You know, there are times when I wish the real world were less like satire. I wrote the following fictional news piece as a joke with a friend, a fellow journalist, on Facebook as we were anticipating (still waiting, by the way) the official response from the USCCB on the ongoing revelations of the Planned Parenthood videos.
The appalling ghastliness of the videos revealing the world’s largest abortionist organisation’s baby-parts business, I felt, made the usual bland, boilerplate, bishopspeak rhetoric seem even more absurd and outrageous than usual. We were having a good (though somewhat grim) laugh, lowering, en-blanding and enfeebling the tone with each revision. Sorry if it seems an odd way of relaxing. Gallows humour is a well-documented phenomenon among journalists:
Let's think about this from the point of view of modern bioethics. The basic principle of bioethics comes from utilitarianism; the greatest good for the greatest number. In utilitarianism/bioethics, we understand that there is no such thing as "personhood" until there is autonomy, a functioning will. Autonomy is the primary principle of bioethics, and that which turns a mere human meat-machine miraculously into a legally protectable person. Therefore, the person, in order to maintain his or her personhood, must be free at all times to exercise his or her will. It also means, logically, that an entity that is unquestionably biologically a human being but that is not possessed of a will or the opportunity to use its will, is not a person.
One little item among zillions caught my attention today as I was having my morning coffee and Facebook scroll (I remember when I used to read the paper…). The music director for the Philadelphia archdiocese has suddenly quit. This made the local news because it is just hours before the Red Hour when Pope Francis is expected to show up for the World Meeting of Families, an event which will doubtless be a glorious extravapolooza of mercy, joy, welcoming and accompaniment.
Even in the very depths of the worst possible of worst-case scenarios of crisis in the Catholic Church, denial is not helpful. The crocodile does not care how tightly we close our eyes as it eats us.
For some time now, with an exponentially growing audience of new and deeply alarmed Catholics, Mike Matt and I have discussed the need to restate the basic points of the Traditionalist position, to locate it in the context of the history of the Church over the last century and our current crisis. To do this, I have been revisiting some old books. Even for someone who read my way out of Novusordoist conservatism and into the Traditionalist position, it can be extremely valuable to review what brought us to this dire condition.
Our friend Carol Glatz reports:
"Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox must pray together and work hand-in-hand helping the poor, Pope Francis told thousands of Catholic charismatics and members of other Christian communities.
If the devil “unites us in death, who are we to divide ourselves in life?” he said, adding that all Christians can and must pray together, as they have all received the same baptism and are striving to follow Christ." The pope said Christian unity was the work of the Holy Spirit, which meant Christians need to pray together in a “spiritual ecumenism, an ecumenism of prayer.”
I replied, “What use is dogma for getting to heaven? What use is math for building a bridge?” Dogmas are simply statements of objective reality regarding the nature of God, precisely as mathematical axioms are statements of objective reality regarding the nature of the material realm. Without math, the nature of material reality remains obscure; without Dogma, man makes errors regarding the nature of God. Both kinds of errors can be disastrous.
But the fact that the relative felt free to state his dogmatic opinion, without the slightest awareness of the irony, that “dogma is bunk,” as though it were an irrefutable axiom, was a product of bad philosophy, not bad theology. The inability of contemporary man to recognise a logical contradiction, (and the consequent deterioration of his sense of irony) are a direct result of the philosophical corruption of recent centuries. Descartes started that ball rolling when he said the only thing he knew for sure really exists was his own thought that he exists, and it’s been plunging down the hill every since.
Whenever someone would say this in a commbox or on Facebook, one could hear a strange, distant high-pitched shrieking sound, as if from a long way off. Slowly, the sound would be accompanied by little distant black specks on the horizon and these would finally resolve into a vast flock of be-taloned harpies, their leathern wings strumming the air in time with a rhythmic chant in a harsh eldritch tongue, unheard since the forgotten elder days when men and monsters inhabited the earth. Scholars eventually translated these guttural croakings as, “But there’s Christian themes in Harry Potter, you Traddie freaks!”
Since my buddy Chris Ferrara has, perhaps before anyone else in the English speaking world, done a thorough examination of the pope’s environment encyclical, “Laudato Si,” I will confine myself here to some observations of a different sort and to proposing a few questions for consideration – to talking around it, so to speak.
A great many people, long before the document was issued yesterday, have been asking whether it should have been written at all. Is this appropriate for a pope? Why was it necessary? Why, of all the possible topics, did Pope Francis choose this one? Has he stepped outside the proper bounds of papal authority? Aren’t there more pressing matters for the head of the Catholic Church to think about? (Does anyone know how many Chaldean Catholics are still alive in Mosul, Iraq, for instance?)
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to my friend and colleague, Hilary White, for the following film review. I have not seen Calvary myself (nor do I intend to) but I have spoken about it with a close confidant who has, and who actually advised against reviewing the film, even though he appreciates its merits along the same lines put forth below. His concern (and mine) is that in the process of reviewing the film The Remnant may appear to be encouraging everyone to go see it. Such is not the case. In fact, it is my friend’s considered opinion that no one under 50 should see this film and that anyone who does see it must be morally and psychologically stable, as well as firmly grounded in the Faith. To cut to the chase, The Remnant DOES NOT RECOMMEND THIS FILM but does believe that offering Miss White's fine commentary on it is really most useful for the purposes of exposing the rise of blatant evil in the world today--an evil that has become so bold even the motion picture industry can neither ignore it nor pretend it is harmless. Modern society is firmly in the grasp of the demonic, and, as is made abundantly obvious in the lines below, we had better prepare ourselves for something very wicked that most of us have never even fathomed. MJM
Why is sin bad?
Now there’s an odd question, you might think. And you’d think the answer was obvious, right? Because… well… sin, and well… errrmmm… evil and consequences and stuff… Um…
OK, gimme a second, I’ll look it up in Thomas.
I’m going to take a wild shot in the dark and say that most pro-life people, even the converts to the position, came from a home environment that included more than one other person. Most people, I have learned, come from this thing called a “family,” that involves a variety of other people, male and female, young and old, to whom one remains ontologically connected for the rest of one’s life. I have also learned, though this took somewhat longer, that most people regard these “families” as a good and useful thing, of positive benefit in their lives.
These ideas have taken some effort to get used to.
This presumption of familial security, common to most people operating in the pro-life world, is perhaps something of a handicap. It tends to make pro-lifers appear smug and self-satisfied and unable to understand the connotations of their message for those on the other side. And it quite possibly makes it impossible for them to understand the hatred and rage they, in all innocence, can engender when they suggest that abortion must be outlawed. I remember when I was younger seeing pro-life people holding signs of babies and advocating motherhood and thinking they were the worst people in the world. What kind of awful people would try to force a woman to destroy herself over a blob of cells?