Wednesday, October 13, 2004

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Loose ends

First, on my earlier digression re: contingent universal salvation, I began by talking about that respect for tradition - and no, I don't refer to "big T" tradition, I mean just plain old tradition, although for my own part, I don't go around taking every Catholic tradition and evaluating the size of its T, so to speak. After all, there are a lot of good questions to ask about any Catholic tradition that we learn of, but I don't think "could we do without it?" should be a standard inquiry. Surely this can lead to a "minimalist orthodoxy" in which the "big T" Traditions are followed, but "small-t" traditions thrown out left and right - sort of like a minimalist approach to papal infallibility, in which people feel free to dissent from any fallible papal pronouncment. Anyway, I began talking about that respect for tradition that is enjoined on every Catholic, and then said that the idea that "hell could be empty" (except for the devil and his angels) is at variance with our small-t tradition. I did not intend to imply that a good Catholic cannot entertain this possibility as being plausible; I am sure that many do. I just think, privately, that it's not a good possibility to entertain.

Secondly: Tom said I made some good points. Thank you! If you haven't been following his series of posts, he has been talking about the flawed reasoning among some St. Blog's parishoners (which I have probably been guilty of myself) regarding intrinsic evils vs. matters for prudential judgment, reminding us that just because one decision is intrinsically evil, whereas another is "only" evil because of the circumstances, does not mean that the former decision is more evil than the latter. This is a welcome observation, but the intrinsic wrongness of abortion, while not guaranteeing that the evils resultant from the election of a pro-abort will surpass the evils resultant from electing a pro-lifer with a poor foreign policy, does indicate something about the character of the pro-abort candidate, that makes him unacceptable to a greater degree than his affect on the abortion rate would suggest. That is, there is a monstrousness about the support of infanticide that is lacking from mere excessive bellicosity or poor diplomacy, even if the support has minimal effect on the nation's laws (or minimal effect in preventing reform to those laws) and the bellicosity has disastrous effect. So I don't think that the frequent references to "intrinsic evil" in talking about abortion, are always irrelevant to the question of how to vote, though I agree that they are sometimes made illogically. And one can indeed imagine a candidate whose poor plans for governance are "only" prudential errors, who might be a worse president than a pro-abort candidate. If, for instance, we take the issues of war and the death penalty that liberal Catholics so often conjure against Bush, I freely admit that if Bush planned to declare war on every Arab-speaking country on earth and institute the death penalty for minor traffic violations, I would consider him worse than Kerry, though neither going to war nor applying the death penalty are intrinsically evil, and supporting abortion is. If that were really my choice in the polls, I would probably just stay home on election day - but that is not the choice I'm facing on Nov. 2.

Okay, now that's about the densest chunk of prose I've ever produced. Whew!

Monday, October 11, 2004

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A Disputation

I like to read the Disputations blog. Occasionally I've commented there, but my "comments" tend to come out more as 4000 word essays, so I get embarrassed and shut up. It occurs to me that instead of stuffing his comment box every time, I should just blog my comments. I get it off my chest, nobody else reads it, and we're all happy. So, I was thinking about the problem of whether or not electing Bush - or some other pro-life candidate, generally speaking - will actually do anything to end abortion in America. Specifically there was this debate over this NYTimes op-ed, with the anti-Bush argument being, that the social programs advocated by Democrats like Kerry, will actually do more to end abortion than the ineffectual pro-life posturing of certain Republicans like Bush.

Well, I don't think that estimations of the probable effect of electing so-and-so are always useful, since we just don't know enough to predict. But, that said, even assuming that we can know that a pro-life president will not get Roe overturned, isn't it a bit of a double standard to then say, "so let's vote Democrat because of their nice social programs"?
I mean, even granting that the Democrats really are closer to Catholic social teaching than the Republicans, apart from their nasty habit of enthusiastically supporting infanticide...what is the evidence that electing John Kerry will actually bring this vaunted Democratic social safety net into existence? Clinton couldn't even get a health care plan passed - why should we think that Kerry could make the U.S. into a second Belgium in the course of 4-8 years (Belgium being a country cited in the NYTimes for its low abortion rate)?

You could argue that if Kerry had support from Congress he could manage it, so that we should elect a bunch of Democrats there too. But again, this can only end up favoring Kerry if you employ a double standard - because if you allow the election of Kerry to be just one part of a grand plan to make us into New Belgium, shouldn't you equally allow the election of Bush to be just one part of a grand plan to overturn Roe v. Wade? And if you allow that, then the fact that Bush's election *alone* will not "accomplish a pro-life objective" doesn't mean he shouldn't be elected.

Now in the comments box, Neil says, among other things, that only 20% of Americans favor recriminalization of abortion. But why does this matter? A much higher proportion think that abortion is immoral, and will those people really be rioting in the streets because the government recriminalized something they abhor but didn't really want to outlaw? And as for the large number who have nothing at all against abortion - why should we pervert our laws to suit the depraved? Why should we have any respect for their opinions on the matter? It's not as if they'll rise up in rebellion if we ignore their pro-death stance; nations have endured laws far more onerous and much less popular than a prohibition of abortion without falling into chaos.

In any case, there's something really fishy about the idea that electing a guy who has the enthusiastic support of NARAL and the vast majority of pro-aborts will do *more* to end abortion than electing a guy whom the abortion lobbyists regard with terror.
After all, even if NARAL and PP have just made a colossal miscalculation (in tandem, mind you, with the majority of pro-lifers and pro-life organizations), and Democrat social programs will spell the death knell of abortion...why should we trust the implementation of those plans to people who are just peachy on the idea of infanticide in the womb?

Christ tells us that he who is untrustworthy in small things is untrustworthy in large what on earth should we say about pro-abort Dems, who are clearly untrustworthy in extremely large things - like the right of small human beings not to be killed? Are these the people you want designing your health care plan?

And now that I'm free of the Procrustean bed of Haloscan, I'm going to digress a bit by pointing out that there's something really glib about saying, "well, yes, the Republicans tend to be better on the abortion issue, but the Democrats are better on social and economic programs." Think about what you're saying.

On the one hand, what are you saying about the pro-life Repubs? You're saying either that they lack compassion for the poor in our society, or that they fail to express this compassion through their politics, and perhaps you're also saying that they are willing to go to war without sufficient cause. These are rather commonplace faults, not to say that they are minor.

Now on the other hand, what are you saying about the pro-abort Dems, when you say they're "worse on the abortion issue"? Okay, let's get a few things straight. Most pro-abort Dems have absolutely no inclination to believe that abortion is homocide. Kerry certainly does not - his "life begins at conception" line does not even require a suspicious mind to detect its disingenousness, since he admitted that "personhood" does not, in his opinion, start at conception - ergo it's not homocide to kill a fetus. Some Dems may really think it's homocide; most do not. I was a Democrat; I know a few Democrats; I've heard a few Democrat pols speak on the issue. And whether we're talking about the rank-and-filers, or the legislators, most Democrats simply do not, at all, believe that abortion is homocide.

And let's get something else straight. 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade - it's incomplete to say that those were real human beings that got aborted. They are human beings, right now. As to the fate of their souls, we are ignorant - but we do know, for certain, that they are every bit as real as you or me. 40 million souls whose fate is a matter of utter unconcern for the Democrats - nor have they any concern for their killers. And this is not worse than a lack of compassion for the poor?

The pro-abort Dems see nothing wrong with this slaughter. Whatever they say about abortion being tragic, and how it should be safe, legal and rare, etc., means at most that they consider it unfortunate that the mother was driven to make such a decision...they have no sorrow whatsoever for the infanticide itself.

Now, let's indulge in a bit of imagining. Imagine that you had, for instance, a ten-year-old brother. I do not like the idea of supposing monstrous hypotheticals of one's own parents, so let us not carry the parallel to abortion so far as to hold them responsible for what happens next in my imagining here. Suppose, instead, that a doctor simply came to your house one day, went to your brother's room, stabbed him to death, then cut him to pieces and threw his body in the trash.

Then suppose you told your story to a person, and he told you, "well, it's a shame that it had to turn out that way. But certainly there was nothing morally wrong with that."

So here's the question: would you trust that man to design your social welfare system? Or, more broadly, would you trust that man with anything? And suppose he was running for president in a campaign that was funded by, among others, the man who cut your brother into pieces? Still inclined to trust him? In a comment at Tom's blog, I suggested that part of the reason we shouldn't vote for pro-aborts, is simply that support of abortion shows that one is, ipso facto, unfit for public office. Tom responded that, as we have been told, voting to elect a pro-abort candidate is not always evil. That is true. It is also true that pointing a machine gun at a row of men and slaughtering them is not always evil. But both are things that we should never undertake lightly; they may not be intrinsically sinful, but they are, as it were, instrinsically horrifying when considered properly. In this little digression, I am attempting to drive home what a really grim and horrifying thing it is (or should be), to vote for a man who favors infanticide, so that people will not dare to utter the phrase, "yes, Democrats are worse on the abortion issue, but...."

Do you protest that my parallel is strained and far-fetched? It is not. Killing a fetus is just as much a homocide as killing a ten-year-old. And if none of those 40 million dead fetuses are actually a brother or sister of yours, remember that you have many brothers and sisters in Christ for whom one of those 40 million really is a brother or sister - or son or daughter. Nor have I made the character of the homocide more grisly and dramatic for effect; if anything I sanitized it.

And the indifferent man in my story IS the man that you're asking to create your social welfare system, if you vote for John Kerry or any other pro-abort Democrat. You may point to this or that Dem who says abortion is morally wrong but he doesn't want it outlawed - but these Dems are not the majority, and they are certainly not John Kerry.

So instead of saying "yes, Kerry isn't very enthusiastically pro-life, but..." try replacing that with, "yes, Kerry was quite unconcerned about that doctor murdering my brother, yes, he even accepted sums of money from him, but Bush is really not very caring about the poor, and he's awfully bellicose." Is it not plain that the faults of Bush and the other pro-lifers are things common to almost every man who ever lived - namely insufficient compassion, and excessive aggression - whereas Kerry's most glaring fault is utter indifference to the slaughter of millions, something that is not at all ubiquitous, but an appalling perversion?

And is the nebulous promise of the abortion statistics in various European countries (which hardly give a straightforward message in any case, as another commentor pointed out with regard to Switzerland), enough to justify voting for a man who claims to be a Catholic, and yet is quite willing to see the slaughter of these millions of infants go on indefinitely?

Friday, October 08, 2004

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So, lately I've picked up sort of an aversion to the Internet. Which is generally speaking not the worst thing in the world, but not conducive to frequent blogging. But really, who cares?

I've been thinking, off and on, mostly off, about the debate among Catholics between the traditionalists and the...non-traditionalists, I suppose. I am divided as regards the traditionalists; there is one thing to which I definitely object, among the American style of traditionalism that we see among some in St. Blog's parish - namely a willingness to contradict the pope and the bishops in general, which I am somewhat reluctant to do.

Beyond that, I also cannot sympathize to the objections to evolution that some traditionalists maintain. Or, to put it more precisely, I can't sympathize with an actual rejection of the theory on the basis of these objections. I can't speak as to the fossil record - I am quite certain that it does not absolutely disprove the theory of evolution, but I don't know if it has been "massaged" to support the theory much more than it really ought to. As far as I am concerned, the universality of DNA, and many other features of the cell, is extremely telling. You can say, "there are many reasons that God may have chosen to create all organisms by a similar 'design plan', and common descent is only one explanation"; Galileo took a dim view of this scientific methodology, and to be sure, it seems to me to make scientific inquiry rather difficult. It strikes at a rather difficult problem that has, by no means, been solved: when one must proceed by hypothesizing an explanation of the facts, how to decide whether a hypothesis is correct? Predictions are the obvious test - but this leads to the absurd problem that knowing too much when you start theorizing would make it harder to solve the problem. "It is a capital mistake to learn all the facts in advance of theorizing"...we are standing Holmes on his head here, but it would apply. After all, if you have discovered every single fact, then there are no more findings to predict, in which case you are left without a test for your hypotheses. This is not an idle problem; it often happens that all the really snappy "predictions" that a theory would make, have already been confirmed by the time the theory is invented. Nor is Occam's razor reliable...I admit, I cannot really answer this question. All I can say is that the evidence of molecular biology - combined with the fact that scientists had already (that is, prior to the discovery of DNA or the development of cell biology in general) reached a consensus that all life shared a common ancestor - leads me to think that evolution is at least a very probable theory.

The one thing that makes me a bit dubious, is the combination of massive phenotypic change (that is, a human being looks a whole lot different from whatever the first life-form was, not to mention the various intermediaries) with a general genetic stability of species. That is to say, species will appear in the fossil record, remain for some millions of years without changing, then disappear. The theory of punctuated equilibrium is intended to account for this - the idea is that a species remains stable for a long time, then changes dramatically over a few tens or hundreds of millenia. Note that the species as a whole need not change - more likely, in fact, is the situation where one little group breaks off from the rest, and with a smaller gene pool, a single mutation can come to saturate the pool more easily (this breaking-off form of evolution is called allopatric speciation).

The problem here is that, contrary to the claim that we have been evolving for billions of years - thus giving us plenty of time for enourmous changes in genotype and phenotype - our putative ancestors were really sitting still, genetically speaking, for the vast majority of their history. Or so it seems to me (now keep in mind that I'm talking about large organisms here, not little bacterium-like things, so until we get to some 500 million years ago or whatever, all this might not apply). And so our putative ancestors have only really been evolving for maybe a few million years - which isn't nearly as impressive. Look how similar a dog is to a wolf - especially genetically; we haven't produced speciation at all - and we've been breeding those things almost obsessively for millienia. Given that human breeders can encourage a favorable trait, or discourage an unfavorable one, far more thoroughly than mere chance will manage, it seems to me that we didn't really have that much time to squeeze in the whole fish-to-reptilian-to-mammal-to-ape-to-man transition.

But this is just a private dubiety and I don't have any figures to back it up. The point is, there's no really solid grounds for rejecting the theory - certainly the idea that it is simply contrary to the Faith, cannot be maintained, given that more than one pope has spoken tolerantly of the theory, and no council or pope has condemned it despite the theory's currency of well over a century. Now to be sure, there can be offshoots of the general theory of evolution that are contrary to the Faith - the claim, popular in the mid 20th century, that humanity evolved in several different places at once, contradicted the existence of a first man and first woman, who are not to be taken as mere figures in a folk story - on the contrary, were it not for the specific sin of a specific man, and were this man not the ancestor of all humanity, there would be no Original Sin. Likewise the original claim of Darwin - that a species is simply a group of organisms that he chooses to lump together for the sake of convenience - is clear nominalism, and if one reads Chesterton's objections to the theory of evolution, his primary problem is this nominalism - the idea that all species are really one specie. This was before the fact was acknowledged, that the fossil record is not a record of continuous progression, but instead contains distinct and stable species.

Ahem. Anyway, there is one sense in which traditionalism is simply obligatory for Catholics: namely, our Church is one body, of which we are all members - which means not only that the fellow next to me in the pew is my brother in Christ, but that St. Augustine is - not was, but *is*, now, my brother in Christ - which is a bit alarming to reflect on, but there you are. This means that when a person claims to be a Catholic and yet sneers at "pre-Vatican II Catholicism," this is like claiming to be a Catholic and sneering at "Wisconsin Catholicism". In both cases you are drawing a line between yourself and some group of Catholics, and saying that only the people on your side of the line are the real Catholics. The only difference is that one of these groups has a lot more popes in it...and yet, oddly, sneering at Wisconsin would actually strike some people as more silly than looking down your nose at some thousands of bishops, some hundreds of millions of laymen, some 30-odd Doctors of the Church, etc. The traditionalism according to which we do not consider ourselves some epitome of enlightenment simply by virtue of living when we happen to live, is enjoined upon us. It is true that doctrine is developed, and the various resources that are given to the faithful in aiding them to salvation are enlarged, but we have the same brains, the same Faith, and the same Church as we had in the 1st century A.D., which overshadows all the other differences.

But of course, it is one thing to say all of that, and another to actually live according to Tradition. To be sure, there are certain things that one can set to paper, as being necessary for living in accordance with the Tradition of the Church: obviously adherence to the Creed, submission to the Magisterium, and other things that any orthodox Catholic would be familiar with. But there are other things - universalism, for instance. The idea of contingent universal salvation (that is, the idea that every human being will go to heaven, but not out of necessity) is not defined as a heresy, so long as the devil and his angels, at least, are admitted to be in hell. All the same, I do not think that a traditionalist can have any time for this notion; the testimony of the Fathers and of everyone after them is so utterly unanimous, as to the un-universality of salvation - not that this proves, as an absolute certainty, that salvation is not universal. What it does prove, I think, is that we should not contemplate it as a reasonable possibility. Just as we might possibly win the lottery, and yet should never allow this incredibly small probability to affect our decisions, thus, even if we cannot utterly refute the idea of contingent universal salvation, or even prove any sort of statistical probability as with the lottery, we should nonetheless ignore this idea, just as it was ignored for the last two millenia. Any faithful reader of Scripture, of the Fathers, or any other authoritative source, cannot avoid having a distinct impression that a great many souls will be damned; so many texts must be either rejected, or read in a way that is extremely non-intuitive by the standards of any human being who ever lived - and on the contrary, so few authoritative texts, if any, must be rejected or strainedly read in order to support non-universal salvation - that we have no reason to take the idea seriously.

That is an example of how traditionalism is not identical to orthodoxy, but rather, this respect for tradition is the fertile soil of orthodoxy, so to speak. Obviously there is a false traditionalism that tends towards separation from the Church - and yet, anyone who knows the course that schismatics and heretics have taken throughout the centuries, will be entirely familiar with these so-called traditionalists, and will see that they do not live by the tradition of the Church, but at best have merely an understandable admiration of her past.

That, in a nutshell, is why I think of myself as a traditionalist, or at least attempt to be one. But don't expect me to start posting on the Latin Mass here.