Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ask Tony: Should I receive Communion only from a priest or deacon?

In the Crux article referenced in the screencap to your left, the author, Rev. Kenneth Doyle, answers the question with a verbal shrug: “It is, of course, the same Eucharist — whether received from a priest or from a lay minister — and ... I am a bit surprised when someone feels compelled to make a choice.” Referring to a deceased parishioner’s aversion to lay Eucharistic ministers, Fr. Doyle said, “In the scope of things, I felt that his preference was a small issue. For me, it came under the heading of the ‘big tent’ that embraces a wide variety of Catholics.”

The person at Saint Gabriel’s Newsroom who wrote the “Share” was, at bare minimum, uncharitable: nothing Fr. Doyle said was in any meaningful sense modernist, nor did he deny or denigrate the right of the consecrated to distribute the Eucharist. Moreover, the boast that s/he only receives on his/her knees and from consecrated ministers is so pompously self-congratulatory it invites ridicule; as we used to say when I was a kid, “Whaddaya want for that, a Bozo button?”

What really is the issue here?

In 1973, with the approval of Ven. Pope Paul VI, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Instruction Immensae Caritatis, which authorized the appointment of “special ministers” from the ranks of the non-ordained to assist with the distribution of Communion. Eventually, to underline the fact that deacons and priests were the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, the title of these appointees was changed to “Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion” (usually abbreviated EMHC).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Catholic Stand: Why Do We Still Expect Marital Fidelity?

The fallout from the Ashley Madison “data dump” has only begun. Much of the media attention has focused on B-list celebrity Josh Duggar, from his parents’ broken hearts to the inevitable amateur long-distance psychoanalysis and condemnations of the purity movement. However, sidebars do go into the hundreds of federal employees who have accessed the site from their offices, themarriages dissolving as suspicious spouses do their checking, and the expected questions about the morality of offering such a service.

The Oddity of Fidelity

It’s hard to feel any sympathy for either Avid Life Media, the owner of the website, or its many millions of subscribers. In every culture, which has some form of marriage, some definition of adultery obtains; the practice is largely frowned upon, in some cases incurring sanctions ranging from potential civil penalties to death. The oddity in our culture is not that so many people cheat, but rather that some expectation of fidelity is still kept, even after the sweeping changes wrought by the sexual revolution.

On the one hand, according to research published earlier this year, 22% of men and 14% of women have strayed at least once in their married lives; 74% of men and 68% of women admit they would cheat if they knew they would never get caught. On the other hand, the Gallup 2013 Values and Beliefs Survey recorded that 91% of Americans held affairs to be morally wrong, and that the number of people who thought it was acceptable had actually dropped 1% from 2001 to 2013. The most trenchant comment comes from Hugo Schwyzer: “We’ve become more willing to embrace diverse models of sexual self-expression even as we’ve become ever more intolerant of hypocrisy and the human frailty that makes hypocrisy almost inevitable.”

The “why” of cheating is the source of endless speculationrationalization, and research. Unfortunately, a lot of the speculation ends up at the conclusion, “Monogamy is a myth” … even inarticles which claim to be premissed on established scientific fact. However, such a sweeping conclusion leaves behind an unexplained fact: if monogamy is a myth, in the sense of being a fiction or false knowledge, then surely the oddity is not the rate of infidelity, but rather the outrageously high rates of marital fidelity.

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Inconsistency Fallacy

A particular informal argument pattern, which I call the inconsistency fallacy, is becoming more common in culture-war battles. The inconsistency fallacy goes something like this:

  • Advocate A holds position on policy p1, which (presumably) has quality q.
  • However, Advocate A also holds positions on policies p2, p3, etc., which are not-q or anti-q.
  • Either q or not-q should be supported.  (Implied premiss.)
  • Therefore, Advocate A must give up his position(s) on either p1 or on p2, p3, etc.

Here’s a paraphrase of one variant I saw earlier this evening: “If you don’t want to sell food for a gay wedding because you don’t want to support sodomy, then you shouldn’t support gluttony by selling to fat people; you shouldn’t sell to divorcées, or to thieves, or to ....” Another variant I’ve seen: “If you’re against abortion, you should also be against capital punishment; you should be against hunting; you should be a vegan; you should be yadda-yadda-yadda ....”

It’s implied, and often stated, that if you don’t resolve the apparent inconsistency by abandoning position p1, then you, sir/madam/small child, are a hypocrite, and we therefore need not pay attention to position p1. Although the inconsistency fallacy shares some of the features of the red herring and the abusive ad hominem, it’s best classified as a sub-species of the false dilemma.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Thanks from the Kingdom of God Sisters! Let’s do it again!

Image © Anthony S. Layne.
Hey, folks! We got a “thank you” card from Kim Brown of the Kingdom of God Sisters!

You’ll remember that the KGS is the start-up second-order religious group on whose behalf I wrote last month. (I also kicked in a little of my own money.) Here’s what the future Sr. Kim — or perhaps Mother Kim? — has to say:

Dear Anthony Lane [sic],

Thank you for your gift to KGS and for your promotion on Twitter. Please keep us in your prayers as we strive to do God’s will & know you are in mine.

God is love: let the Kingdom know,
Kim Brown

Now, I say “we” got a card because it was you, Dear Readers, that helped spread the word, mostly through “likes” and ”shares” on Facebook. But I’m thinking we can do better. So please hit the “Twitter” button; share it on Facebook or Pinterest; re-blog it on your own Blogger, Wordpress or Tumblr account — whether you yourself can donate or not, pass the word on! And if you can spare a sawbuck or so, click on this link to go to the KGS’ donation page! Let’s make this go viral!

God is love: let the Kingdom know! Semper Fi.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pope Francis’ orthodoxy continues to startle

Once again, Pope Francis has gotten people talking excitedly about changes in the Catholic Church by saying basically the same things his predecessors have said. If there’s anything positive about the “progressive pope” narrative frame, it gets the media to pick up on things that they ignored when Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II said them.

What did Pope Francis say this time? Yesterday, August 5, in his general audience, he chose to address the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics. Fairly early into his catechesis, Francis said:

In these decades, in truth, the Church has not been either insensitive or slow. Thanks to the reflection carried out by Pastors, guided and confirmed by my Predecessors, the awareness has greatly grown that a fraternal and attentive acceptance is necessary, in love and in truth, of the baptized that have established a new coexistence after the failure of their sacramental marriage; in fact, these people are not at all excommunicated, they are not excommunicated! And they are absolutely not treated as such: they are always part of the Church. [Bold type mine.—ASL]

Excommunication refers strictly to the formal canonical penalty. Under Canon 1331.1 of the 1983 Code, a person who has been formally excommunicated cannot minister in any capacity in any manner of worship, celebrate or receive the sacraments, or exercise any official office or function of the Church. In some cases, excommunication is incurred latae sententiae; that is, by the fact of the delict and without need of formal declaration (Canon 1314). However, marrying a second person without securing an annulment of marriage from the first is not one of those cases. And excommunication does not deprive one of membership in the Catholic Church; even if you formally apostatize, rejoining is simpler than you’d think.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Consequentialism and the Planned Parenthood videos—UPDATE

If you learn anything about the law — and I’ll freely confess I’m not a lawyer — you learn that the way a statute is written is very, very, very important. The simpler a clause is written, the more it leaves open to interpretation.

Katie M. Geary of the Becket Fund explains the problem in The Federalist. To make a simple explanation simpler: Abortion providers can’t perform what the law calls a “partial-birth” abortion, a procedure in which the unborn child’s head is manipulated into a breech presentation, then has its brain removed while stuck in the birth canal. On the other hand, stopping the heart with digitoxin before dismembering the child ruins fetal stem cells for research purposes. (See the footage and the transcript.) “These babies are being strategically maneuvered, crushed, and dismembered under ultrasound guidance — while still alive.

There are two legal questions: 1) Are the abortionists working for Planned Parenthood “altering” the abortion procedure within the meaning of 42 USC 289g-1(b)(2)(A)(ii)? 2) Are various Planned Parenthood employees abusing the “reasonable payment” loophole in the illegalization of the sale of fetal tissue in 42 USC 289g-2(e)(3)? Unfortunately, none of the pro-abort attempts to “debunk” the videos really reaches these questions; the one state government investigation to date — Indiana’s — was done with such indecent haste that we’re justified in wondering how much effort was really put into it. (As for the videos being “heavily” or “deceptively” edited ... well, the full-length videos from which the press-release “good parts” edits were taken are readily available both on the Center for Medical Progress’ website and on YouTube; so you can make that judgment for yourself.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Anthony Esolen on reform and renewal

Anthony Esolen.
Let’s get straight to the point. We no longer live in a culturally Christian state. We do not live in a robust pagan state, such as Rome was during the Pax Romana. We live in a sickly sub-pagan state, or metastate, a monstrous thing, all-meddlesome, all-ambitious. The natural virtues are scorned. Temperance is for prigs, prudence for sticks in the mud who worry about people who don’t yet exist. A man who fathers six children upon three women and now wants to turn himself into a “woman” attracted to other women — he is praised for his courage. Justice means that a handful of narrowly educated and egotistical judges get to overturn human culture and biology, at their caprice.

We are not in partibus infidelibus. We are in partibus insanibus.

This is how Anthony Esolen, a writer I admire tremendously, begins his latest offering for Crisis, “Reform and Renewal Starts with Us”. Lest you get the wrong impression, though, the piece is not simply an attack on the Culture of Death. Rather, it’s a list of things the concerned Christian can do to “vote with their feet”; i.e., stop supporting the cultural collapse and begin rebuilding:

  • Build new schools, reform old schools, and abandon irreformable ones. Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, said that one of the proper aims of education was to teach students to like and dislike what they ought. If nothing else has been retained of classical education, Esolen implicitly argues that this has: “If your children are in the sub-pagan schools, it will require almost a miracle of God to keep them from becoming sub-pagan themselves. They too will learn to worship the three-poisoned god of our times, self, sex, State. Take for granted that everything in their classes will be sexuality and politics; even in science classes.”
  • Restore your parish church and bring reverence back to the liturgy. Incredible damage was done to churches and to the liturgy in the wake of post-Vatican II “reforms”, a period Esolen memorably calls “the Decade that Taste Forgot”. Even now, some pastors and parishes show preference for churches-in-the-round, “resurrectifixes”, sculptures so abstract as to be incoherent, and treacly faux-folk liturgical music. Sometimes it’s just the removal of an icon that makes the difference between a renovation and a “wreckovation”.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Earth 2.0 "bad news for God"? Only if you’re a fundamentalist

Catholic apologists have a saying: “Scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist.” That’s because many atheists, like fundamentalists, believe that Christian dogma is dictated by Scripture alone, with a slight twist — if you can disprove any part of it on scientific grounds, you disprove all of it.

Such is the case with Jeff Schweitzer, a marine biologist who’s convinced that the recent discovery of another Earth-sized planet capable of supporting life puts “paid” to “religion” (though the only religion he really addresses is Christianity, apparently supposing that religions are interchangeable). And he goes to great lengths to say so in a HuffPo article titled, “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God.”

Schweitzer’s entire purpose is to “poison the well”; that is, to fend off any and all Christian explanations as “explaining away”. Why? Because, gosh darn it, the Bible must be taken 100% literally! Everything, from “In the beginning” to the “Amen” at the end of Revelation must be an exact, word-for-word record — no parables, no metaphors, no symbolism. How the various books of the Bible have been understood over the centuries is far less important than how Schweitzer himself understands it, which allows no room for the creation stories to be anything less than literal accounts.

And Schweitzer is quite comfortable with his logical fallacy:

I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world’s major religions. [Apparently neither Buddhism nor Hinduism counts as a major religion, as he never addresses their creation myths.] I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens. I am not alone in this conclusion that religion will contort to accommodate a new reality of alien life.

I’m not surprised Schweitzer’s not alone.You see, a brain-dead hyper-literalism concerning Genesis is more important to New Atheists than it is to Christianity ... at least, to non-fundamentalist Christianity. Thus, Schweitzer pays attention not only to what Genesis says, but to what it leaves out, as if the creation story were meant to be a comprehensive and exhaustively-detailed account. But our belief that God created the universe and everything in it isn’t dependant on the scientific accuracy of the Genesis story; indeed, it isn’t dependant upon Scripture at all. That’s a mistake fundamentalists make.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wherein Your Humble Blogger confesses he erred ... but not by much

David Bentley Hart, not a Pluralist.
Last week, after reading about a paper done by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, I wrote an article defending the doctrines of Final Judgment and Hell against what I thought was universalism, which I defined as the belief that there is no Hell, that everyone goes to Heaven.


“Your argument follows a faulty initial premise, and therefore fails,” writes a discerning reader. “Not to put too fine a point on it, your initial premise is a fallacious definition of Universalism. Universalism is definitely NOT the belief that there is no Hell, no Judgment, and that everyone gets a ‘Free Pass.’ That, for the record, is Pluralism, the belief that all belief systems are equally valid, something that classical and patristic (yes, patristic) Universalism doesn’t teach.” In a follow-up post, Discerning Reader suggested — not too kindly, and without much specificness — some people I could read so I could learn what the hell I was talking about.

In haste, so as not to further propagate bulls**t on the Internet, I took the post down.

Okay, I’m not a theologian. Comparing theologians to engineers who design skyscrapers, I’m just the grunt at the job site, digging the ditches and shlepping the wallboard up to the 88th floor. In the column to your right, you’ll see a couple of items disclaiming all pretensions to infallibility. But I don’t believe I have to have a degree in theology myself to know when theology ends up contradicting the revelation.

So the key distinction between pluralism and universalism is that universalism still retains the final judgment and Hell. HOWEVER, universalists posit that all humanity will in the end be reconciled to God. So people still go to Hell; but Hell turns out to be a version of Purgatory, in that it exercises a penal function but still has a definite end. Everyone still goes to Heaven; in the universalist version, some just have to make a pit stop along the way.

Like the owner of the Esso station said to the lost driver, “You can continue down the highway you’re on, or you can take the next left. Either way, you’ll end up in the wrong town.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reflections on Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower

WWII German soldiers' graves.
If you had been a Jewish concentration-camp resident and slave laborer, and a dying Waffen SS soldier asked you for forgiveness for the one atrocity in which he'd participated, would you be able to do it? That's the question Simon Wiesenthal asks us in his short story The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.

It's almost too easy to speak of what we would have done had we been placed in Wiesenthal's position. We were not; and the probabilities are that we'll never have an analogous situation in which we'd have to make good on our boast. Rather, it remains for us to think about what it means to forgive others in a context where all normal human mores are turned upside-down and all choices are fraught with peril.

Did Wiesenthal have the right to forgive Karl Seidl's participation in the mass execution of a Russian town's Jews? Did Wiesenthal have the right to withhold the words of forgiveness, as he did? And when Wiesenthal met Karl's mother, did he have the right to withhold the truth of Seidl's confession? Was he right to let her go on ignorance, so she would only retain the memory of Seidl's goodness?

These questions take on an added urgency in the situation of the United States in 2015. The recent controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag is, in a very real sense, our struggle to forgive ourselves for having had chattel slavery as an institution, and for mistreating African-Americans, first as beasts of burden and then as unwelcome parasites. What must we do to create a culture in which the divisions of the past — divisions that still haunt and influence us today — no longer exercise such a powerful hold on us, a culture in which "black" and "white" are merely inaccurate shorthand references to skin color and nothing else?