Checking the pH of the fish tank

March 23, 2014 § 72 Comments

I’ve talked about the intellectual error I call positivism quite a bit over the years.  It is a difficult thing for moderns like us to discuss, precisely because it is like trying to describe water to a fish. Ironically this difficulty is exacerbated specifically by the fact that positivism is false.

Consider what happens when we read a text.  Reading formal arrangements of symbols on a page or screen is the activity; somehow this activity results in an apprehension of meaning inside our minds.

In order to understand a specific text the meanings that it triggers must already be in us, and must have gotten into us from somewhere else. A text can bring us new information and new concepts through novel arrangements of what we already know; but almost all of the meaning of a text must come from something other than that specific text.

Almost all of the meaning of a text is already in our minds before we read it.  If it were not we could not possibly understand the text: it would just be a meaningless jumble of forms.

Understanding that when we read a specific text almost all of the meaning was already in us, before we even started to read it, will not give us a solid grasp of what positivism is and why it is an error — an error so pervasive that for modern people it is like water to fish.  We can’t understand those things concretely until sufficient meaning related to positivism and the problems with it has made it into our minds.

But it is the beginning of an understanding.

Only discriminating authoritarians can resist tyranny

March 22, 2014 § 113 Comments

Liberalism believes itself to be anti-authoritarian.  In fact anti-authoritarianism is intrinsic to liberalism and is what constitutes its self-justification.   Liberals see their political views as legitimate precisely because they see themselves as defending the freedom and equal rights of the oppressed (and potential oppressed) against authoritarian tyrants.

However, this is an illusion.  There are no anti-authoritarian political philosophies.

It is important to be clear here.  I am not suggesting that liberalism could be, but is not, authentically anti-authoritarian.  I am pointing out that anti-authoritarian political philosophies are not possible.  They do not and cannot exist, even in principle.  A rationally coherent anti-authoritarian political philosophy is no more possible than white blackness, good evil, round squares, or any other self-contradictory concept.  Politics and governance just are the exercise of discriminating authority: authoritarianism is essential to politics and cannot be divorced from it.

So there is no such thing as anti-authoritarian politics.  As I’ve suggested before, there is only politics that is self-aware enough to know that it discriminates authoritatively in favor of a particular conception of the good, and politics that lacks self-awareness. Even anarchism proposes to impose its particular vision of the good on everyone.

It follows, perhaps counterintuitively, that only self-consciously discriminatory and authoritarian political philosophies are actually capable of coherently resisting tyranny.

Tightening the thumbscrews of kindness

March 21, 2014 § 23 Comments

In my previous post I made the contention that Cardinal Kasper’s proposed ‘pastoral exception’ (hereafter “PE”) – the proposal that the Church, as a disciplinary matter, should endorse reception of Holy Communion by (some but not all) Catholics who are engaging in regular sexual relations with someone other than their valid spouse – is cruelty, not kindness.

(I’ll reiterate that what is proposed is that the Church should endorse some Catholics – those on a special list meeting certain criteria, I suppose – both engaging in regular sexual relations with someone other than their valid spouse and receiving Communion.  Nobody is required to show ID and walk through a naked body scanner before reception of the Eucharist).

I might have left the impression that I think that adopting the PE would be cruel and vicious toward some people but merciful toward others, and I would like to correct that (possible) false impression.  Adopting the PE would be cruel and vicious toward literally everyone.

It is obvious that the PE would be cruel and vicious toward Catholics who are in irregular situations and are putting forth the effort to try to do what is right.  This is not merely theoretical.  Implementing this proposal would kick the most vulnerable of penitents — those who are leaning heavily on the Sacraments and the unchanging doctrine of the Church to remain continent in the face of overwhelming pressure to do otherwise — right where it hurts.  The PE would completely undermine all of the support that they have.  These are real people we are talking about, not policy abstractions, and they are among the most spiritually vulnerable of the Christian faithful.

It is also obvious that this would be cruel and vicious toward any Catholics who are “on the fence” and depend on the steadfastness of the Church in order to choose what is right.  This is true even of those on the fence who ‘break bad’, for many reasons.  One reason is that it leaves them with the false impression that morality is a matter of arbitrary rules, as opposed to a calling to do what is good and loving for themselves and others.  Another is that it leaves them with no concrete picture of the road home.

Another group of people toward whom this is cruel and vicious is those who are ignorant; and really, the whole spectrum from those who are invincibly ignorant to those who willfully reject sound doctrine.  These fall into many subcategories.  For example, Catholics who are ignorant and not yet married are presented, through praxis, with ideas about marriage (and in particular indissolubility) that are false and misleading — possibly to the point where, when they attempt “marriage,” it will be invalid.

It would be easy to get lost in the weeds of casuistry by looking at particular kinds of cases here, but one consideration overwhelms all others: that the only cure for ignorance is truth, and that the longer ignorance (or willful rejection of the truth) persists the deeper into the trap of sin people fall.  Every ‘irregular’ union has a beginning and an ending (in death if not before); and the longer it goes on the more entangled and difficult it becomes for the persons involved.  Even someone who stumbled into a difficult situation out of invincible ignorance is better off knowing the truth, and knowing it sooner rather than later; because only the truth can set you free.  The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are a unity.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Objectively evil behaviors are chosen because of defects of knowledge and/or defects of will.  But even in those cases where the defects are of knowledge, the person is better off coming to know the truth – the sooner the better, in every sense of the word “better” – rather than remaining enslaved to ignorance.

Then there are those Catholics who are not involved in irregular relationships themselves but are looking on and possibly adopting various ‘pastoral’ positions.  The PE is cruel and vicious toward them too, again for a whole variety of reasons.  Just one is that it encourages an egotism-of-kindness, the attitude that we are good people because we hide sometimes painful truths from “those people” who are so much lesser than we are and cannot handle the fullness of truth.  It encourages the same sort of self-centered attitude of “kindness” that is involved in endorsing euthanasia: the idea that if I, hypothetically, were suffering or radically disabled I would desire the “kindness” of death for myself, administered by a “merciful” murderer at the cost of his own soul.

Finally, we come to non-Catholics.  The PE is manifestly vicious and cruel toward them, because it encourages false ideas about the Faith through praxis.  The ramifications of this deception are (like all deceptions) diverse.  But the PE is perhaps most acutely cruel toward those who are drawn to the Faith, because it is a bait and switch. Evangelism and ecumenism are real goods, but it is not kind to deliberately cultivate false beliefs in people as a way of – supposedly – drawing them to Christ, as if Christ were Pepsi to mohammedan Coke.

Lets just call the proposed ‘pastoral exception’ what it is: vicious cruelty

March 17, 2014 § 42 Comments

61. However, they should take care lest the calamitous state of their external affairs should be the occasion for a much more calamitous error. No difficulty can arise that justifies the putting aside of the law of God which forbids all acts intrinsically evil. There is no possible circumstance in which husband and wife cannot, strengthened by the grace of God, fulfill faithfully their duties and preserve in wedlock their chastity unspotted. This truth of Christian Faith is expressed by the teaching of the Council of Trent. “Let no one be so rash as to assert that which the Fathers of the Council have placed under anathema, namely, that there are precepts of God impossible for the just to observe. God does not ask the impossible, but by His commands, instructs you to do what you are able, to pray for what you are not able that He may help you.”[48] — Pope Pius XI, Castii Connubii

There is lots of hubbub these days about making a possible “pastoral exception” that endorses[1] divorced and “remarried” Catholic couples persisting in their adulterous relationships but still receiving communion.  (Other Catholics who persist in adultery will presumably be left out of the pastoral exception).

I don’t want to pre-judge the outcome of the Extraordinary Synod itself or the Pope’s actions afterwards.  The Pontifical Commission on Birth Control recommended material heresy, but the end result was the affirmation of orthodoxy in the form of Humanae Vitae.  That kind of thing could happen again; or something else entirely unexpected.

But there isn’t anything inherently impossible about the Church doing something phenomenally unloving and harmful in its pastoral practice and discipline. Further undermining our public understanding of marriage would be incredibly cruel and vicious, especially toward people in very difficult situations who struggle daily to do the right thing.  Giving people an “easy way out” toward sacrilege and self-destruction is not merciful.  It is the opposite of mercy: it is a way of patting ourselves on the back about how wonderful we are as we march God’s children into the pits of Hell.

And the bishops who make that choice will ultimately pay for it.


[1] Receiving communion, for those who do not know, is on the “honor system”.  Nobody is going to check paperwork and make sure that everyone in the line is receiving properly.  So this is about what the Church officially approves and endorses as practice, not about relaxing the current tight security of the Communion line.

Fifty Shades of Barry

March 15, 2014 § 9 Comments

Dave Barry does a book review of a popular bit of femporn.

You need to have an honest, no-holds-barred conversation about sex with the special woman in your life — provided you’re a superhot billionaire who can move without being seen.

So why did I read it? I read it because, as a man with decades of experience in the field of not knowing what the hell women are thinking, I was hoping this book would give me some answers. Because a lot of women LOVED this book. And they didn’t just read it; they responded to it by developing erotic feelings—feelings so powerful that in some cases they wanted to have sex with their own husbands.

Sociopathic patriotism

March 15, 2014 § 109 Comments

In order to be patriotic in America (that is, loyal to the particular patriarchy under which we live) it is frequently suggested that we must be liberals: we must be loyal believers in political freedom and equal rights as fundamental goods.

The “patriotism” of a liberal is a very ironic thing, to say the least. It isn’t loyalty to his particular congenital patriarchy. It is just loyalty to himself and his liberal ideology: loyalty to the free and equal superman: loyalty to an arid and inhuman abstraction, not a concrete people and country. It is quite precisely a permanent disloyalty, as expressed by none other than Thomas Jefferson:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

And of course the classic:

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.”

Under liberal modernity there is no such thing as real patriotism because hierarchy – morally compulsory loyalty to crown, blood, soil, and cross – isn’t allowed. So once again we have a situation where, because real patriotism (morally compulsory loyalty to a particular authoritative discriminatory patriarchy) is not allowed by liberalism, a sociopathic patriotism emerges.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Church

March 14, 2014 § 62 Comments

Part of the “Francis Effect” has been the encouragement of heretics and the discouragement of the orthodox, and I don’t want to discount the importance of all that.  But I can’t help get the impression that most people expect the wrong sorts of things from the Church.  Most modern people, including modern Catholics, seem to see the Church primarily as a teacher of Christianity through verbal discourse: as a kind of intellectual or apologetical classroom for teaching Christianity (and other things besides) on a big chalkboard.  Christianity is viewed as salvation science, and the purpose of the Church is to bring salvation skills and knowledge – salvation technology – to whomever approaches to sit in the classroom, buy the textbooks, and earn the degree.

So we are told that we should be Catholics because the propositions produced by the Church proposition-factory, a.k.a. the Magisterium, are true — with caveats.  Protestants take a similar view, but their proposition factory is the text of the Bible (or some redacted portion of it) combined with whatever authoritative hermeneutical system they’ve implicitly adopted from outside of the text while pretending not to have adopted a particular authoritative hermeneutical system from outside of the text.

But this is to misunderstand the basic nature of the Church, in my view.  It certainly doesn’t correspond to the reasons why I, personally, am and shall remain Roman Catholic.  Staying with the Church because it is a doctrine-factory that produces (mostly) true doctrines seems to me to miss the point entirely, and sends a great many people down the rabbit hole.   There are a number of good reasons to be Catholic (or a member of one of the other rites in communion with the Pope).  The (highly conditional) reliability of the Church as a doctrinal-proposition-factory is probably even one of them, though it should not be first on the list.  Our Protestant friends suffer so much under the weight of “Churchianity” in part because they only see “the Church” as a teacher, and a particular kind of teacher at that — a discursive teacher who teaches almost entirely using words in the form of lectures (sermons) and reading.

But this is not the Catholic understanding at all.

Remember, as Christians we aren’t saved (or damned) because we have adopted the right (or wrong) sets of propositions.  We are saved because God has adopted us – if we choose to cooperate with His love and grace.  And the ordinary means that He uses to impart His love, to gift us with His grace is – because He has chosen for it to be – the Sacraments.

And the Catholic Church (along with those other rites in full communion with the Pope of Rome) are the only place to go to receive valid, licit Sacraments.  The best (and in my view only) reason to be specifically Catholic is because God loves us, we love Him in return, and as our Father and Master he has ordained how we are to respond to His love and receive it in obedience.  This is on His terms, not ours.  We cannot do otherwise without cutting ourselves off from His love, from His concrete gift of grace to us in the form of the Sacraments.

So while I don’t want to discount the importance of the intellectual struggles that others have, brought on by the toxic combination of modern attitudes with ultramontanism, I do wish that others could find their peace with it.  And I think that peace is within easy grasp once we have our priorities right — once we stop trying to impose a modernist template onto our understanding of the Church.

Selective rebellion is not submission

March 7, 2014 § 100 Comments

Cane Caldo had an excellent post on the proper attitude toward authority a while back entitled You Bowed Up When You Should Have Bowed Down, where he addressed the right posture someone under human authority should have when that human authority inevitably, because human, exhibits flaws.

We know that there are always due limits to the authority of men because of the nature of authority: because authority produces moral obligations, and it is literally impossible to produce or voluntarily take on a moral obligation to do evil.  “Moral obligation to do evil” is self-contradictory.

So how we navigate the moral waters of our lives is first and foremost bound by deontological limits: by the objective reality of the moral rocks upon which we will shipwreck if we choose to point our rudder at the rocks.  The rocks form “bright lines” that we cannot cross, behaviors which we cannot choose, without transgression.

But the lower limit of avoiding intrinsically immoral behaviours is just the beginning of morality:

On the other hand, the fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandments. The reason is this: the commandment of love of God and neighbour does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken. Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.

So the fact that many moral questions do not have bright line boundaries that apply in all circumstances doesn’t mean that as long as we don’t crash upon the rocks we are free to do what we will.  In the comment thread below ChesterPoe says:

The one aspect of modernity with which I frequently observe even self-proclaimed anti-modernists/anti-liberals/reactionaries/traditionalists/etc… make compromises is the sexual revolution. That’s the heart of the beast. It’s what divides the old left from the new left. All of us are guilty of indulging in it at some point, whether it was premarital sex or viewing pornography, but the difference is about rationalizing it. Those who seek compromise do so for the simple fact, not of the conviction that synthesis is best, but rather that they cannot muster the will power or moral fortitude to overcome their indulgence in sexual depravity. You can hear this in the words of gamers/puas or those sympathetic to them. They exclaim, “They’re just taking advantage of this bad situation. It’s not great, but what else is left for them?” That is cowardice and surrender. That’s saying, “I hate the depravity, believe me, but I need my little piece of it.” As Christians, sin is indefensible, unjustifiable. And to make compromises with it is the equivalent of compromising with the devil.

Chastity is a positive virtue, so it doesn’t have a “bright line” moral boundary.  It isn’t that it is difficult to draw the line: it is that the line does not exist.  So when we encounter the authority of chastity – the virtues are authorities over us because it is their nature to generate moral obligations – it is important to bow down, not up.  If we are trying to do everything we can to come as close to torturing the prisoner as possible without actually crossing the line and torturing the prisoner, we have misunderstood the moral nature of the situation.  There is no line.

Sure there are acts, certain intrinsically immoral behaviours, which clearly offend against chastity and are always morally wrong under all circumstances.  But those acts are hardly the only offenses against the virtue of chastity.  Chastity is not a virtue that lends itself to realpolitik and compromise, any more than wifely submission is something that lends itself to selective rebellion: compromised chastity just is inchastity.  The slutty Christian woman may rationalize the escalation of her hemline (as long as she doesn’t actually fornicate or commit adultery, thereby achieving the Minimum Adult Daily Requirement of chastity) as a kind of realpolitik adaptation to practical realities; and since society is being deliberately (though futilely) reconstructed by liberalism to be ever more androgynous this traditionally difficult area for women has become more difficult for men also, as one of the fruits of equality.

But if your idea of chastity is that it is something that can be adapted – at the level of personal engagement with the virtue of chastity – to modern “SMP” or “MMP” realities through some sort of realpolitik, I would suggest that you don’t yet grasp what chastity is.

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