Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ask Tony: Is Voting Third-Party or Write-In a “Sin of Omission”?

This is how political ideology distorts religion.
As the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign staggers toward its finale, Catholic supporters of Donald Trump are going all out to push pro-life voters to cast their ballots for the Republican nominee. Some are even going so far as to engage in what can only be called doctrinal strong-arm tactics. Because Hillary Rodham Clinton is pro-abortion, a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood, and has a restrictive view of religious rights, it’s taken as granted that a vote for her is tantamount to approving her policy choices on these fronts, and therefore formal cooperation in evil.[*] However, the reasoning is extended: by failing to vote for Donald Trump, a third-party/write-in voter is wasting their vote, and therefore committing a sin of omission.

Defining Our Terms

First, let’s define our terms. But before we do, let me remind you: Infallibility applies to the Catholic Church only on matters of faith and morals, and only under specific conditions. Individual Catholics, especially lay bloggers, are not infallible. With that caveat:

In Catholic moral theology, sins can be divided into four categories: sins of thought, sins of word, sins of commission, and sins of omission. A sin of omission, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, is “the failure to do something one can and ought to do. If this happens advertently and freely a sin is committed. Moralists took pains formerly to show that the inaction implied in an omission was quite compatible with a breach of the moral law, for it is not merely because a person here and now does nothing that he offends, but because he neglects to act under circumstances in which he can and ought to act.”

Sins are also classified according to whether they are venial or mortal. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1855). A mortal sin is committed when the object is grave matter (i.e., a violation of the Decalogue), and when it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent (cf. CCC § 1857; see link above).

Material and formal cooperation pertain to the degree that an accomplice actually participates in the sin of the principal agent. Says The Catholic Encyclopedia, “For example, to persuade another to absent himself without reason from Mass on Sunday would be an instance of formal cooperation. To sell a person in an ordinary business transaction a revolver which he presently uses to kill himself is a case of material cooperation.” Formal cooperation pertains, then, when the person assists a person in an evil act freely and in full knowledge of its wrongness. With material cooperation, “the action of the accomplice is assumed to be unexceptionable, his intention is already bespoken to be proper, and he cannot be burdened with the sin of the principal agent since there is supposed to be a commensurately weighty reason for not preventing it.” There is also a distinction between proximate and remote cooperation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In Response to Fr. Frank Pavone

Courtesy David Wanat.
On October 10, Priests for Life director Fr. Frank Pavone, who not only supports Donald Trump but advises his campaign on pro-life issues, released a statement which begins:

The lewd comments, made over a decade ago and for which Mr. Trump has apologized, and which I, like everyone else, find repulsive, do not in the least change my intentions of voting for him, of urging others to do so, and of advising his campaign. The reason is simple: this presidential election is not about a choice between him and someone better; it’s between him and someone far worse.

Moreover, it is not ultimately about either one of them, but rather the good of the nation as reflected in two things: a) What will they do, and b) Who comes into power with them.

Hillary is worse. For over a year now, Trump supports have been parroting that mantra as if it were infallible dogma. That Hillary Clinton has shown herself both corrupt and inept is difficult to deny; even liberals dislike and distrust her. That she will probably be elected with less than a majority of the popular vote and have a lower approval rating coming into office than her husband did is foreseeable. And that the worldview, philosophy, and policy preferences she will bring into office ought to be categorically rejected is unquestionable. But to say Clinton is a worse choice for president than Donald Trump requires considerable, willful blindness to the many flaws Trump has displayed — not just over the last year but over the course of his public career as well.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Brutal Truths? Meh. Some not so brutal, some not so true

Artist unknown. (Image source:
In, contributor Matthew Jones puts on the mask of the sage on the mountaintop and offers us “20 Brutal Truths About Life No One Wants to Admit”. It’s always tempting, especially in one’s middle years, to give others general advice about life you learn from The School of Hard Knocks, a school that — unlike strip-mall colleges — will never shut down. Heck, I’ve done it myself.

But I don’t admit to all of Jones’ brutal truths because they’re not all true, or at least not true as stated. Though much of what Jones says is true, and could have been taken at least indirectly from the wise Msgr. Charles Pope, there are other points where in trying to be a libertarian Zig Ziglar he depends on ideas people commonly take as fact but which are really false. Let’s go through them, shall we?

1. You’re going to die and you have no idea when.
Stop pretending that you're invincible. Acknowledge the fact of your own mortality, and then start structuring your life in a more meaningful way.

2. Everyone you love is going to die, and you don’t know when.
This truth may be saddening at first, but it also gives you permission to make amends with past difficulties and re-establish meaningful relationships with important figures in your life.

3. Your material wealth won’t make you a better or happier person.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who achieves his or her materialistic dreams, money only amplifies that which was already present. [I must admit this was odd to find in, a Forbes wannabe.]

4. Your obsession with finding happiness is what prevents its attainment.
Happiness is always present in your life — it’s just a matter of connecting to it and allowing it to flow through you that’s challenging. [Especially since it generally involves paying more attention to others than to yourself.]

5. Donating money does less than donating time.
Giving your time is a way to change your perception and create a memory for yourself and others that will last forever.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Next Step — Blogging Under Obedience?

Devin Rose on The Journey Home. (Image: EWTN.)
After a month and a half of working on other projects, I seem to have gotten my blogging mojo back. (Of course, this means the other projects have gone back to the back burner.) However, as much as I kvetch about the culture-warrior role I’ve been stuck in for lo these eight years — more, if you count my long-lost-and-best-forgotten first blog — I keep returning to politics, every once in a while mentioning God or the Catholic Church to remind myself and others that I am a Catholic writer. Fortunately, über-apologist Devin Rose recently wrote a post on obedience which is not only worthy of comment but isn’t about politics (well, it’s not directly about politics).

“Demand I Do Something!”

Says Devin:

I recently finished Rod Dreher’s book on life lessons from Dante’s Divine Comedy, and one fascinating part of his story was his interaction with his Eastern Orthodox priest.

Dreher left Catholicism and became Orthodox in response to the priestly sexual abuse scandal. His local priest at their small Orthodox church is also a convert to Orthodoxy, and this priest became Dreher’s spiritual director, confessor, and pastor.

Well, we have that in the Catholic Church, too, but what’s different is the level of pastoral care that his priest could give him. Dreher’s priest put him under obedience to pray 500 Jesus prayers each day.

Now think about that: has a Catholic priest ever put you under obedience to do any spiritual discipline, beyond a few Hail Marys for a penance after Confession? I’ve never experienced that, nor even heard of it happening.

One Catholic friend of mine has actually begged his priest to put him under obedience! “Please, as pastor of my soul, demand I do something!”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Catholic Stand: Political Control and the Freedom of Weakness

There’s a certain freedom in powerlessness, the loss of control. Recently, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote that the “astonishing flaws” of both major candidates was “depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.”

Control of Our Lives

It’s liberating when you realize that, no matter what you do, the results will be the same. You don’t always have the luxury of knowing that your action will have only minimal effect on the outcome. It’s like a message from God: “Dude, I got this. You go do the right thing, and let Me handle the rest.”

Have you ever just sat and thought about all the ways in which your life is affected, impacted, changed for better or worse, by people whom you will most likely never meet and over whom you have no control or even influence? I’m sure commercials promising you security from identity theft and credit-card fraud have got you to thinking, now and again, how your financial security is tied up in a network of computers over which faceless strangers must keep perpetual watch against other faceless, more malicious strangers. Think of the people in the security agencies and defense services laboring 24/7 to prevent a terrorist attack from occurring or a war from breaking out.

Something so simple and quotidian as filling your gas tank doesn’t just involve you and the pump. It involves hundreds of people in a number of industries moving the original oil from the well to the refinery to the distributor, as well as making the pumps, the tanks, the trucks, the pipes, and the car you’re putting it in. And as you’re cruising down the six-lane expressway, do you think about all the people who labored for months to expand the original two-lane blacktop highway while you suffered delays and jams in frustration? Whatever made you think you were independent? Whatever made you think you had complete control of your life?

Usain Bolt hits the gym every day for 90-minute workouts to develop explosiveness and build stability while staying lean. He controls when he shows up at the gym, how rigorously he follows his workout routine, and what he eats. He can’t control the possible rise of another runner even faster than him, or the potential for career-ending injury, or the slow wear of entropy that will eventually subtract from his speed. Why worry about these things, when worrying about them won’t prevent them from happening?

“Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ask Tony: Forgiveness and Sincerity—UPDATED

Hypothetical situation: A friend, loved one, coworker, or acquaintance has a certain behavioral trait, one that is objectively sinful and hurtful. At times, you are the one s/he hurts. Every time s/he hurts you, s/he apologizes. After n apologies and n +1 times being hurt, though, don’t you have a right to feel his/her apologies are insincere? Shouldn’t the behavior have been corrected by then if s/he really meant it? In sum, aren’t you justified in refusing to forgive, or making your forgiveness contingent upon some material act?

Seventy Times Seven

There are only two passages in the New Testament where a finite number is connected with forgiveness. The first occurs in Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus then follows this injunction with the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (vv. 23-35). The “seventy times seven”, of course, is hyperbole meaning that we forgive as often as asked: “... and if [your brother] sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:4). However, you don’t have to wait to be asked forgiveness in order to grant it.

As for sincerity — nope. Don’t find it connected to forgiveness of others anywhere in the NT. It’s not a condition. Nor do you find any passage that allows you to make forgiveness conditional. Catholics have done penitential acts over the centuries. However, those acts were reparative; that is, they were ordered towards repairing the relationship between the person and God, and not as a condition of His forgiveness. Making your forgiveness contingent upon fulfilling a material condition as “proof” of sincerity is spiritual extortion.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Euthyphro the Burglar; or, A Criminal Dilemma

One night, as I arrived home from my Knights of Columbus council meeting, I noticed that my front door was ajar, and that there was a shadow moving past the curtains on the living room window. A burglary, I thought, more angry than scared. So I called 911, retrieved my Sig Sauer from my glove box, got out of my car as quietly as possible, and crept inside.[*]

As I tiptoed into the living room, the burglar was bending over to pick up the television set from the entertainment center. “Stop!” I commanded, pointing the Sig at him. “Put it down slowly, then stand up with your hands in the air. The cops are coming; you’re going to go to jail for burglary.”

The burglar did as I told him. To my surprise, though, he asked, “Is burglary wrong because the law says so, or does the law say so because burglary is wrong?”

Puzzled, I asked, “What does it matter?”

“Well,” he responded, “if Texas law says so because burglary is wrong, then the State of Texas doesn’t really define burglary.”

I shrugged. “That’s a trivial objection, because Texas enacted the definition in its laws, and you’re still subject to Texas law. But what if I say burglary is wrong because Texas law says so?”

The burglar smirked — or, at least, I think he smirked; it was difficult to tell through his pantyhose mask in the dim light. “In the first place, if it’s wrong only because the law says so, then ‘wrong things are against the law’ is merely a tautology, and says nothing significant about wrongness.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Babylonian Puppet Shows and Thought-Terminating Clichés

Have you ever wondered if people who create memes are in some kind of competition to produce thought-terminating clichés? I recently saw a someecard written by a petulant unbeliever: “I don’t need your Babylonian puppet show to tell me to share with others. I learned that from Sesame Street™.”

Okay, smartass. Where did the writers and creators of Sesame Street learn it from?

What’s the Right Question?

If Christ was and is who we Catholics believe him to be, it shouldn’t be surprising that the natural order or that evolution would produce in us a moral need to be nice to each other.[*] It shouldn’t be surprising that some idea of justice, mercy, benevolence, and every other common moral imperative should manifest in other cultures. Jesus didn’t come primarily to be an ethical philosopher; God is the ultimate Source of all natural ethoi.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that you could learn from Sesame Street what the Church has taught for a couple of millennia, and the Jews taught for centuries before us. Nor should it be surprising that the Church teaches some moral principles other religions teach. In that much, it shouldn’t surprise us that some things Jesus taught weren’t “original” … save in that the Logos is the Origin. It surprises me that some would find his “unoriginality” significant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ask Tony: A feast for Mary Magdalene?

Blavatskaya, Mary Magdalene.
(Image source
On June 10, the Congregation for Divine Worship released a document raising the liturgical observance of St. Mary Magdalene’s traditional day from a memorial to a feast. Released along with it is an accompanying letter, Apostle to the Apostles, over the signature of the secretary of the congregation, Abp. Arthur Roche. Now would be a good time to explain who she is in the Catholic tradition, and why the Holy See has taken such an extraordinary step.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

“Mary” (Heb. Miriam, Aram. Maryam, Gr./L. Maria) was a common name among the Judeans, and due to the influence of both the Blessed Mother and the Magdalene would be common in Christian lands for the next twenty centuries. (Maryam is also frequent among Moslems, among whom the Blessed Virgin Mother is honored.) So in the New Testament there is a surfeit of women named Mary, not always kept distinct from each other.

There are two locations named “Magdala” in Talmud: one in the east on the River Yarmouk near the modern town of Umm Qais, the other on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, abandoned just prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, near the town of Migdal. Given the number of Galileans among Jesus’ disciples, Mary most likely came from the latter.

We know very little about Mary’s story. According to Luke, Mary joined Jesus’ ministry early. He tells us that “seven demons had gone out from” her, indirectly attributing it to Jesus, and that she was one of several women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles, “[providing] for them out of their means” (Luke 2:1-3) After the Easter narratives, Mary of Magdala drops out of the scriptural record.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Catholic Stand: Men and the Rape Conversation

Recent events in the story of convicted rapist Brock Turner force the conversation about rape into a deeper understand of this complicated subject. It is a multifarious conversation, touching upon sex, consent, sexual differentiation, women’s equality, and college campus culture, among other things. But in many respects, it is the wrong conversation, full of false assumptions and askew stereotypes. It is also a conversation from which, as I hope to make clear, men cannot and should not be excluded.

Men as Victims of Rape

Rape is commonly presented in the conversation as a “women’s problem”; that is, as a crime only women suffer and only men commit. Sixteen percent of women, according to statistics gathered last March, experience attempted or completed rape, as opposed to only 3% of men — at least as far as the sources know. An estimated 95% of rapes on campus, and 60% of rapes overall, are never reported. Whenever we discuss rape, we almost take it for granted that men are only raped in prison.

This trope is false and misleading. As Hanna Rosin reported in Slate a couple of years ago, sexual assault against men is vastly under-reported. Men are almost as often victims of sexual assault as are women, and women are very often the perpetrators. The 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey found that 38% of the incidents reported were against men. Because the U.S. military is predominantly male, it should be no surprise that more than half of military sexual-assault victims are men. Last year, Huffington Post ran an article detailing male experiences of sexual assault on campus; one advocate estimated that as many as 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Precisely because all forms of sexual assault are under-reported, it is impossible to say for certain whether proportionally fewer male victims than female victims report being raped. At least part of the under-reporting problem for men, though, is the cultural emphasis on alpha-male machismo: men are discouraged from “whining”, and expected — by both men and women — to shut up, “put on their big-boy britches,” and get over any problems they may have. Also, our culture takes it for granted that men are irresponsible about when, where, and with whom they have sex. We find it especially difficult to believe that a woman could force a man to have sex against his will, due to the assumption that rape must involve penetration of the victim by the assailant.

Under-reporting also diminishes our knowledge of the incidence of same-sex rape. According to Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN), being assaulted by another female, especially a partner, can be more traumatic for women “because of the levels of trust, attraction, and love involved.” Gay males have greater difficulty finding help because of “attitudes that gay men are promiscuous or that rape is something that only happens to women”. And a study done by the CDC in 2010 revealed that women tend to be more physically aggressive and controlling than men in intimate partnerships. In sum, women are not the only ones affected by rape in our society.

Read more at Catholic Stand!