Pacifism and Christianity

Catholic Christianity does not teach, nor has it ever taught absolute pacifism. By absolute pacifism I mean the belief that any use of force on the part of the state is illegitimate and immoral. This is different than saying that the use of force ought to be limited to just cause. Absolute pacifists say there is no such thing as a just cause. The Church teaches that there is.

I think that people who are unable to draw a distinction between an individual person and the state have a hard time agreeing with the Church's teaching. This disagreement produces lots of high-falutin' moralizing language and the attempts at proof-texting and the emphasis on the radical nature of the Christian call to non-violence. But radical used in this context refers to a belief that "goes beyond" or "goes ahead" of Christian teaching into the superior moral framework created by the one made uncomfortable by the teaching of the Catholic Church. This is why pacifism is most often embraced by those of a progressive disposition.

I probably need to qualify these remarks. It's perfectly reasonable to be an advocate for pacifism, it just cannot be the standard to which everyone is held. Advocacy of absolute pacifism is probably right for some, but not for everyone. The Church herself does not argue it and her members cannot be forced to embrace it. Maybe if it were more persuasive! But most people with common sense recognize that the demands of justice in a fallen world sometimes necessitate the use of force, and the Church agrees. This means not just just war but also the legitimate role of law enforcement through means of the police and other state offices.

Is the use of force always a failure, in some way, of human relations and human communities? Yes, of course - to use our recent visitor Scott's abused phrase it is probably an "ontological failure": a failure to live up to the greatness of our true God given being. Do we have a radical call to live a life of humility and are we called to turn the other cheek? Yes. But the Church is the Church not just of St. Francis of Assisi but also the Church of St. Joan of Arc.


RIP Ralph McInerny

Professor McInerny was a great Catholic philosopher and teacher. 1929-2010.


The People Who are Made Happy by Controlling Your Life

Washington uses laws, and enforces those laws with guns and prisons, to ensure that you comply with their vision of human life. Don't worry, America, the President speaks with blithe confidence: you are great. You don't have to do anything. The government has a team of experts dedicated to solving your problems. The government has the solutions to your economic problems. Remember your greatness, America, is in your submission. We will be able to solve any problem once we stop disagreeing about the solution. We must commit to the change dictated by the leaders, the experts. The "petty politics" of disagreement and gridlock are for days past. Step in line, follow the leader. March behind the commander in chief and all of your problems will disappear. America now leads by following.


An Argument from Superiority

There's nothing quite like a good argument from superiority.
I see a couple of people are attacking Jonathan Gruber. Yes, he has been advising the healthcare reform, but sorry folks, I’ve been reading Gruber’s work for years now — he’s one of the leading healthcare economists in the country (along with David Cutler, who also signed the letter).

- Morning's Minion
See, Minion has been reading his work for years ... he's a leading healthcare economist! No reasonable person can disagree with him.


The Church and our Common Life

I think it is the case that the Church, in her social teaching, critiques philosophical extremes. The Church generally critiques disordered social life and in an abstract way. Here’s what (I think) I mean: The Church condemns a society that is isolates us from each other. The Church condemns economic life detached from morality. The Church condemns ideas that threaten the authentic and true anthropology. The Church condemns human life that’s ordered to only material concerns (profit, etc). The Church says that the government should play not just a negative role in limiting human activity, but a positive role in promoting human goods, in what capacity is reasonably possible.

But these social conditions that the Church critiques do not really exist in reality. We do not live in a completely free market, untethered by morality. We do not live in a totally socialist country, yet. We are not completely isolated from each other. We do have a society that cares about the common good, to some extent. These things are in fact true. It’s easier to learn this by experience, but for now my cheap assertion will do.

Morality has a lot to do with business, and businesses are learning that morality actually has something to do with success. In fact, some business can actually cultivate certain human virtues by requiring excellence, even spiritual excellence (be it intelligence, discipline, or even beneficence and humility in working in a team). This is just one example, but I think it is an illustrative one.

The Church provides a basic outline of the just society based in Gospel truths. It helps us to see where we cannot go and where we ought to go in our common life together. It does not tell us how. It does not give us the specific plan. It guides us and teaches us the principles we need for the flourishing of the common good. It teaches us about justice and about the insufficiency of justice.

We spend all this time dressing up these complicated theories and I think the takeaway is always very simple. The Gospel is simple and to the extent that social teaching is part of the Gospel, it too is simple. Life, even social life, must be lived in love. Love is not “luv” but Love, a love that is simultaneously mercy and justice. We should serve the poor, we should have good laws, we should live in common, we should cherish each other, we should be attentive to our local communities that we know best, and we should have an eye towards the greater social community. We should work against injustice, we should fight against evil. We should also learn to appreciate the wisdom of our elders, including those elders who are outside of the Church who have made great contributions to political philosophy and our knowledge of “how we ought to live our lives together”.

Another note

Some people who speak and think publicly do so stupidly. Some people are stupid, and this is OK. But we should be able to distinguish between stupid reasoning and smart reasoning. These types of words offend our modern sensibilities, but they convey something true that our culture would rather forget.

For that matter, sometimes I'm stupid.

just to note

Hurray for Scott Brown! But I don't want him or President Obama in the White House in 2012. Brown is good for Massachusetts but is bad for the Republican party.



Thomas Sowell has a new book about intellectuals that looks very interesting. The National Review has a review:
Sowell writes that it “was part of a long-standing assumption among many intellectuals . . . that it is the role of third parties to bring meaning into the lives of the masses.” Many people were shocked when in early 2008 Michelle Obama proclaimed, “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. . . . That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.” Sowell probably just shook his head in knowing disgust.
Sowell's observation is true. In many circles, especially , I think, in sociology, anthropology and philosophy, meaning is something created and imposed on human beings by the ruling class. Meaning is understood to be something that we create, not something we discover. Because we make it, we can change it, and we can change it for the better. This is the source of the intellectual temptation to create meaning for other people. A lot of intellectuals, especially in the aforementioned fields, spend their time thinking about how people's lives could be better spent. Intellectuals convince themselves they can create a better purpose for the lives of the masses. Devotion to the cause of social revolution, however vaguely defined, is surely more noble than devotion to an invisible God.

It is important to be conscious of intellectual vices, and it looks like Sowell's book will aid us in this task. If we are to be persuasive, we need to constantly practice intellectual humility, to limit the scope of our understanding. In a world that believes in constant progress and limitless change, this can be difficult. But it is no less necessary.


A YouTube Video Is Worth a Thousand Words

Digital food for thought on two of America's most irritating, botoxed, hairsprayed women in politics - one from the national scene and one who aspires to the same:

1. Not that I'm Jack Cafferty's #1 fan or anything,  but as Laura Ingraham said about The Situation Room correspondent, "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." Here he tells Wolf Blitzer how he really feels about Nancy Pelosi. Amen, Cafferty.

2. If you're not familiar with Massachusetts politics (or Massachusettes, as Coakley seems to think it's spelled), a special election next week will determine who will fill the Senate seat formerly known as "Ted Kennedy's." Scott Brown (R) has taken on Martha Coakley (D); his election would be a massive upset for Democrats on a national level, and a triumph in a state that is so ridiculously left-leaning that Coakley barely had to wage a campaign for the seat - or so she thought. As her public appearances (though few and far between) consistently show how uninformed and pathetic she is, Brown is seriously closing the gap. To add insult to Coakley's injury, one of her staffers recently assaulted a reporter from The Weekly Standard who attempted to question Coakley about her statement that "there are no more Taliban in Afghanistan." She reponds with, "I'm sorry, does anyone else have a question?" and her staffer responds by shoving the reporter to the ground. Politics as usual in Massachusettes - after all, the race is for the Kennedy seat. The reporter's last name? No, not Kopechne.


Back to Basics

I always thought that I was a bit old school, even before I really committed to Catholicism. I felt uncomfortable in immodest clothing; I enjoyed cooking for people and liked family dinners; I preferred to read a book instead of watching tv; I thought Amish people were interesting; even swearing felt forced...the list goes on.

I like simpler things. I assumed I was just weird.

But today I learned about a movement called voluntary simplicity! The blogger at A Woman's Place... noted that she is reading a book called Back to Basics, I clicked on the Amazon link, and was immediately intrigued. Apparently the general concept of voluntary simplicity has lots of levels (I'm not the kind of person who's going to start using an outhouse! Let's be serious.), and people choose to pursue simple living for many reasons - a cursory Google search leads me to believe that most of these simplicity seekers are anti-consumerist or those trying to reduce their carbon footprints. I really don't fall into either of those categories. But for those of us (like the blogger at A Woman's Place) who strive to live an authentically Catholic life, reducing our dependency on material goods and earthly affirmations of our worth could only be a positive thing. This makes me think of the number of Catholic speakers I've listened to (Peter Kreeft, Matthew Kelly) who talk about people being slaves to technology - tv, cell phones, ipods, Facebook. These things are created to make our lives easier, simpler, more efficient - but they end up consuming chunks of our day, until there is no time for prayer or talk or authentic relationships with those around us.

Zach, I would be interested to see if/how the simpler life fits in with Pieper's Leisure.

This post, interestingly enough, coincides with the week that my husband and I have decided to cancel our cable services - Comcast has increased our prices and, while saving for our home, it just seems ludicrous to waste money on a luxury like HDTV. Thus begins our journey into the depths of voluntary simplicity...


"Do it again and I'll uppercut you"

I play in a recreational soccer league. It's just for fun - my cousin assembled a rag-tag team of family members and friends to compete on Thursday nights. We don't practice and many of us do not have much experience in soccer, myself foremost among the bunch. My first experience with soccer was last year, and I think I have played 13 games to date and never once practiced. Anyways, we played a game tonight against what appeared to be a semi-professional team. At the very least, they were a group of very skilled players from a local college team. They utterly destroyed us - we were outmatched in every way. And this was fine, because we all had fun, and learned some things too.

During the course of the game, I was attempting to score on the other team's goal and I was near the goalie. He fell over after running into me, and after getting up he yelled in a rather terrifying voice, "what the **** man." Not realizing that I had committed some type of foul, and hearing the pain I caused this guy, I apologized. Not anticipating this goalie's intensity, I was shocked when he yelled back, "yeah, you better be - do it again and I'll uppercut you". It's hard to convey the animosity of this remark in words, but needless to say I was scared.

My immediate reaction was to fight back, to taunt him or something of the sort. I'm not proud of this, but it is what it is. I didn't end up doing anything but apologize again, but reflecting on this I realize how strong a feeling came over me. I think this is an experience common to any person who is attacked, or who feels attacked. You want to fight back - you want to attack back.

Christianity challenges us to be better, to be higher and more dignified creatures, and to avoid these animalistic reactions. The Christian challenge is to forgive. Not later, not minutes after the feeling passes, but instantly. Forgiveness is to be our natural reaction. Saints achieve this great habit of virtue, and it is something we are all called to.


New Blog Announcement!

My wife has a new blog. She will be writing about family, faith, books and babies. She's a talented writer, check it out if you have some time!

One Good Reason to Avoid Facebook and Blogging

Brought to you by Lydia McGrew of What's Wrong with The World:
The Internet, and especially the blogosphere, allows us to think of other people only in relation to ourselves and our own ideas. When someone is a commentator on your thread, you are tempted to think of him not as a person with a family and a life, with hobbies and feelings, but just in relation to your thread. That's it. What did he say about what I said? And something similar is true of someone who writes a blog post on which I comment. He has said something. I have something to say in response. That's it. If I don't like what he said, we argue about it. And that's all. The almost overwhelming temptation is to make the other person simply a foil for oneself. If he seems to have scored temporarily, one is tempted to try to think of ways to get around admitting to the fair tag--a temptation to intellectual dishonesty. If he says something that seems particularly stupid, one is tempted to think of him merely as an opportunity to exercise one's cleverness at his expense. Thus it comes about that one can move in a world full of people all of whom take on a shadowy, one-dimensional semi-existence in one's own mind as mirrors--positive or negative--of oneself.

Internet messages wait. So do e-mail messages. If someone knocks at your office door, yells "Mom!" or calls you on the phone, he's much harder to ignore. Paradoxically, this makes it tempting to take more time answering e-mail than talking to physically present people, who suddenly seem--as real people increasingly come to seem to Wentworth--annoyingly loud and importunate.

The Internet allows you to create your own persona and present yourself to others as you would like to be rather than as you really are. This point applies even to networking sites like Facebook which have the advantage over the blogosphere of giving a more human and personal face to the people involved. But I, myself, am still presenting myself at my best and through the filter of the computer. This creates the dangerous illusion that I am engaging in normal social contact and interaction but don't have to deal with those faults that I don't have to reveal on the Internet. If people think highly of me there, I get the idea that I must be just fine. The Internet (like Wentworth's flattering succubus) provides a terrible opportunity to feed one's vanity.
This is something I've thought but never been able to give eloquent expression to. I myself fall easily into this type of behavior, so I try to avoid it. I do not think facebook is evil per se, but like the television, I think it very easily facilitates a type of compulsive, self-obsessed behavior. And yes, I am aware of the irony that I am writing this on a relatively personal blog. Maybe this is a good reason to stop blogging altogether. My time would be better spent in prayer, or engaging with other live human beings. Maybe someday I'll learn this lesson.


For Catholics: The Proper Sign of Veneration before Communion

I didn't know this: before receiving Communion Catholics in the United States are obliged to simply bow their heads. Via the USCCB:
Sign of Veneration
In a similar way, the General Instruction (no. 160§2) assigns to Conferences of Bishops the responsibility to determine "an appropriate gesture of reverence" to be made before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, in the dioceses of the United States of America, the communicant is directed by this particular law to "bow his or her head before the sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receive the Body of the Lord from the minister."

Uniformity in Posture
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal emphasizes that in matters of gesture and posture "greater attention needs to be paid to what is laid down by liturgical law and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite, for the sake of the common spiritual good of the people of God rather than to personal inclination arbitrary choice" (Girm, no.42)/ Throughout their consideration of GIRM numbers 43 and 160, the Bishops repeatedly recalled the need for uniformity in all prescribed postures and gestures.

Such uniformity serves as a "sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the sacred Liturgy" and it "both expresses and fosters the spiritual attitude of those assisting" (GIRM, no. 42). Likewise, a lack of uniformity can serve as a sign of disunity or even a sense of individualism. A particular example of this disunity has been cited by many of the Bishops in regard to a diversity of postures during the Eucharistic Prayer, "the center and summit of the entire celebration" (GIRM, no. 78). Thus, the variation from kneeling as the uniform posture during the Eucharistic Prayer is permitted only "on occasion" and when the circumstances found by GIRM (no. 43) are clearly present.
Personal forms of veneration are explicitly condemned. This makes sense; I should have looked this up years ago!


if ever I have understood anything in this world

Anthony Esolen:
Whom have we in heaven, good psalmist, but the Lord? And the Lord saw our weakness, and came down to us as a babe, then a child, then a man, that we might break bread with Him, hear His voice, look into His eyes, and feel His touch. Many have been the days when I have stood alone on a crag of the soul, without a human hand to warm the shoulder, or a human voice to say, "I am with you always." But, time and again, the Lord has turned my gaze to see the child, my King, my God, naked in His mother's arms, or asleep in those swaddling bands, image of the shroud that also could not hold His glory. Much is wrong with the world. It will always be so. And our love hardly toddles, while we grow old in sin. The world brays out its pride, boasting of wealth and godless power. It has always done so. And we listen to the braying, and join in its witless song. But always there is the Babe, who speaks a world of love in His speechless simplicity.

I am far, far from the courage of the psalmist Asaph. But the Word has become flesh, and dwelt among us, and that gives me the warrant to say: If ever I have understood anything in this world, it was but a glimpse of You; if ever I have loved with but a trace of self-forgetting, it was You I loved. I am an old sinner in a cradle; be near me, Lord Jesus. I am a mere son of earth; raise me, to be born again. I am a witless man, who has wandered by the way; lead me to the place where you have gone. For whom have I in heaven but thee? And on earth there is none beside.