of course, (one of my favorites, of course, being the preservation of most Greco-Roman classical literature by Irish monks), but from an institutional standpoint, they are clearly the most visible. Of course, the greatest respect in which the Church has nurtured culture is invisible. We can't expect to receive much credit for that.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fall of Man: Literal or Metaphorical?

I've posted at the Counsel of Trent regarding that question.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Been doing some not-specifically-Catholic posting science and religion at my personal blog.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Reasons for Chalcedonian Orthodoxy

Here's the next installment.

1. What’s the difference between the view (Nestorianism) that Jesus was two people—one fully human and one fully divine—and the official catholic view above? Both hold that there are two natures and two wills. What’s the difference?

[Trent Dougherty] I think the hinge issue is unity of agency. It’s a *person* who acts, who accrues moral status (being praiseworthy, being a moral example, being the King, etc.). It was important that there was one person who was the Messiah not two people. For example, in the Crucifixion the Nestorian view is that the human person died and the divine person did not. If so, why venerate the divine person and to what avail did the human person die.

(St. Dominic preaching to the heretics)

2. Why is it so important that Jesus be fully human? Why does it have to be a human who saves us from our sins?

[Trent Dougherty] There is a strong tradition from the patristic period and flowering in the Medieval period that the uniting of the human nature to the divine nature conferred a great honor on all humans. It’s hard to make out exactly what the view was but it was a common one. A very imperfect analogy would be the pride I take in being at Rochester in virtue of the fact that Peter van Inwagen went here and Keith Lehrer taught here. Now that got precious little to do with my present circumstances, but it is an undeniable fact that it makes me feel special.

This might have become important in light of the fact that by far the biggest intellectual battle the Church has ever fought—from antiquity to present—is against various forms of Gnosticism. In affirming that the divine second person of the Trinity actually became fully united to a human nature in the Incarnation the Church was utterly rejecting Gnosticism and affirming the redeemability and dignity of the physical as a matter of the utmost doctrine. Clearly Nestorius’ theology was much more amenable to Gnostics and it’s also hard to see how it wouldn’t slide into the Gnostic-like heresy of Arianism. It was in part a pastoral decision.

Questions About the Faith

This last week I got emails from two friends making theological inquiries. I thought I'd post my responses. Comments and suggestions welcomed. Here's the first installment.

"How plausible is it that those who are living a life of faith in Christ and love for others are missing out on 'special graces'?"

[Trent Dougherty] How plausible is it that non-Christians those are living a life of love, service, and devotion to their fellow human beings are missing out on special graces? I think they do receive grace and blessing for their efforts, but I also think it would be very well of them to become Christians of some kind or other. Even if they are "saved" it is something special to worship Christ on Earth, something wonderful and I'm sad that "holy pagans" are missing out on that.

Likewise, I think my non-Catholic Christian brethren receive grace and blessing for their love, service, and devotion to our Savior. But I also think it would be well of them to join the Church and worship Christ in Word and Sacrament. It makes me very sad that they are missing this wonderful experience. I *love* being Catholic and could not live without the Sacraments, I wish that everyone would experience it.

"What is the content of these special graces?"

[Trent Dougherty] That's a matter of some subtlety, but it is not something the absence of which can keep one from profound communion with God. It is a source of sustaining Grace drawing the communicant with a rightly disposed will closer to Christ. Experientially, I *know* (if I know anything) that I am being fed spiritually in a way that makes me more able to follow Christ as I ought. This is something I did not have when I was not Catholic and I lament that I did not accept it sooner even though I was "saved" at that time. I know you know there's more to being a Christian than being "saved". That thought is one of the seeds that flowered in my Catholic garden.

"How can Jesus' body be multiply located (or that it have so many parts)? If the bread is changed in substance but not in accidents, are there ANY properties (such as causal powers, dispositional properties, anything) by which one can discern that the bread really is Jesus flesh? If not, then in what sense IS IT Jesus' flesh?"

[Trent Dougherty] A full answer to that will have to wait (probably 'til the New Jerusalem!), but I think there are some preliminary considerations that are, for now, more important than a direct answer. Do you believe that e=mc2? Do you even know what that means? I won't belabor the point with examples, but they are legion: often we are not in a position *either* to doubt or understand a statement. Now, on the face of it, that's an odd position to be in: it is not epistemically responsible to withhold assent but we can't even understand—or at least not very well—the statement we are compelled to assent to.

What we do in such cases is to believe that such-and-such a *sentence* expresses a true *proposition*. If I heard my German friend declare in a resounding voice "Der schnee ist weiss" even if I didn't realize that that sentence expresses the same proposition that the English sentence "The snow is white" expresses, I'd still believe that it expresses a true proposition. I have very little idea at all what proposition is expressed by the sentence "e=mc2". However, I believe that that whatever proposition it expresses is a true one.

So I don't understand the doctrine of transubstantiation very well--though I once thought I did (I put that in the past tense not because I think what I thought was false, but rather because I forgot most of what I thought. At one time I was quite well-versed in the Thomistic metaphysics of transubstantiation and at that time I thought it made sense). This is nothing more or less than the admission that there are others who no more than we do and whom we should trust in matters in which we are comparatively ignorant. So I will continue to try to understand the doctrine, but as I do so, I will say "credo ut intelligiam" (I believe in order to understand).

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Celebrity Ashes

One of the consequences of the fact that the majority of Christians in the US are Catholics is that we will see more and more "Cultural Catholicism". This is good and bad.

It is good because it is right that our most basic commitments should permeate society (in non-coerced fashion [there might be theophobes watching]). There's a great sense of solidarity when restaurants have special Lenten menus when administrator, teacher, and student kneel side-by-side at Chapel, and various other noticeable expressions of popular piety.

The danger, of course, is that we'll speed right past proper cultural integration and go straight to whatever sociologists of religion call what's going on in France.

I just can't decide where last night's late shows fit in. I watch two shows at night while I do email or blog: The Colbert Report on Comedy Central from 11:30 to midnight and Conan O'Brien until 1:30. Both were raised Catholic and I've heard reports that Conan is sometimes a lector at Mass (can you imagine *that*?!). At least he was, but this might refer to before he was an adult. It is often said that his family was devoutly Irish Catholic. One item of evidence is that Conan has three brothers and two sisters even though his Mom was a Lawyer (she was also President of the Newman Club at Vassar (which could be good or bad)). Conan mentioned that it was Ash Wednesday and that he'd gone to a local parish earlier that day and then launched a skit that was mildly funny but hardly offensive. It's hard to tell where he stands personally. He has done some pretty tasteless things--like the mock interview with John Paul the Great which got him sued--and his regular singing of "I'm going to go to Hell when I die" after he does a particularly mean joke (still, this is a sign of conscience, right?)

And he can sober up quick. Consider this from when the show resumed after 911:

I don't talk about these things on the air, but I was raised Catholic. And today I did what I haven't done since the first show when I went on the air, September 15th [1993]. So, I felt like I needed someone, or I needed something to help me. I went across the street to St. Patrick's Cathedral and I sat for a bit. And I'm glad I did…. Sitting there I felt this is such a beautiful place. And we have to hank God…. We have to thank God for what we still have and what we can still do.

Other links of interest: Boston Globe article on Conan helping his parish raise most of a million dollars. There's an NPR Interview here on the occasion of his 10th anniversary as host in which he responds to a question about his Catholic identity commenting that his jokes of repression are largely exaggerated.

Colbert boasts *ten* (10) older siblings. He also frequently mentions his Catholic upbringing and did the whole show with an ashen cross on his forehead. Like Conan, it's hard to read where he is personally. Obviously, it could be perceived to be very dangerous to be perceived as seriously Catholic, but you never know. Join me in praying for them this Lent.