Thursday, October 30, 2003

Seriously, now, I really am going away.

To China on a secret mission. Pray for us. Back 11/15/03 or so.
Uh, if you say so.

This site is certified 59% GOOD by the Gematriculator
Can't Help It . . . Must Blog . . . .

Courtesy of Dale Price's Dyspeptic Mutterings, we see one of Andrew Sullivan's readers proving there's a synapse shortage on the Left. He or she writes the following regarding Terri Schiavo's case:
There is an aspect of the case, however, that I have not seen discussed. It seems to me that in attacking the husband's decision, the religious right has also attacked one of the key aspects of marriage. Part of marriage is that our spouse is supposed to be able to speak for us in medical and other areas when we are not able. It is one of the rights that gay and lesbian couples so justly demand. Clearly, if there were indications of wrong doing or illegal activities the spouse could and should be challenged, but there ares are no such indications in this case that I know of. It does not appear that she created a legal document giving someone other than her husband the power to make these decisions. Where is the outrage from the religious right on this attack on marriage?
And Mr. Sullivan confirms the existence of a seller's market for grey matter among liberals when he replies:
I guess the answer is that life trumps marriage. But their complete insouciance toward Schiavo's husband's rights is telling, I think. Their defense of heterosexual marriage is far more connected to their loathing of homosexuality than with their concern for marriage as such. It's essentially a negative, exclusionary impulse at heart. That's why they're not proposing a Constitutional Amendment to ban divorce, or forbid civil marriage.
You can read the whole exchange here. In addition to suggesting the purchase of liberal brain futures on the commodity market, there are a couple of interesting points here.

Mr. Sullivan's reader acknowledges that Mike Schiavo's wrongdoing would be grounds to intervene in his wife's case against his will, but that "there are no such indications in this case that I know of." Notice, now, that the reader says that all he or she would want are "indications" of wrongdoing. Not "clear and convincing evidence," not "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," just "indications." Well, if "indications" are needed, one could go here,, or here, or here, or here, or here. But however concerned the reader may imagine himself to be, "indications" are in truth neither desired nor interesting. They would hinder the "correct" result -- a guilt free "mercy killing" and useful precedent for what the reader thinks lesbians justly demand from the law. Nelson turned his blind eye to what he didn't want to see. Liberals don't have that kind of straightforward courage. They like to pretend they're "open to the facts," and "concerned for truth and justice," when they really do is pretend that inconvenient facts simply don't exist. (The right does it too, of course, I'm just calling these two on it).

When so-called "Christian extremists" advocate for family rights, urging things as such paternal consent or parental notification for abortions, people in the same camp as Andrew Sullivan and his benighted reader go into Dudgeon Mode and rant about the "patriarchy" regarding women as "chattel." But when the Culture of Death stands to gain a victory, it's suddenly okay for a wife to become a disposable item. The "Christian extremist" position is consistent -- families are to be independent from interference unless a higher law is being violated, and the higher law is formed by the fundamental tenets of Christianity in which, as Mr. Sullivan "guesses," respect for human life does indeed trump a man's desire to starve his wife to death. The left's worldview, however, depends on a total vindication of individual autonomy. That puts liberals in a bind when the individual can't clearly express an autonomous decision; someone has to make the choice, but the left's own ethical framework prohibits anyone from making significant moral choices for others. As the left never tires of telling us when it comes to abortion, homosexuality, or any related matter, "it's Terri's body" and no one has the right to force her to do or not do something with it. Without the integrated framework of Christian moral teaching and its complex but workable balance of human liberty and immutable moral claims, Mr. Sullivan and his reader are left with no other option but to declare Michael Schiavo a paterfamilias with the attendant rights to kill members of his family. This is the thing to notice about liberalism -- its atavistic impulse to return to the worst stages of the social order it pretends to criticize.

We also perceive in this exchange the zealot's affection for frothy, overblown moral claims and judgments which don't conform to any reasonable standard. (The right does this too, I'm just calling these two on it). Notice how blithely Mr. Sullivan and his reader agree that Michael Schiavo's decisions are being "attacked" with a carefree cheerfulness. To make that claim, Mr. Sullivan and his reader first Turn a Milky Eye Toward the Facts, and then ignore the additional fact that the Schindlers are proceeding according to the law, in court, with all its attendant guarantees and protections of individual rights. Now such proceedings aren't considered "insouciant attacks" when the local ACLU chapter is consuming $150,000.00 of a federal court's time to prevent the town of Bugtussle from erecting the Dreaded Nativity Creche. There's a Very Important Principle at stake in that case, of course, while in Mrs. Schiavo's case . . . well, one might "guess" that life trumps marriage, but since neither life nor marriage is a Very Important Principle (how can life be important, if the paterfamilias can extinguish it on a whim, and how can marriage be important, if anyone can marry anyone else?) decency can't accommodate the Schindlers' desire to keep their daughter from being thrown out like one of Mike Schiavo's old razor blades.

I'd conclude from Mr. Sullivan's bizarre intrusion of homosexuality into this situation that Mark Shea is right -- it really is All About Lil' Willie. From a point made about how, for the so-called "Christian right," the right to stay alive trumps the prerogatives of a paterfamilias, Mr. Sullivan leaps to defend homosexuality. Of course Michael Schiavo's right to starve Terri to death is really connected to the ability of homosexuals to marry. The connection is obvious: Once one realizes that homosexuality is the ultimate fact of human existence, one easily sees how the Schiavo case is significant primarily because of its relation to the ultimate fact. Even the position of Christians on issues like divorce or civil marriage is relevant only to the extent it illustrates their perspective on homosexual marriages. It's not as though the questions of how marriage is to be contracted or whether it is to be dissolved are secondary to the question of who, exactly, can be married at all. No, those questions are primarily related to the ultimate fact of human existence -- the right of homosexuals to marry. One wonders if Mr. Sullivan's support for the invasion of Iraq prescinds, in some way, from his belief that only the establishment of American secularism by force of arms can preserve the hope that, some day, Iraqi homosexuals can marry one another.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Unfortunately . . . .

I am going on a secret mission to the People's Republic of China. I will be back in the third week of November. But I haven't forgotten that I owe the following blogs . . . .

(1) to Shawn McElhinney -- the final, crushing blow in my offenseive on "Kneeling and Communion";

(2) to a reader, some commentary on interpreting Church documents viz. obedience;

(3) to a reader, some commentary on extra ecclesiam nulla salus and invicible ignorance;

(4) to Tim Enloe, a dump-truck of stuff on the papacy and history; and,

(5) the final installment of Orestes Brownson and Homosexual Bishops.
Request and Suggestion

This has probably been said before, but I want to ask if people who blog wouldn't mind identifying links to newspaper stories where you have to register with some small note or symbol, like "registration required" or "RR." I hate clicking the link, waiting for the page to load, and then being asked to pour my life's story and my vital statistics into an omnivorous infotainment databank. I curse, then try to put in false info, then get bounced, and go back to the original URL without knowing why "Islamo-Bronze-Aged Cheeze-Whiz Ironically Flouts Papacy."

I do want to read the linked material. But I don't want to tell the New York Times how old I am and my zip code. I don't want to tell the Chicago Tribune my drivers' license number or bank balance. I certainly don't want to give the obviously-deranged people who run major media outlets my email address. Every manual on stalking says you shouldn't give out your name and email address to disturbed people, and if the New York Times's and Washington Post's coverage of Terri Schaivo isn't proof of severe mental imbalance, I'll eat my hat (after telling the San Jose Mercury News what my hat size is, of course). I don't want to help any arm of the Trilateral Commission compile a profile on me and my family so that blue-helmeted stormtroopers can rappel out of a silenced Blackhawk onto my front lawn. Sound a little paranoid to you? Well, maybe there's a tinge of paranoia somewhere in there, I'll admit, but there's another reason I don't want to register.

I'm just too unhelpful and ornery. Don't care if the New York Times can serve its readers better. Not interested in whether the Journal-Constitution can bring timely stories to its readers. Don't want the Bee-Advocate getting more familiar with the reading habits of its audience. Won't sign petitions, either. You need my signature and your cause's in a heap ‘o trouble already, and one more signature will probably bring the total to 15. Won't buy candy from those inner-city boys they bus out to my small town to drum up funds for some "educational trip" to Las Vegas, either.

My ancestors probably ran off revenuers, but now there aren't any revenuers to run off -- the IRS does it all with a few computer-generated letters and an Infinite Options Tree on its telephone system. I have to settle for settin' the hounds on direct marketers, and confrontin' Butterfinger-sellin' thugs on my front porch with a shotgun pointed down, but not too down, ifn' you know what I mean. I figure I'm already targeted by a thousand servers, and that they're fixin' to put a computer chip in my arm so they can tell how many cans of Skoal I buy and tax me on ‘em. Don't need no slick big-city reporter bein' able to look up my hat size, or give GPS coordinates to the Blackhawks circlin' my place.

So would y'all stop me before I redneck again? Put some little notice on your posts, something that tells me I shouldn't click the link unless I want to volunteer for the Malabar Front. That way I can just keep surfing in imaginary anonymity and have fewer Josey Wales moments. Much obliged.

Monday, October 27, 2003

A Note to Jack Cade: "First Thing We Do, is Keep Lawyers in Perspective"

A reader wrote, "Would you mind commenting on something--this whole Terri Schiavo thing has made me just sick, and what I don't understand is why the courts have so much power. They say that in spite of this bill Jeb Bush has just passed, the decision is ultimately going to rest with the courts again. It has been some time since I've read our founding documents, but I don't recall that the judicial branch is supposed to be the final authority--is it? Where does the system of checks and balances ultimately end? And why is it that a governor can at will pardon someone on death row, but he can't simply intervene in this case?

I haven't spent a lot of time blogging about Mrs. Schiavo, partly because of time constraints and partly because all the good guys (like Mark Shea, Lane Core, Dale Price, and Pete Vere, and Fr. Rob Johansen) are doing such a great job exposing one of the greatest moral scandals in American history. Your question, though, is really interesting and it gives me an opportunity to blog about a few things that have been bothering me and which might not have been blogged already.

Most of the blogging features a hostility to judges and lawyers which, I've been interested to find, is pretty common among the parishioners of St. Blog's. Lane Core (who I admire a lot) gives us a typical example in regards to Terri Schiavo. Writing about the ACLU's (entirely predictable) appearance in the case, Lane says:
Note what's really going on here: lawyers are fighting for the continued power of lawyers — that is, those lawyers among them who just happen to have been apotheosized into judges. They are hardly, therefore, disinterested parties: who among them doesn't crave the power a judgeship would bring to him?

And that's what this is about for the ACLU: not the life or death of one woman, but the continued ability of our black-robed masters to impose the Culture of Death — and anything else they desire — onto the rest of us with impunity.
Lane Core, "Lawyers are for the Lawyers." The whole text can be found here.
Lane's not alone. The Mighty Barrister (himself a barrister, who I also admire a lot), describes the behavior of Michael Schiavo's lawyers and says it's "Another Reason I Hate Lawyers." Mark Shea's animus towards the legal profession ("Vampirism . . . The devil wears judicial robes these days . . . . The big winners of the sexual revolution were abandoning males, lawyers and abortionists . . . ") is almost uncontrollable; he keeps posting "I hate lawyers" blogs and then (with commendable chagrin) rewrites (most of) them. (I also admire Mark a lot).

I suppose it's relatively easy for an orthodox Christian, who is by definition alienated from the culture, to perceive the modern regime as a dark conspiracy perpetrated by lawyers, the tyrannizing of a basically-decent and God-fearing people by an invading army of pinstriped Uruk-Hai. If children want to pray in schools, lawyers forbid it. If parents want God taught in science classes, a judge forbids it. When good people want to keep helpless innocents like Terri Schiavo or millions of unborn babies alive, lawyers sue them. The law, it often seems, is like an iron cage keeping America from its rebirth as a Christian (or at least semi-Christian) society. The perception is as much art as fact. What passes for journalism in our country thrives on games and conflict; the legal realm is a mise en scene of confrontation and intellectual one-upmanship guaranteed to produce an infinite supply of those "infotaining" moments that attract and enthrall audiences. The hostility to lawyers as a class comes, I think, from the fact that most orthodox Christians have conservative instincts and (often) conservative political inclinations; we're congenitally receptive to the anti-lawyer polemics of the Wall-Street Party ("Class Action Lawsuits Cause Plague!") and its hypocritical cant about judicial activism. Yes, Roe v. Wade is a classic case of judicial activism. But if you want to see more "judicial activism," try enacting Catholic teaching about the death penalty, or wages and employment conditions, into law -- you'll have Federalist Society lawyers and Reagan judges yanking at the starter ropes on their legal chainsaws faster than you can spell "ACLU." The Wall-Street Party has its own private reasons for vilifying and restricting an independent right to legal action, just as the Castro District Party has its own motives to praise and expand the rights-based culture of death. The aristocracies of commerce and nobility have always been at war over society's purposes and priorities; we seem to spend a good deal of our time damning the mercenaries who fight the battles while ignoring the aristocracies who arrange the wars.[1]

The selectivity of this outrage is interesting. Other groups and professions, whose members are just as hateful to Jesus Christ as any group of lawyers, are almost entirely spared from it. When public schools institute illegal crackdowns on childrens' Christianity, editorials and blogs scream about the evils of our imperial judiciary and its lawyerly minions. No one says, "that's another reason I hate public-school teachers." If scientists press for human embryo research, no one inveighs against "our white-coated masters and their Culture of Death." When television shows us Brittany Spears and Madonna locked in a sinful embrace, we bemoan the state of modern morals but spare musicians and broadcast technicians from odious comparisons to prostitutes and Pharisees. The people at St. Blog's who pen these rhapsodies of black prose about "the lawyers," would, I suspect, regard equal treatment for "the bankers," "the professors," or "the executives" as sheer Luddism -- even though corporate foundations foster and pay for the Culture of Death, endowing chairs for the intellectuals who refine its dark theology, and cutting checks to the lawyers who fight its battles. It seems that we think the evil of Michael Schiavo's case should be immediately apparent and prohibiting to his lawyers, and that their moral disregard makes them poltroons -- but the evil of working for (or investing in) Ortho, Pharmacia, Eli Lilly, or Johnson & Johnson is apparently more diffuse and harder to discern, so we decline to scathe our pharmacists or stockbrokers as "mother haters," or "death's bagmen." When all the sneering and scorn over the legal profession and Roe v. Wade dies down, we're left with the fact that lawyers and paralegals don't perform abortions. Doctors and nurses perform abortions, but we're careful to use a separate name ("abortionists") for the blameworthy ones -- a moral courtesy which is not extended to members of the legal profession.[2]

It makes me want to paraphrase that famous line of Brecht's: "Suppose they gave a Culture of Death, and nobody came?" What could the lawyers do, if a thousand children insisted on praying an Ave before class, and on meeting to read the holy bible during lunch? What would Roe v. Wade mean, if people didn't want to have abortions in the first place? A 100-page legal brief about Terri Schiavo's "right to die" couldn't defeat a single husbandly word, but it's his lawyers who get our passionate invective as though Michael's ulcerous, silent heart (and the culture that infects it) was just an incidental ornament. Again, I humbly suggest that we Catholics might be failing to appreciate how abnormal our goals really are. We don't want a society where courts keep men from murdering their disabled wives. We want a society where men don't want their disabled wives to die. We don't want a nation governed by right-thinking lawyers. We want a nation of heroes. We want the impossible. We want a billion miracles. The God we worship in the Eucharist commands us to seek those miracles, to accept nothing less than the best and highest life can offer. When we pretend, or seem to pretend, that the vital problem is the antics of a profession whose members act very much like the members of every other profession, following the expected courses of behavior and responding to the predictable incentives of professional advancement, we're doing what we think the "sleazy lawyers" do. We're settling the case, plea bargaining our way out of hardship, compromising with a world that can only recognize what's humanly possible. Maybe that's one reason we hate lawyers so dearly -- we see ourselves in them, and we don't like what we see.

Jack Valenti makes millions of dollars explaining to America's parents that Hollywood can't be blamed for giving people the entertainment they want. I've never been good at making money and don't want to start now, so I won't say that about lawyers and judges. Lawyers and judges can be blamed for giving Americans the laws they want; doctors and psychologists can be blamed for giving Americans the drugs and excuses they want; whores like Bruce Willis and Gwynneth Paltrow can be blamed for giving Americans the naked excitement they want -- we can blame, so long as we're fair and recognize that people don't pay for things they don't want. The Holy Father has rightly called it the Culture of Death. It is a culture that hates kindness, nobility, and goodness. It is a culture of men who try to live like the pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding animals they imagine themselves to be and who only end up making themselves worse than rabid dogs. It is a culture, not a legal regime, that's casting a murderous pall over Terry Schiavo and it's our sins, not the particular evils of a few lawyers, that are putting her to death.

Cultures are bigger than the laws which represent them. I wrote this in an essay awhile ago, and I think it's worth repeating here:
Regardless of the particular choices a society makes, the fact remains that . . . laws are created and enforced to protect values held dear by society:
"It comes down to this. There are certain forms of conduct which at any given place and epoch are commonly accepted under the combined influence of reason, practice and tradition, as moral or immoral. . . . Law accepts as the pattern of its justice the morality of the community whose conduct it assumes to regulate."
Law can't make an individual personally and sincerely believe an act is wrong or right, and if this is what we mean by "morality" then trying to legislate morality would be a fool's errand. Modern culture, which sees morality only as a contemplative and private part of life without any significant public dimension, has done a lot to foster this very idea. But in spite of this culture we persist in punishing acts without regard to how personally and sincerely someone believes the act to be right. We do this because we hold to the ancient truth that morality is more than an idea contemplated with affection. Morals come fully alive precisely at that moment when we interact with the world around us and it is in this sense that we base our laws on morals. We do not make laws with the intention of forcing men to believe that the value proclaimed by the law is right and proper, but with the intention of obliging men to respect that value with their actions. If by doing so some men come to personally believe the value is right, then we may have done added good. But law's primary purpose is to regulate social conduct, to enable men who believe in the moral value behind the law to live their belief and to guarantee those without an equal belief benefits of something beyond their comprehension.

* * *

These characteristics of law are especially interesting in light of our collective phobia about religious influence. If the laws are to apply to everyone, the moral values upheld by the laws must be seen as universal. If the state is to act immediately when a crime is committed, the moral values protected by the law must be so indisputably consistent with society's vision of the common good that any and all claims or arguments advanced with the purpose of justifying or excusing disobedience can be immediately rejected. If the laws are to be enforced with violence or the threat of violence, the moral vision they uphold must be superior to individual consent. The Constitution of Indiana says that the criminal law "shall be founded on the principles of reformation, and not of vindictive justice." It is impossible to justify "reforming" criminals unless the laws they have broken uphold moral principles which inform their humanity better than their own individual beliefs about their actions. The explanation, the moral norm, may change over time and with debate, but result will always be a vision of the common good so powerful, intimate and universally-applicable that it overrides particular individual choices and directs action in the most important areas of individual and communal life.

The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich told us that we can identify "God" in terms of our ultimate concern, of what we take seriously without reservation. His thoughts echo Martin Luther, who wrote:
What is it to have a god? Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
Unless we are thoroughly modern we do not look to laws for all good, nor try to find refuge in them in every time of need. But regardless of how modern we are, we must admit that our laws and statues do express ideas and values which are of ultimate concern to us, in which we trust and believe wholeheartedly. We expect men and women to die upholding the laws which proclaim these values and beliefs. We expect men and women to forego their own desires and conform to the principles contained in the laws. The values in the laws will be religious, the laws will have a religious sanction, and they will make ultimate demands on our lives and the lives or our neighbors. We cannot say that our religious beliefs are one thing, and our laws are quite another. The laws come from our religion, and we should take our religion seriously.

Modern culture spends a great deal of time and energy in denying this. Its perspective on the relationship, or lack thereof, between religion and laws comes largely from humanist thinking. Note the following discussion of the basis of criminal laws by the humanist Barbara Wootton, Baroness of Abinger:
Here as elsewhere the Humanist attitude implies on the one hand and distinctive set of values; and on the other hand a characteristic reliance upon the methods of scientific investigation. Humanism is thus, on both counts, at variance with traditional attitudes. Traditionally in the Western Christian world the whole field of social pathology has long been permeated by religious ideas -- by concepts of taboo, sin, punishment and atonement set in the supernatural framework of the Christian dogmas; whereas the Humanist's standards are earthly, in a broad sense utilitarian, and, where possible, scientific. In determining the foundations of morality and the ultimate objectives of social pathology, the Humanist is concerned with man's happiness and welfare in this life alone, and with the development of each and every individual's maximum potentiality for the good life conceived in these terms. All arguments that are derived from religious dogmas, or that rest solely upon appeals to the will of God, pass the Humanist completely by. Admittedly such phrases as ‘potentiality for the good life' are far from being precise terms . . . but for practical purposes it is clear enough what they mean. Indeed, in the present state of the world, even if we did not go beyond the purely negative definition that the Humanist is against hunger, poverty, ignorance, cruelty and bloodshed, we should have a sufficient basis for social policy. . . . So much for values.
What stands out in this passage is a patent attempt to have it both ways, to condemn religious dogmas and revelation as improper grounds for public policy while at the same time proclaiming that "distinctive values" such as being "against . . cruelty and bloodshed" transcend any individual's opinion under all circumstances and justify the enforcement of laws against cruelty and bloodshed. For present purposes it matters little whether a life sentence is founded on the dogma "thou shalt not kill" or the "distinctive" belief that men should be against cruelty and bloodshed. Whenever a commitment to a moral principle acquires sufficient power to justify violence against deviance it has necessarily acquired an ultimate, religious character. We cannot profit by the fruitless modern pretense that the question of religious sanction for law is whether the laws will serve God. The question is, was and always will be: Which god will the laws serve?[3]
Law is, ultimately, a derivation and not a cause of culture. Laws are made only when the prophet comes down from the mountain. Society will not reform itself by tinkering with its laws or throwing hissy-fits over the power of its legal establishment. The sickness killing Terri Schiavo is born in our "other" religion, not in the laws that religion calls forth. William Brennan didn't invent secular humanism and eugenics so he could sign on to Roe v. Wade, and Jeff Figer didn't invent euthenasia so he could be paid to represent Jack Kervorkian. People were buying Hustler before Larry Flynt hired his first lawyer, and the attorneys working for Mike Schiavo are just doing what their counterparts in every other profession are doing.

They're doing what Antonin Scalia did when he wrote that he needn't obey the Church if it would mean giving up something he really worships -- his position in the same culture that's killing Terri Schiavo:
I am happy to have reached that conclusion, because I like my job, and would rather not resign. And I am happy because I do not think it would be a good thing if American Catholics running for legislative office had to oppose the death penalty (most of them would not be elected); if American Catholics running for Governor had to promise commutation of all death sentences (most of them would never reach the Governor's mansion); if American Catholics were ineligible to go on the bench in all jurisdictions imposing the death penalty; or if American Catholics were subject to recusal when called for jury duty in capital cases.[4]
Like everyone else who wishes the Church would just shut up about the Culture of Death, Scalia has ably distorted the Holy Father's teaching on the death penalty into an unrecognizable straw man. Evangelium Vitae doesn't require that kind of blanket opposition to the death penalty, and Scalia is dishonest to say it does -- just as Catholics who pay Planned Parenthood dues are dishonest when they say Humanae Vitae would require impoverished fifteen-children families, and just as Catholics like John Cornwell and Andrew Sullivan are dishonest when they say Catholicism excludes Jews and gay people from membership in the human race. The mendacity of Scalia's writing is not very interesting. When you're prostituting yourself to the Culture of Death it's obviously helpful to imagine the Gospel as something that's even more disgusting. That's probably why the Pharisees liked to accuse Christ of being a whoremaster and an alcoholic. I know that's why the infotainment industry gives Rob Lowe lucrative work while delightfully tarring all Catholic priests as pedophiles. You can win a beauty contest if you're ugly, so long you make sure everyone else is even uglier -- that's an old story, and it's not very surprising or interesting to hear it again from Scalia.

The interesting thing about Scalia's parade of horribles is its comfortable and amoral mediocrity, its bovine obliviousness to the demanding glory of supernatural heroism. God forbid that Catholics like him be unable to attain high judicial office; that Catholics like Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi not take their seats in Congress; that Catholics like Mario Cuomo or Mary Landrieu be forced to gaze wistfully at the Governor's mansion. That world, a world of heroic and pious anonymity, is the one that's too horrible for our good conservative and Catholic Justice to bear -- the world in which Terri Schiavo is starving to death is one he can live with, because in that world he can eat the Eucharist and dine with panthers. Scalia's hand ought to palsy when he writes of St. Thomas More, as he does in that same essay -- More gave up a far greater position than Scalia's out of a loyalty Scalia withholds. If Scalia wants to quote A Man for All Seasons let him quote this: "Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . But for Wales!" If you want to find the sleaze in America's legal profession, look no further -- Scalia's essay oozes with the grease that makes the Culture of Death work. God forbid that Catholics oppose it, because then they couldn't keep their jobs by performing abortions, writing and acting in sex scenes, producing and selling contraceptives, or routing night trains to Poland. Mark Shea says people who stumble through life in this state of trite conformity are "observing the pieties," and there's more truth in Shea's quip than in any ten books on "tort reform" and "original-intent jurisprudence" you'd care to name.

They're trying to kill Terri Schiavo because our country, our culture and its laws, owe fealty to a false god who is coldness itself, a false god of death. We worship this god in our hospitals, in our entertainments, our philosophies, our art and education, in our laws, and by our work and our professions.[5] Every sin, not just the sins of lawyers and judges, pays homage to this god because the wages of sin is death. As it did 2,000 years ago, and in every age before and since, sin stalks the earth like a lion, hungry for its victim. It's eaten ten million babies, it won't notice Mrs. Schiavo. But we notice her, because we see she is the victim our gutless way of life has staked out for the lion's jaws. The grease, the sleaze, the spirit of the world, covers everything, and when it's set against that sum a lawyer's greed and lust for position is small beer. Our salvation won't come from "better" law schools, "correct" constitutional jurisprudence, electoral victory for the "right" party, or any of the other bourgeois conceits that have whited our national sepulcher these past fifty years or more. Our salvation will come from a hundred million personal miracles that will demand the truth in schools, righteousness in law, sanity in politics. The reason why using lawyers and judges to fight lawyers and judges always seems to resemble Canute forbidding the tide to come in is because, well, the tide's coming in. We don't need Canute. We need St. Boniface to chop down the sacred tree of death, to spur our savage hearts to prodigies of love. Nothing else will do, because our God won't settle His case.

So, to return to the reader's questions: "They say that in spite of this bill Jeb Bush has just passed, the decision is ultimately going to rest with the courts again." Yes, that's true -- a nation of people who are cowardly enough to permit a great evil always need to pretend that it's being done by someone other than themselves. It has been some time since I've read our founding documents, but I don't recall that the judicial branch is supposed to be the final authority--is it? It doesn't matter. So long as men are the final authority, they will murder and rape each other no matter what branch of government they happen to occupy. "Where does the system of checks and balances ultimately end?" In Hell, unless men wake up from the American illusion that neatly constructed laws will supply,"by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives."[6] "And why is it that a governor can at will pardon someone on death row, but he can't simply intervene in this case?" When the victim is significant enough, even a governor's will must submit to the day's necessities, just as it did 2,000 years ago. Jeb Bush is a courageous man, and his actions so far have shown us the kind of miracles we can expect from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But there are still too many deadened souls, too many would-be Pilates who think "reaching the Governor's mansion" is the important thing in life, for Jeb Bush to turn back the tide of death single-handedly. By all means let's castigate unwholesome laws and the blind scribes who enforce them. But let's not be deluded into thinking that judges and lawyers are leading our collective slouch toward Bethlehem. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:12 (KJV). Anyone who thinks law firms and courtrooms are the kind of "high places" St. Paul had in mind isn't straining his neck enough.

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
-- A.E. Houseman, Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

[2] It may be objected that the doctors, teachers, and truck drivers are just doing what the law tells them to do, while "the lawyers" are responsible for what the laws command. While I don't quarrel with the idea that lawyers have special responsibilities arising from the particular privileges of their profession (as do doctors, professors, and accountants), I do quarrel with the principle that necessarily operates in the comparison -- the idea that men without law degrees are allowed to be good Germans. Every man, if he is a man, has a conscience. If his position doesn't call his conscience into action with respect to the making of laws, he's still certainly obliged to use his conscience with respect to obeying the laws.

[3] Ian A.T. McLean, "Natural Law and Criminal Law," in Common Truths: New Perspectives on Natural Law (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000). The book is available here.

[4] Antonin Scalia, "God's Justice and Ours," in First Things. You can find the entire article here.

[5] I say "we" because the scale of our crimes permits only a few innocents, and I am not one of them.


Sunday, October 26, 2003

I'm So Happy!

You are old school. Fat Sheriff Deputies fancy you. Reliable but not too practical.
Smith & Wessen .44 Magnum. You are old school. Fat
Sheriff Deputies fancy you. Reliable but not
too practical.

What handgun are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Odd Thought

Shame is adrenalin for the soul.
A Pop Quiz on the Culture of Death

(1) Who said, "I continue to believe that such decisions should not be made in the court system but must be made on a case-by-case basis by families and/or other responsible parties . . . ."?
(a) Al Gore
(b) Hugh Hefner
(c) Gloria Steinem
(d) None of the above.
2. What was he/she speaking about?
(a) Contraception
(b) Partial-birth abortion
(c) Committed homosexual relationships
(d) None of the above.
Check Your Answers Here

Saturday, October 11, 2003

The Apostles of Tolerance Find a New Victim

I'm still getting ready for my trial, but taking a break brought me to this story from Jeff Culbreath at El Camino Real. Apparently, the Fascism that Dare Not Speak Its Name is zeroing in on our friend's business. Please keep Jeff in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Martial Blog Law Declared

Due to a jury trial, I will probably not be blogging at all until Friday, October 17th.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Go here, please.

You need to bookmark this blog. No, not this one, but this one! It's run by MaryH, a wonderful Catholic lady. I've been reading her posts for years, first on the old Catholic Converts Message Board and then on Gary Hoge's Catholic Outlook message board, which she moderates. She's a gentle and brave soul, full of light, and she always has thoughtful things to say. I mean really thoughtful things, the kind of conversation-stopping, track-jumping, pause-now-and-contemplate things that come from what must be one giant roman candle of a prayer life. Things like this:
Stillness and quiet may seem unbearable to a young child who has more energy than a puppy, but when the child grows up and discovers a world that is rarely quiet or peaceful his heart will long for the newness of the quiet. . . . The faith of our fathers may seem old, stiff or even stifling when we are anxious and arrogant. But what happens when we have a sin that is too hard to bear? Who do we turn to? Who will be there, like a rock, waiting for our return? The sacraments are there - the saints are there - they are always there and in them we find the "bond of a holy society." The teachings of the Church are like that. They are old, still, quiet and peaceful. The bells of the Church are ringing at noon for all those who are quiet enough to hear them. The priests are waiting in the confessional when we come walking home. The old becomes new only when the new becomes old. It's the silent mystery.
Huh? But, but -- they're sacrificing ferrets at St. Malachi in Eylton! And I'm writing another 15,000 words to Shawn McElhinney in our debate over canon law, liturgical custom, and kneeling at communion!!!! George Bush may be a fake conservative!! And, and . . . . . .

You get the point, I hope. I also hope you make MaryH's blog a regular stop.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Trust Me -- It Is a Parody

Dale Price has dyspeptically muttered a brilliant, hyperbolic recipe for diocesan "hush puppies" titled Smile Time! It is a parody, however -- and here's the giveaway: Rex Pecksniff doesn't say "Heaven's full of happy people, so what does that mean for you grumpy Catholics?" That's been patented and copyrighted, and so it can only appear in an authentic hush-puppy recipe.
Rush Limbaugh's Sports Soviet
Overcome by Counterrevolutionaries

ESPN "resignfired" Rush Limbaugh last week. Rush had criticized the sports media's coverage of Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, saying that the media "overrated" McNabb and that "what we have here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well - [of showing] black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well." Basically, Rush was suggesting that the sports media had been affected by the liberalized, affirmative-action mentality which gets people overly-excited about an ordinary guy's being in an OfficiallyOppressed[TM] group. (You know the hype I mean -- "DuBuque Hires First Gay Dog-Catcher: Film at Eleven!"). Rush said the media was making McNabb out to be a better quarterback than he is because of its vested interest in combined coverage of his spectacular performance and membership in an OfficiallyOppressed[TM] group. (You know the kind of story I mean, too -- "DuBuque's First Gay Dog-Catcher Collars As Many Dogs As Straight Dog Catchers: Film at Eleven!"). Rush was irked at how the media was so eager to "teach" us a lesson about all the good that comes of abandoning prejudice that it ignored facts about McNabb's less-than-magnificent quarterbacking.

Fair enough, I suppose. It's one thing to tell a science-worshiping bigot that monks played a critical role in the discovery of genetics or that the City of God's account of time adumbrates Einstein's theory of relativity, and quite another to pretend that Mendel discovered DNA or Einstein just stole everything from St. Augustine. Sometimes it is worth pointing out that Jackie Robinson was a damn good baseball player, or that Bob Hope became a Catholic, to tear down the false idea of "otherness" that prejudice maintains. But those helpful things aren't worth fakery, of appearing to give someone a free ride because he represents something besides his own ability to get the job done. Part of Bob Hope's "human-ness" is that he wasn't always a laugh riot (the "Road" movies are only one notch down from root canal on the List of Things To Be Avoided); we'll know racism is really dead when we can hear criticism of OfficiallyOppressed[TM] icons without mentally assigning memberships in the Klan or the Southern Poverty Law Center. As he usually does, Rush made some good points, points worth talking about. That's why I think ESPN was right to "resignfire" him.

When we're talking about the National Football League, we're not engaging in a philosophical discourse on anything so elevated as "athletics" and "sport." The NFL exists for one reason -- to make money by offering the public entertainment. The enterprise in which names like Unitas, Payton, and Butkus have become hallowed isn't really much different from the enterprise that honors names like David Copperfield, or Siegfried and Roy. Sure professional football looks like, and in some ways is like, "athletics." Our society has a positive genius for concocting Janus-like hybrids of crassness and piety. We've got lifelong politicians who've reluctantly accepted the people's call to run for (yet another) term in office, "Madonna" authoring childrens' stories because she cares so deeply about motherhood, and rebellious well-off musicians who "rage against the machine." In that cultural ocean, "professional athletics" is plankton.

But whether or not they can find the line between athletes and entertainers the people who turn to the NFL for diversion are following a time-honored American tradition. They want to have fun, to be excited, to enjoy the spectacle. This is a perfectly fine and innocent motive, however much we might want it to be occasionally directed at something more edifying than the sight of very large and very rich probationers shoving each other. That kind of innocence ought to be protected, cherished, because without it we can't really savor life. The NFL may be a circus, but even circuses encourage the same magnificent, guileless simplicity in their patrons. No one has any business using the center ring as a forum for denouncing species endangerment or vilifying the oppressive patriarchal stereotype that makes a lion king of the jungle. Rush didn't have any legitimate business using a sports show to hector us about the shabbiness of affirmative action and the politically-correct mendacity of big media. He was committing what I think is a mortal sin -- he was being "omnipolitical," just like the leftists who can't eat tuna on rye without holding a symposium on commercial net fishing and suffering dolphins. If Rush wants to talk politics, even meta-politics, then he needs his own radio show. He's got one, and so that's where his politics ought to stay.

Some people might think I'm naive. "But SAM," they'll say, "the liberal pagani have already taken over and politicized every nook and cranny of life, from marriage to kindergarten to the Nobel Prize! We can't let them get away with it! We have to answer back!" I'm not sure about that. Modern folks are past masters of "omnipoliticizing" things; they naturally make yard sales into socially-conscious events, and turn Girl Scout meetings into a Womens' Soviet. Politics, broadly thought of as society's intimate and total involvement with the thoughts and actions of every human being, is the modern person's weird counterpart to the Catholic faith and the Body of Christ. Modern people instinctively politicize everything because they simply can't imagine anything that's not politically symbolic. I don't see much point in joining them in a "race to the bottom," trying to make sure that the Red Girl-Scouts' Soviet is met by the White Tsarist Girls' Legion at the barricades of socially-conscious cookie selling. A political society that's intimately and totally involved with the thoughts and actions of every human being would be unbearably odious no matter what its particular goals might be. I was glad to see one practitioner of "total politics" removed from the game, even if I agree with him lots of the time and even if he was right about the coverage of Donovan McNabb.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Orwell and the Waiters Redux

A few days ago I posted an excerpt from Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris in which he described the servile fantasy life of Parisian waiters. I said it was a metaphor for the middle class. That post can be found here. Thanks, no doubt, to a reference on Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It I got some pretty screaming comments about what I'd written. I'd planned to answer then, but got delayed, so I post the answers now. I changed the names of the people who posted comments at Shea's blog and this one, because I don't want this to be a personality fight, but rather a fight about ideas.

Even though I said "not everyone with a five-figure income matches this metaphor," just about everybody who replied thought it was directed personally at them and everyone they knew. "Let me see if I have this right," says Fellow #1, "IIf I don't produce any wealth, I should be a socialist or at least sneer at and/or criticize ‘the rich.'" Fellow #1, you don't have it right, because I didn't say you should be a socialist or sneer at the rich just because you don't produce or own wealth. In fact, I said that the bourgeois I had in mind positively love the rich, and that they wouldn't dream of obviously becoming socialists. (They tend to want their socialism, in the form of wealth-transfer payments, done quietly through the Small Business Administration, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Sally Mae, student loans, and similar middle-class welfare programs).

Fellow #1 goes on to say that he took my excerpt and comments to mean that if he's "neither a socialist nor a wealth producer, I probably am a loathsome seeker of vicarious pleasure?" Well, I don't know if you're seeking vicarious pleasure, Fellow #1 or, if so, whether your search is loathsome. But there are a lot of middle-class people who fit their own worries about what Murphy Brown's sitcom baby would encourage among the "poor" -- an illicit indulgence in another class's way of thinking, a pretence that they're capable of living a life they (and we) can't afford morally or financially. Take the salaried teacher with two wives and babies by each of them. Donald Trump can afford that sort of harem, but a guy knocking down thirty-eight grand a year can't. And harems are generally less-than-optimum moral environments. They're perhaps tolerable among the rich (who are safely locked away in gated communities) but not among the rest of us, who live cheek-by-jowel with the moral shabbiness that sort of life always engenders. Or how about the local businessman with 85K on his credit cards, a maxed-out 150K credit line and no retirement plan besides an anemic SEP and social security. Is he gonna be pulling his own weight when he hits 65? Profligacy is bad for the soul and society -- a nation of grasshoppers is going to suffer the grasshopper's fate. Debt loads like that are tolerable among the wealthy (who prefer to call it "leverage"), because they have enough political power to make their mess into our mess and oblige us to do tallage and clean things up again. But for everyone else, who don't produce or own wealth, that kind of "leverage" means "eventual poverty." Did you know that most divorces are triggered by financial difficulties? Still, the folks I have in mind all think they're doin' right, livin' the American dream. They're like the waiter who thinks he's got zen-like oneness with the rich just because he's sniffing the chateaubriand.

Fellow #1 also said, I'll have to remember to tell my definitely non-socialist, non wealth producing wife (teacher) parents (teachers), uncles (teachers), brother (retired naval aviator), friends (writers, Navy officers, firefighters, lawyers, doctors, editors, civil servant, policemen, college professors, Army officers), and colleagues (non-profit executives, college professors) that they, unless they rise up and shakee loose their chains, they forever will be forelock-tugging tools of the plutocracy. If you say so, Fellow #1. But I think you, like some other folks, are getting a little confused about my metaphorical use of Orwell. For some reason, it's being read to suggest that anyone who's not Bill Gates is one of Aristotle's slaves by nature. Like I said, Fellow #1, "not everyone with a five-figure income matches this metaphor." You're the guy who's dragging relatives and friends into Orwell's world, as though we can't breathe a word about hard differences between Warren Buffett and your wife without suggesting you married beneath yourself. What was that I said? Hmmmm, I think it was something about the middle class considering itself to be in zen-like oneness with the wealthy, its members insisting that they be regarded on the same terms as the wealthy. I can understand very rich people like Leona Helmsley getting the idea that "little people" really are slaves by nature. What I can't understand is why the little people want to agree with her.

Go back and read the excerpt -- Orwell's words leave little doubt that what was wrong with the Parisian waiters wasn't their lack of wealth, or their work, but what they believed about life. So far everyone has become fixated on the economic differences between Orwell's waiters and diners, letting note of a similar disparity between middle- and upper-class Americans automatically transfer Orwell's hard judgment (and my own) onto themselves and everyone they know simply because they, like modern waiters, are getting W2s instead of 1099-Ds. And that was even after I said that not all middle-class people are like Orwell's waiters (and therefore) that middle-class life need not resemble that of Orwell's waiters. If anyone needed an anecdote about how Americans instinctively believe in an egalitarian materialism rather than Christ's message about the independence of the human soul, he need look no further. Sure I said "we," but who's "we" kemosabe? It's a lot of folks -- and me. I ape the life of wealth when I have no decent reason to do so. I indulge in the shabby, pathetic and envious snobbery of Orwell's waiters. I confess it, too. But my spiritual health's not the only issue. What made y'all think everyone you know must fit that description if they have five-figure incomes? Not anything I wrote, and not anything Orwell wrote. Something Marx wrote? Oh yes, Marx believed in this phenomenon intensely: Consciousness does not dictate economic life, he said, economic life dictates consciousness. If somebody has a five-figure income, his income dictates his faith, his thoughts, the intellectual and moral nature of his life. Notice something bad about people in the same tax bracket, and it just has to be a judgment about everyone in the tax bracket -- even if it's your own wife, brother, or colleague, because they're all morally sinking or swimming according to class. Like I said, not all of us fit that description. But most of us do. because we're raised to love capitalism; Marxism, as Leo XIII noted, is just the "dance remix" of capitalism.

Fellow #1 wrote, "Finally, looking at your list of those who ought to be canonized (and I nominate Daniel Webster and Charles Carroll of Carollton for inclusion on that list), I see some names--e.g., Lee, Longstreet, Calhoun--who produced nary a nickel of wealth in their life, were not socialists, and apparently found their professions quite congenial." I'll consider Charles Carroll, thank you, and for that matter, his august brother as well. But Daniel Webster? Over my dead body. There ain't room enough in Heaven for Calhoun and Webster, and I'd keep Calhoun. Webster can go to the other place with war criminals like Sherman. As to Lee, Longstreet, and Calhoun, yes, they didn't produce a nickle of wealth, they weren't socialists, and they loved their work. Did someone suggest those things were bad? I must have missed that. I recall suggesting via Orwell that it's wrong to judge oneself and others on desperately-materialistic terms, to live your life according to materialistic fantasies that make you servile toward those who have what you yourself want. I don't think that describes Lee or Longstreet very well, and I wonder why you think it might. Oh yes, it's because they didn't own the Tredegar Iron Works, which must mean that anything we say about the middle class applies automatically to them, life dictating consciousness ‘an all . . . .

Another fellow wrote Would you rather serve in Heaven or Rule in Hell?

Hoo boy! Of course, I can't rule in Hell. That spot's already taken and for all other creatures it's Bob Dylan -- "you gonna have to serve somebody." The rest is a kind of a Rorshach blot, but for the record, I'd rather serve in Heaven.

Fellow #3 wrote I don't understand why so many Catholics (not just SAM) are so down on earning a living...they work, right? If success is just luck, why don't they quit working and wait for fortune to strike?

Now how on earth did "Orwell's Metaphor for the Middle Class" get turned into being down on earning a living? Or into a proposal that the Vanderbilts got rich because a bag of money fell out of an armored car? Modern Western capitalism isn't the only way to make a living, so that criticism of one becomes criticism of the other. The few wealthy people I know are incredibly talented and hard working, sometimes much more so than middle-class people in the same general line of work. This being a dialogue prone to extreme statements based solely on class, I'll no doubt get into trouble for suggesting that the rich are "better" than us regarding anything, but I'm just noting the fact that talent tends to succeed, and that some of the wealthy really are better than us, or at least me, at a lot of things. No doubt Fellow #1 will come along and whap me upside the head for servility and worshiping the wealthy, so I'll just say that when people have to be all one thing or the other based on how much money they have, life gets really complicated.

He went on to point out that, My five-figure income contributes to the wealth of our [local] economy all the time. I bought a house, paid landscapers, etc. Maybe I'm economically illiterate- and someone can explain what "create wealth" means.

I wouldn't say illiterate, just poorly informed (as, I think, we all are) about the nature of wealth. I'll do my best to describe what I mean here. I'm not trained in economics, and so I well realize that what follows may be be a rambling "Cliff Claven explains wealth" sort of essay, but I don't think it's too far from the mark of your present question.

If all a fellow's got is a mortgaged house and a cash money, he doesn't have wealth. If a fellow's got control of the things that make what other people need and want, then he's got wealth. A farmer's got control of land, seed, and tools which make what other people need and want -- food. He's got wealth. The hands who work for the farmer don't have control of those things, and so they don't have wealth, no matter how much money he might pay them. Why isn't money "wealth"? Don't people need and want money? Sure, but they need and want a good laugh as well and only in the most metaphorical way do we refer to a "golden age of comedy." Money, and by that I mean modern cash money, is a lot like a joke -- it's a statement between individuals who have enough in common to "get it." If that strikes you as odd, go try and spend a 2002 Iraqi dinar, or better yet, I'll send you some 100-Kwatloo notes right from my own Bureau of Printing and Engraving. I don't mean exchange these notes with collectors of curiosities -- I mean go to your bank and try to open an account, or give them to the fellow at the corner Kwiki-Mart. You won't get far, because the series of shared expectations that is cash money's real power has been dissolved by war in the case of the Iraqi dinar, and in the case of the Kwatloo the expectations aren't shared by people who don't confuse Star Trek with Scripture. "Kwatloo" is a language the Kwiki-Mart doesn't speak -- they don't know anyone who speaks "Kwatloo", either, and so when they turn around and try to get something of their own in exchange for the Kwatloos they got from you, they'll be out of luck. Meanwhile, they'll have given you something they could have gotten potent symbols for, like a tank of gas or a Slim Jim. So there you'd be, chomping on your Slim-Jim, and there they'd be, with symbolic tokens no one else understands or gives a hoot about. That's why they say "no deal." On the other hand, if I could back my Kwatloos with something everybody understood and gave a damn about, the Kwiki-Mart people would be happy to take them, because they'd be symbols that would be understood and accepted by a sufficient number of people.

That's why everyone on Forbes' list owns things besides cash money -- they all have land, gold, art work, etc. They want to speak as many "languages" as they can, so that if history whacks the United States with some big event that destroys the shared language of the dollar, they won't be left out in the cold. They also want to speak more than one dialect of currency too, and they tend to buy Swiss francs, Euros, etc. for the same reason. There are people whose careers are based on multilingualism -- we call them currency traders, or money changers. They swap in and out of currency languages based on what people are saying about them. If people say that the 3ID has made the Iraqi dinar a really poor way to communicate your desire for something, currency traders will try to unload Iraqi dinars in exchange for a more eloquent symbols (like the dollar) before anyone else hears about it.

That's how cash money got invented in the first place -- it was a more convenient and elegant way to say "I'll give you 2.2211 ounces of gold for that." First it was "hard cash" -- namely bits and pieces of metal most people think are useful and valuable, like gold, silver, and copper. Then it was "reserve notes," which were written guarantees that you could turn in to a bank and receive pieces of valuable and useful metal. Now it's just what I call cash money, which you can't turn in for anything else -- it's just a symbol of everyone's present agreement to act as though the symbols were, in fact, worth something, and its power comes from a shared expectation that the agreement will be honored in future. The paper, ink, or cool patriotic images have nothing to do with how much it's "worth." No shared expectation = no value.

Now it's true that every medium of exchange (save straight barter) relies on a common set of assumptions and expectations. Heck, gold doesn't mean much unless the people you're speaking it to understand the language. It's just much harder to make some languages disappear than others. Gold's one of the harder-to-kill languages -- there's all kinds of uses for it, everybody thinks it's pretty, and short of finding lots of it on the Moon or Mars there's not going to be any more of it. (That, BTW, is one of the reasons Will Rogers approved of buying land. He said it's the one thing they ain't makin any more of.) But in the end, what you (and I) call "the economy" is mostly a bunch of people shuffling paper among each other on the basis of shared expectations about what the paper will mean in the future to other people. Only a very few of us have real gosh-darned wealth, namely control over the things that make what others we want and need.

What I'm calling wealth, Marx called capital, and that's as good a word as any other. Don't get thrown off by my using Marx -- if Caiaphas and Balaam's ass can prophecy, it's only fair to let Karl (who rejected Christ and was also an ass) have at least one good idea. What's the big difference between capital and money? Capital is more closely (or even inseparably) tied to unalterable conditions of human existence than symbolic bits of paper. Suppose you own a big farm and a textile mill, and that you've got a million digits in your computer file at the bank. (The bank, of course, doesn't have the actual paper you opened the account with. They gave the paper to other people who promised to come back later with the same amount of paper which is called "principal" and some extra paper which is called "interest"), all on the shared expectation that the bank would still know people who speak the same langauge. Now suppose the U.S. Government were unable to transfer enough symbols to pay interest on the national debt, thereby going noticeably bankrupt, and the value of your recorded digits suddenly became equal to the value of John Spong's theology. You're still wealthy because you've got control over that ranch and textile mill. It's a lot easier for catastrophe to create a world where "dollar" means nothing than a world where people don't eat or use cloth.

This is why no one wants to live in a society where "the people" own all the wealth. "The people" is a lie, a hammer-and-sickle version of saying "working hard and playing by the rules" will make you wealthy. Working hard and playing by the rules might be a good thing (it depends on what your job is and what the rules are), but if all you're getting in return is pieces of paper that are useful because they're likely to mean something to other people in the future, you don't have wealth. And besides, "the people" is really just a few thousand families who've clawed their way to the top of the political heap and gotten control of the means to make cloth, food, chemicals, etc. Everybody else is excluded from wealth and -- for a lot of other reasons in addition to this one -- ends up cooking greenish meat and fantasizing about shoes. Communists and Socialists are the ultimate exponents of stupid middle-class snobbery; they take disparity in wealth to be so offensive, so galling to their righteous vanity, that they'll shoot people and build gulags before admitting that anyone should be wealthier or better off than they are. And of course, they do it all in the name of "the poor" -- just like the bourgeois nitwits in a nearby town, who spend millions of tax dollars on a library that lets out movies and copies of Architectural Digest. Maybe a free viewing of Robocop II on DVD, or seeing how Mrs. Arriviste's architects have managed to blend neo-Palladianism and Bauhaus into a stunning 5,000-square-foot home on Hawaii, will help the poor -- or maybe 90% of that library's just more intellectual welfare for the middle class, a state-subsidized monument to bourgeois pretention. If Michael Moore really wanted to do something good in life, he should make a documentary for PBS to run during fund drives; he could go to slums and and ask HUD-voucher recipients to explain how "This Old House" has improved their lives. Socialism has always been a middle-class conceit, the "vanguard's" delusion that they can transform the world into a state-university campus by grinding their fellow human beings into hamburger underneath the treads of tanks. They have to do it, because a world in which he's rich and they're not is just too awful to contemplate.

So that's why the middle-class has no wealth. What they have are mortgages on spheres of consumption, privileges of occupation and use rented from banks and people who do have wealth. We could change that, and change it without socialism or communism, but that will be very hard, very difficult, and most certainly beyond the moral power of people who are primitive enough to think that babies are disposable commodities. In the meantime, what we can do is realize that we don't have wealth, aren't likely to have it, and adjust our emotions, actions, and views of life (if they need adjustment) accordingly. The best and first way to do that, I think, is understand what "middle-class Americanism" really is -- the snobbish ignorance of Orwell's waiters.

Fellow #3 grit his teeth and said, Grrr. I do not ape the wealthy. I do not think he is me, nor I him. I live comfortably and produce wealth.

I didn't say you ape the wealthy -- see my note to Fellow #1 above. Generally, however, most of the middle-class people I know who are miserable or bakrupt got that way by aping the wealthy, by trying to live the same kind of life as the wealthy live. New cars every year or so, five figures' worth of Christmas presents under the tree, a brand-new car for the kid when he gets his drivers' license, a years' worth of income on the credit cards, two or more spouses perhaps with an extended harem system . . ..

I'm glad you live comfortably. That's a God-given right, as all the Popes have taught, to live in material conditions which are sufficient to allow you to pursue the good life of the sacraments, prayer, and family. Most of the middle class, however, doesn't live comfortably. They live under the Damoclean sword of financial ruin because they're swept up in a current of debt too deep and too strong for anything besides treading water, and they don't own any real wealth. They might produce wealth -- but if so, they usually produce it for others.

Lastly, he asked, Have you become a "double agent?"

I'd say I'm trying, because I'm trying to be what I think is a good Catholic. Good Catholics are all moles in a materialistic world, undermining it from the inside, expropriating the expropriators . . . . .

A lady wrote, Well as the daughter of a waiter, I couldn't be more shocked? floored? insulted? I am experiencing a cosmic "Huh?" Orwell is doing some major projecting of his own beliefs onto the waiters."

Maybe, maybe not. He knew them and worked with them, and we don't. I'd certainly take his word for the attitudes of those particular waiters.

She asked a really interesting question, So the guy enjoy the beauty of the party he was at- big whoop. What shoudl he have done? Stalk around and sulk and scowl at the pretty flowers, insult the people around him, and generally act like a miserable ass? Or maybe, the better way is to enjoy beauty whenever and however it is presented to you. A good man does his work to the best of his ability and tries to find the good in life, even the good in a servile job.

This is, if I may say so, a very Christian way of looking at life, although I think it's still got a little of that class insecurity that Fellow #1 has -- "servile" isn't the same thing as "service," and serving doesn't automatically make one "servile" (unless, of course, life dictates consciousness). One of the beauties of Christianity, I think, lies in its ability to transcend conditions without actually changing them. A servant can be wealthy and free in the only place that matters -- his soul -- regardless of the external and material conditions which happen to characterize his life. He doesn't have to change those conditions in order to be a saint -- he doesn't have to shoot the rich, blow up banks, destroy the world around him, before he can enjoy freedom and wealth. Materialists have to shoot the rich, blow up banks, and destroy society before they can "find Heaven" within themselves, because they think that economic and material conditions dictate their ability to be happy. I sometimes think that's one of the reasons vicious materialists seem to end up running things -- all the time and energy we use worrying about whether our lives are sufficiently incarnational, they use scheming to gain control over the only things that "really" matter.

That's one of the huge problems the Church has always had with so-called "liberation theology." The material conditions of life are important to Christians, but only because they (like every other aspect of human life) have a moral significance for our witness to God's sovereignty and its proclamation of human dignity. Ultimately, a Christian wants to reduce poverty for the same reason he wants to reduce fornication or inattentiveness during Mass -- they offend God and oppose saintly human happiness. A "liberation theologian" leaves that world when he begins teaching that salvation consists of removing poverty and changing the political and material structures of human society. He is a materialist, because he thinks that treasure on earth is Heaveny treasure. Yes, salvation requires laboring for justice, and sharing that idea is how liberation theology makes itself a plausible expression of Christian thought. But salvation has never required the achievement of justice, nor a conception of human happiness that is inseparable from material wealth, and that's why liberation theology isn't an expression of authentic Christian thought.

Orwell wasn't writing from a Christian perspective, and so I don't know how he'd react to the idea that there's a way for the waiters to find joy in their surroundings without being servile or aping the rich. I like to think that Julia and Winston's love, such as it was, points toward that idea. But I certainly agree that nothing about the waiters' income or lack of power should keep them from being happy, or finding joy and beauty whenever it's presented to them. Even Orwell's description of the waiters' offensive attitudes had nothing to do with the fact that they served others, or the fact that they weren't rich. Orwell could never have been a communist; he certainly doesn't think those facts are the only ones that matter.

She concluded, That's all I have to say -- especially since Mr. Orwell isn't around for me to punch.

All I can say is, "Or me, thank God!"

Friday, October 03, 2003

How Eager They Are For Him To Die!

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 2, 2003 ( John Paul II's secretary asked reporters to play down reports about the Pope's state of health, stressing they have been taken out of context.

The Holy Father kept busy this morning, receiving in audience Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas, four bishops of the Philippines, as well as Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican press office reported.

Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's longtime aide, said that the press profoundly distorted a private comment made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

"Cardinal Ratzinger wept yesterday," after seeing that the German weekly Bunte published those statements, Archbishop Dziwisz told journalists accredited in the Vatican.

The cardinal "did not grant an interview but, when he met a journalist he only said: Yes, the Pope is sick; pray for him," Archbishop Dziwisz said.

The papal secretary asked journalists not to dramatize or exaggerate John Paul II's health problems, emphasizing that much of the news published in recent years on his health proved to be false.

"Some of the journalists who in recent years have talked and written much about the Pope's health are already in heaven," he concluded with a smile.

The Holy Father appeared relaxed and attentive during the 15-minute audience with the Lithuanian president. ZE03100206

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Flinging Pebbles at Vultures

I love Mark Shea's blog, especially all the great media stories he collects and posts for the continual amusement of the contra mundum crowd called "Catholics." This time it was his observations about what he so aptly called the cawing of inane vultures, namely this wonderfully fresh and novel story about Our Frail Pope. I like answering these stories, I don't know why, but here it is. The story's in blue, my comments in black.

The pope is never sick until he's dead, goes an old Roman saying. So it was that after one commentator reported in August 1914 that Pope Pius X had a cold, the official Vatican newspaper issued a furious denial.Less than 24 hours later, Pius was dead.

. . . . all without the courtesy, the gosh-darned decency, to give the media at least six months to milk the pope's health for all it was worth, like the death of little Nell. And now, the Vatican seems determined to deny the world's video ghouls the opportunity to make their own magnificently-saccharine soap-opera, complete with CNN's breathlessly updating us about how nothing's changed since the last update, reports read by Brian Williams trying his best to look somber and yet rakishly attractive . . .

Given the Vatican's legendary secretiveness . . . .

Yes, legendary secretiveness: Why, Pius X is actually still alive, but John Paul II's been dead these past 15 years! And nobody knows it, not even the sleuths at Newsday!

"it is not surprising that many Catholics were stunned Tuesday when one of John Paul II's closest advisers acknowledged that the pope was "in a bad way" and the faithful should pray for him.

We were stunned, but only because for the past 10 years the secular media's been chanting "frail pope . . . frail pope . . . . frail pope" like the witches in MacBeth -- watching the secular media get within a planetary diameter of the truth was stunning.

For Catholics already disconcerted by images of an ailing, 83-year-old pontiff unable to lift his head,

Does anyone else get the creepy feeling that not a few gloating powers and dominions hang out in America's newsrooms? I'm not cowed or disconcerted by the image of an eighty-three year old man, who has carried the world on his back for twenty years, suffering from Parkinson's disease. Now the mind of a secular pagan, to whom sexuality and physical youth is the only valuable form of beauty, might well be thrown into confusion at the same sight. But he should never make the mistake of thinking that Catholics see men and women in the same way as an American journalist. After all, we also see men and women as being human all the time.

"and forced to consider what that might mean for the future of their church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's remarks ratcheted up the anxiety by several notches."

While readers still weeping in darkened bedrooms over Newsday stories about the end of the "Bennifer" are far more stable and connected to reality: They worry about things that really matter, unlike those childish Catholics who are frightened for their papa.

"The big question on Catholics' minds is who's running the show," said one lay Catholic on Long Island who asked not to be named.

Because he's the brother-in-law of the author, and he's going through his fourth divorce and can't be bothered with pesky questions about whether he last attended Mass before they canceled The Rockford Files or started airing Friends.

In fact, the decline of the once-vigorous pope poses potentially unprecedented questions for the 2,000-year-old church.

Thank you; it is a 2,000 year-old Church, isn't it. Kind of a comforting thought, all those unprecedented questions of the past. How does God become a man? What belongs to Ceasar? What are we supposed to do with all these ravening barbarians? Suppose Catholic monarchs could send a Catholic sea captain to China by having him sail West? What if satanic communist regimes took over half the world? Yep, we're sure flummoxed by anything unprecedented or unanticipated.

At a time when modern medicine can keep the body alive far longer than the mind can function well, many worry about what would happen if John Paul became mentally incapacitated or, worse, lapsed into a coma without having either resigned or delegated his authority.

You ever wonder why the media doesn't write stories about the "frail and paralyzed Christopher Reeves, whose condition has caused many observers to wonder if he can go on stumping for the need to revive Mengele's research on twins"? It's funny, how people's visions of nobility can get them to overlook irrelevant physical handicaps . . . .

While the church has elaborate rules for papal elections, it has virtually no provisions for determining how, or under what circumstances, a living pope might be deemed mentally incapable.

Not so! Just ask the National Catholic Reporter or America! They have provisions galore! And what's more, they've been practicing!

"The U.S. Constitution has the 25th Amendment that tells us what to do if the president becomes disabled," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of America, a Catholic monthly, who has also written several books about the Catholic hierarchy.

Ah, so you did ask! The brother-in-law came in handy at last -- America and Playboy are the only magazine subscriptions he's kept current!

"The Catholic Church has nothing like that. As long as the pope can communicate, he could resign. But if he can't do that, we're in real trouble. It could cause a real constitutional crisis in the church."

Of course, the problem with asking Jesuits at America about the Catholic Church is that, well, they tend to confuse the Catholic Church with America. In America, a "constitutional crisis" is a situation not susceptible to solution by a written compact publicly agreed upon by equals. A "constitutional crisis" means chaos, disorder, an anything-goes state of affairs. It always means bad and uncertain things, like the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter, the Nixon tapes, Seven Days in May, or (gasp!) five pro-life justices on the Supreme Court.

In the Catholic Church, however, we have the Code of Canon Law. It's decreed by the Roman Pontiff. That's it, the Pope decrees it and -- poof! -- it's law, without so much as a courtesy heads-up to the editorial staff at America. It provides: "When the Roman See is vacant or entirely impeded nothing is to be innovated in the governance of the universal Church; however, special laws enacted for these circumstances are to be observed." Codex Iuris Canonici, Can. 335 (1983). From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The promulgation of a law must not be confounded with its publication, the object of the first being to make known the will of the legislator, of the second to spread the knowledge of legislative enactments among sujects bound to observe them. . . . The Church has long exacted the promulgation of a law by a special act of the authorities: Leges instituuntur quum promulgantur, a law is not really a law until it has been made known, says Gratian (Decretum Gratiani, pt. I, c. 3, dist. VII). . . . The Constitution Promulgandi of Pius X (29 September, 1908) determined the ordinary method of promulgating pontifical laws, namely by the insertion of the text of the law in the "Acta Apostolica Sedis" . . . However, the pope explicitly reserves the right to determine in exceptional cases another method of promulgation.
-- Catholic Encyclopedia, "Promulgation."
Does Rev. Reese, who's qualified to comment because he's got a doctorate in political science from the University of California at Berserkeley, wanna bet there's "special laws enacted for these circumstances"? Probably not -- rumor has it that he still owes a few sawbucks to the older members of the Humanae Vitae office pool.

And history offers few precedents. Only a handful of popes have resigned or abdicated in the past millennium, and none of them for reasons of health or age. The most famous was Celestine V, whom Dante relegated to hell in his "Inferno" after that pope stepped down in 1294 because he felt incompetent.

You better smack that intern upside the head, Carol. Just because he went to Haaaahhhhvahhhhd and studied sexual constructionism in Rennaisance literature, doesn't mean he's aware that the relevant part of the Divine Comedy treats of cowards, the lukewarm, and the indifferent:
He thus to me: "This miserable fate
Suffer the wretched souls of those, who lived
Without or praise or blame, with that ill band
Of angels mix`d, who nor rebellious proved,
Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves
Were only. From his bounds Heaven drove them forth
Not to impair his lustre; nor the depth
Of Hell receives them, lest the accursed tribe
Should glory thence with exultation vain." . . . .

When some of these I recognized, I saw
And knew the shade of him, who to base fear
Yielding, abjured his high estate.
Clement V? Perhaps. But Dante didn't say, and there is another recognized candidate -- Pontius Pilate, who yielded his imperial estate through fear of the mob, and thus allowed the Crucifixion. Anyway, the possibility of resignation was investigated and established as legitimate in Clement V's time, and it's provided for by the current Code of Canon Law. I realize that typical Ivy League graduates think life ought to be run according to Kerouac, Ginsburg, and Eminem, but contra your intern, we don't run the Catholic Church according to Dante (or Carol Eisenberg, thanks be to God.)

And while other popes have had health problems while in office -- Pope Clement XII was blind and conducted most of his 18th century papacy from his bed -- there are few reports of popes who served while mentally incapacitated.

I think the power, or throne, or whoever's been given charge of the media may be depressed. The old man won't die, so he's got to come up with a fallback plan and get everyone gloating over the Pope's incipient senility.

"In the bad, old days, they would just bump him off, or put him in a back room and run the church without him, and no one would know the difference," said Reese. "But today, because so much authority has been centralized in the papacy, there could be a real crisis."

Eager though the editorial staff of America may be to think that euthenasia has a papal sanction, I'm not aware of a Pope who was put to sleep because his life just wasn't worth living any more. Popes got bumped off for solid, traditional reasons -- like greed, ambition, politics -- not because of some modern "Death Before Depends" mentality.

"If the pope became mentally incapacitated, for instance, and top Vatican officials deemed the See of Rome "impeded," as they say in church law, the election of his successor could become contested by some factions within the church, Reese said.

Gee, Rev. Reese, where did "impeded" come from? I thought the Catholic Church hadn't given an ounce of thought to the possibility that something besides death and resignation might separate a pope from the performance of his duties. You just said so, "In America we have the 26th Amendment, which lets the cabinet kick a senile old coot out of office. We've gotta have that in the Church, or us Jesuits will have to don the grey habit and fire on Fort Bruskewitz!" Oh, sorry, that was the draft copy -- darn interns, gotta stop hiring Christendom grads -- but still, it sounds to me like there's actually a law, and so there's actually no looming, incipient, impending CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS that can set us at liberty to run through the streets of Rome, burning encyclicals and hanging prelates. Darn!

"Suppose the people in Poland decide they're not going to acknowledge a successor because they think that John Paul is still the pope, even if he's paralyzed and confined to bed," Reese said.

Gosh, Rev. Reese, that's a brilliant question, just as we'd expect from someone with a Ph.D. from Berserkeley. Here's another one -- Suppose Jesuits in America decide they're not going to pay attention to a damn thing the pope says, even though they know John Paul is neither incompetent, dead, nor deposed? I didn't notice the Church crashing into oblivion. Did I oversleep or something?

While it is rumored that John Paul has prepared a resignation letter to be used in the event he ever becomes incapacitated, the Vatican has never corroborated that.

And of course it should because your continual prattling ought to be having some effect, for all the time and ink you've put into it. How dare the Vatican deny Newsday the opportunity to yet again raise the war-chant -- "frail pope . . . frail pope . . . can't hold his head up, nope, nope, nope" --- and write giddy stories about terrified, sheep-like Catholics on the verge of running their cars through storefronts and playgrounds all across America because the pope's radiopathic control of their minds has suddenly lost half its normal amperage?

"For such a letter to be legally valid, moreover, he would have to be of "sound mind," not just when he wrote the note but when it was eventually dated, wrote the late Rev. James Provost, a canon law professor at Catholic University, in an article published three years ago in America, the Catholic monthly."

.. . and the whole Catholic magisterium, as far as Newsday's concerned. Let me see how this dreadful fact plays into Rev. Reese's nightmare scenario. For the letter to be valid, it would have to be signed and dated while the Pope is in his right mind. And since the Pope has not only issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, but has never contradicted Humanae Vitae . . . . . yeah, I could see why Jesuits would be worried about stuff like this.

For now, all indications are that the pope is lucid despite his physical infirmities and that he has no intention of quitting.

"For now, all indications are that this story is a worthless piece of gibberish written to tantalize, provoke, and otherwise disturb morons into buying copies of Newsday."

"As recently as several weeks ago, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls minimized John Paul's limitations, saying they "don't at all hamper the way he performs his duties." And many consider his continuing papacy a testament to his courage and faith, as well as an inspiration to all Catholics who deal with aging and disability.

Except, of course, to Terri Schiavo's family and the bishops of Florida.

"But regardless of their admiration for the pope, some are now openly calling for a mandatory retirement age for the papacy, as now exists for bishops, or even a fixed term of 10, 15 or 20 years."

. . . . or removal upon conviction for "high crimes and misdemeanors" like Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Humanae Vitae, approving the formation of the Legionaries of Christ, or canonizing Josemaria Escriva . . . .

"It's time to have a term of office for the papacy so we don't have a senile pope who's in office, but nothing can happen at the Vatican because no one wants to open their mouth because they don't know who the next king will be," said Dean Hoge, chairman of the sociology department at Catholic University in Washington, D.C."

No one, that is, except Dean Hoge, who's chairman of the sociology department at Catholic University and ipso facto more interested in the welfare of the Church than a bunch of pasta-eating eunuchs who're so dumb they still think theology is the Queen of Sciences.

A few -- but only a few -- publicly criticize the pope for not stepping down.

Sigh. So few, so few! Can't use the brother-in-law again, gone to that well once too often. . . . nope, not her -- she left the novitiate and joined an ashram somewhere and I don't have the number . . . . . the dog's at the vet . . . . I know! I know! He'll come through! He never fails anyone . . .

"If John Paul had announced he was retiring a few years ago, he would have said to the world, 'No person is indispensable, not even the pope,'" said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Thank [ ] for Richard McBrien! Without him, reporting on the Catholic Church would grind to a halt, and news anchors would lose their mouths like Neo did in The Matrix. There wouldn't be a single modern gripe about the Catholic Church -- ranging from complaints about the Church's teachings on sex all the way through complaints about the Church's teachings on sex -- that could be "legitimized" by the sight of McBrien's head croaking out the dead pseudo-pieties of 1968. And as usual, McBrien has gotten it wrong. Every person is indispensable -- even the pope. Even this pope, no matter how much some folks would like him to be the pontifical equivalent of Terri Schiavo.
Rerum Indeed, Revisited

Shawn at Rerum Novarum had posted an idea from Fr. Greeley about a priesthood limited in duration. (That text can be found here.) I replied, briefly, raising some questions. (That text can be found here. Shawn's latest thoughts on my concerns are here, and I thought I'd continue this interesting conversation.

I had expressed some reservations on the "temporary" priesthood because it "makes some pretty significant inroads onto the idea of priest as alter Christus (alter Christus for 10 years?)." Shawn replies that in the days of shorter lifespans widowers would often come to the priesthood with only ten or fifteen years of life remaining: "So what is being proposed here does not differ . . . except [that in earlier days] it was ten to fifteen years on average of alter Christus before being taken from service by death. Now it would be ten to twenty years of alter Christus before being essentially "decomissioned" (in most cases) or being selected for an additional period either for higher orders or continued priestly ministry."

That's a dimension I hadn't thought about, the option to "re-enlist" at the end of one's ten or fifteen year stint. I like that addition very much. Would the re-enlistment be for another similar term of years, or for life? Would the priest have the final say, or would the bishop have the authority to continue his service "for the duration of the present emergency"? Just curious here.

But I still think there is a difference between the methods. I don't want to provoke a lengthy "laity vs clergy" debate about participation in holiness or divine glory, but I think it's undeniably true that the priestly life is marked by aspects or expressions of holiness which a layman cannot fully enjoy. It seems to me that these distinctions are both in kind (e.g., the power to administer the sacraments), and in degree or manner (e.g., poverty or chastity, which are required of all but lived in different ways according to one's state). I don't have a problem with the idea of a man passing into a more potent and vivid station in the Body of Christ. Where my concern comes in is the idea of a man going back down the ladder, so to speak, with the possible connotation that he's "done his time" and can now enjoy "real life."

That latter concern is mollified enormously by the "re-enlistment" idea, since the continuation of priestly service would remain a (no doubt preferred) option for many. But the analogy unintentionally implied by Shawn's defense would, I fear, be taken up by many: As in olden days, when priests died and gained their reward in Heaven, they now get "decomissioned" and are rewarded with married life and secular employment. I have always found a very strong agreement that the spiritual life is a "march or die" proposition -- there's no "hover mode," and it's foolish to think you can go back to where you were before you were given a spiritual benefit (Matthew 12:42, 2 Peter 2:20-22). I realize those Scriptures are speaking specifically about sin, but there's just something unpleasantly counterintuitive in saying that growth requires a decrease, that (to paraphrase John Paul II on priestly decomissionings) the God who once wished to hear "yes," also wishes to hear "no mas."

Shawn writes, "Besides, as the priest functions as ‘another Christ' at mass and in the sacramental ministry, within the ministry of the domestic church, the father is supposed to be ‘another Christ' to his family. Thus, I do not see the problem here that Maureen does or you seem to. There is biological fatherhood and spiritual fatherhood. Both roles have an ‘alter-Christus' dimension to them albeit in a different way." Yes, but that illustrates my concern rather well: When does a father get to say "I've had enough and I'm resigning?" The gift, once given, endures and can be accepted only by increase and growth, not by stepping down. I realize you can make the further analogy between them by saying that demands on a domestic father become different, even less intense, as his children grow to adulthood. Still, he remains their father and has no ecclesiastically-sanctioned lessening of his basic connection and obligation to them. Also, the priestly role as alter Christus is dedicated to serving the permanent state of dependent childhood among the faithful, (Matthew 18:3). It is obviously part of God's plan that a domestic father come to a point where he can stop ensuring that his children do their homework, but how is it part of God's plan that a priest stop ensuring that his children confess their sins and receive the Eucharist? A domestic father cannot put away his bride except for scandal, how do we reconcile that with the idea that a priestly father can lessen his intimacy with his bride because he wants to settle down, get married, and become an avionics technician?

Shawn also thinks the idea is interesting because "this principle is one way of dealing with the fact that (i) there is a vocations shortage (ii) the traditional lustre of ecclesial ministry has more additional options opposing it today than the mundane peasant life of the past (iii) the longer lifespans coupled with more demanding pastoral work means a quicker burnout by the priests." He's also concerned about ways to counteract the encroachment of laity on the roles of priestly ministry, and I think those are all very good points. He also says "there would in my view be another valuable function for priests in the situation Fr. Greeley described other than being a priest in emergency situations after the period of service was up. And that is being trained as part time spiritual directors. Certainly after ten to twenty years of hearing confessions such men acquire a tremendous insight into the human condition." This is also a good point, and it could be of great benefit. But what does a decommissioned priest say to a man who want's to divorce his wife? "You know, Fr., you were married to the Church, and now you're not. Sometimes it's too hard, isn't it?" I see a great opportunity for scandal here, resulting not from the nature of the proposed change but from the ignorance or unclarity of laymen. That too is a valid concern.

I was also concerned about the creation of an Orthodox-style priesthood: "Secondly, I think it's probably the Orthodox priesthood in by the back door. Nothing wrong with the Orthodox priesthood, but celibacy is, as Greeley says, a "strength and treasure of the West." I can't believe we wouldn't take just the point we were now discussing about indelible marks and come up with a "Semi-Retired Priest Corps" that goes on and on and on until it eventually takes over all parishes." Shawn replies, "SAM, first you say there is nothing wrong with the Orthodox priesthood and then you lament this idea as necesarily one that would "take over all parishes" and be "Orthodox priesthood through the back door." If there is nothing wrong with Orthodox priesthood then what you see as lamentable would not be a problem if it were to happen. (And I am not convinced that it would.)" As to the alleged inconsistency, I'm sure Shawn would agree with me that there's nothing wrong with a lifelong, Latin-style celibate priesthood. Would he follow his own point and say that no Orthodox church contemplating union with Rome should be concerned that the result might entail, at some point, the imposition of the Latin model of priesthood? I don't think so. If I were Orthodox, and had read about Cum Data Fuerit, I'd spend a mighty long time contemplating that possibility. A customary discipline can be good without being good everywhere and for everyone. If lifelong celibacy is a "strength and treasure of the West" than it is so for distinct and unique reasons which aren't seen as being so useful, or edifying, in the East. The same goes for a married Eastern clergy in reverse and, although I don't really understand why they think that regimen is useful or edifying enough to forego the Latin model, I really do lovingly accept what must be the wiser judgment of the Church, which has always maintained the wholesomeness of the Eastern practice. I value it because they do, and because the Church does, even though I don't "get" it.

I think our present manner of priestly life ought to be cherished for at least the same reasons, and so I think the establishment of a virtual Orthodox priesthood ought to be seriously considered as something which might be wholesome among the Orthodox but dangerous to ourselves. If the argument admits that a celibate Latin-model clergy is a "strength and treasure of the West," one feels obliged to ask, "Why?" I suspect that the answer will not be congruent with a married clergy, and while I realize that a married clergy isn't the point of Fr. Greeley's suggestion, I think the possibility of having such clergy ought to be given some serious thought.

I am worried, and I think it's a justified worry, that some or many of these "discharged" priests will become very insistent about their inactivity being unnecessary, harmful to the Church, and about their continued ability to serve as priest at all times. I think it's also likely that the same manpower pressures which have resulted in Fr. Greeley's idea will cause Bishops to give these pleadings an attentive ear, and to find ways around the obstacle of the priests' "discharge." Shawn has, in another context, mentioned one possible method for this transformation, the principle that "in the rare emergency situation, all priests are given faculties and all penalties - even excommunication - are temporarily suspended." One can imagine all kinds of legalisms by which the principle of "rare emergency" can be extended and "morph" into something else, just as the rare emergency use of communal confession has been extended and "morphed" into something which was never intended. In discussing policy, it is a bad business to assume that the original intent, or even the letter, of a policy will always control its future use. The old saw, "you can write the law, so long as I can pick the judge," is apt in this context.

Orthodoxy also figures into this discussion because of something our traditions have in common -- the belief that celibacy is the normal or "default" state of clerical life. The Orthodox don't allow priests to marry. They ordain married men as priests. Now I realize that the marriage is usually 24 hours before ordination, and that everyone involved understands that the result of a married priest is accepted and intended by all. But the principle remains, especially with respect to Orthodox bishops, who (from what I understand) cannot be selected from among the married clergy. The West has made exceptions along the Orthodox pattern for priests, but it's my impression that the idea of a man being married once he has been ordained a priest isn't congruent with how Christianity has rightly understood chastity for successful, ordinary clerics (as opposed to clerics who have "left the priesthood").

It really doesn't matter to me whether the idea came from Fr. Greeley or Fr. Fessio. It's an interesting idea, I just have some uneasiness about it.