Well, I’m really Catholic now. Yesterday, on the feast of Pentecost, I participated in my first infant baptism. Coming as I do from an Anabaptist background, this is kind of a big deal. This event was made particularly meaningful for me not only because the baptizand bears the name of my patroness, Hildegard, but even more so because she is the daughter of my professor, Dr. Kimberly Belcher (who has made a previous appearance here), who was instrumental in helping me work through my own evolving beliefs on baptism.
Ironically, as I think about it, other Mennonites had as much of a role to play in this evolution of mine. Read more…
Few people today, Catholics included, “think with the Church” on sexual morality. This is obvious. The more difficult question to answer is why. Multiple reasons, I’m sure, although I think we can rule out the world’s embrace of an “anything goes” moral relativism as the culprit. Even my most libertine friends have absolute standards governing their sexual behavior. Consent, for example. I’m no psychologist or spiritual counselor, able to unearth underlying motivations, but, in speaking to friends and acquaintances, I have not been led to conclude that they reject Catholic teaching on the meaning of sexuality because they want to live how they want to live, rules of morality be damned. Rather, they largely reject the teaching because it doesn’t make moral sense to them. The theory taught by the Church–that sexual activity not “ordered” toward procreation is inherently sinful and of grave matter–however coherent it may be to them at the abstract level of theory, fails to translate into their real world lived experience.
Sin supposedly causes harm, not merely in the hereafter, but also in the here and now. In the words of the Catechism, sin “injures human solidarity,” the togetherness between and among people, the ties that bind them. Lying, for example, breaks down trust, and even where the lie is unknown to the deceived, one can easily imagine the lie at the center of the relationship and understand its effects upon it. The solidarity itself becomes a lie, waiting only for the truth to emerge and crack or shatter the edifice. However, in the case of what the Church deems sexual sin, i.e., any sexual behavior that intentionally frustrates procreation or that deliberately doesn’t follow the form that would typically lead to procreation, injury to solidarity seems, well, not to be there as a demonstrable consequence. At least, I haven’t been able to figure out what this injury is. Consequently, I haven’t yet been able to understand how the practice matches the theory. I’ve asked Catholics who write knowledgeably about human sexuality to explain to me the specific, concrete ways in which contraceptive and same-sex acts injure solidarity and otherwise wound the person, but I’ve yet to get a specific, concrete wound and causal relationship from it to the sinful sex act. The theory is repeated to me as if it were self-evidently true. Or I’m told that negative consequence are not always apparent or may take time to develop.
Here’s the situation as I see it. The Church claims there is a causal relationship between 1) contraceptive or same-sex sexual acts and 2) interior wounds and injury to solidarity. If this is true, then one should, conceivably, be able to demonstrate it; i.e., pinpoint the specific wound and show precisely how non-procreative sex and not something else led to it. This may be difficult, as you cannot fully see into another person’s soul, but it shouldn’t be as a rule impossible, as a wound is something you can see. We’re not talking about abstractions here: the Church says that these sexual activities necessarily cause real wounds in real people. So what are these wounds? In what specific way does non-procreative sex injure solidarity? It’s not enough to respond by saying the wounds may not be apparent or may take time to develop. These responses may be true, but they leave the question open. And they leave the question unanswered to a culture that rejects the moral reasoning concerning these sexual acts put forth by the Church. It’s also not enough to point to a wound and assume it was caused by a deviation from sexual norms. Read more…
Marriage is broken and has been for quite some time. Much money, ink, energy, and breath have been spent attempting to defend an already broken institution. Why? Well, presumably because defenders of traditional marriage have somehow convinced themselves that what they are defending is something to akin to the Church’s definition of marriage. The problem is – a very small percentage of society shares that definition of marriage.
About a year ago, Kyle Cupp put it this way:
What is marriage? It is a sacred, insoluble, in some cases sacramental bond in which a man and a woman become one flesh, potentially creating new life; it is an institutional union that, ideally, supports a lifelong commitment of love, the good of the spouses and the community, and, if literally fruitful, gives order to the rearing and education of children. That’s how I define marriage.
But here’s the thing: this definition ain’t the legal definition anywhere in this country. Engaged couples can obtain a marriage license without any belief in the sacred, with no intention of staying true to one another, with every intention to prevent pregnancy, and with a signed prenuptial agreement just in case things don’t work out. Their good needn’t be an end of their marriage. They don’t even have to love one another. Marriage means to each couple whatever they want it to mean. Once joined, they are legally united and receive the legal rights associated with the institution, but the rest is up to them. As practiced overall, the convention of marriage is little more than a shell.
Kyle concludes that those opposed to same-sex marriage will lose this cultural battle. I agreed with his assessment then, an assessment which seems virtually certain now.
But that doesn’t change the fact that marriage as it exists in America is a broken institution that needs fixing. Perhaps defenders of marriage would make better use of their money, ink, energy, and breath if they began to focus on fixing the problems rather than defending that which is broken.
Some groups are beginning to do just that. Read more…
One Sunday during the years of my adolescence I attended the morning worship service all by my lonesome. I forget the reason why. I sat down in a pew to the left of the altar, awaiting the start of Mass with the other early arrivers. A few minutes before the prayers began, a young very attractive woman sat down in the pew just before me. She had short, cropped strawberry blonde hair and wore the sort of dress Alicia Silverstone wears in the movie Clueless to entice the new student who turns out to be gay. Bare neck and bare arms and a mostly bare back. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her flawless skin. Whether sitting, standing, or kneeling, I was transfixed. Ogle me this, Batman.
After Mass, while on my way through the gathering area, a friend of my mom’s approached me. I didn’t recognize her, but she knew me and introduced herself, telling me how she had seen me during the service. I gulped, figuring she had noticed my not sporadic staring. Instead she complimented me.
“You were so focused and attentive. I’m very impressed. Such a good example for your peers.”
She was sincere. At least, I took her as sincere. She gave no smirk or wink or any other tell of irony. I didn’t have the heart or the courage to correct her.
Many years later, in college, a friend admitted to a group of us that he really struggled at church to avoid gazing at women in the congregation. He preferred to sit in the front row to avoid temptation as best he could. To his credit, he blamed only himself for his weakness, but others at our school were eager to lecture their fellow students, particularly women, on the importance of modesty. Men were instructed on abstaining from ogling and entertaining lustful thoughts and desires, and women were told they must exercise modesty in manner and dress. Women were expected to be virtuous so the men didn’t sin. You’ll note the double standard.
Resolved: The ills of individualism that grip the Catholic Church in America today are the fruit 19th century Americanism: the efforts of the American episcopacy to establish a new modus vivendi for Catholics, one which respected Catholic identity while also embracing the American approach to religion and religious liberty.
A few weeks ago in First Things, Elizabeth Scalia reviewed Russell Shaw’s new book, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America. She writes:
Shaw notes that for a long while, this made sense, and politically, economically, and socially it carried Catholics far. Yet the early Americanization of the Church, writes Shaw, “included not just (as is commonly said) the idea that American-style separation of church and state supplied a model for adoption by the Church everywhere, but also a subjective, individualistic approach to Church doctrine and discipline widely present among American Catholics now.” (boldface added)
Scalia goes on to use this to explain the disappointment expressed by some people when Pope Francis reaffirmed the judgment against the LCWR and the negative reaction to the new missal.
I am not sure I buy this argument, but clearly there is some tension between being American and being Catholic. What say you?