2018/05/03

They Get It


Reader anonme proves that wise men only speak when they have something to say in this comment on yesterday's post:
I generally stay out of your essays on liberty, freedom, individuals et al, but I'll chime in briefly. I've long had a theory that you have abandoned conventional politics, instead making your political decisions based on religious grounds. (I'm not knocking it, that my current 'political' affiliation, hence the theory. God's word has a much better track record.) This essay seems lend my theory some weight. 
I've also noticed your political arguments instead seem to be theological arguments. Which can throw the unprepared for a loop, as many see politics and religion as separate things. That, and I think most people aren't prepared to argue theology with a catholic theologian.
Finally! Someone gets it. You'd think the others would take the hint when they ask me what my political affiliation is, and I tell them, "I don't have a political affiliation. I'm Catholic."

Commenter Durandel also shows that he's been paying attention:
That said, for Catholics who are political Conservatives or are Liberals, I do get annoyed when they play the wheesle words of “I’m not Liberal or Conservative, I’m Catholic.” They are lying. Brian isn’t because he actually is not in either camp.
Liberalism is just as intrinsically opposed to Christianity as Communism. The Liberals were smarter, though. Instead of trying to stamp out the Church, which usually leads to a massive backlash, Liberals instituted "freedom of religion". This alleged right soon devolved into "freedom of worship"--a seemingly small yet hugely significant change. What they did was technically allow the practice of Christianity while putting up myriad subtle safeguards to keep the practice of the faith from mattering in the public sphere.

Properly understood, faith is not in the same domain as or in competition with politics. That's not to say they're entirely separate. Religion transcends and is prior to politics. One's participation in public life should be informed by faith.

It should be noted that our society is so decadent and our political system so dysfunctional that discussing purely political solutions is practically a non-starter. We need to rebuild something resembling a society before we can worry about how to organize it.
A satisfying conclusion to an epic series.
The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier

27 comments:

  1. Brian
    So you're a two sworder. You do telegraph that position rather clearly on your cultural posts.
    The church's role isn't to be a parallel power structure but to provide the bread which man truly lives by. Of course the church doesn't totally isolate itself from politics but by the living bread it provides both build a culture that's not only at peace but in sync with the Ultimate Reality.

    xavier

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    1. Think of it like architecture, Xavier. If the material you have to build is nothing more than cow dung, then it does not matter what you build with it: office, house or cathedral, it’s still a pile of dung.

      You want to build a beautiful cathedral? Then you need to get good material. Politics is architecture design, faith is the materials.

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    2. Thanks your images ties very nicely with Jesus' parable of the houses built on sand and rock.

      xaviee

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  2. I don't comment either but I've noticed that a lot of this, including the argument with Misha, comes down to the re-definition of liberty.

    The Old Definition:
    The freedom to act according to one's nature (you don't make yourself so you can't define your own nature).

    The Enlightenment Re-Definition:
    The freedom to act according to personal conscience. (Restated: The freedom to do what you want - because people have the capacity to choose what they think is right and wrong that means personal conscience can be formed by the will which is not tethered to anything.)

    The problem with a lot of people, including Misha, is that they don't see that not only do these definitions conflict, they war against each other. In fact the second can be reduced to Non Servum. The trick to understand is that the definition of what is good has been moved from an external *authority* to an internal one. See: "I disagree with the Church's teaching on divorce/contraception/etc." Who gave you the right to have an opinion on the nature of Good? That was Adam & Eve's sin in Eden. In any system of hierarchical bonds and obligations eventually someone is going to say that some duty they have doesn't conform with their own conscience (read will) and therefor declare obedience to be immoral. Since part the sovereign's job is to enforce the common good he will side with someone who is violating his/her obligations that conflict with their will or perpetrating an act that is in accordance with their will.

    In practice this means that when a teenage boy is peer-pressured to become gender-queer in school and the parents punish the boy for this behavior the state declares the parents child-abusers because they are trying to force a principle on to the child which conflicts with his personal conscience and that forced principle is that he should act according to his nature - a boy. So in order for the boy to become free by the second definition he must become a slave by the first.

    There's another, perhaps even worse, aspect to this and that is the innate human antipathy to chaos. By chaos I don't mean dis-order I mean non-order where anything could happen at any time and there is no predictive ability whatsoever. The more free (according to definition #2) a society is the more chaotic it will become which means that people will be more and more willing to give power to the sovereign in order to bring order to the chaos that they have themselves created resulting in the paradox that the more free a society is the more tyrannical it is.

    The ultimate irony is that the most effective means a libertarian has to achieve his goals is to stop being a libertarian.

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    1. "I don't comment either but I've noticed that a lot of this, including the argument with Misha, comes down to the re-definition of liberty."

      Who knew there were so many geniuses lurking on this blog? You guys should comment more often.

      To amplify your excellent comments, Liberalism/Libertarianism can be boiled down to an equivocation that erases the line between liberty and license. Liberty is the freedom to do what you should. License is the ability to do what you want. As you pointed out, our understanding of freedom has been reduced to the latter. As I explained to Misha, such a concept of freedom is inextricably bound to moral relativism.

      "The more free (according to definition #2) a society is the more chaotic it will become which means that people will be more and more willing to give power to the sovereign in order to bring order to the chaos that they have themselves created resulting in the paradox that the more free a society is the more tyrannical it is."

      An elegant phrasing of the conclusion James Kalb reached in The Tyranny of Liberalism, which I've presented less succinctly here before.

      The disorder is compounded by the fact that Liberals pay lip service to primacy of personal conscience, but as Kalb notes, they do in fact have a set of right and wrong answers. They will champion a mentally disturbed boy's decision to mutilate himself, but they will staunchly oppose a sane woman's decision to serve her husband, make a home, and bear children.

      "The ultimate irony is that the most effective means a libertarian has to achieve his goals is to stop being a libertarian."

      That's excellent rhetoric, because it's true. I'm well-acquainted with more than one former libertarian who's reached the same conclusion.

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    2. Brian,
      I've often heard the observation that the moment you become a parent is when you stop being a libertarian.

      I don't know how accurate it is but I was always struck by it.
      We need to reacquaint ourselves with St Augustine's concept of ordered liberty and apply it to today's context.

      xavier

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    3. We agree that the source of all moral truth is God. We agree that the fallen nature of human beings means that we fall short in our comprehension of and obedience to that truth.

      Where we disagree is in where the ultimate responsibility for our lack of conformity to God's law lies.

      You say that sometimes a man will deliberately misinterpret the revealed truth of scripture to justify his own corrupt actions, and that is true.

      But I will point out the a man who wears an ecclesiastical collar, miter, or stole is no less prone to human frailty than any other.

      I will disagree with the Church's position when the Church is wrong. Will you?

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    4. @ Anon - I second Brian. That was great, comment more please!

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    5. @Misha - Do you ever bother to think and review before you hit that submit button? Because your thin attempt at reframing your argument comes off as disingenuous, and your redefinition of Brian’s is just criminal.

      Why are you incapable of debating in clear terms?

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    6. @Misha
      Let me make this more explicit. Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they thought God's decree that they ought not to violated their personal conscience. Get it?

      "I will disagree with the Church's position when the Church is wrong. Will you?"

      This highlights my point even more. The Church by its nature is incapable of error because its protected by the Holy Spirit. By this I don't mean whatever the men who sit in the office say I'm talking about the cannon's and decrees - the official doctrines (such as on divorce, contraception, etc.). If I disagree with the church on articles of faith or morals I am wrong. It is not an authority given to men to decide for ourselves what is good, instead we have an obligation to form our conscience in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

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    7. Further as I said before, the morality of our actions is inseparable from our nature. To act against your nature is always immoral - see natural law - and we do not have the ability to change our own nature, as much as many today wish we could.

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    8. "The Church by its nature is incapable of error because its protected by the Holy Spirit."

      Give the man a cigar!

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    9. I have worked for a Catholic university for about fifteen years now, and I attend a lot of meetings that are opened with a prayer. Never once have I heard "Take up your cross and follow Christ."

      Instead, I hear a lot of "Worship the Goddess within you" and "Give us the grace to tolerate out neighbors no matter what."

      While the Catholic Church in America may pay occasional lip service to Scriptural principles, I've noticed that an awful lot of the politicians who keep voting to fund Planned Parenthood claim membership in the Catholic Church. If I were sharing a communion rail with the likes of Nancy Pelosi and the Kennedy family I would not presume to lecture others on moral relativism.

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    10. I see that my reply was uncharitable. The Catholic Church, like most churches, does more good than harm. But it is still a human institution, and hence can be in error. God's chosen prophets could err, the apostles ordained by Christ himself could err. I believe that the Holy Spirit operates throughout history and can inspire today as much as in the past, and I am willing to admit the possibility of Divine inspiration being granted to persons within the Catholic Church, but I cannot accept that all doctrinal statements made with papal authority are so inspired. What's more, I feel that the whole of Scripture adures us to test the words of anyone claiming to speak for God with evidence, Scripture, and our own reason.

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    11. "I see that my reply was uncharitable."

      Absolvo te.

      "But it is still a human institution..."

      No, it is the Mystical Body of Christ, which has human members with Jesus as its head.

      "and hence can be in error."

      Not in regard to doctrines on matters of faith and morals.

      "God's chosen prophets could err, the apostles ordained by Christ himself could err."

      See the previous answer.

      "I cannot accept that all doctrinal statements made with papal authority are so inspired."

      Good, because the Church does not teach, and has never taught, that the pope's every doctrinal statement is infallible.

      The dogma of papal infallibility from the first Vatican Council stipulates that to enjoy freedom from error, the Holy Father must deliberately speak ex cathedra as Supreme Pontiff on a matter of faith and/or morals to solemnly define a particular doctrine. These conditions have only been met twice in 2000 years.

      The Church ordinarily exercises her infallible teaching authority in the form of solemn doctrinal definitions handed down by ecumenical councils. These include the dogma of papal infallibility itself and the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, which your appeal to Scripture rests on. NB: I'm glad you hold the liturgy manual we put together in duly high regard. You're welcome.

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    12. Now I'm really confused. What, exactly, are you claiming is innerrent in Catholic doctrine?

      In particular I would like to know if the Church officially affirms the existence of Purgatory, the effectiveness of intercessory prayers directed to saints, and the status of Mary as co-redeemer of mankind.

      Are any or all of those part of Catholic doctrine, and if they are, are they the inerrant part or the fallible part?

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    13. Clearing up confusion on matters of faith is my vocation. You may want to grab a beverage. I'll try to keep this simple, but we're gonna go deep, here.

      First we need to know what the sources of Catholic teaching are. Christianity is a revealed religion. Divine revelation comes to the Church through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Together, these are called the Deposit of Faith. Really, though, Scripture is Tradition in written form, so there's a unity and continuity between them. By definition, divine revelation is God's self-disclosure to His creation. God cannot err, so divine revelation is free of error. Thus Scripture and Tradition are inerrant.

      Because divine revelation was given to men who *are* fallible, from the beginning, God appointed men to lead His people and made them the authentic interpreters of revelation. This leadership role follows an unbroken line of succession from Adam to Abraham to Moses to David to Christ, with many in-between.

      The age of general revelation ended with the death of Jesus' last Apostle. However, God's people still need an authentic, authoritative interpreter of the completed body of revelation (i.e. the Deposit of Faith). Jesus, well aware of this need, established a visible Church with Himself as its Head. He delegated His teaching authority to His Apostles, and they have passed that same authority on to their successors, the order of bishops. The college of the Apostles' successors, who exercise Christ's own authority to interpret the Deposit of Faith, is called the Magisterium. When the Magisterium solemnly and officially defines a particular teaching on faith and morals, that dogma must be considered inerrant, since the Magisterium does not speak on its own authority, but on behalf of Christ.

      Now, let's look at the three levels of Catholic teaching: discipline, doctrine, and dogma.

      -Discipline: Think of a discipline as a policy. Disciplines can be subject to change. They are not necessarily inerrant. Priestly celibacy is a discipline that did not always exist and could change in the future. Likewise the injunction to abstain from meat on Fridays.

      -Doctrine: Doctrines are teachings on matters of faith and morals on which Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium have been consistent throughout the ages. Doctrines bind Catholics in conscience. That abortion is murder is a Church doctrine.

      -Dogma: A dogma is a theological line in the sand. While the Church embraces freedom of discussion on unsettled matters, a dogmatic definition settles all debate on a matter of faith and morals. Dogmatic definitions occur only rarely, and have historically come about in response to heated controversies over particular doctrines. So, a dogma can be thought of as an official, binding clarification of a doctrine.

      Dogmatic definitions can happen in two ways. The ordinary method of defining dogmas is by an official act of the whole Magisterium convened in an ecumenical council. The aptly named dogmatic constitutions issued by these councils contain dogmatic definitions. For example, Dei verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from Vatican II, solemnly defines the infallibility and inerrancy of Sacred Scripture.

      The extraordinary form of dogmatic definition occurs when the Pope, speaking as head of the Magisterium, solemnly and intentionally defines a particular doctrine. The whole Magisterium dogmatically defined this "Dogma of Papal Infallibility" at the First Vatican Council. Two such extraordinary dogmatic definitions have taken place: Pius IX's solemn definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception in 1854 and Pius XII's 1950 definition of Mary's Assumption into heaven.

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    14. "In particular I would like to know if the Church officially affirms the existence of Purgatory, the effectiveness of intercessory prayers directed to saints, and the status of Mary as co-redeemer of mankind."

      The existence of Purgatory = dogma.

      The effectiveness of intercessory prayer = dogma.

      Mary's role as co-redemptrix = doctrine, not yet dogmatically defined.

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  3. Thank you. What is your advice to someone who finds that dogma contradicts what his own reason tells him? Would say that he should forsake reason in favor of accepting the authority of the Church?

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    1. You're welcome.

      First, I sympathize with your position. Every Catholic has struggled with Church teaching from time to time. Even people who knew Jesus during His earthly ministry were seriously challenged when He personally defined the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, for example.

      It may help to keep this in mind: Dogma is not anti-rational. Instead, dogma defines the boundaries within which rational discourse can take place.

      You can't play baseball without a clearly demarcated diamond. The bases, foul lines, strike zone, etc. are "dogmas' of baseball.

      As we've been discussing in this series, the main problem preventing rational discourse today is that Enlightenment thinkers, Moderns, and Postmoderns have turned what was a well-defined game where everybody knew the rules into Calvinball.

      It can also help to reflect on the fact that revelation comes from God, and God is Logos. He isn't just rational, He is super-rational. Truth cannot contradict truth. If the conclusions of one's human reason are in tension with one Church teaching or another, the proper response is humility and the docility to seek clarification.

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    2. I simply don't have any evidence that Church dogma is anything more than human reason, sometimes accurate and sometimes not. If something seems to me to be irrational and contrary to Scripture (as the examples I alluded to above) the simplest explanation is that the Church is wrong.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I don't see any evidence for Church innerence.

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    3. "If something seems to me to be irrational and contrary to Scripture (as the examples I alluded to above) the simplest explanation is that the Church is wrong."

      If the Church's dogmas can be wrong, then there's no reason to trust Scripture since the Bible as we know it is a direct result of Church councils making dogmatic definitions.

      "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence..."

      Glib rhetoric--which would be fine if we weren't engaged in dialectic and if it weren't false. Claims require evidence. "Extraordinary" has no objective value in this regard.

      "I don't see any evidence for Church innerence."

      You accept the Bible, which was canonized by acts of the Magisterium, as valid evidence; so that's obviously not the case.

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    4. The fact that the Church has accepted the canon of Scripture does not imply that everything else they accept is true.

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    5. Weasel word alert. The Church did not "accept" the canon of Scripture. She _defined_ the canon of Scripture. Acknowledging they got that right does in fact imply that every Magisterial definition is true, because being a little infallible is like being a little pregnant.

      If you don't trust the Church on intercessory prayer, there's no reason to trust her on the Bible. There is, in fact, no reason to trust the Bible.

      See what you're doing? You're picking and choosing which essentials of the faith to believe in based on your own personal criteria. It's not that you don't believe in Magisterial authority. You just think it resides with you.

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    6. "It's not that you don't believe in Magisterial authority. You just think it resides with you."

      That is exactly right. Or rather, not just with me, but with you and every other believer.

      That is the essential divide between us.

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  4. I've just found my newest most favorite site on the Internet. Adding you to my blogroll, and subscribing.

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