Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Two Requests

Would someone be kind enough to tell me the list of titles in the 12-volume Pohle-Preuss Dogmatic Theology series?

Is Joe Maurrier out there? Could you email me?

Monday, December 27, 2004

After Reading the Jefferson Bible, The President Issues a ____mas Message

The following is the text of what can, with a large act of imagination, be called the President's Christmas Message. Inasmuch as there are still people who think Junior represents, not just a barely-acceptable, marginally-lesser-of-many-evils, Christian choice for the White House, but who actually think he's an ideal Christian choice for high office, I add my comments here. Junior's words are in black. Mine in blue.

* * *

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On this Christmas day, as families across the nation gather in our homes to celebrate something, we're not sure what it is, but it must be a very nice something, Laura and I extend to all Americans our best wishes for the holidays like Kwanzaa, the pagan hallucinatory fantasy concocted by a convicted felon which, Junior says, "strengthens the ties that bind communities across America and around the world." Can't say that about _____ianity, though. Rove would have fits!. We hope this Christmas is a time of joy and peace for each of you who are celebrating something, a Christmasy kind of something that isn't exactly Kwanzaa, although it must be very nice nonetheless, and we hope it offers you a chance for rest and reflection as you look forward to the new year ahead.

The Christmas season fills our hearts with gratitude to something or someone, we're not sure what it is, but it must be a very nice something or someone for the many blessings in our lives. You know, a "blessing" means an approval given by someone. Just thought I'd mention that, since Junior won't. And with those blessings comes a responsibility To whom? To what? Something very, very nice, I guess. to reach out to others. Many of our fellow Americans still suffer from the effects of illness or poverty, others fight cruel addictions, or cope with division in their families, or grieve the loss of a loved one.

Christmastime reminds each of us that we have a duty to our fellow citizens, It seems to me that Christ commands us to observe the duties we have to our fellow men; suggesting that a thing called "Christmastime" merely "reminds" us about duties which extend to those bound by a polity is, well, a fascist co-opting of religious imagery. But then I'm an awful cynic. that we are called By who? By what? The Blue Heron Spirit? Minerva? Or just something very, very nice? to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves. From what little I know, the commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, according to the will of the God who is love incarnate -- ____sus ____ist. It is not a command to hold a Kantian swap-meet of imaginary categorical imperatives. But then why offend the Kantians? This is Kwanzaa, after all, the time of the Nguno Saba, whose principles emphasize unity." By volunteering our time and talents where they are needed most, we help heal the sick, comfort those who suffer, and bring hope to those who despair, one heart and one soul at a time.

During the holidays, we also keep in our thoughts and prayers the men and women of our Armed Forces, especially those far from home, separated from family and friends by the call of duty and forced to rummage through land-fills for the equipment my Administration is too cheap or too stupid to provide. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, these skilled and courageous Americans are fighting the enemies of freedom and protecting our country from danger until the day when I can, with the barest minimum of acceptable face-saving, un-ass Iraq and thank something nice, something very nice, that the consequences of our idiotic invasion of Iraq will be borne later, when Hillary is delivering the Kwanzaa Message. By bringing liberty to the oppressed, by which I mean the liberty of Christians to get the hell out before Iraq's reincarnation of the Weimar Republic collapses in an Islamofascist explosion our troops are helping to win the war on terror, and they are defending the freedom and security of us all. They and their families are making many sacrifices for our nation, and for that, all Americans are deeply grateful. I am deeply grateful. I just wish those guys had a commander in chief who wasn't a grandstanding jackass ("Mission Accomplished," George?) and whose geopolitical savvy didn't amount to a blind faith that, by the miraculous ex opere effect of one (that's "one," as in "the only, with no more to follow") election, a hundred million madrassa-heads will turn their backs on the hope of seventy-two virgins and eternal life in favor of reading People magazine and playing Grand-Theft Auto sixteen hours a day.

The times we live in have brought many challenges to our country. And at such times, the story of Christmas brings special comfort and confidence. Because the story of Christmas is really the story of America. See above reference "awful cynic." For 2000 years, Christmas has proclaimed a message of hope: the patient hope of men and women across centuries who listened to the words of prophets and lived in joyful expectation, the hope of Mary who welcomed God's plan with great faith, and the hope of Wise Men who set out on a long journey, guided only by a promise traced in the stars. A prophecy, a plan, and a promise of . . . . of . . . . . ummm . . . well, uh, errr . . . . . something nice, very nice, really really nice. Like Nguno Saba . . . . Hey! Wasn't Muhammad a prophet? Didn't he talk about Issa? Maybe this Christmas thing is religious, after all!

Christmas reminds us that the grandest purposes of God can be found in the humblest places, Really? Why? I mean, did something happen in a humble place that was part of God's grandest purposes? I bet it was something nice, something very, very nice indeed. Whatever it was. and it gives us hope that all the love and gifts that come to us in this life are the signs and symbols of an even greater love and gift that came on a holy night. Holy night? Which holy night? The Lailat al Miraj, when the Prophet traveled miraculously from Mecca to Jerusalem? Or the Lailat al Qadr, when the holy Koran was first revealed to the Prophet? Gosh, could you imagine if we had a President who spoke of Islam that way?
Ramadan commemorates the revelation of God's word in the holy Koran to the prophet Mohammed – a word that is read and recited with special attention and reverence during this season.
Gee, I guess we do have a President who speaks of Islam that way -- the above is from Junior's 2003 Eid Al-Fitr Greeting. I've got no problems with a Christian president addressing Muslims as though their religion were true, provided he does so in a way that doesn't oblige him or the rest of us to speak as though it were. What I don't understand is why Junior thinks he can speak of Islam in that way when he's issuing a Ramadan message, but feels himself above mentioning ____sus in a Christmas message. It's probably the same reason the Republican Party can be so pro-life as to give us Arlen Specter for the Senate, and then for Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "Poor, uneducated, and easily led." The (alleged) slur gets more apt with every election victory handed to Republicans by ____ians.

Thank you for listening, and Merry Christmas. And Merry Christmas to you, George. Merry JESUSChristmas! Because Christmas commemorates the revelation of God's word in the person of Jesus Christ – the Word who is adored and worshiped with special attention and reverence during this season. At least it is among the poor, uneducated, and easily-led people who put you in the White House. If you can't say the name of their God, why not just stick with Kwanzaa?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

My Favorite Christmas Reading

The twenty-fifth day of December.
In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world
from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses
and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
in the sixth age of the world,
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ
the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary,
being made flesh.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2004

My Favorite Christmas Picture


Jean-Leon Gerome, The Age of Augustus the Birth of Christ

I'd tell you why I like it so, but I think it's more fun to let you figure out how it relates to Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Back to the Future

Been reading some Catholic writings with regard to the end of history lately. Here are two interesting pieces. The first is from Bishop Christianos Agreda, who lived in the 12th Century:
"In the 20th century France's union with England will prove to be her utter destruction: for there will be great shedding of blood by the people of the kingdom. There will be wars and fury that will last a long time; whole provinces shall be emptied of their inhabitants, and kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion; many strongholds and noble houses shall be destroyed and their cities and towns shall be forsaken of their inhabitants; in divers places the ground shall be left untilled, and there shall be great slaughters of the upper class; their sun shall be darkened and never shine again, for France shall be desolate and her leader destroyed. There shall be great mutations and changes of kings and rulers for the right hand of the world shall fear the left, and the north shall prevail over the south."
This sounds a lot like France in the 20th Century, particularly World War I and World War II, a period of global conflict spanning some 31 years. ("There will be wars and fury that will last a long time.") Certainly the ground near the trenches and no-man's land was left untilled. That same period saw the destruction of the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs, and the Romanovs; political upheavals and turmoil rent the continent. ("kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion . . . There shall be great mutations and changes of kings and rulers . . . "). "[T]here shall be great slaughters of the upper class; their sun shall be darkened and never shine again. . . ." France alone lost some 1.3 million men in World War I, many of them from the upper-classes. Western civilization, the ward of those classes, threw itself into a mire of self-loathing evidenced by this poem of Ezra Pound: "There died a myriad / And of the best, among them / For an old bitch gone in the teeth / For a botched civilization . . . ." Afterwards, the right and left hands of the earth feared one another (West vs. East?), "and the north shall prevail over the south." With respect to the world, this suggests the north/south hemispherical economic divide and, with particular regard to France, it's interesting that the traitorous Vichy regime, defeated by the Allies and Free French, was in the south of the country.

Even more interesting is this writing of St. Nilus (d. 430), a student of Chrysostom:
"After the year 1900, toward the middle of the 20th century, the people of that time will become unrecognisable. When the time for the Advent of the Antichrist approaches, peoples minds will grow cloudy from carnal passions, and dishonour and lawlessness will grow stronger. Then the world will become unrecognisable. Peoples appearances will change, and it will be impossible to distinguish men from women due to there shamelessness in dress and style of hair. These people will be cruel and will be like wild animals because of the temptations of the Antichrist. There will be no respect for parents or elders, love will disappear, and Christian pastors, bishops, and priests will become vain men, completely failing to distinguish the right hand way from the left. At that time the morals and traditions of Christians and the Church will change. People will abandon modesty, and dissipation will reign. Falsehood and greed will attain great proportions, and woe to those who pile up treasures. Lust, adultery, homosexuality, secret deeds and murder will rule in society."
Fair enough, perhaps, although it could stand fairly well as a description of life in some European and Byzantine courts over the (next? past?) thousand years. But St. Nilus adds a few details that can raise your hair, such as how at the advent of the Antichrist "men will . . . fly through the air like birds and descend to the bottom of the sea like fish." Moreover, the devil will also "give depraved wisdom to an unhappy man so that he will discover a way by which one man can carry on a conversation with another from one end of the earth to the other." (So no, don't call your mom and warn her about this). And when, the Saint tells us, we have achieved all this, "these unhappy people spend their lives in comfort without knowing, poor souls, that it is deceit of the Antichrist."

Having a different (unrecognizable?) cultural/historical perspective means I quarrel a bit with St. Nilus' apparent identification of evil as technology, but you can't argue with the wisdom of his judgment that the Antichrist will "so complete science with vanity that it will go off the right path and lead people to lose faith in the existence of God in three hypostases (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)." Science leading people to lose faith in the existence of God? Been there, done that. And completing science with vanity sounds right up the genetic-playboy's alley -- for isn't the most alluring promise of genetic engineering the creation of beautiful people, immortal sexual playmates, unconquerable soldiers, children whose gifts would make any parent's heart burst with pride? Of course it is, don't let all those crocodile-tears about diabetic kids and cleft-palates fool you. Big Pharma, Harvard, and the Bush Administration aren't interested in genetic research because it may alleviate suffering in countries whose GDP couldn't pay for a single X-Box; they're interested because there's a market for people who can fork out $50,000.00 for treatments guaranteed to give them blond, blue-eyed children (playmates/soldiers/future taxpayers) with IQs in the high three-digit range while simultaneously lowering health-care costs by culling the herd over the long term. There's a greater vanity at work here -- asserting man's desires to determine his own nature, and it is the antithesis of humility. St. Nilus, pray for us.

Friday, December 17, 2004

An Old Acquaintance Renewed

I recently had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with my favorite Canadian and Libertarian! His name -- roll trumpets and drums, please --- is Pierre Lemieux who lives some distance north of Montreal with, as he says, "my guns, my chainsaw, and my computer." We once had a very entertaining and enlightening debate about the health effects of smoking.


"Cigarettes won't kill you," I said. "If it were otherwise, the United States's infallible fascist government would have said so on the warning labels it requires on cigarette packages." I took a triumphant drag on my Winston, satisfied that I had proved my case beyond question.

"Idiot!," replied Professor Lemieux, the thick and tangy smoke of a Gauloise wreathing his head. "Of course cigarettes will kill you! You see, our fascist government's infalliblity is far less fallible than your fascist government's infallibility, and since our government requires labels that warn of imminent death, it is indisputable that cigarettes will cause it!"

That set me back on my heels a bit. Now insecure, I puffed a few times on my Winston to restore confidence in my manhood (after all, doesn't Michael Douglas smoke Winstons in Wall Street?) before trying to bluff him. Eyebrow cocked, I sallied forth: "Are you sure?"

"Certainly!" Professor Lemieux exclaimed, his excited gestures scattering ash around the designated smoking zone. "Have we not nationalized more industries than you? Do we not already have hate-crimes legislation? Aren't our taxes more confiscatory than yours? Can you deny that the revulsion our elites have for Western civilization makes it seem, by comparison, as though your elites are jingoistic troglodytes? In fact, don't our elites regularly call your elites jingoistic troglodytes? My God, man, you can own assault rifles in the United States! No, we're light-years ahead of you when it comes to realizing Mussolini's dreams and, therefore, our government is far more infallible than yours!"

Well call me politically-incorrect if you must, but I wasn't about to let some Canadian claim his country was better than the good ‘ol USA at anything, even if that thing is the destruction of human dignity. I pondered some possible replies while savoring that good Virginia tobacco . . . . hmmmm, more babies aborted? Heck, the per capita death toll is probably the same, so that's a no-go, gotta put this guy away in one burst, Powell Doctrine and all that . . . . Lifetime Network? A 24/7 television channel dedicated to exposing the angst of feminists and the evil of the men who betray and persecute them? Crap, I haven't seen Canadian television unless you count John Candy, and Lemieux's looking pretty smug over there, better not chance it . . . . suddenly a last burst of nicotine fired the essential synapse. EUREKA!

"But, Pierre, your warning labels say that cigarettes cause imminent death, and you're smoking one now. You're not dead. So your labels are wrong." I grinned my best predatory American grin, the one that says "I Brake for Strip Miners," and puffed out a good cloud of smoke. Smells like victory, I thought to myself.

"Irrelevant," he replied, as though he were impatiently trying to explain why you have to put the parachute on before you jump out of the plane.

"Irrelevant?" I asked, astounded once again.

"Naturally! In a totalitarian state death and life are matters of law, not biological fact. Go and google "Lysenko" and "biology" if you don't believe me. If the state chooses to declare me legally dead, and regulate my life at the same time, that is its affair and isn't to be hampered by some Winston smoker pretending he knows that 2+2=4, when in fact it's whatever the state says it is."

"Huh?" I had that sinking feeling, knowing I was about to repeat the old story of the naive, blustery American shot down in flames by sophisticated Euro-logic.

"Quite. You'll understand after you've been to the reeducation camp."


That's why I spend hours, now, making sure I only buy cigarette packs with labels that warn about adverse health consequences to pregnant women. I'm not jingoistic enough to ignore the possibility that Canada's right. Maybe its government is more infallible than ours! So I'm not taking any chances.

You can find Pierre's delightful and informative website here.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Thoughts on Natural Law

Thanks to the folks who've emailed me asking why I haven't been blogging. Lots of stuff going on the home front, too boring to recount but too demanding to ignore, is one reason. Another was that during all the stuff going on, I felt compelled to blog, that the blog was demanding my attention, that I simply had to keep up or I'd "lose out" on something. The blog was getting uppity. It was time to put it in its place. I've heard it, whimpering in the night, cowed and beaten, for some days now. I have won this round, and so I hope to return to my scribbling over the Christmas holidays.

In the meantime, I couldn't help but notice what I think is a vindication of my position in a running argument with some fellow Catholics about natural law. For those new to the subject, the "natural law" can be pictured as an "over-law," holding a similar position with respect to human laws as Christ, the King of Kings, occupies with respect to human authorities:
[W]e observe . . . in all those who govern . . . that the plan of government is derived by secondary governors from the governor in chief; thus the plan of what is to be done in a state flows from the king's command to his inferior administrators: and again in things of art the plan of whatever is to be done by art flows from the chief craftsman to the under-crafts-men, who work with their hands. Since then the eternal law is the plan of government in the Chief Governor, all the plans of government in the inferior governors must be derived from the eternal law. But these plans of inferior governors are all other laws besides the eternal law. Therefore all laws, in so far as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law. Hence Augustine says that "in temporal law there is nothing just and lawful, but what man has drawn from the eternal law."
St. Thomas, Summa, I(II), q. 93, a. 3
My argument, which has lasted for a couple of years in conversation, correspondence (email and otherwise) and, I must admit, in my own head, is with people who think that the "natural law" can be usefully applied without reference or recourse to the revealed truths of Catholicism.

They believe that the proof and tenets of "natural law" depend primarily on the observation of creation which, established by God and therefore knowable by man, is capable of informing us about our natures and the proper order of society. At first blush this seems well and good: "Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 36 (quoting Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Canons, Art. 2, ¶ 1). But when their position is explored, one soon enough finds it subjected to an astonishing myopia that compresses the natural law into an Enlightenment-style materialism. That is not what these individuals intend, but it is where they end up. By taking, as they do, reason and observable creation as the sole framework in which the existence and content of natural law can be achieved, they hope to "rescue" natural law by making it acceptable to modern secularists. This is supposedly accomplished in two ways; first, by assuring secularists that any meta-law adopted by society will not embody "theocratic dogmas" and second, by assuring men of different faiths that their religions will not be contradicted by an order based on a legal tradition that is (the contribution of classical culture notwithstanding) Christian in its provenance. This second argument, by the way, also pleases secularists, since it jibes nicely with modern conceits about what "freedom of religion" and "separation of church and state" are supposed to mean. Having grounded our meta-law on nothing save empiricism and "reason," it is thought that we will restore a true natural-law tradition to our civilization with all the benefits that law offers mankind.

I wrote an essay once about the natural law which took the opposing point of view, arguing that without revealed truths "natural law" is simply a shibboleth. I almost regret writing that essay, since it gave occasion for unfavorable review of what is a very fine book featuring the thoughts of far more distinguished scholars and lawyers than myself. The National Review found the book blurb-worthy, and the blurb adequately summarizes the complaints about my essay and one or two others which took a similar position:
[The book] assembles 13 essays asking whether law ever has a deeper basis than the mere consent of the governed. The essayists agree that it does: that-in a tradition dating back to ancient Greece-there is a natural law "written on our hearts." A number of contributors discuss the problem in a religious context, but John Jenkins, in his essay on Aquinas, makes the important point that in natural law "the goodness and value of things human . . . are not explicitly dependent" on a particular faith.
-- Michael Potemra, "Shelf Life," National Review, April 3, 2000.
The prima facie reasonableness in Mr. Potemra's relieved comment can be quickly dispelled by asking if the goodness and value of walking onto an Israeli bus with a bomb strapped to your chest is explicitly dependent on a particular faith. Of course it is. Any successful fedayeen would tell you just that -- if he were allowed to return from Hell, that is. And while we may agree with Mr. Potemra that the "goodness and value" of heterosexual marriage doesn't "explicitly depend" on believing in Presbyterianism or Islam, Judaism or Catholicism, we must admit that saying so and nothing more in a discussion of natural law evades the subject altogether.

Scholars may parse the issue all they like, but one may affirm the goodness of heterosexual marriage without explicit reference to a particular faith only by subscribing to one of two positions. We may affirm it because we believe that our "particular faith" is the true one, but that shards and remnants of truth also exist in other faiths as well and it does no immediate harm to allow others to act in conformity with God's will even though they do not fully grasp everything He requires. We may also affirm it if we believe in a gauzy syncretism that locates super-human truth wherever human religions happen to display some acceptable level of mutual agreement, or because we believe in some separate, "revelation-free" way of objectively knowing truth about the human condition. In other words, we can affirm the goodness of heterosexual marriage either because we have particular faiths, or because we have a general faith that is superior to all particular faiths. The issue is not whether the laws will serve faith. The issue was, is, and shall always be: Which faith will the laws serve?"

Attempts to locate the natural law without reference to a "particular faith" will always reduce themselves to a simple apologia for fascism. If we accept that the state will make laws about the goodness and value of human actions according to a faith superior to all particular faiths, we accept the state as the supreme arbiter of good and evil. What is the individual in such a state? What is God? God is the State, and the individual a simple manifestation of God's will:
[T]he Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity . . . Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to be the attribute of living men . . . then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State -- a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values -- interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.
-- Benito Mussolini, Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions (New York: Howard Fertig, 1935).
One reviewer of my essay expressed dismay that I left doubt whether natural law could ever "leave the Catholic farm." Indeed. I was not raised on a farm, but I know you can't get milk without a cow. Without "particular faiths," there can be no such thing as natural law. There can only be popular opinion and, ultimately, death. One of the "dogmas" that the modern perspective on natural law jettisons is the dogma of the Fall, the dogma which reminds us that we are not -- even when using our reason -- our best selves: "human nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 405. "Particular faiths" put Mussolini's dream out of reach because they prevent the State from dictating the terms of its own legitimacy, its own "faith." Particular faiths hold the State to account, and place limits on its power: It is no accident that constitutional governments appeared in societies with "particular faiths." Without that, there is only the mob, howling for peace, justice and -- eventually -- the death of Christ.

Vatican I taught us all that God can be known by reason from created things. It did not teach us that everything about Him -- including His plans for us in this life -- can be so known, and it certainly didn't tell us that revelation is an obstacle to the use of our reason. Yes, we can know God from reason and creation. And if we use our reason rightly, and observe creation accurately, we will accept Jesus Christ as His divine Son, the Bible as His holy words, and the Roman Catholic Church as His Body with the triple mission to teach, to rule, and to sanctify. That is my particular faith, and it provokes great revulsion. Let's examine, for a moment, the reasons for this fear, this disgust, which supposedly-civilized men experience at the thought of a society organized by Catholic dogma.

A state authentically based on a Catholic view of natural law will subscribe to the principles explained by Dignitatis Humanae, and will accept its citizens' disputing questions of law and public policy from religious motives. It will also accept that some, many, or a few of its citizens will view some, many, or a few of its laws as illegitimate departures from the divine will. It will take care to justify itself, as to these matters, on theologies which permit men to observe even "unjust" laws and keep the civil peace without violating their consciences. It will force as few as possible to violate the dictates of their religious sensibilities, and it will humbly but respectfully oblige them to observe others' rights to enjoy the benefits of those laws. But there should be no mistake, that such a society will punish some people because of their religions, and force them to act against their most deeply-held beliefs. All this, men say, is completely unacceptable. I fail to see why, since all "free" secular societies mirror this dread vision in almost every respect.

All such societies accept that their citizens will dispute questions of law and public policy. They all accept that some, many, or a few of their citizens will view some, many, or a few of the laws as illegitimate, wrong-headed, and objectionable. These states take care to justify themselves, as to such matters, on political philosophies which permit men to observe even "unjust" laws and keep the civil peace without violating their consciences. These states force as few as possible to violate the dictates of their religious sensibilities, and they oblige dissenters to observe others' rights to enjoy the benefits of those laws. They also punish some people because of their religions, and force them to act against their most deeply-held beliefs. As to the simple fact of "ideological oppression" there is no difference.

Secularists excoriate Pius IX for kidnaping Eduardo Mortara, forcing him to live apart from his Jewish parents and become Catholic. They claim it proves that Catholicism is oppressive and contrary to human dignity. But no ardent secularist objects when a child-custody dispute between a parent who is "obsessively religious" or in a "cult," is decided in favor of the more "reasonable" and "enlightened" parent. Secularists point to the Index as proof that a Catholic polity will always crush dissent and free-wheeling inquiry, while passing laws against "hate crimes" that allow men to be more harshly punished because they possessed objectionable literature. They decry the Inquisition as the nadir of human politics, then go off and establish "Un-American Activities Committees," launch operations like COINTELPRO, or adopt Orwellian practices to ferret out employees who believe differently than the company's official positions on gay rights. Secularists claim it would violate every decency to compel religious instruction for schoolchildren, while at the same time approving of mandatory psychological testing for every child to "ensure appropriate and culturally relevant assessment" of their "social and emotional development."

"Religious" societies are no more likely to engage in "oppressive" behavior than "secular" ones. For every sad example of persecution in a "theocratic" context one may find an equal or worse counterpart in the supposedly-enlightened secular world. Washington was right to compare government and fire, for both are tools, no better or worse than the men who employ them. If we can exonerate the ideals of democracy from responsibility for HUAC by attributing it to a combination of base motives, cowardice, or ignorance on the part of those who could have known better, can we not excuse the ideals of Catholicism from inquisitorial wrongs on the same account? Can we refuse to do so, knowing that the Inquisition occurred as part of a long historical struggle that yielded those very same democratic ideals? Secularist opponents of natural law should do so, and would, if they had the principles they imagine for themselves. But, unfortunately for all of us, they do not. They have not learned the harsh and sober lessons which the Church recites in Dignitatis Humanae. They are not progressives, but atavists of an earlier time in which the Truth was thought to travel along a sword's thrust or a fire's tongue. They do not object to persecution and coercion. They only object to not being recognized as the God in whose name those things are done.

A perspective on natural law which caters to this hypocrisy, effectively granting the state the right determine what is good and valuable in human life by acquiescing to the idea that secular power follows a "reason" and "objectivity" which is superior to all other faiths, is also an atavism. "We have no king but Caesar!" Civilized men have two kings, one who reigns in this world on behalf of the other, who rules from the next. Only men with "particular faiths" can make a society that is not a totalitarian theocracy, because only they can clearly see that the state is not God. Only such men can create a society that respects human dignity, because only they clearly understand how that dignity exists without the permission of their own thoughts and desires. And none of them can deify the king without, at least, being called into question by their neighbors. Of course such men have, and will, from time to time abuse their powers and betray their birthrights. That is the story of man as a whole, the dogma of the Fall. All the more reason, then, to cling to our particular faiths; it is no accident that the most vicious and gross violations of man's dignity have been perpetrated by societies which rejected the Fall as "mere religious dogma."

That's prologue. (Anybody still curious about why I've had no time to blog recently?). Now I come to the latest exhibit in my case, courtesy of Fr. Dowd's Waiting in Joyful Hope. It is the advisory decision by the Canadian Supreme Court giving our northerly neighbors permission to make the disordered affection known as homosexuality a building block of family and social life in Canada. Among the questions raised -- and dispensed with -- by the Court is the argument quite similar to the one which would be fashioned by some modern natural law theorists on the issue:
First, it is argued, the institution of marriage escapes legislative redefinition. Existing in its present basic form since time immemorial, it is not a legal construct, but rather a supra-legal construct subject to legal incidents. In the Persons case, Lord Sankey, writing for the Privy Council, dealt with this very type of argument, though in a different context. In addressing whether the fact that women never had occupied public office was relevant to whether they could be considered "persons" for the purposes of being eligible for appointment to the Senate, he said . . .
The fact that no woman had served or has claimed to serve such an office is not of great weight when it is remembered that custom would have prevented the claim being made or the point being contested.

Customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared. The appeal to history therefore in this particular matter is not conclusive.

Lord Sankey acknowledged. . . that "several centuries ago" it would have been understood that "persons" should refer only to men. Several centuries ago it would have been understood that marriage should be available only to opposite-sex couples. The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today.

Second, some interveners emphasize that while Lord Sankey envisioned our Constitution as a "living tree" in the Persons case, he specified that it was "capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits." These natural limits, they submit, preclude same-sex marriage. . . .

The natural limits argument can succeed only if its proponents can identify an objective core of meaning which defines what is "natural" in relation to marriage. Absent this, the argument is merely tautological. The only objective core which the interveners before us agree is "natural" to marriage is that it is the voluntary union of two people to the exclusion of all others. Beyond this, views diverge. We are faced with competing opinions on what the natural limits of marriage may be.

Lord Sankey's reference to "natural limits" did not impose an obligation to determine, in the abstract and absolutely, the core meaning of constitutional terms. Consequently, it is not for the Court to determine, in the abstract, what the natural limits of marriage must be.
Notice, first, the hypocrisy of the Canadian jurists. Determining, in the abstract, what the natural limits of marriage are is precisely what they're doing -- the natural limits go past heterosexuality, through homosexuality and (for the present, at least) stop somewhere inside the human race. Secularism always advances with such hypocrisy, because its success rests largely on men remaining blinded to the fact that the laws must serve god and the only issue men can really influence is whose god will be served. But notice as well the short -- and impeccably just -- shrift the justice's opinion gives to the idea that marriage can be defined by reason and observable reality without reference to religious dogmas. Arrive at a definition of marriage by reason and observation, relying on the commonality of prior human experience? Nonsense:
"[S]everal centuries ago" it would have been understood that "persons" should refer only to men. Several centuries ago it would have been understood that marriage should be available only to opposite-sex couples. The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today.
Quite so. Several centuries ago it would have been understood that the sun revolves around the earth. Now only Bob Sungenis believes it. Have the rest of us lost our minds, or have we discovered more about heaven and earth than were previously known? The reason-and-observation school of natural law can't answer the question. It can only frustrate itself by making unpersuasive appeals to popularity or antiquity, and this after it's consigned religious truths to a second-class status of "personal preferences," or "particular faiths," individual matters which cannot answer social questions. And so:
The natural limits argument can succeed only if its proponents can identify an objective core of meaning which defines what is "natural" in relation to marriage. Absent this, the argument is merely tautological. . . . [V]iews diverge. We are faced with competing opinions on what the natural limits of marriage may be.
You say it's natural for gays to marry, I say it's not. You say Jews aren't human, I say they are. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Disputes between two people about what should and should not be allowed always resolve themselves into impenetrable "tautologies" so long as the people involved have radically-different and contradictory beliefs which share no common standard. The secularists have their common standard -- the dictates of a hypocrite state silently serving a religion that dare not speak its name. What is our common standard? Domestic-violence statistics for gay couples? The cranial circumference of Jews? Pointing out that an object's soft, red and round and demanding that we forego the possibility that it's Ted Kennedy's nose?

Natural-law theory should attract our attention only to the extent that it claims to indisputably recommend a social order conducive to our fulfillment as human beings. Arguing, as some do, that one may have natural law by reason and observation alone is tantamount to arguing that the meaning of humanity is a material phenomenon that can be established by scientific method. We've had all that before:
[W]e do not start from what men say, imagine, conceive. . . in order thence and thereby to reach corporeal men; we start from . . . their life-process [and] show the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. Morals, religion, metaphysics and all other ideology and the corresponding forms of consciousness thus no longer maintain the appearance of independence. They have no history, they have no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, change, along with this their real existence, also their thinking and the products of their thoughts. It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness.
Karl Marx, German Ideology
It's no accident that this modern view of "natural law" arose in the century whose culture was almost entirely dominated by Marxist paradigms. In this respect, the adoption of paradigms and terms which cannot accommodate the fullness of faith, some legal theorists have strayed in the same way as the old Modernists.

The Modernist project was, essentially, a good one -- to engage the currents and thoughts of modern culture in their own terms, and to offer Catholicism as the only enduring and relevant solution to modern problems. The early Christians did the same thing with the classical culture of their own day. And like some in the era of the Fathers, many who took direction and inspiration from the modernist project became seduced, by presumptions about the power of their own efforts, or by the glittering guile which their host culture offered in place of truth, into departing from the main course of their faith even as they tried to champion its preeminence. In the century of the Fuhrerprinzip it made little sense to speak of law in terms that indiscriminately characterized it as a reflection of the divine will, or allowed the law to be seen as the command of a ruling elite made without any justification other than nebulous appeals to the "common good." Stalin, Mao, and Hitler had seen to it that the world was tired, even frightened, of such ideas. It might have seemed, and indeed was, a good idea to speak to those concerns, to reassure men that Christianity's idea of natural law was scrupulously objective, to inspire them to confidence that Christians can make laws to fit the human condition and not vice versa.

But the modern thought with which I disagree has, I think, repeated the same mistake as the modernists' -- it has forgotten that the issue is not whether culture, philosophy, law, or any other part of civilization will serve God. That is not the argument. The question at issue is, was, and ever shall be, whose god will culture, law, art, or civilization itself serve? Confining any part of our civilization's pursuit of human meaning to the limited horizons of pure reason and empiricism will not make society more reasonable, charitable, or happier. As Chesterton said, "The lunatic has not lost his reason; he has lost everything except his reason." An attempt to explain Christianity, or the Christian view of human affairs, which adopts the same approach will resemble lunacy because it leaves the sanest part of itself unspoken and unwitnessed. Christian legal theory is, so far as I know, unique because it can address the gap between "what is" and "what should be" without abandoning the higher aspirations of our nature or demanding jihads against sinners, unbelievers and backsliders. It does this precisely -- and only -- because it preaches and worships Christ the King, the living, divine God-Man who is the source and summit of our existence. The law will either serve him, or someone else. No meaningful argument in favor of natural law can proceed from any other idea without becoming its own worst enemy.