Friday, March 31, 2006

The purpose of marriage (appendix)

I had a fascinating discussion with one of my quasi-bosses today. He came over from India the better part of two decades ago. Somehow, our conversation turned to the sad marital statistics in this country these days. Being an old-school Hindu, his marriage was arranged with a woman he didn't even know at the time.

Such marriages, while not unheard of here, are quite alien to most homegrown Americans. Who could imagine leaving such an important decision to the judgment of, well, anyone else?

It's certainly intimidating, but in India, trust and obedience are still more highly valued than they are here, so I'm sure there's a lot less angst about ending up with someone who turns out to be a bad match, and while parents sometimes make bad calls, I imagine the rate of bad matches revealing themselves in the first five years of marriage is probably far lower than 50%. They have fights now and then, too, but occasional marital stress just makes them normal, like the rest of us. Somehow, they keep on keepin' on.

I think there's something to this old school stuff, and I don't mean the higher stigma of divorce, although there's something to be said for being reluctant to just give up when things get tougher than you expect.

Imagine yourself being presented with a marriage arrangement. The people who know you best have selected someone for you to build a life with, someone brought in by the people who know her or him best, someone who has the same expectations and reservations. While you may lack the motivation to bond of a preexisting relationship, you also lack the illusion that whatever feelings you happen to have right now constitute all the foundation and effort needed to make a marriage work. You're not going into it just to up the ante on commitment as a sign of love. You're not going into it just looking for a legal rubber stamp on whatever you're already doing with your girlfriend or boyfriend.

What you are doing is going into marriage knowing what its purpose is. Sure, Americans might have a head start on the unitive angle, in practice if not in principle, but people like my quasi-boss harbor few to no misconceptions about the importance of the procreative angle.

I'm not saying we have to start arranging all our marriages, but I think we could learn something about the way the marital priorities are emphasized. Something all too easily forgotten in western society.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Not even original garbage

Okay, maybe "garbage" is unfair. I suppose that, blurred historical details aside, Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code is decent enough pulp. Then again, I've read other books I'm willing to say are less entertaining than Left Behind, so take it for what it's worth.

Anyway, as you know by now, Dan Brown's up for plagiarism, and to the purpose of his defense he issued a statement, which reads in part:

Being raised Christian and having sung in my church choir for 15 years, I am well aware that Christ’s Crucifixion (and ultimate Resurrection) serves as the very core of the Christian faith. It is the promise of life everlasting and that which makes Jesus ‘the Christ’. The Resurrection is perhaps the sole controversial Christian topic about which I would not desire to write; suggesting a married Jesus is one thing, but questioning the Resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief.

I'll parse the choir comment as a sign of devotion to the church, and not a claim to expertise.

I have to wonder what else Brown would actually be willing to write about if he considers the Resurrection to be "controversial." There's a respectable precedent for calling the Crucifixion a "scandal," which might qualify as a controversy of sorts, but is there anyone out there who thinks the jury's still out on the matter of Easter, whom orthodox Christians need concern themselves with?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Now a member of the B-Team!

By now you've probably noticed my Amateur Catholic graphic off to the right, there. I would have posted on it sooner, but, you know.

Rick Lugari, head honcho of the Amateur Catholic blogroll et al, said it was heartening to hear "'dirty papist' being muttered through clenched teeth in [his] direction." I agree, although my confrontations usually end with shocked disbelief. Actually, Rick's word was "heatening," but I presume he meant "heartening," although I confess I still sometimes take it personally when Mother Church is insulted in my presence.

I figured I qualified because the quality of my scholarship isn't terribly impressive. Maybe our good Mister Lugari would have been more impressed with my completely vacant list of regular readers. (; Eh, my work's modest enough to qualify, apparently. Now, if only I could say the same thing about my attitude....

Monday, March 20, 2006


The Shrine of the Holy Whapping (see link in sidebar) recently posted an article about the Ebenezer Lutheran Church (aka Her Church). I'd heard about their "goddess rosary" but wasn't going to comment, until I saw this video.

The church seems very communal and group-building, neither of which is a bad thing of itself. You'll notice they don't have any footage of liturgical activity until approximately halfway through the video; I'm not sure if it's designed to sort of warm up the viewers with a montage of cheery social images before showcasing a priestess saying what looks like a mass slanted towards the "sacred feminine" or...not.

I'm not sure if they and Dan Brown are cut from the same cloth or one inspired the other's ecclesial schema or if it's a coincidence. I'm leaning towards a fad rationale.

I think my favorite part was the "active liturgy" on the part of the laity during worship; it wasn't just folks from the pews taking the place of the priestess during the blessing of the bread and what appeared to be merely water, like a cynic would expect in this post-conciliar era, but kids playing musical instruments, making drums and mosaics, and adults going on "photo treks." Maybe the treks were for something else.

Quoth the pastor (maybe I shouldn't call her a priestess, what with being nominally Lutheran):

Ebenezer Lutheran Church, which is also known as Her Church, has taken it upon itself to integrate the heart of feminism and Christianity, which we believe really are interchangeable.

Is true feminism, in essence, compatible with Christianity? Certainly. Is it interchangeable with Christianity? Uh, no; it's severely lacking. In today's postmodern era, I don't think you can turn a gender-based demographic struggle philosophy into a religion until you add the dimension of race-based struggle.

My least favorite part is touched on in the Holy Whapping combox. Drew of the Shrine had accused these Protestants of worshipping Mary, and a commenter disagreed, pointing to a total absence of references to the BVM, Mary Magdalene, or Martha. True, there are no explicit references to the honored women in our tradition at Ebenezer's web site, but in the video they have a brief clip of a recitation of whatever they turned the Hail Mary into, referring to a "goddess full of grace" and the "Holy Cosmic Mother of the Risen Christ."

I think the case for a critically blurred line can be made.

The other thing I want to know is where a congregation that small got such a large and well-appointed church.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

News to me...

Apparently "homosexual" is no longer an acceptable term for people with same-sex attraction. This change in preference in the SSA community strikes me as odd, since historically it's a pretty clinical, neutral term, but apparently there are some who will argue with me over both my impression and my use of the word "clinical," since the American Psychiatric Assocation declared some time ago that SSA is not to be classified as a diagnosable mental disorder, but just as another expression of humanity, part of that great diversity that comprises the human species. Maybe it's not a widespread change of acceptable nomenclature, I only heard the assertion made once--I mean, the one about the change in preferred terminology; the APA bit I heard once before, not even a year ago, yet the source I have at hand says the APA published the decision in 1973--although I've been hearing "queer" used a little bit more lately than I did in the past, and the alphabet soup that covers for Gay, Lesbian, Other, Etc. keeps getting richer, but maybe I'm seeing two largely unrelated phenomena.

Excuse me while I dial my credulity and respect for the APA down a few notches.

It's not diagnosable? Is the APA trying to say it's not a distinct condition they should be identifying, even though the symptoms are obvious, at least to the person with SSA? Having SSA might be something worth factoring in during your observations or diagnosis of someone coming to see you as a psychologist, wouldn't it? The only alternative reading I can think of is that they mean it's not actually a disorder, which still wouldn't it make it a nonissue on the couch.

Isn't it a disorder, though? Is being disinclined to form species-perpetuating dyads a legitimate and natural variation in the phenome, an expression of a normal genotype (if it's genetic after all)? We're not talking about a trivial trait like hair color, or something you can chalk up to shyness. We're talking about something as functionally basic to being human as being born without testes or a uterus. Maybe it's neurochemical instead of anatomical (which would still be biochemical in origin, in all likelihood), maybe it's environmental like long-term abuse from a family member, but either way, it's a condition that yields no offspring, and all these other cases qualify as problems to be solved, or managed, so why is homosexuality excepted?

Producing offspring is part of any orthodox (ah, maybe there's my problem--I'm trying to be concrete and consistent) definition of life. Some may elect not to procreate, or may be prevented by external circumstances, but an inherent inability to do so, either physical or mental, logically must be disordered, medically as well as morally.

Why not just define diabetes or bipolar disorder as undiagnosable conditions? Maybe these conditions bring something good to the table. After all, folks with sickle cell anemia boast a higher resistance to malaria.

Oh, wait. SCA still has its own concrete drawbacks, as do radical shifts in mood and blood sugar.

Who's making these decisions? Do we also want to stop referring to people in hospitals as patients, and calling their illnesses diseases or vice-versa, in order to empower them to feel like nothing's wrong?

We all have our debilitating features. Some more than others, some more obvious than others. Saying it ain't so doesn't make it otherwise.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Prayer request

My dad got the results of a CT scan for colon cancer yesterday. He was diagnosed almost a year and a half ago, had surgery the Thanksgiving before last, and responded really well to chemotherapy. Three months ago he had a scan and it was clear--everyone was ready to say it was an actual cure, not just a hopeful case of remission. The most recent scan showed multiple spots on the liver (there were a few there originally, but they all were removed or had disappeared during chemo) around an inch across.

We don't know what it all means, especially after his recovery that even impressed the doctors, but his bloodwork also came back as abnormal, so it's probably not just an image artifact. We'll find out more when he actually goes to meet with his doctor, which I think is tomorrow.

Every prayer you'd be willing to throw our way would be most appreciated. If you want to trade special intentions with me, feel free to follow up with a prayer request for whatever's on your mind and heart, and I ask everyone reading to pray for you, too.
Arguments for abortion I've seen just this week, numbered for your convenience:

  1. "[Pro-lifers] do not care that the landmark ruling [of Roe] has stood for over 30 years. Nor do they care that its overturn could threaten the legitimacy of the institution where a change in decision would clearly be due to a change in membership."
  2. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers tend to argue on a superficial level--how frequent abortions are, the demographics of who has them, and how the fetus/embryo/blastocyst appears. The real issue is when the fetus, etc. becomes a human person entitled to equal protection before the law.
  3. Newly fertilized ova are biological entities with human DNA in the same way as unfertilized gametes. Fertilization does not make it a person. A kidney cell contains the full genetic code of a person, so why isn't it considered a human being?
  4. Personhood does not begin at the advent of any milestone in development, like when the heart starts beating or when the child begins to "look like a child." After all, personhood is not lost by grossly disfiguring accidents or debilitating diseases, or temporarily suspended during a heart transplant.
  5. Humans that are merely fertilized ova are not persons, and claims that they are human persons because their human DNA prevents them from becoming anything else falls flat, for no one denies it.
  6. Failed implantation of zygotes is morally equivalent to voluntary abortion, so why aren't we focusing on all those tragically killed innocent humans?

Responses, respectively numbered for your convenience:

  1. Abolitionists did not much care for the "landmark rulings" on Dred Scott or Plessey, nor were they interested in the preservation of the institution of slavery, nor did they feel that if the membership of SCOTUS continued to favor institutionalized servitude, then they should have just given up.
  2. Arguing about how "human" an embryo looks may be superficial, but many people continue to judge a book by its cover ("If it just looks like a blob of cells, then it can't be a person"). See item #4.
  3. A gamete may contain demonstrably human DNA, but it only contains half of what it's supposed to. Thus, it either lacks the discrete humanity of a zygote, or it's some kind of haploid miracle or it falls far short of viability and miscarriage before abortion could even be considered is all but a certainty. A kidney cell, as the kidney containing it, is by definition part of the whole, not the whole of an entity. Removing a kidney does not dehumanize a person; the zygote is not an interchangeable part of a person, but can only be removed as a whole (indeed, there is no way to remove part of it without great risk of destruction) from the mother. There's nothing to distinguish it from, as a kidney cell can be distinguished from the whole organ or organism, except the entire mother. Some philosopher must have already tried to make or disprove arguments of this form, of what constitutes a part versus an essence. Anyone care to point me that way? Bueller?
  4. I'm surprised by this point. Most people pick the detection of brain activity for their arbitrary criterion of personhood. I wonder how many of them consider pets to be people. A good point is raised, though: humanity is not lost with a decrease in our ability to judge a human by sight. What are we left with, though? We have to choose either conception, or an arbitrary point based on such things as viability or risk to the mother, and neither of the latter is particularly satisfactory. The former will converge on the moment of conception as technology improves--and we've already shown conception to be possible through externally applied technology--so it doesn't have any inherent ethical capacity. The latter will also decrease as technology improves, but it leaves unanswered the question of whether we're pitting the rights and responsibilities of a pregnant woman against anyone else's rights, so this point is contingent on other arguments, none of which I find moving, as you can imagine.
  5. No one denies it because such a ridiculous claim would comprise too direct a means of forfeiting the debate on the account of psychosis. This claim isn't a stand-alone argument; "I say you're wrong, because no one disagrees with your proof, which I will not believe is valid." An alternative criterion for humanity or personhood is still needed.
  6. I don't know how to stop the famines in Africa, either. Should I then not volunteer at the local soup kitchen? Maybe my example should be reversed--I have no idea how many zygotes are miscarried versus the number of abortions. Either way, there is a world of difference between failing, being unable, to prevent deaths, even a lot of them, and deliberately killing someone, innocent or otherwise.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Let me follow up...

Why's it matter, anyway? Don't people, at least in America, have the right to determine the direction and content of their own lives, even if they do make mistakes?

Sure. A diabetic also has the right to eat as much sugar straight from the bag as he could want. A blind man has the right to drive (well, the same entitlement to the privilege of driving as a sighted man; driving on public roads isn't a right) A woman has the right to be a priest.


American jurisprudence may have a few things to suss out, but it's not the hook we hang this meat on. We all have certain capacities, certain charisms, and lack others. A mildly diabetic man could get by without medication if he didn't want to eat more sugar than he could stand, but he's not capable of reducing to the significantly different question of tooth decay like a man who happens to have a healthy pancreas. A blind man, through extraordinary hearing, might do a better job of keeping a car between the curbs than the many people who deposit their own vehicles in ditches, around trees, and all over other vehicles every day, but they're in no position to make an attempt under common circumstances. A woman may be highly capable of being a spiritual shepherd, but it's not an accident that Rome considers itself lacking the authority to extend Orders to them. In fact, we all lack the authority to circumvent the circumstances of our being by philosophical or legal fiat. Rights and privileges aren't a factor, it's the metaphysical authority, not simply the permission to exercise temporal power in an apparently similar way.

What about adoption, as long as we're here?

Homosexual couples might do a better job of raising kids than some heterosexual parents, estranged or together, but they're incapable of demonstrating the fullness of humanity in the way that a man and a woman as the primary parental figures in a child's life can.

Being gay isn't hurting anyone else, so why should I care, right? Okay, it doesn't really impact my life if you're gay, unless one of us chooses to make it so, but the same argument is made for smoking (I refuse to hold the marginal increase in my insurance rates over the heads of smokers), and no one really pretends that people make it to show that it's not actually harmful. It doesn't show it is harmful, either, but you don't get to use that argument for raising children until you show it isn't.

Oh, you say you have the right to raise your children as you see fit? Yes, you do, within other limits you won't disparage, but they're not your children.

Marriage isn't about having kids anyway, remember?

The purpose of marriage

What is it?

Well, there are two: union and procreation. The latter is often downplayed or trivialized by apologists for gay marriage, for obvious reasons, although I realize that the distinction between the inherent sterility of a homosexual union, and the apparent sterility of the union between a man and woman who are aged or have a medical condition, can be hard to appreciate.

Earlier this evening I read a critique of "conservative" marital policy that I found tellingly sad. None of the material was new to me, but it was pretty well capsulized, which you may have deduced by now is something I find motivating. It's not the best case I've found of "I'm so openminded I must be right, and evidence to the contrary is actually evidence of a conspiracy and/or the exception that proves the rule, just like all the other exceptions," but it was convenient.

The thesis was basically that the definition of marriage has been the volleyball of elitist, xenophobic, bigoted politicians throughout history, especially Christian ones as far as those of us in western culture are concerned. Things like "binding young girls from one family to some old man from another." I guess the unwashed masses only practiced the sort of informal marriage that secular progressives teach...oh, except that those relationships were usually based around love and an expectation of children (wait, those ideas are a "Judeo-Christian innovation," which makes it the oldest concept too progressive for modern minds to accept), instead of pragmatic statesmanship and perhaps the production of a single heir, like the far less frequent political marriages that are far more important because of their rarity. Is my irony showing yet?

I was amused to see the procreation criterion being disproven by the halo effect. "Conservatives," especially "good" Christian ones, used to have miscegenation laws for social control, not because Jews or blacks couldn't interbreed with whites and therefore shouldn't try; thus, homosexuals are only prohibited from marrying because someone wants to hold them down, not because it doesn't benefit society in any graceful way.

Well, I don't think it's up to you, me, or anyone in particular to decide exactly what function other peoples' marriages should serve.

I think someone's trying to make just such a decision. You know, I don't think anyone should decide what function roads or courts or skirt steaks are for, either. It should be a decision left to Other Individuals, and you should be careful in case you make a decision for yourself that Other Individuals don't like. We're so locked down by our cultural preconceptions. Maybe we can be like the beatniks and throw off our cultural preconceptions about hygeine, too. They were so free, their doctors had to virtually turn to the history books to diagnose diseases that were thought to be moot, if not actually eradicated.

This line of thought came from ISCA, if it matters to anyone. Well, the beatnik bit was my own embellishment, but I only borrowed it from somewhere else. I used to be impressed with the level of discourse, once the edges were worn off the novelty of people arguing with their intellectual equals and it was no longer just obnoxious flaming, but now most of the discussion is between caricatures of the impressive personas I remembered. Maybe I'm outgrowing it. I hope so. I'd rather burn bandwidth and wetware on something actually important, although in some ways it's a convenient microcosm whose pulse I can keep my thumb on.

I've still never seen a good reason why gay marriage should not be allowed.

Why do I have the feeling this guy never will, either?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A modest theory

Consider the decrease in vocations in America that appears to coincide with the decrease in serious respect for canon law and even some of the coarser points of theology that should have stuck with American Catholics after they finish their run through CCD.

Some suggest that the lukewarm, even blase lay attitudes about the church in this country, and the progressive, banal (insert your own adjectives) execution of liturgy and ecclesial and pastoral work have resulted in a decrease in the number of men recognizing and accepting priestly vocations.

I submit that it may in fact be the other way around. Maybe the priest shortage isn't a symptom of a church that's adrift, a church that would be heretical if it were honestly serious about the oddities advocated in the pulpit or demonstrated before the altar. Maybe the priest shortage is the medicine for it.

The problems with the Church in America are not limited to its parishes, nor to its dioceses. Heterodox and ambivalent pastors by and large come from seminaries that encourage moral and factual relativism and such. If it were my job to make priests and dole out other vocations, I would be making arrangements to minimize the enrollment at deviant or disobedient centers of formation.

Maybe that guest on NPR who thought the Church, if it couldn't survive the sex abuse scandal, would be replaced by something better, was half right after all. Just replace "the Church" with "the church in America" and read "something better" as "the Catholic Church."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Sorrowful Mysteries

1. The Agony in the Garden

Jesus, taking a few of the Apostles with Him, went into the garden and prayed until He sweat, until He was clearly in anguish. Jesus boldly prayed to be spared His Passion, but submitted His will to that of the Father's. This mystery, along with the crowning with thorns and carrying of the cross, reflect the necessity of sacrifice, of service unto pain and death--suffering brought upon a king by his needful subjects, in their need for more than administration and leadership--for those who look to Christ as savior and king, and for those who look to us as Christians to guide and be an example to.

2. The Scourging at the Pillar

Our sins consign to us guilt and punishment, both temporal and eternal. While Pilate had Jesus whipped to satisfy the baser appetites of the mob rather than out of a properly motivated sense of justice, it shows us that we should not expect a free ride through life, and that justice is not extinguished by love and mercy, even though our salvation was brought to us gratuitously. Christ calls us all to mortifications of a sort, and asks us all to be like Simon of Cyrene in some way.

3. The Crowning with Thorns

In one of the cruelest parodies of His ministry, the Romans mocked Him and placed a crown of thorns upon his head. God is strongest in the weak, however, and confounds the proud by raising up the meek. The Romans acknowledge in a backhanded way Christ's kingship of the humble, the downtrodden, the ones who will be subjects in the only kingdom that matters. The king of the weak, and the king of the Jews, is also the king of kings.

4. The Carrying of the Cross

Christ carried His burden--our burdens, our sins, us--to Golgotha, because only He could. Simon's reluctant aid doubly reflects Christ sharing with us His Passion, as He will share His union with the Father with us in heaven, and the stilling of our own concupiscence.

5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus

Christ was rejected by the world but still saved it. He was the sacrifice, and through the instrumentality of the Romans, also the priest. We cannot save ourselves, and will only crucify God (which, without His resurrection, will leave only us as the dead ones) when left to our own devices, but God deigns to work through us, out of love and as a sign of the good we're supposed to do for each other.