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Evangelization and Coercion

October 8, 2012

Writing in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Paul Kokoski worries that the Church has lost sight of its mandate “to convert non-Catholics to the one true faith,” believing that it suffers from a “desire to gloss over, and obfuscate, contradictions” in its Vatican II and post-conciliar statements and documents.  Kokoski’s argument is extraordinarily weak, due not in the least to his failure to make rudimentary distinctions.  His opening paragraph is a doozy:

Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae states that every person has a “right” to religious freedom. They are not to be “coerced,” in any way, to act contrary to their own beliefs. In seemingly contradictory fashion, the same document exhorts Catholics to use the coercive power of truth in their missionary mandate to “make disciples of all nations”: “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.” Dignitatis Humanae thus invites Catholics to be both non-coercive, and coercive, in their dealings with non-Catholics. “Non-coercion” is understood in a negative sense to mean “non-missionary.” “Coercion” is understood in a positive sense to mean “missionary.” Vatican II, then, is inviting Catholics to be both a non-missionary, and a missionary, people. It is asserting, in effect, that two contradictory views of reality are merely different perceptions of the same thing. One can see in this confusion the promotion of a lethal system of religious indifferentism.

Kokoski sees contradictions where none reside.  A contradiction arises when you have a logical incompatibility between propositions.  Something cannot logically be said to be and not be in the same way and at the same time.  Dignitatis Humanae declares that the human person has religious freedom, that all persons “are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”  Here the meaning of the propositions is literal.  When the document says that “the truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power,” its meaning is clearly metaphorical: propositional truth has no agency.  The statement is not about using the truth to coerce the will, but rather about how truth calls and compels the mind to it.  Because truth discloses itself to the mind, coercion isn’t necessary.  Persuasion is instead the proper path forward.  So, no, Dignitatis Humanae does not invite Catholics to be both coercive and non-coercive; it here gives two reasons why coercion is out of line: religious freedom and the persuasive power of truth.  The missionary work of the new evangelization can and should respect both of these.

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63 Comments
  1. Alien Shore permalink
    October 8, 2012 1:40 pm

    Kokoski shows himself to be a careless reader in this article in several points. But one example from your post is that he cites Dignitatis Humanae as saying the “truth cannot impose itself except…” and then interprets that as saying the document is calling Catholics to be coercive. He then supposes he has found a contradiction in that DH calls Catholics to be coercive and not coercive. But from what Kokoski himself cites from DH it says that the truth imposes itself by virtue of its own power. It never tells Catholics to force people to do or believe anything. DH is clearly consistent in that it upholds religious freedom AND notes that truth has its own power to enter the mind. Moreover, without acknowledging religious freedom, as DH teaches religious freedom, one leaves no room for the truth. Truth isn’t necessary if you coerce to get the result you desire. And what Kokoski goes on to say about missionary and non-missionary is simply an extrapolation based on his beginning error. He began by buttoning with the wrong button and just kept going. His thought here never straightens out.

    So even aside from noting the literal aspect of the one proposition and the anthropomorhizing of truth (i.e. granting it agency) on the other, Kokoski is wrong that DH asks Catholics to be coercive at all.

    • October 8, 2012 1:56 pm

      It never tells Catholics to force people to do or believe anything. DH is clearly consistent in that it upholds religious freedom AND notes that truth has its own power to enter the mind.

      Exactly.

  2. October 8, 2012 4:36 pm

    He’s extremely sloppy, but he has a point: how is the threat of an eternity in Hell if you don’t believe any different than a threat of bodily torture?

    In both cases, you’re basically engaged in coercion through fear. And there are a lot of other forms of “persuasion” that seem to be allowed where the territory is gray: for one, the threat of social or familial alienation if you don’t belong to the in-group. Two, parents seem allowed to threaten their minor children with a variety of punishments for not attending Mass or going to religious ed, etc. And there’s simply the fact that even invoking “truth” as a value is appealing to a person’s desire to not be wrong, to be right, to not look foolish, to be smart, etc. Truth does NOT “call and compel” the mind to it if a person does not value truth (as, indeed, the threat of physical pain doesn’t compel if one does not prioritize physical security above belief; ala the martyrs).

    Why the line is drawn at the “physical” coercion of the State is unclear. What about a fine? Is the Muslim Jizya concept wrong? Why is the body and physical pain being made the sacrosanct locus of individual rights here?

    In reality, all persuasion involves invoking values people may or may not share, involves a sort of “threat” to take something away from people (whether that something is using argument to destabilize their inner sense of “being right,” social acceptance, or physical life and comfort. So where and why the line is drawn is extremely unclear.)

    • October 8, 2012 4:38 pm

      I’ll add: it’s not even a universal thing. “People in general don’t want to be tortured.” We can’t say what people’s priorities are. I think many Christians seem like they would rather be martyred than simply dismissed or made fun of or ignored. Yet why is killing “worse” than socially or ideologically marginalizing a group and using that sort of social pressure (rather than physical pressure) to undermine belief??

    • October 8, 2012 9:01 pm

      [T]he threat of social or familial alienation if you don’t belong to the in-group.

      Such as excommunication or shunning. I understand these are mechanisms of group cohesion, and such methods have allowed, for example, the Jews to maintain their identity over millennia. Nevertheless, in general, I’m against such methods. Is it really moral for Tevye to treat the daughter that married a Christian as if she’s dead? Is it moral to break off contact with a parent/child/spouse/sibling because they apostasize? I realize that in pre-modern or contemporary traditional societies that “yes” would be taken for granted as an answer; but I submit that that is one of the good things about modernity. You can deeply disagree over religion or politics or whatever with a friend or relative and it need not rupture the relationship.

      Two, parents seem allowed to threaten their minor children with a variety of punishments for not attending Mass or going to religious ed, etc.

      I would never “threaten” my daughter or punish her for not attending Mass. She’s nine, and that’s never been an issue, anyway, and she likes to go. If she ever really rebelled, I’d try to discuss it with her, or get together with the priest and discuss it, etc. I would at least say that she had to attend Mass, etc. until she was 18. If she still didn’t want to, we’d negotiate some kind of compromise–you go to Mass, but don’t have to participate in other Church activities, or some such. If it got to the point that it was either between having a relationship with my daughter or having her go to church (or run away, or whatever drastic thing), I’d choose having a relationship with my daughter. At any rate, when she turns 18, she’s of age and she can make her own decisions. I might not approve of those decisions, and would reserve the right to make that known; but in the long run coercion and punishment is more likely to drive a kid away from church than dialogue and love for the child (if not for the choices).

      Is the Muslim Jizya concept wrong?

      Yes.

      Why is the body and physical pain being made the sacrosanct locus of individual rights here?

      Psychological coercion and peer pressure could also infringe on someone’s rights. I wouldn’t limit it to the body.

      In reality, all persuasion involves invoking values people may or may not share, involves a sort of “threat” to take something away from people (whether that something is using argument to destabilize their inner sense of “being right,” social acceptance, or physical life and comfort. So where and why the line is drawn is extremely unclear.)

      I disagree. Persuasion means trying to clearly explicate one’s views in such a way that another will accept them, based on his or her grasping their correctness. Simple example: If someone doesn’t believe that the Pythagorean Theorem is true, I can do a simple geometrical proof to demonstrate it. If they grasp what I’m doing, they’ll see that it’s correct. Otherwise, they haven’t understood. In either case, how is that a “threat”? I realize that outside of math, things are messier, but that level of dispassion and clarity is something to be striven for as far as possible, in my view.

      I also understand that in any society there have to be informal methods of social control (peer pressure, shaming, etc.), since there are limits to formal methods. There are no clear lines or boundaries; but in general I’d say that such methods should be limited to things that are outright violent, damaging, or immediately destabilizing (murder, theft, property damage, and on a lesser level public etiquette, since it smoothes social interactions, thereby making violence and disorder less likely). Beyond that, it is inappropriate–it’s not right to shame or hassle someone over their religion, or to pick on the nerdy kid in class, or to beat up someone on a Saturday night just because he’s wearing a jacket of the rivals of your school team.

      Yet why is killing “worse” than socially or ideologically marginalizing a group and using that sort of social pressure (rather than physical pressure) to undermine belief??

      It’s not–they’re all wrong. The king invited the guests to his son’s wedding; they didn’t come, he got other guests. Period. Yes, I realize that in Matthean version, he kills the non-responders, but that’s because they killed his messengers and were themselves murderers. My view is that persuasion is an invitation. You clean the house, set out the food, open the door. If someone comes in great; otherwise, you invite someone else. Or, put it another way: you preach the word, and if they respond, great; otherwise, you shake the dust off your feet and leave. Simple as that.

      • October 8, 2012 9:54 pm

        But is their not a duty of the State to prevent fraud? If someone offers a beautiful feast to get you to choose to come into THEIR house, but the food is all wax…who is to stop this? What’s more, how do you stop it when it is “mainstream society” (and, so, in some sense the State itself) offering the wax food??

        Also, I’d ask, would you coercively PREVENT shaming? Would you FORCE me to continue being friends with someone rather than shunning them? Maybe you wouldn’t physically, but you’d apparently try to coerce via your own form of shaming (as evidenced by your emotional rhetoric in this post).

  3. Per Signum permalink
    October 8, 2012 7:22 pm

    Even if coercion is, in some sense, inescapable as you point out, that doesn’t mean all methods of coercion are equal or appropriate to the aim. Most people, if questioned, would say they prefer the co-ercion of the intellect by the intellect than co-ercion of the intellect by the body. I suppose you will ask if this not just more Cartesian dualism.

    • October 8, 2012 9:14 pm

      I’m not trying to justify coercion of intellect by body. I am now disinclined to believe in that any longer. BUT, I am not disinclined to just throw away internal consistency and logic, etc etc. If we’re going to say some forms of coercion are wrong, we need a robust theoretical framework for WHY, that EXPLAINS the distinctions rather than just making them on a “gut” level. We need a theory that lets the State stop human sacrifice, but also limits it somehow. But then where does that leave things like illegalizing holocaust denial in Germany (something that certainly made sense and was justified, if not now, then at least in the decades immediately following the holocaust).

    • October 8, 2012 9:18 pm

      What I’m trying to do is not justify the burning of heretics or anything like that (though, we might find, in our theory, that that response might have been at least “understandable” or “tolerable” on the part of the State in certain [unideal] sociological situations, like slavery or a defensive war). But I am trying to do is point out how the secularism inherent in pluralism is also coercive. And not in the “honest” manner of “persuasion,” but in a psycho-social manner perhaps more crushing than any physical coercion ever could be, exactly because people don’t even KNOW they’re being coerced, because it involves constructing them into totalizing meanings they can’t even think their way outside of. Basically, I think we need to find a way to say physical coercion is not ideal WITHOUT correspondingly (and smugly) accepting that “we know better now.” The smug liberal/progressive rejection of religious coercion ignores the fact that it has been replaced by something WORSE, not something better.

      • Per Signum permalink
        October 8, 2012 10:07 pm

        You might like Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish”.

      • Agellius permalink
        October 9, 2012 6:11 pm

        “… not in the “honest” manner of “persuasion,” but in a psycho-social manner perhaps more crushing than any physical coercion ever could be, exactly because people don’t even KNOW they’re being coerced, because it involves constructing them into totalizing meanings they can’t even think their way outside of. … The smug liberal/progressive rejection of religious coercion ignores the fact that it has been replaced by something WORSE, not something better.”

        I’m with you Sinner. I have nothing to add but I’m hearing you.

  4. brettsalkeld permalink*
    October 8, 2012 11:29 pm

    Hilarious picture, Kyle.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      October 9, 2012 4:25 pm

      I was wondering about that. Is it some trekkie joke that went past me, or is it just an expression of Kyle’s (or Paul Kokoski’s?) sentiments via Captain Picard’s body language?

  5. Jordan permalink
    October 9, 2012 8:01 am

    Mr. Kokoski’s criticism of the post-conciliar relationship between Judaism and Catholicism is at best naive and at worst acquiescent to violence at least in theory. There are quite moral reasons to reject proselytization of Jews in the post-Shoah period. I do not need to recount history. However, European anti-semitism as always existed in both an externally violent manifestation and an internally prejudicial disposition. It took three generations in the United States for a fairly potent anti-semitism to finally leach out of my father’s now very nominal Polish-American family. Even now I occasionally hear anti-semitic remarks from an in-law uncle, also of Polish extraction. I’m dismayed that Mr. Kokoski implicitly believes that anti-semitism no longer exists among American Catholics in particular. While I am convinced that the vast majority of mainstream American Catholics are genuinely not anti-semitic (here in New York not a few Catholics are married to Jews!), the presence of a small minority of American Catholics who are anti-semitic has convinced me that now is not the time to reintroduce the conversion of Jews as a positive good. Why reopen these wounds and let the bile flow?

    Pope Benedict’s 2008 prayer ad Judaeos for the EF, though rather ambivalent about conversion in my opinion, nevertheless perhaps reflects the caution of a Bavarian who not only experienced the horror of the Third Reich firsthand but also inherited the anti-semitic attitudes deeply imbeded in central European peoples. While Mr. Kokoski recognizes the delicacy of Pope Benedict’s balance of the immanent and eschaton, in my view he presents Pope Benedict’s prayer as incomplete and insufficiently pro-proselytization. I would counter that in fact the 2008 prayer gestures perhaps more boldly towards proselytization. The prayer “for the Jews” in the 1970 missal, far from denying proselytization, best embodies the intent of Dignitatis Humanae in its cautious hope. One wonders why Mr. Kokoski as well as crypto-Lefebvrists push for greater proselytization of the Jewish people when history and lived experience strongly cautions against proselytization given its propensity to arouse grave inhumanity.

    • Mark VA permalink
      October 9, 2012 7:25 pm

      Jordan wrote:

      “It took three generations in the United States for a fairly potent anti-semitism to finally leach out of my father’s now very nominal Polish-American family. Even now I occasionally hear anti-semitic remarks from an in-law uncle, also of Polish extraction. ”

      Jordan, am I correct to assume, as based on the above sentiments, that being Polish correlates very closely with being anti-Semitic? If so, then let’s cut to the chase, Polish style:

      Are Poles anti-Semitic because of a defective culture, defective biology, defective religion, or a combination of these and other factors?

      Respond freely, we’ll keep it all in the family, so to speak.

      • dominic1955 permalink
        October 10, 2012 2:31 pm

        That’s what I’m wondering. I’m Polish, obviously I’m an anti-semite or a recovering one. There’s no way I couldn’t, considering my central/eastern European extraction, I guess. I remember the real old-timers telling us kids that if we didn’t behave, they’d sell us to the gypsies/Jews. No wonder I just hate Jews with a passion and express it by wanting to “proselytize” them…Yep, people who’s guts I hate I want to be in heaven with me someday. Makes perfect sense.

        Or…do Catholics want to convert Jews (and everybody else that isn’t already) to Catholicism because we believe Catholicism is the one true religion? EENS isn’t that difficult of a concept.

  6. October 9, 2012 3:16 pm

    If we’re going to say some forms of coercion are wrong, we need a robust theoretical framework for WHY, that EXPLAINS the distinctions rather than just making them on a “gut” level.

    But this, IMO, is the problem. The complexities of human life are such that you can never dot every “i” and cross every “t”. You’re never going to be able to completely get rid of the “gut-level” thinking, but that’s a feature, not a bug. Any system that is too consistent, logical, and robust eventually turns tyrannical. That’s why, for example, in Orthodoxy an awful lot of stuff is not defined but delegated to bishops under the rubric of “economy”, or why in traditionally Catholic countries, as noted by Mark Shea, it works like this, my emphasis:

    The Latin conception of law is to make rules about everything and then list all the possible exceptions and leave still more leeway for ordinary human variety if that doesn’t cover all the bases. Basic watchword: The law was made for man, not man for the law.
    In contrast, the normal Anglo-American conception of law is “Make as few rules as possible and then enforce it, even if it’s absolutely stupid to do so.” Basic watchword: “Lex Rex”. Law is king.

    This was in the context of a discussion on another Catholic blog, and I think it’s where a lot of English-speaking Catholics get confused. It’s no coincidence, I think, that it is Americans that are loudest in decrying the insufficient zeal of Rome in enforcing this or that, when it boils down to very different views of what laws are for. Thus, I think trying to get too fine a definition of exactly what coercion consists of and a perfectly robust and consistent notion of when and where it’s acceptable, it’s better to look at broad principles. This is also why, in the civil sphere, we can say, yeah, the State should prevent human sacrifice, and yeah, the State shouldn’t dictate what color shirt you wear, but in the middle (should Holocaust denial be illegal in Germany?) you get into areas where not only is it hard to find a clear answer, but no clear answer may even exist.

    Basically, I think we need to find a way to say physical coercion is not ideal WITHOUT correspondingly (and smugly) accepting that “we know better now.” The smug liberal/progressive rejection of religious coercion ignores the fact that it has been replaced by something WORSE, not something better.

    But all systems think they “know better now”. In Christendom, everyone was sure they knew better than those heathens with their idols (this notion crops up in Scripture, in fact). Muslims think they know better than their pagan forebears. In fact, if a society didn’t believe it “knew better” than others–that its ethics were just arbitrarily selected and not intrinsically different from fashion preferences–it couldn’t function. I guess you’re saying that secularism claims neutrality when it’s not really neutral; but that’s almost an Epimenidean paradox, so I’m not sure it’s hypocritical or contradictory. If we decide, e.g., to have a democracy–that everyone gets a vote–the one vote we can’t allow is a vote for monarchy or for dissolution of the democracy. If we’re going to be tolerant, the one thing we can’t tolerate is intolerance. You see? It’s not really a paradox or inconsistency–it’s part of the basis of the system. Put it another way–what’s wrong with saying that physical coercion is wrong because we know better now? It seems to me the only options are saying that it’s wrong and our forebears who used it were A. ignorant (“they didn’t know better”), or B. they were evil, or C. in the context of their time and place, what they did was right–but that opens the door to ethical relativism. Option A. seems the best in my opinion.

    What’s more, how do you stop it when it is “mainstream society” (and, so, in some sense the State itself) offering the wax food??

    It is self-evident that 2 + 2 = 4 or that gravity pulls you down if you jump off a buliding. Only a fool or a madman would disagree. No religion, philosophy, or worldview (Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, modern secularism, etc.) is self-evident in that way. Were that so, everyone would be the same religion (or philosophy) and all others would be seen as fools or madmen. It would appear that God doesn’t work that way, since He could make it that apostates burst into flames, or that the Church never had to have theological disputes and councils, etc. Given that, and using the fruit metaphor, let the eater beware.

    Would you FORCE me to continue being friends with someone rather than shunning them?

    Back to the paradox–no society can be totally free from coercion, even if it’s the coercion not to coerce. On the micro level, there’s no clear answer. If a close friend of mine were coercing his children to go to church or shunning a parent or child or sibling because of their religious decisions, I’d probably discuss that with them. A true friend ought to be able to say, “Look, I think the way you’re treating X is wrong,” in a non-threatening way. Depending on the closeness of the existing friendship, the severity of the shunning of my friend towards his significant other, and a zillion other things, I can see that in some contexts I might continue to be friends with him despite my disapproval of his behavior; and that in certain contexts I might have to back off from him. There is no clear, one-size-fits-all answer; nor should there be.

  7. Mark VA permalink
    October 9, 2012 8:05 pm

    Sometimes I wonder why both the Progressive and Traditional Catholics have this habit of using the slowly receding Vatican II Council as the only coordinate system available, rather than as just one of many helpful reference points?

    The problem at hand, as I see it, is much more immediate: as of now, the world around us is sinking ever deeper into post-modernist mentality. Claims that universal truths exist are vehemently denied. Whatever may even be still allowed as “truth”, must be acknowledged, in no uncertain terms, as entirely subjective and subject to change.

    The next phase of this pathology may be more serious, in that the very act of verbalizing a “truth claim” can be viewed as oppressive. For example, when post-modernism attempts to engage with science (where truth claims are still unashamedly verbalized), the end result can be in equal measure comic and disturbing:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luce_Irigaray#Criticism

    Who ever imagined that perhaps the most famous equation in the history of science can be sexist?

    Dignitatis Humanae opened a door that should have been opened a long time ago. At the same time, our most pressing business today is the spread of virulent secularism, its post-modernist philosophy, and its substitution of simulated thinking for the real thing.

  8. Thales permalink
    October 9, 2012 8:28 pm

    A sinner,

    I think you’re conflating a bunch of issues improperly and you’re not making proper distinctions. Here are three points:

    1. Let me propose a distinction between persuasion and coercion, that can be distinguished by the question “What will happen to me right now if I don’t do what I’m being asked to do but that I don’t want to do?” If nothing negative will happen to you if you don’t do the thing you are unwilling to do, I submit there is no coercion (though there may be either positive or negative persuasion). If something negative will happen to you if don’t do the thing you are unwilling to do, then there is coercion.

    2. There are different levels of “badness” in coercion: you’ll get killed if you don’t do X vs. you’ll be called “poopypants” if you don’t do X. Also, sometimes coercion can be justified (eg, the threat of arrest and imprisonment for murder), and sometimes it isn’t. Finally, there are different kinds of persuasion, some higher (eg., an appeal to one’s honor), some lower (eg, you’ll get a nice reward if you do it), and some immoral in and of themselves (eg, swindling or outright fraud).

    3. Always important to keep in mind the principle that not all bad acts can or should be be legislated against, and not all good acts can or should be legally required. And turmarion is exactly right that though we can be certain about the extremes (eg, it’s good for society to prohibit human sacrifice), the middle cases (eg, holocaust denial) are difficult — it’s a prudential consideration, which means sometimes a rule is a good idea in one society and the same rule is a bad idea in a different society.

    With these principles in mind, how about this for a principle of what form of coercion is wrong: all unjust coercion– that is, something negative will happen to you if don’t do the thing you are unwilling to do, as distinguished from persuasion– is wrong because it is is an immediate threat to your freedom, personal integrity, and conscience. (I say “unjust coercion” because some coercions aren’t unjust: the threat of imprisonment if you kill someone; the threat of a fine if you don’t pay taxes, etc.) And whether an instance of immoral coercion should be enshrined in law or not is a prudential judgment.

    To your points:

    how is the threat of an eternity in Hell if you don’t believe any different than a threat of bodily torture?
    Plenty different. The first is persuasion (not the highest level of persuasion, mind you), with no immediate coercion—if you don’t do X, nothing bad happens to you, you keep on living as you choose. The second is immediate immoral coercion—if you don’t do X, you get killed.

    Minor children
    This is a unique case, coming from the fact that we believe children need guidance and teaching because they haven’t fully developed their intellects and their consciences. This is why we don’t charge parents with physical assault when they spank their child, nor false imprisonment when they impose curfew, nor civil rights violations when they send them to bed hungry, nor slavery when they require them to do chores.

    Yet why is killing “worse” than socially or ideologically marginalizing a group and using that sort of social pressure (rather than physical pressure) to undermine belief??

    To me, it’s plainly obvious that “if you don’t do X, you will be killed” is worse than “if you don’t do X, I’ll call you poopypants.” And this goes to point #3. The threat of ridicule if Persona A doesn’t do X, and the threat of death if Person A doesn’t do X, are both immoral, but some bad acts society should legislate against and some bad acts society shouldn’t legislate against. Ridiculing is immoral, and might even be overwhelimingly evil and gravely immoral, but probably shouldn’t be legislated against.

    • October 10, 2012 12:33 pm

      Excellent, Thales. Well said. The only thing I’d add is that a further difference between “eternity in Hell” and “bodily torture” is a matter of belief. Even in the Age of Faith, people’s de facto belief in Hell must have been weak, since crimes seem to have proceeded at about the same rate as ever. One, many malefactors probably planned a deathbed conversion; two, psychological studies have shown that even great negative consequences, if they’re far enough in the future and ambiguous enough (there is no direct proof of Hell) tend to be weak motivators. Whereas if you’re in chains standing beside the rack, torture is no abstraction.

    • October 10, 2012 5:07 pm

      “I think you’re conflating a bunch of issues improperly and you’re not making proper distinctions.”

      This is my very point! The distinctions are not clearly enough made in the “Vatican II” framework. You can’t just condemn a word, you have to define it and provide a system sufficient enough to make decisions with. I can’t say the teachings as they stand are wrong, but they are simply entirely ambiguous.

      “If nothing negative will happen to you if you don’t do the thing you are unwilling to do, I submit there is no coercion (though there may be either positive or negative persuasion). If something negative will happen to you if don’t do the thing you are unwilling to do, then there is coercion.”

      So reward is okay, but punishment is not? But there is “negative punishment” among the four types of reinforcement. Isn’t the very fact of losing a (potential) reward something negative? And, as I said, what if the “negative” result is the threat of hell, or simply ones own conscience being pricked (which certainly is an uncomfortable feeling!) or ones inner thought-world being destabilized?

      “There are different levels of ‘badness’ in coercion”

      Yes, there are. So where do we draw the line? By what ranking of values do we judge proportionality or justification? We wouldn’t threaten to kill someone to stop an evil that was less than the killing, that’s for sure. We might execute criminals to protect society or stop social collapse. And then there’s salvation (which seems outside the realm of the State), but also the fact that religious hegemony can provide social stability, or even an effective “check” on the State’s power. So how do these values stack up against each other, and what qualitative and categorical distinctions can be made between them (Something like “the State should not deal with spirituals directly” seems generally agreed upon; the debate is more over indirect dealing in spirituals due to the ways that the spiritual can affect the temporal.)

      “sometimes coercion can be justified (eg, the threat of arrest and imprisonment for murder), and sometimes it isn’t.”

      Again, correct. The question is by what principles we judge justification. Turmarion insists that the principles should be “loose.” I highly disagree. They need to be sufficient to ground an answer. Now, this never means that it is ever ambiguous, but it does mean that, whatever arguments are to be made (and there may be conflicting arguments about casuistic application)…they need to be makeable from “within” the system, invoking only the system.

      For example, the “broadest” ethical principle possible is “Do good and avoid evil.” But, that’s totally useless for making decisions on a more specific level. On the other hand, if you have something like the principles of Just War theory, then you may debate how or whether the facts meet those criteria, but at least the criteria there are sufficiently specific to make an argument (in a way that merely “do good and avoid evil” is not sufficient.)

      For me, at least, I find “Vatican II” speak on coercion, torture, religious liberty etc…to not be nearly “sufficient” for me to make judgments. I’m not saying its wrong, but it is not precise enough for me to say one way or the other.

      “it’s a prudential consideration, which means sometimes a rule is a good idea in one society and the same rule is a bad idea in a different society.”

      But if it’s “prudential based on circumstances” then you’d have to admit that there could at least THEORETICALLY be a cases where burning heretics was called for based on the specific social circumstances and conditions of stability in that society.

      Maybe you believe such cases are extremely rare, or were NOT in fact met in, say, the Middle Ages. But, that’s not how progressives nowadays speak. They speak as if it is ABSOLUTELY and ON PRINCIPLE “obviously” wrong, and thus imply that the Church has erred ON PRINCIPLE as opposed to just individuals, in history, making (what you judge to be, in hindsight) poor prudential decisions and applying the principles incorrectly.

      If this is all anyone were claiming, there would be no “problem.” The problem is when the alleged absolute wrongness of State punishment of dissent is trotted out as a way to prove “change in teaching.”

      I’m on the fence here. But what I am saying is that if we are to claim that something is absolutely (and not merely contextually) wrong, in ALL contexts, then we better be pretty damn precise about defining it and why.

      With something like burning heretics, the “problem” can’t be that the State has no right to execute in general, because Catholic teaching is that it theoretically does in certain circumstances. It can’t be that heresy is “inherently” private, because we know that religious pluralism can have HUGE socio-political effects (that can be quite disruptive and destructive during the transition especially). If there is an argument, it would have to be something about the State not having “jurisdiction” over spirituals, as it were. Except, we know it can INDIRECTLY because of stuff like human sacrifice being forbidden, or even holocaust denial (which is punishing dissent, which is making belief, or at least disseminating a belief, illegal). So something isn’t quite consistent here yet. I’ve been looking, honestly, for a consistent argument, but haven’t QUITE found one yet.

      “if you don’t do X, nothing bad happens to you, you keep on living as you choose. The second is immediate immoral coercion—if you don’t do X, you get killed.”

      You say “nothing bad happens,” but an eternity in hell sounds pretty bad to me!! Turmarion says because it is abstract and debatable and in the future, it’s a poor motivator. But then, again, at what “level” do we draw the line? How “strong” does a motivator have to be to become condemnable?? Is “immediacy” a factor that should be included in our theory?

      “This is a unique case, coming from the fact that we believe children need guidance and teaching because they haven’t fully developed their intellects and their consciences. This is why we don’t charge parents with physical assault when they spank their child, nor false imprisonment when they impose curfew, nor civil rights violations when they send them to bed hungry, nor slavery when they require them to do chores.”

      But what if a society has a more paternalistic (which might be more realistic!) view of most adults, similar to that we have of children? I look around and sometimes think that’s not so unrealistic.

      “Ridiculing is immoral, and might even be overwhelimingly evil and gravely immoral, but probably shouldn’t be legislated against.”

      But I’m not just talking about ridicule. I’m talking about constructing society in such a way that belief as a social phenomenon/experience becomes more and more basically impossible. Yet this seems almost inevitable if religion is privatized rather than being a strong (and necessarily unitary) institutional “check” against the State.

  9. October 9, 2012 11:39 pm

    “Any system that is too consistent, logical, and robust eventually turns tyrannical.”

    I’m guessing that, in Myers-Briggs…you’re a P? I wonder sometimes whether only J’s can be elect…
    “In contrast, the normal Anglo-American conception of law is ‘Make as few rules as possible and then enforce it, even if it’s absolutely stupid to do so.” Basic watchword: “Lex Rex’. Law is king.”

    Ah, but this cuts both ways! The Anglo-American conception of law always enforced is also what protects the innocent. As Thomas More said in “A Man for All Seasons” of the English legal tradition:

    Alice More: Arrest him!
    More: Why, what has he done?
    Margaret More: He’s bad!
    More: There is no law against that.
    Will Roper: There is! God’s law!
    More: Then God can arrest him.
    Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
    More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
    Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
    More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
    Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
    More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

    The problem with your sort of pragmatism is that according to the understanding of the mob it might, for example, make exceptions in the OTHER direction too, to convict someone “obviously” guilty like OJ Simpson. Yet, I am glad to live in a system where he went free for the sake of sticking to process and the law, even if he were guilty. If your “oikonomic” proposition were to be Just, it would have to work in both directions, not just in favor of the would-be guilty (if only for the sake of the victims!) But oikonomy in both directions is a terrifying vigilante proposition, I think.

    “Thus, I think trying to get too fine a definition of exactly what coercion consists of and a perfectly robust and consistent notion of when and where it’s acceptable, it’s better to look at broad principles.”

    I’m only asking for principles. But principles need not be “broad.” They need to be precise. Yes, every situation is casuistic, and it is ultimately up to the human conscience to apply them prudentially in each and every case. It his here, in the individual case, where there can be prudential judgments in favor of discretion based on “different understandings of the facts.” But the principles do have to be at least sufficiently precise to give an answer.

    You dismiss the question about whether holocaust denial should be illegal in Germany (as, if so, it would seem to be a case of a socio-historical “dogma” being enforced coercively; and for good reason!) as one in which there is “no right answer.” I think any system that can’t provide right answers is the very cause of intolerance. If we can agree on the values which underlie our decision, then we can debate about the casuistic application to this specific case, about how to apply those principles, and might respect each other reaching different casuistic judgments about the facts. But if the principles themselves are not even considered sufficient to ground an answer without the “addition” of an extra element (that of…whim? “Gut feeling” that people disagree on? Arbitrary choice?) to confirm, then they’re useless. We may debate over the answer, it may be far from clear, but (as in law) we should at least all agree that the answer is coming from the “axioms” (not in the air-tight manner of math, perhaps, but in the manner of a supreme court decision, for example).

    “But all systems think they ‘know better now.'”

    Yes, they do. But what system are you defending here? It seems to be secularism, not Christianity. Well, as a Christian, excuse me for simply totally disagreeing with your values (and for thinking it is bizarre that you can make secularism your meta-value system while still claiming to be Christian; I think the latter should judge the former, not the other way around).

    “that its ethics were just arbitrarily selected and not intrinsically different from fashion preferences–it couldn’t function.”

    So we all just lie pragmatically?

    “If we decide, e.g., to have a democracy–that everyone gets a vote–the one vote we can’t allow is a vote for monarchy or for dissolution of the democracy.”

    But then what’s the point? What’s the point of “freedom” no one wants?? That sounds like the worst slavery of all. Yet it’s what we have today, basically.

    “what’s wrong with saying that physical coercion is wrong because we know better now?”

    Because this raises all sorts of epistemological questions about what it means to “know better now” in the moral sphere. By what evidence??

    The moral realm is not like math where we take syllogistic proofs further and further. It’s not like the empirical sciences where hypotheses are tested and data taken and conclusions drawn (because what sort of evidence could possibly be taken to prove morality??)

    A “progressive” notion of history like this already assumes that the maximization of certain values (in our case, usually “liberty”) is the goal and that the “proof” of moral superiority is more and more of it.

    Yet that’s hardly self-evident!

    Which is another problem with the “gut” thing; lots of societies HAVEN’T had the gut-instinct that freedom was good or that physical coercion or ideological hegemony were bad. If it’s all “trusting our gut”…then the medievals were trusting theirs, and given how otherwise Christian they were, and how base and evil modern man is, I see no reason to trust modernity anymore than the medieval as if the evolution of morals overtime was “progressive” in the way the natural sciences are.

    “in the context of their time and place, what they did was right–but that opens the door to ethical relativism.”

    No, not if the principles are absolute. Ethical relativism would say even the underlying principles or values are relative, and that there is simply no meta-value or meta-narrative by which the others can be judged. The “contextual” argument, on the other hand, would say that (especially when it comes to judging social systems and the ethics of the State and economy rather than individual morality) the principles have always been absolute, but that the application of those values changes based on the current situation, current social structure, etc.

    Like slavery. Is it “absolutely wrong”?? Depends how you define it. But, I will say, I know of no moral principle which says that man has an absolute right to ownership of his own labor, anymore than private property is absolute. As a social animal, a degree of alienation of ones own labor is to be expected (and its total elimination an eschatological thing). Now, we might say, we should have as little alienation as possible while still respecting other values (like the need for social order, and the need to produce enough to sustain life, etc), and that thus, in today’s society, slavery in the sense of a more total alienation of personal labor would be wrong because it is no longer necessary. But then we still allow wage-slavery, etc, because THAT level of alienation is considered still tolerable or justifiable, at least if we assume acting WITHIN the current system (even if that system itself should change).

    “No religion, philosophy, or worldview (Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, modern secularism, etc.) is self-evident in that way. Were that so, everyone would be the same religion (or philosophy) and all others would be seen as fools or madmen.”

    And yet, in some societies, that HAS been the case, because “self-evidence” is a construct. I seem to remember a case where geocentrism was considered self-evident and that anyone who said otherwise was a fool or madman…

    My fear is that I see secularism moving in exactly this direction. It’s slowly constructing Truth in such a way socially that Atheism will be seen as self-evident, a “we know better now” proposition triumphing over past superstition (again, what method of “progress in knowledge” exists in the metaphysical sphere, I have no idea) and making all religious believers madmen or fools.

    So if it’s a choice between the State doing that, or having a public (as opposed to privatized) Church acting as an opposing public institution to act as a check on the State…then I’d definitely prefer the latter, even if to maintain things that way required an “enforced” religious hegemony (because the minute you start allowing religious fragmentation, is the minute that religion can no longer act as an effective balance against the power of the State due to the conflict among the various sects).

    “Back to the paradox–no society can be totally free from coercion, even if it’s the coercion not to coerce.”

    You still haven’t defined “coercion,” though. How is arguing not coercion? How is something even potentially involuntary, like the withdrawl or diminishing of affection towards someone if they won’t do something, not coercion? Isn’t human interaction nothing but a series of coercions (be they aggressive, or passive-aggressive)? Motivation is always based on either reward or punishment; that’s a psychological fact. No one ever acts for any other reason than to gain a reward, avoid losing a reward, to avoid a punishment, or to gain the removal of a punishment.

    • October 12, 2012 9:08 am

      Actually, I’m a J–INFJ, to be precise. The only time I’ve taken the full, formal exam (as opposed to Internet quickie versions) was in 1994, and at that time the I and J dimensions were very pronounced, about 75% and I think 65% or so, respectively (N and F were more central). As I’ve grown older, I think I’ve moved a lot more towards the P end of the spectrum. I just took a quickie Internet version of the Meyers-Briggs (so take it with a grain of salt) and it gave me as INFP, with percentages of 78%, 12%, 12%, and 56%, respectively. Thus, to the extent that this is accurate (and except for the P part, that’s about how I remember the original scores as being), I’m near the middle of the J-P continuum. I’m probably more J in regard to myself and my home life, and P in regard to others and on a philosophical level.

  10. Jordan permalink
    October 10, 2012 2:35 pm

    MarkVA [October 9, 2012 7:25 pm] [transferred]: Are Poles anti-Semitic because of a defective culture, defective biology, defective religion, or a combination of these and other factors?

    First, let me admit what I failed to admit: I am prejudiced. My prejudices are not based on color, ethnicity, or creed, but rather on intellectual arrogance. Not infrequently I have been an intellectual bully. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that a person is not unintelligent simply because he or she is inarticulate. Sometimes, I have accused a person of being bigoted simply because I did not know what he or she intended. No amount of diplomas substitute for charity and the fine art of listening.

    I cannot speak for Mr. Kokoski’s upbringing or views on Judaism and Jewish people, or the way in which his upbringing has influenced his understanding of Judaism and Jewish people within Christian soteriology. I can speak of my own upbringing though. My grand-relatives’ anti-semitism was rather matter-of-fact. Instead of blatant slurs, insults were made against a fictitious generalizations, such as “Jewish men are …” or “Jewish wives are …” It was as if stereotypes of Jewish people served as psychological projectors for the inadequacies and anxieties of my grand-relatives. Certainly, all of these stereotypes have been disproven as I have grown. My (lapsed Catholic) best friend’s Jewish wife is not a “bad housewife” (a bizarre anti-semitic accusation a great-aunt of mine would sometimes make), even if she and her husband would rather entertain guests at a downtown Manhattan veggie restaurant. Looking back, I wonder why anyone would make such an absurd “observation”. And yet, that is all prejudices are — “observations” never based in fact.

    No culture is inherently defective. No culture is inherently prejudiced. Rather, prejudiced persons live within cultures. When two cultures live side by side but are unable to share intimate aspects of their lives, mistrust inevitably works its way into human hearts. The most common meat of central and eastern Christian Europeans is pork; no observant Jew can break bread with his or her Christian neighbors over treif. The barriers of cultural incompatibility cement into hard walls of suspicion over time. Christians believe that the only sure solvent for walls of hatred is the blood of the cross. This blood is shed for all persons throughout time regardless of whether an individual knows that is it shed for him or her. So why, then, should we worry about the “salvation of the Jews”? The paschal mystery obviates the question of who stands within the shadow of the cross.

  11. Mark VA permalink
    October 10, 2012 7:35 pm

    Jordan:

    Thank you for your reply to my admittedly aggressive approach to this question.

    These delicate matters, very often touching on one’s inner core, are best handled in a more intimate forum, and within the family. The family being the Jewish and Catholic people of Polish extraction in our country.

    To borrow a phrase, this area is one of our Maker’s playgrounds, where some of the most sublime and wonderful things can take place, in addition to many adventures and disasters. Nevertheless, this remains a business between this family and our Maker.

    • Jordan permalink
      October 10, 2012 10:10 pm

      Mark VA [October 10, 2012 7:35 pm]: I respect your sentiments, Mark, and will say no more on the question of prejudice.

      On a very positive note, however, my elderly Polish relatives were genuinely devout Catholics with a profound love for Our Lady (indeed, the Black Madonna carefully protected every house). This faith, I am convinced, was a very deep well of reserve for lives that were not always easy. Theirs was not a Sunday-morning, one-hour-a-week Catholicism, but rather a joyful and thankful faith which permeated every breath of life. Do not forget, though, that my elders were always warm and lovingly humorous people, certainly coaxed along by a bit of drink and rapidly filling ashtrays. Not bad for octogenarians and nonagenarians! If only I should live so long and not take myself so seriously.

      Thank you for letting me think aloud about my childhood, Mark, even if it what I wrote has been difficult to read. I am still grappling with these impressions on my mind and heart.

  12. Mark VA permalink
    October 11, 2012 8:01 pm

    Jordan:

    I too thank you for this (somewhat unusual) conversation.

    Let’s lighten up a bit. Maybe you’re already familiar with this, maybe not, so for what it’s worth:

    If you ever find yourself in Chicago (assuming you’ve never lived or visited there), there are several world class gems this city has that are unknown to the general public. The first is the magnificent St. John Cantius Church (http://www.cantius.org/), once in danger of being mothballed, but now fully, and gloriously, functioning. Then, you can visit some of the remaining seventeen Polish Cathedral style churches found throughout the city (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Cathedral_style) – almost all are alive and well, as well.

    Now, how many people do you think associate Chicago with baroque architecture, and with the “less is more” style of the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe)? Only in America! By the way, I find his Barcelona chairs very comfortable, even if some of his other style chairs may look suspiciously gynaecological around the edges.

    Finally, at the end of the day, after breathing such rarefied air, it’s always good to also enjoy the more earthly pleasures Chicago offers: http://chicagopolkaholics.com

  13. Thales permalink
    October 11, 2012 10:24 pm

    A Sinner,

    So reward is okay, but punishment is not?

    If you mean “is there is a distinction between the two that makes a difference?”, the answer is “yes, most definitely.” There is a real distinction between reward and punishment – consider that it’s a distinction long recognized in law (eg., voluntarily doing something to get a tax credit is different from being threatened with a tax penalty). And I believe this distinction is linked to the distinction between coercion and persuasion.

    I feel like you’re equivocating when you use the word “coercion”. Under its normal definition, coercion means some pressure or force, from outside the person, that makes a person perform an act that he or she would not ordinarily perform. Coercion is duress. It’s a pressure or force that infringes on a person’s free will and conscience. In other words, an act that is done under coercion, by definition, is an act that is not done freely and voluntarily – and an act that is done freely and voluntarily is an act that is not done under coercion. This is why coercion, generally, is considered wrong – because it is an inappropriate infringement on the freedom of actors with free will to act freely (which is part of our human dignity). I presume that when Vatican II talks about coercion, this normal definition is being used. Coercion is distinct from persuasion, because in persuasion, we recognize that the actor is freely and voluntarily acting even if the actor has been persuaded by another.

    So, things that aren’t coercion under its normal definition include:
    -losing a reward (eg, an A+ on your school project) because you don’t do something for the reward (eg, working hard on the project). It’s silly to say “I didn’t want to work hard, but I was coerced against my will into working hard by the promise of an A+.”
    -any uncomfortable feeling that a person has, shame, a prick of conscience is not coercion. Coercion is an outside pressure; your conscience and your will is not an outside pressure, it’s part of you as an actor. It’s nonsensical to say “I wanted to eat to the whole pie, but my conscience coerced me against my will into not eating the whole pie.”

    By what ranking of values do we judge proportionality or justification?

    By how they respect the freedom and dignity of the actor with free will. Obviously, it’s sometimes difficult to analyze the middle cases, but generally, we can judge proportionality. Person X being threatened with death if he doesn’t reject Christ is worse from Person X being threatened with being called a name if he doesn’t reject Christ, because one is a more serious offense against a person’s dignity than the other.

    Is “immediacy” a factor that should be included in our theory?

    Most definitely. In criminal law, immediacy is recognized as an essential element of certain criminal charges, like the crime of making threats: you can be guilty of a crime when threatening to kill someone right now, but not guilty when threatening to kill someone in the future. It’s obvious that immediacy is a huge factor in making coercion more or less overpowering of someone’s free will. And Turmarion, you’re right that the “threat of Hell” is very weak in overpowering someone’s free will. Not only is the “threat of Hell” far, far in the indeterminate future, temporally (in fact, beyond our sense of time), but it’s a threat that is highly dependent on our belief without possibility of being confirmed by our senses, etc.

    Re: Middle Ages and heresy

    I’m not sure that I have any dispute with you on the Middle Ages-point that you’ve talked about before. I haven’t thought about this issue very much and I’m not contesting your position.

    Ultimately, it sounds like you think that there isn’t a specific enough principle re: coercion. The principle I see is one along the lines of “an unjust pressure that inappropriately compels a person to act against his free will and conscience.” I suppose you’ll say that this is not specific enough. Maybe so, but I don’t find the the Just War principle of proportionality, for example, to be any more specific. For me, I don’t have a problem with the general nature of the coercion (or proportionality) principle. Whether a war act is proportional, whether a reason to go to war is justified, whether the pressure unjustly infringes on a person’s free will all seem, to me, to be principles that we can apply to the circumstances. Reasonable people can disagree about the application for some difficult middle cases, but that doesn’t make the principles any less valid. And there is a reason why the Church, in her prudence, doesn’t put specific rules in her encyclicals, etc., but instead states theses rules generally.

    • October 12, 2012 12:36 pm

      Excellent, excellent post, Thales. I think the final sentence drives it all home: “And there is a reason why the Church, in her prudence, doesn’t put specific rules in her encyclicals, etc., but instead states theses rules generally.” Too much specificity, too much precision, too much micromanaging, and you tyranny; and given that we’re talking about the Church, it would be spiritual tyranny. In my mind, spiritual tyranny is the worst kind, bar none. Secular tyranny may be coercive, but it lets my soul alone; spiritual tyranny wants to control my soul, as well. Now many–such as A. Sinner–want to argue that secular modernity is in the insidious process of steadily becoming a spiritual tyranny that ultimately will attempt to coerce everyone away from Christian belief and impose an atheist/secularist framework on us all; but I think that’s paranoid. At any rate, from the perspective of one living in the heart of the Bible Belt, I sure don’t see religion in any danger here.

    • October 14, 2012 12:36 pm

      Oh in general I’d agree. There can never be a quantitative definition for qualitative things.

      Still, the question comes down to the limits of coercion. We know coercion is not totally forbidden because we are willing to stop human sacrifice and to admit that outlawing some beliefs, like holocaust denial in Germany…are potentially allowed. The real question, I guess, is what feature defines these cases as acceptable under your general definition. The definition may not provide indisputable answers, as I said, but under the definition you should at least be able to “explain” why these “exceptions” exist, what feature do they have that renders this coercion not unjust, without opening the can of worms that would allow other coercion? We may be able to debate about what things fall on each side of the “line”..,but we should at least be able to define that line in the abstract. We may disagree about which things have the unacceptable feature, but we should at least be able to say, generally, what that feature is.

      I’d also wonder what role something like excommunication or social shaming have. These are external factors, but a persons free will is entact.

      Further I wonder, as I have before, just how much “duress” ever exists. Isn’t that just mauvaise foi? Even if someone threatens to kill you, you can choose not to give in; this is what a martyr IS, and the early church was not very sympathetic to those who lapsed under fear of martyrdom. The idea that the threat meant they “had to” follow orders was not looked kindly upon (and isn’t today either). God gives us free will, yet He threatens us with Hell if we don’t obey. But this isn’t considered duress, even though many people would act otherwise if it weren’t for that threat. Yes, we can interpret the threat of Hell as ultimately something “intrinsic” in the sense of being a logical consequence rather than an imposition. But then, maybe in non-individualist societies, the threat of death or exile for transgressing the community is simply the natural “intrinsic” consequence in the inner-logic of that community. (I still think some people have a hard time imagining how antisocial it is to leave a religion in a society where religion and community are co-extensive). Or, at least, it’s not hard to imagine that people from “inside” that society might (whether it’s mistaken or not) THINK that a consequence was natural without even giving a second thought to the potential to deconstruct that or imagine alternatives. But then, that wouldn’t be a case of wrong principles but just wrong casuistic application based on a naive understanding of the facts.

      • Thales permalink
        October 14, 2012 6:34 pm

        but we should at least be able to define that line in the abstract.

        What about the line given in Dignitatis Humanae?

        ——
        7. The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

        Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

        These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.
        ———

        -Not sure I understand your “martyrdom” point. Even if you choose not to give in and you “choose” martyrdom, your freedom (the freedom to not be killed prematurely) and religious freedom is still being violated. If society decides to shut down and take over all Catholic church buildings, and you submit to the punishment and have to practice Mass in private, your religious freedom is still being violated, even though you submit to the punishment.

        -God and the “threat of Hell” is sui generis (which you acknowledge). Consider also that “God punishing and threatening Hell” is a simplistic way of thinking of the situation, and that it may be better to think of it as “us choosing not to be with God”. In that light, there is no coercion, just free will.

        the threat of death or exile for transgressing the community is simply the natural “intrinsic” consequence in the inner-logic of that community.
        Obviously, specific instances of communities and people can be mistaken in how to apply the principle of religious freedom and the principle of “objective moral order” (as described by Dig. Hum.)

        • October 15, 2012 1:18 pm

          Thales, I like that section of Dignitatis Humanis, about how religious liberty is limited in all these ways, for all these reasons (public peace, order, justice, public morality, rights).

          However, that winds up also begging the question: how then is this teaching DIFFERENT from the past??

          Progressives trot out DH as evidence of the Church promoting a new teaching on “religious liberty”…but with all these exceptions, it hardly seems new at all. (It’s just that, in the past, they would have argued that burning heretics was necessary to preserve genuine peace, order, and public morality; a prudential judgment that can be debated).

          So the real question for me now is: if DH makes room for all these exceptions, in what sense is this new or different from the past (except for the new prudential judgment that, in the modern world at least, certain types of public coercion are no longer necessary and the progressive hindsight-judgment that perhaps they never were)??

          Basically, in contrast to Turmarion’s claim of an absolute teaching of religious liberty, DH seems to make a TON of exceptions regarding the common good. And presumably whether a given situation warrants “limiting” religious freedom for one of those reasons…is a matter of prudential judgment, not “absolute” teaching.

          So I guess, for me, the progressives need to “explain” all of DH’s talk of exceptions for these reasons, and how this represents change or development (when really these “reasons for limiting” were the ones used to justify things all along, even if you disagree it was actually necessary).

      • Per Signum permalink
        October 14, 2012 8:29 pm

        “But then, maybe in non-individualist societies, the threat of death or exile for transgressing the community is simply the natural “intrinsic” consequence in the inner-logic of that community. (I still think some people have a hard time imagining how antisocial it is to leave a religion in a society where religion and community are co-extensive)”

        In way, this is a decent argument for secularism. It probably was one of the reasons for secularism. The practical equation of a community with a non-negotiable, non-democratic, dogmatic superstructure- one so inwardly volatile, contradictory (paradoxical?)– eventually begs the question. Once we have reached the point of “kill them all and let God sort them out”, or the absurdity of wars over how best to crack an egg, we eventually ask “so why DO we make community co-extensive with all this stuff, anyways? Is it really good to make this a pre-requisite for community membership?”

        The minimalism of secularity therefore strives to solve a problem that dogmatism apparently created. It became clear that the only reason heretical beliefs about invisible, otherworldly things appeared so dangerous to visible, worldly things was because we had to decided to arrange things thus. The connection between correct views in the civil order and correct views in divine order was only there as long as we required the former to be relevant for the latter.

        • October 15, 2012 2:20 pm

          “In way, this is a decent argument for secularism. It probably was one of the reasons for secularism.”

          I think that’s a bit naive. Secularism is the result of capitalism, which is the result of technological advancement.

          It’s not like we suddenly all realized “Oh, this is too difficult to sustain, it’s causing too much pain!” As if there is such a thing as collective exhaustion across generations, or like we finally “came to an epiphany” socially. I don’t think human society works that way.

          No, if something could be sustained socially/ideologically/politically for 200 years, it could be sustained indefinitely. At least, assuming everything else remained the same (and the only thing that didn’t was technological knowledge; the only thing that truly “progresses” in the world in a cumulative fashion).

          “The practical equation of a community with a non-negotiable, non-democratic, dogmatic superstructure- one so inwardly volatile, contradictory (paradoxical?)– eventually begs the question.”

          Again, this seems to be based just on some sort of Hegelian dialectic view of history that lots of people now consider silly. Even Marx rejected that sort of “ideological” dialectic in favor of a material one, because at least the material really can “advance” (in the sense of scientific knowledge building on itself) whereas this idea that ideas unfold over centuries in some sort of collective process of reasoning(?) is rather superstitious and mythological itself (like Jung’s “collective unconscious”) unless you are willing to say (with Marx) that the ideological progression is merely an emanation from a material progression. But at that point, the mere fact of coming “later” in the process doesn’t in itself allow you to make a value judgment about the ideological, since is ≠ ought (ie, a more advanced scientific knowledge might correspond to a WORSE political state, or a more impoverished spiritual state, etc).

          “or the absurdity of wars over how best to crack an egg”

          Do you really believe wars were ever actually fought over ideology? Or has ideology always just been the “excuse” or surface playing-out of deep tectonic shifts in the socio-economic structure?

          I really don’t believe ideology is that powerful or volatile. Societies don’t suddenly develop collective anger over mere ideas (if it is not a reflection of some sort of class-structure thing) and neither do vast swaths of people suddenly get attracted to new ideas or heresies (when they, for the most part, weren’t for 1000 years) unless it reflects a huge shift in class-structure.

          Secularist individualism is certainly the ideology that best reflects modern atomized individualist late-capitalist malaise. But is that a good thing? Or should we be “living towards” the Kingdom of God?

          “we eventually ask ‘so why DO we make community co-extensive with all this stuff, anyways? Is it really good to make this a pre-requisite for community membership?'”

          Sometimes it just happens, even without much active coercion. For whatever reason, in the medieval (relatively stable) socio-economic-political structure…everyone just WAS Christian, and heresy, and its prosecution (either via excommunication or State intervention) was pretty rare until after the Black Plague.

          I’m pretty sure that in a Christian socio-economic-political order (say, social credit), the way class and capital would natural structure themselves…might be conducive to a revival of (Christian) religious hegemony even WITHOUT active coercion. And yet, it would not be total “freedom” either. In other words, it wouldn’t just be some voluntarist thing where everyone converted spontaneously of their free will (like, if we put in enough effort evangelizing).

          Rather, that construction it would be the result of MASSIVE social processes, the reflection of very deep structural realities, that do in fact represent a HUGE exercise of power on the part of the community (just power that is deep down in the “tectonic plates” rather than on the surface; albeit earthquakes would still be a side effect, as it were), just like the original conversion of the Roman Empire, and just like the conversion of the modern world to secular pluralism. No individual might be coerced, but the demographic trends are definitely “structural” and thus clearly the result of some sort of “machinery” working beneath the surface rather than just an accumulation of spontaneous acts of arbitrary free will.

      • October 14, 2012 11:27 pm

        In general, I’d go along with what Thales says above. I’m not sure I can come up with a “line” specific enough for your criteria. It’s like a Socratic dialogue–every time one of his interlocutors thinks he’s answered Socrates’ question (“what is ‘just’? what is ‘good’?” etc.), Socrates will come back with either “That’s not what I meant!” or “But if you look at it like this, what you say can’t be the case!” Broadly, I think that coercion, shaming, shunning, etc. should be used only to prevent immediate physical harm to humans or in some cases property (human sacrifice, theft, etc.). I’d say there’s a case–not as strong–for shunning in some cases. For example, a person who promoted pedophilia, even if he never committed it or broke the law, might be shunned by his community or friends for obvious reasons (though I’d support his First Amendment right to disseminate any non-pornographic literature, much as I’d find such to be distasteful and evil). Likewise for Holocaust denial, though I’d oppose laws forbidding it.

        More abstract concepts such as things that might “destabilize” society in the long run I wouldn’t think to be valid targets of coercion. No one can know with certainty what will have this effect and what won’t, and coercion against a possible threat seems to me an excessive price in freedom to pay for possible protection from a theoretical threat.

        Religious coercion is always wrong (unless your religion requires human sacrifice, theft, or some such). Given the way the universe is set up, it is clear that God has given us absolutely free will to accept or reject Him, and He has not chosen to make what He desires of us unambiguously clear–as I said before, no religion is self-evident. Thus, the least we can do is imitate Him in the religious freedom we allow our fellow humans. A church or religious organization has the right to excommunicate (though that is probably usually more harmful than helpful), but no rights beyond that to force one’s conscience.

        As usual, you lose me when you go Existentialist. I reject all that, as I reject your concept of Hell. You’re probably right about non-individualist societies–that’s why I consider the fact that ours evolved away from that to be a feature, not a bug.

        • October 15, 2012 1:49 pm

          That’s fair enough. I find your “religious freedom is always wrong…except…” to be funny. If there’s an “except” then “always” is the wrong word.

          I think I can accept as orthodox something along the lines of “coercion against a possible threat seems to me an excessive price in freedom to pay for possible protection from a theoretical threat.” That’s a prudential judgment that seems at least valid and tolerable.

          But my question (as I asked below) is whether you dogmatize this, or whether you are willing to admit that this is a prudential weighing of various values against each other, and that other well-considered proposals of “the right balance” might be doctrinally tolerable too (in the sense of not being heresy).

          It’s sort of like Just War. I don’t think a Catholic can be an absolute pacifist in the sense of saying “Participation in war is an intrinsic evil.” But (sort of like I said below) they might be a DE FACTO pacifist in the sense of believing, based on the nature of the principles and conditions for “justice”…that no war in practice will ever be just. I totally think that’s actually an allowable position and tolerable to orthodoxy!

          The big difference between such a de facto pacifist and an absolute pacifist is that the absolute pacifist would believe people supporting war (and even, indeed, the de facto pacifist) were positive heretics. The De Facto pacifist would merely think that people supporting a war were making a wrong judgment.

          As an earlier post by Kyle said, “non-intrinsic” doesn’t make a bad thing (like an unjust war) any less bad for those who know it’s bad, and indeed some of these “non-intrinsic evils” can be much WORSE than intrinsic evils. But it does mean that the supporters, if they have honestly and sincerely come to their (wrong) position from the principles…are at least not heretics.

          As for individualism being a feature, not a bug, I just think individualism has made things manifestly worse, not better. But, that’s a prudential judgment, I suppose.

          As for “my concept of Hell,” don’t speak to me like I’m the Church! As if I’m some sort of non-changing non-dynamic object whose beliefs you can essentialize and assume constant or non-evolving. (But then, I suppose you have to view people that way, based on your rejection of existentialism…)

  14. October 12, 2012 9:42 am

    A. Sinner, I had been working on formulating a reply, but I think what you said to Thales contains something that goes straight to the heart of it—I had something like this in mind as where you were coming from, but you say it explicitly, my emphasis:

    But, that’s not how progressives nowadays speak. They speak as if [burning heretics, slavery, and such] is ABSOLUTELY and ON PRINCIPLE “obviously” wrong, and thus imply that the Church has erred ON PRINCIPLE as opposed to just individuals, in history, making (what you judge to be, in hindsight) poor prudential decisions and applying the principles incorrectly.

    If this is all anyone were claiming, there would be no “problem.” The problem is when the alleged absolute wrongness of State punishment of dissent is trotted out as a way to prove “change in teaching.”

    I have long thought that your main motivation whenever it comes around to this kind of think isn’t really about first principles, or about whether slavery or burning heretics is wrong, or whether religious freedom is permissible, etc. Rather, you correctly intuit that if one goes down that road far enough, one ends up saying that the Church—which after all, did countenance burning of heretics, religious wars, slavery, and other nastiness—was in fact wrong; and that in repudiating such things, it has, in fact, changed its teaching. Thus, it’s vitally necessary for you to argue that torture of heretics and slavery could be at least in principle under some conditions OK, since the alternative is to acknowledge that the Church has erred. Now I for one think that the Church was wrong and that it has changed its teachings, so that’s no problem for me.
    I think even you would admit the following, albeit grudgingly: If the proverbial Martian came down and studied Church history, its teachings and policies over the centuries, etc., he’d say, “Well, it seems like they certainly have changed a lot of stuff, even though they say they haven’t.” The only way one would be motivated to interpret the clear record of what has actually happened as anything other than “change” is if one has an a priori belief that the Church is infallible in its teachings down to the level of specific policies, or the countenancing thereof, and that the teachings in question were in fact infallible; in that case, one has to do heroic mental gymnastics to show that change is not, in fact, change. It’s kind of like staunchly prohibitionist Fundamentalists who jump through all kinds of hoops and do Olympic-class mental gymnastics to prove the that what Jesus drank, clearly referred to as oinos (“wine” in Greek) was anything but wine!
    Distinguishing between “the Church” and the “individuals in history making poor prudential judgments” gets to be pointless. I look at it like this: I don’t follow Churchianity or Popianity or Councilianity or Biblianity—I follow Christianity. In a sense it really comes down to WWJD? Would Jesus torture or burn a heretic? Would he endorse slavery or own a slave? Would he say people are not free to follow their own religion? I think the answer to each of these is “No”.
    Now before you accuse me of being a Protestant, I don’t think everyone’s interpretation of Scripture and Tradition. I do think that the Magisterium teaches authoritatively, if not necessarily always completely correctly. I know it irritates you when I do this, but I come back to Orthodoxy. There were entire councils that were later on rejected as “false” councils, even though they were prima facie identical to accepted councils at the time they occurred. If you ask Orthodox theologians why some councils and their teachings were accepted and some were rejected—if, in short, you ask for a specific framework or a set of principles, such as you’ve been asking for in this discussion—they’ll say they don’t know. They will say that the Holy Spirit manifests through the entire Church—patriarchs, bishops, priests, and people—over time in mysterious ways that we can’t understand, and that we often don’t know until retrospectively what the “right” side was. In short, sort of a Divine “gut feeling”!
    I don’t expect you to agree with that or like it; but that’s how I see it. The alternative seems to me hopeless in that it gets lost in sterile arguments that can never be won since each side has different starting points and basic assumptions. I imagine as you’ve said before you’ll say, “Then why aren’t you Orthodox?” and make a crack about the riff-raff getting out of the Church so that things will be neater and more orthodox. One, Orthodoxy isn’t a bowl of roses, either—I could go on about the problems there. Two, I think that as John Paul II said, the Church needs to breath with both lungs. I think each needs the other as a corrective; which means that there need to be people in both churches who are frustrated enough with the stupidity of what they see in their own communion to seek the best in the other (but in a clear-eyed, non-romaniticized fashion); and to work towards the day we can come together in (hopefully) the best of both worlds. Three, just as you don’t divorce a spouse or disown one’s parents (or children) just because of difficulties in the relationship or disagreements, one doesn’t leave, if I may be so bold, Holy Mother the Church for trivial reasons—or even big—reasons. I won’t say that nothing could ever happen that would make me reconsider my affiliation; but it would take more than I’ve experienced yet.

    • Thales permalink
      October 12, 2012 7:59 pm

      Heh. Let me distinguish myself from Turmarion a little bit. I’m of the position that the Church doesn’t change in her principles, and that things that appeared to be policy changes in the past were either failings of properly applying the Church’s unchanging principles or a situation requiring a different prudential decision because of the particular circumstances of the situation. So I’m with A Sinner on that one.

      • October 12, 2012 9:26 pm

        Fair enough, Thales. We don’t have to agree completely! ;) Actually, I could get behind the notion of “failings of properly applying the Church’s unchanging principles”. In short, I think it can be cogently argued that the Church’s “unchanging principles” are that slavery, religious coercion, lack of religious freedom, burning heretics, and such, are always and everywhere wrong, and that the Church at certain times has simply failed properly to apply these teachings (as, IMO, it is currently failing to apply its teaching on the evil of usury, construed as interest per se, rather than just excessive interest). I’m inclined to think (and I may be wrong) that A. Sinner isn’t even willing to go that far. Anyway, by and large, Thales, I agree with you more than I disagree.

        • Thales permalink
          October 14, 2012 11:43 am

          Fair enough, tumarion!

        • October 15, 2012 12:43 am

          “Actually, I could get behind the notion of ‘failings of properly applying the Church’s unchanging principles.’ In short, I think it can be cogently argued that the Church’s ‘unchanging principles’ are that slavery, religious coercion, lack of religious freedom, burning heretics, and such, are always and everywhere wrong, and that the Church at certain times has simply failed properly to apply these teachings (as, IMO, it is currently failng to apply its teaching on the evil of usury, construed as interest per se, rather than just excessive interest). I’m inclined to think (and I may be wrong) that A Sinner isn’t even willing to go that far.”

          I could come closer than this statement seems to imply. (I won’t further open the can of worms about just how to define “slavery” and which particular feature is unconditionally problematic.)

          Yes, I’m unwilling to say that there is direct absolute condemnation of “slavery” or “religious coercion” in the deposit of faith. I do not think those things, formulated that specifically, are absolute principles in themselves.

          If you are prepared to say that I am a heretic for not accepting as dogma some sort of “Doctrine of Religious Liberty” or that things like the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on “the ethical aspects of slavery” are all positively heretical…well, then you are, ironically, much MORE dogmatic than I!!

          So, really, the “minimum” I’d “require” is merely that people not become dogmatic in the opposite direction. I wouldn’t claim “the acceptability of religious coercion [or slavery]” is a dogma. But I do think it is even more unacceptable to claim that it is heresy (indeed, many ideas are neither).

          I think it needs to be admitted that this question is a debatable one, with no logically-absolute answer available from the first principles (though those same principles, like the US Constitution, say, can be used to “ground” two rather different arguments or interpretations). At the end of the day, as long as the first principles really are upheld, we should be able to admit this is a prudential judgment. (And the Church hierarchy switching favor from one opinion to another in THOSE sorts of judgments, where either side is tolerable, is hardly “change in teaching” if the tolerability of both continues to be admitted).

          This does not quite mean (as you said above) that “it’s vitally necessary for you to argue that torture of heretics and slavery could be at least in principle under some conditions OK.”

          Yes, I do think we need to argue that condemnation of such things is contingent rather than de jure absolute. HOWEVER, contingencies can still be de facto absolute, inasmuch as certain principles which don’t directly or specifically condemn something in itself may, when applied, wind up condemning it in all possible cases.

          So I think I could probably accept as orthodox the argument that there are broader principles in the deposit of faith (that, AS principles, the Church has never changed or gotten wrong) that when, in your judgment, are correctly applied, wind up DE FACTO forbidding these things in all possible cases, but not de jure.

          What I mean it something like…the argument for decriminalizing consensual adult sexual activity the Supreme Court made. I think everyone would admit that it’s absurd to think that the Constitution contains any sort of direct specific principle about this. There is no “Right to Sexual Freedom” in the Constitution. But, if there is some sort of right to privacy (a reasonable right, that obviously is in a hierarchy of priorities that sometimes override it)…then private consensual sexual activity may be DE FACTO protected by the constitution in ALL cases, not because it provides any such specific right, but because it is covered by the mantle of a broader principle; that of privacy.

          Likewise, I think you are free to argue that some broader principles de facto forbids slavery or burning heretics, etc, even in ALL cases. It’s not a matter, for me, of admitting that it must be possible in some case to do morally. Rather, it’s a matter of admitting, for me, of admitting that this is debatable without heresy.

          Just like in the Constitutional question of private adult consensual sexual activity…another interpretation or application of the principles is obviously possible. Obviously, for 200 years, no one saw a contradiction between the Constitution and certain laws. And 4 out 9 justices STILL didn’t. As a matter of law, the question is currently now settled. But as a philosophical matter regarding interpretation, I don’t think anyone would claim that our Constitution contains “sexual freedom” as a first principle in the way it contains, say, a right to trial by jury, and so whether it is contained by a certain type of contingency (hermeneutic “emanations from penumbras”) is a more debatable matter, a prudential judgment that one shouldn’t be dogmatic about; I think it would be hard to say, looking back, that any judge or jury or police officer in the history of our country who participated in enforcing, say, a sodomy law before that was struck down…was committing an objective constitutional injustice, as if the hindsight of a later ruling deploying THAT interpretation is some sort of absolute we can apply onto the past. (And, obviously, if the accepted interpretation of how the constitution’s principles are to be applied changed ONCE, it could always change BACK, and then the other interpretation would be being deployed again). But, on the other hand, I think we’d all admit that no supreme court could interpret away the right to a trial by jury; we’d need an amendment for that. An amendment to the constitution (not being an infallible document) is an admission that it was imperfect in some aspect of governing (say, by not allowing income tax) and that it’s principles thus actually need to be CHANGED. A supreme court decision on the other hand, claiming that it “already contained” a certain conclusion by dint of its principles (even though another interpretation is almost always possible: hence why we need the court at all, and why it’s split so often) is not really a change of the constitution so much as about prudential judgments of how to interpret/apply.

          So I guess my main question would be whether you believe that, if someone accepted all the same first principles, it would be heresy to conclude that slavery or religious coercion could be acceptable in some cases? Which is to say, do you see the current shift on these issues to be equivalent to the US Constitution being outright AMENDED, or is it more like the Supreme Court issuing a ruling of unconstitutionality about something? The former analogy I could not accept, the latter I probably could.

          That’s my main problem with the progressive narrative: they get dogmatic about the NEW which has trumped the old interpretation. But if an interpretation can be overturned once, it can be overturned back again. And at that point, we’re really only left with the ability to say, “Okay, well, neither is absolute in the same sense of first principles; they’re different interpretations or applications being deployed.” At which point, there is no question of dogma or heresy or “change” of dogma.

    • October 14, 2012 11:50 pm

      “I have long thought that your main motivation whenever it comes around to this kind of think isn’t really about first principles, or about whether slavery or burning heretics is wrong, or whether religious freedom is permissible, etc.”

      Oh, those issues are entirely irrelevant TODAY. But it’s not just “the Church can’t change” either. It’s also liking a Scholastic sort of inner-consistency in theological logic. When someone comes along and condemns “slavery” or “torture” (by the State) without defining how either is distinct from things we have today, I just hear words being spoken with an arrogant progressive “we know better now” attitude but with no substance. That the modern world considers itself so much more civilized and unbarbaric because it “doesn’t have” slavery and corporal punishment…just strikes me as absurd given how much more subtle (but also unimaginably pervasive and entrenched) the modern institutionalization of evil is. Again: if slavery and a regime with more corporal punishment were bad, they’ve been replaced by something WORSE on earth, not better.

      As for Martians, I’d say they’d certainly see an institution that has a history, and thus development and change over time. But in terms of dogmatic reversals…they would not see the same thing as they would with, say, the Mormons. There is a difference in nature there, not merely degree. But you get enough people spouting these “progressive” ideas about dogma, and they make it sound almost like it is as malleable as Mormon teaching.

      “In a sense it really comes down to WWJD? Would Jesus torture or burn a heretic? Would he endorse slavery or own a slave? Would he say people are not free to follow their own religion? I think the answer to each of these is ‘No’.”

      I think it’s odd/tricky to even apply that question to these sorts of things; sort of like “Would Jesus have an abortion?” I’d like to see how the feminists would answer THAT! Of course Christ wouldn’t have owned a slave; He was (necessarily) poor. Of course He wasn’t in any position to have any sort of POLITICAL power; He was (necessarily) among the weak and marginalized. But does that mean a Christian can never have possessions, never employ anyone, never be in a position of power? We do see how Paul dealt with slavery, however. And neither Christ nor Paul emphasized political revolution to overthrow the class-structure of the day (and we have a class structure today too; we always will to some degree).

      “I don’t expect you to agree with that or like it; but that’s how I see it.”

      I know. And I think that comes from your own sort of a priori desire to have things be a certain way, and then look for arguments to confirm that. Because both of our ethoses wind up creating a different pastoral approach, a different political “program” for the Church, and a different spirituality.

      I also think you misrepresent the Orthodox to some degree. They have serious problems with the Authority question, to be sure, but they aren’t QUITE so wishy-washy as you make them out to be.

      “I won’t say that nothing could ever happen that would make me reconsider my affiliation; but it would take more than I’ve experienced yet.”

      I don’t know. Would you leave if they formally excommunicated you? Is that what it’s going to take?

      Because, bizarrely, some “catholics” don’t even then (I think of the women’s ordination crowd). They just get more defiant.

      • October 15, 2012 7:08 pm

        I think you are concerned that my views end in relativism since I’m reluctant to state basic principles that you consider clear enough. To me, you tend that way. I mean, to say “sometimes you have to kill an individual to save a life” or “you have to coercively put thieves in jail to protect society” is intelligible. When you start saying that in some societies slavery or burning heretics is OK, that’s taking casuistry farther than I think is appropriate. I mean, if slavery or abolition of other religions or burning heretics, etc. are sometimes good and sometimes bad, it seems to me perilously close to cultural relativism. Speaking of heretics, btw, I nowhere was saying or implying you are one.

        That we are created “in the image and likeness” of God is usually said theologically to refer to our intelligence and our free will. Those are literally the parts of us which reflect the Divine. Thus, to me, the worst thing one can do is to coerce one’s belief in what one considers to be true. To imprison me or even kill me affects only my body; to coerce my belief is to take aim at the very Image of God in me. Thus it is never, ever right to ban, abolish, or coerce religious or philosophical belief. In this context, I interpret DH narrowly—you can stop a person from sacrificing his next door neighbor or flying a plane into a skyscraper, even if his religion requires it (though you can’t force him to believe otherwise. Maybe that’s a clearer statement of what you rightly point out was unfortunately phrased to imply “religious coercion is wrong except when it isn’t” phraseology). It has to be really, really bad, really, really immediate (“it might be bad for society in a hundred years” is too speculative), and it has to be really, really concrete (“being antisocial towards society” is too abstract).

        I think I can accept as orthodox something along the lines of “coercion against a possible threat seems to me an excessive price in freedom to pay for possible protection from a theoretical threat.” That’s a prudential judgment that seems at least valid and tolerable.

        OK, so at least we have a partial meeting of the minds.

        But my question (as I asked below) is whether you dogmatize this, or whether you are willing to admit that this is a prudential weighing of various values against each other, and that other well-considered proposals of “the right balance” might be doctrinally tolerable too.

        I suppose, but I think your prudential judgment is wrong. You’re concerned with whether a judgment makes one a heretic; I’m concerned with what repercussions it might have on actual people in actual situations—i.e. whether there should be established state churches, whether law should be passed that allow religious discrimination or persecution, etc. To be “right” in the sense of “not a heretic” doesn’t mean one isn’t wrong in what one promotes!

        It’s sort of like Just War. I don’t think a Catholic can be an absolute pacifist in the sense of saying “Participation in war is an intrinsic evil.”

        That’s tough. I don’t think wars are always forbidden. However, I’ve become inclined to move away from double-effect ethical systems. I don’t have time to look up the sources, but Google St. Basil on war. He said that soldiers weren’t murderers, but that they had sinned in taking life, and should be denied Communion for three years. There are also Eastern prayers (both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic) to the effect of asking forgiveness from sins both deliberate and accidental. In a Western, Thomistic framework, “accidental sin” would be like “true lie”—you can’t sin accidentally. In this context, one writer—I think it was Chesterton—said that not only do soldiers marching off to a just war not have anything to feel bad about, they should do so cheerfully and joyfully, since they’re fighting on the side of the right. Doesn’t seem like Basil thought that! I think the idea that in some situations that anything you do involves sin—which is prevalent in the East—makes more logical and psychological sense than the notion of double-effect. So while I don’t deny that going to war is sometimes necessary, I think it may be that war is intrinsically sinful. It’s interesting that in all the early hagiographies of soldier saints, they almost always refuse to fight for Rome at all with the justness of the cause not coming up.

        As for individualism being a feature, not a bug, I just think individualism has made things manifestly worse, not better. But, that’s a prudential judgment, I suppose.

        Fair enough—once more, I disagree!

        As for “my concept of Hell,” don’t speak to me like I’m the Church! As if I’m some sort of non-changing non-dynamic object whose beliefs you can essentialize and assume constant or non-evolving.

        The view of Hell which I have seen you espouse in the past, which seems to me to be consistent with allusions to Hell in the course of this discussion (although I could be wrong in that assessment), is something with which I am not in sympathy, and with which I do not agree. How’s that?

        (But then, I suppose you have to view people that way, based on your rejection of existentialism…)

        Au contraire–you don’t have to be Existentialist to view people dynamically. My Buddhist tendencies move me to have a very dynamic view—people change and evolve instant to instant, let alone over time. And I make no apologies for rejecting Existentialism. I give it the backhanded compliment that I respect it more than Secular Humanism in that, unlike the latter, it makes no pretense of trying to maintain Christian ethics in the context of a godless, meaningless cosmos; but I find Existentialism to be no less abhorrent for all that.

        More broadly, I don’t think that God sends honest, sincere heretics to Hell; and while I do believe that there are limits to correct Christian belief, I think the Classical and Medieval models of dealing with it were prudentially way wrong. You mentioned the tectonic forces changing the Empire. It’s fascinating that almost the very moment Christianity became tolerated, mob violence began breaking out between different Christian factions all over the place, and harmless pagan philosophers such as Hypatia of Alexandria were murdered in the streets by mobs led by monks. Yes, I think that was prudentially, morally, and ethically wrong and evil. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”! How ironic that must have seemed to so many in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages! Thus, I’m not really interested in calling you or anyone else a heretic, or whether or not one thinks I’m one. It’s also why having society coextensive with a particular religion or philosophy is, IMO, a bad thing.

        It’s also liking a Scholastic sort of inner-consistency in theological logic.

        I think an excessive desire for and emphasis on this is part of the problem with Scholasticism.

        And I think that comes from your own sort of a priori desire to have things be a certain way, and then look for arguments to confirm that.

        Don’t we all? Psychological research would indicate that.

        I don’t know. Would you leave if they formally excommunicated you?

        I don’t know—if it does happen, I’ll get back to you. I’d point out this, with my emphasis:

        Excommunicated Catholics are still Catholics and remain bound by obligations such as attending Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist and from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.). However, their communion with the Church is considered gravely impaired. In spite of that, they are urged to retain a relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.

  15. October 16, 2012 4:47 pm

    “When you start saying that in some societies slavery or burning heretics is OK, that’s taking casuistry farther than I think is appropriate. I mean, if slavery or abolition of other religions or burning heretics, etc. are sometimes good and sometimes bad, it seems to me perilously close to cultural relativism.”

    I don’t think I’m saying slavery is ever “good,” though. I’m saying that in some societies it just WAS, that was how the class-structure was organized, and that participation in the economy of that society (even as a slave owner or overseer) would thus not have been a personal sin, anymore than earning and spending money in our current system is a sin, even though our current monetary system (a debt-money system) is usurious. I can spend a Federal Reserve Note without sin, even though the Federal Reserve is an evil system; Christianity does not demand socio-political Revolution of the individual.

    My position would further be that alienation of labor and limitation on freedom will ALWAYS exist to SOME degree, and that what existed in the past was thus not different in nature from what we have today, merely degree. As such, an absolute condemnation seems hard to do without making moral life TODAY apparently impossible (especially since, it is arguable that the systematic evil today has simply gotten a lot more subtle for its “depth”)…

    “Speaking of heretics, btw, I nowhere was saying or implying you are one.”

    If “religious liberty” is a dogmatic truth, then I am. If it’s not a dogmatic truth, then the Church really hasn’t changed any dogma. You can’t have it both ways.

    I think of the (now failed) SSPX reconciliation attempt. They wouldn’t sign a statement of faith because the Vatican said certain things were “non-negotiable.” As far as we can tell, “religious liberty” was one of the problematic points. But are they then claiming that’s a dogma? That seems rather hard, given that the SSPX merely advocate what Pius IX and Pius X did. So are the SSPX heretics or not? The Vatican seems unwilling to say that. But if they’re not heretics, why not let them reconcile with the Church and tolerate their non-heretical opinions (especially since those opinions have a provenance in the Church and, in fact, were once the mainstream opinions)???

    “It has to be really, really bad, really, really immediate (“it might be bad for society in a hundred years” is too speculative), and it has to be really, really concrete (“being antisocial towards society” is too abstract).”

    Okay, but these are judgments of “proportionality” that are clearly debatable, as I said. They’re fine, you may even be right, but they certainly are prudential judgments, not first principles in themselves.

    “I suppose, but I think your prudential judgment is wrong. You’re concerned with whether a judgment makes one a heretic; I’m concerned with what repercussions it might have on actual people in actual situations”

    Well, what I’m “concerned with” depends on context. In real practice in life, I’m probably more concerned with “actual people in actual situations” too. But when we are discussing theory, then of course I am more concerned with the question of orthodoxy versus heresy.

    When someone claims “Church teaching has changed,” what I hear is that “the Church promulgated heresy in the past that it has now realized is unorthodox.” But that isn’t true, and you even seem to admit it here, by admitting that alternate opinions are NOT heresy, that your opinion is NOT dogma, and that thus at most we are talking about cases of bad prudential judgments that can be debated, NOT “wrong teaching.”

    Again, that doesn’t mean these bad judgments might not be really bad. They might be. “Intrinsic” is not a measure of gravity, as Kyle said in that other post. But the point is that these things are not “intrinsic” evils. You may believe they are, in fact, evil in all cases, but that’s different from being an intrinsic evil. The Church has never taught that an intrinsic evil was okay, even if the institutional church (ie, individual hierarchs or groups of clergy, etc) has made bad prudential judgments (ie, supporting wars as just that were actually unjust, supporting certain State actions that were not in fact justified, etc etc)

    “To be ‘right’ in the sense of ‘not a heretic’ doesn’t mean one isn’t wrong in what one promotes!”

    Correct. But…that’s a prudential judgment and so a matter for conscience. I may believe someone has made a gravely wrong determination regarding a war, for example, that I have concluded is unjust. But if they have sincerely reached their position, they aren’t a heretic and won’t personally be culpable for anything. Of course, that doesn’t mean I (who DO believe it is unjust) won’t fight my hardest to stop the evil I see (even if I simultaneously recognize that the evil is not “intrinsic” and thus is legitimately debateable.)

    “That’s tough. I don’t think wars are always forbidden. However, I’ve become inclined to move away from double-effect ethical systems.”

    I’m not sure what this even means. It is clear that often we make a choice that results in some evil, but where we don’t intend it at all, and where we would avoid it IF we could.

    “I think the idea that in some situations that anything you do involves sin—which is prevalent in the East—makes more logical and psychological sense than the notion of double-effect. So while I don’t deny that going to war is sometimes necessary, I think it may be that war is intrinsically sinful.”

    Depends how you define “sin.” If you mean “a bad thing,” then yes war is always bad. But sometimes the best choice you can make is “the lesser evil.” In the Western definition of “sin,” there is no damnable culpability associated with this (unless God is extremely unjust) because what the hell are you otherwise supposed to do when caught between a rock and a hard-place like that? The “lesser evil” is still an evil, of course, but if it’s the best choice you can make it is not (according to Western terminology) a sin. I think this is as true for war as it is for self-defense or State capital punishment (whether for murder or heresy). They are all regrettable and tragic, since they all involve a death, but sometimes that’s necessary to prevent an even worse evil.

    “The view of Hell which I have seen you espouse in the past, which seems to me to be consistent with allusions to Hell in the course of this discussion (although I could be wrong in that assessment), is something with which I am not in sympathy, and with which I do not agree. How’s that?”

    Better, though I would contest that the “allusions” you have seen in this discussion indicate quite the same view as in the past on my part.

    “More broadly, I don’t think that God sends honest, sincere heretics to Hell”

    I don’t necessarily either. As I think I’ve said before, I’m actually a “soft universalist.” But that’s an internal-forum private hope or judgment in the subjective case. OBjectively and absolutely, heresy is damnable and “to be a heretic” is to be a damnable thing. These are distinctions that must be maintained assiduously. Heresy is grave matter, is a mortal sin categorically. Whether all people espousing false beliefs are personally culpable is another question, but one that is intrinsically private and personal and of the internal forum; no categorical statement or teaching can be made ON PRINCIPLE in that regard.

    “and while I do believe that there are limits to correct Christian belief, I think the Classical and Medieval models of dealing with it were prudentially way wrong. You mentioned the tectonic forces changing the Empire. It’s fascinating that almost the very moment Christianity became tolerated, mob violence began breaking out between different Christian factions all over the place, and harmless pagan philosophers such as Hypatia of Alexandria were murdered in the streets by mobs led by monks. Yes, I think that was prudentially, morally, and ethically wrong and evil.”

    You won’t find any disagreement from me here.

    “It’s also why having society coextensive with a particular religion or philosophy is, IMO, a bad thing.”

    Sometimes it just happens. I’d say it’s a neutral thing. It depends how society “handles” it. Positively advocating the opposite as good, however, gets dangerously close, for me, to the opposite extreme; that of dogmatizing pluralism.

    But we shouldn’t make the same mistake twice. If Christendom and the Medieval were problematic, we should know better this time than to get into bed with Liberal Democracy, pluralism, secularism, modernity, etc.

  16. October 16, 2012 9:39 pm

    I have problems with “prudential judgment” and “proportionate reasons” because those terms are used all too often, particularly by neo-conservatives, as a form of dismissal along the lines of, “Well, Catholic teaching on war or Catholic social teaching may say X, but whether we invade Iraq or allow unbridled capitalism is just a prudential judgment.” Which basically means that anything I like is dogma, but anything I don’t like is a prudential judgment, even if the Pope says it! Antonin Scalia in fact wrote a very snotty letter about Pope John Paul II in regard to his vehement opposition to most capital punishment, in which Scalia more or less implied the Pope to be a soft-headed fool who didn’t know what he was talking about. These very same neo-conservatives (with whom I realize you, too, have a lot of disagreement on some issues) jump all over so-called progressives who question anything; but then hypocritically use “prudential judgment” as a get-out-of-jail-free card when they disagree with Catholic teaching. I know you’re not using it that way–I give you credit for that. I’m explaining why I’m leery of the terminology.

    Here’s how I look at the slavery and religious freedom thing. Consider a crime-ridden town. The city council is deciding what to do. Suggestions range from a curfew to profiling to more police on the streets, etc. That’s differing prudential judgments, which can be argued. But suppose someone suggests shooting anyone who’s out on the street after 6 PM. Technically that’s his prudential judgment; but it’s way, crazy wrong! Now, one can conceive of a circumstance–say a war zone or an extremely chaotic society with no effective central authority, where shooting people out on the streets really is necessary for survival. However, most people would consider such catastrophic conditions as irrelevant to civilized society; and rather than saying that such actions were “justified” in such cases, most people would construe it as a symptom either of societal breakdown or an evil society. To put it another way, people would be aghast if one seriously suggested the argument that shooting people in the street is morally permissible in some circumstances. They’d view that as exactly backwards–rather than arguing whether such actions might be OK in such a society, they’d want to argue how you change such a society so such behavior no longer obtains. That’s how I view slavery, suppression of religious freedom, etc. Any set of conditions under which one might hypothetically justify such things is a set of conditions that I think needs to be eradicated–just as a state of affairs where you have to shoot your neighbors to survive is a state of affairs that needs to be eradicated. Do you see what I mean?

    In the Western definition of “sin,” there is no damnable culpability associated with [pursuing the lesser of two evils, such as a just war] (unless God is extremely unjust)

    Whoa–there’s no damnable culpability associated with venial sin, by definition, right? Maybe killing in war becomes venial if the war is just, you’re not killing innocent civilians, etc?

    [W]hat the hell are you otherwise supposed to do when caught between a rock and a hard-place like that?

    Couldn’t that be what you’d call an “existential tragedy” that we’ve made a world in which sometimes we must sin no matter what we do? Anyway, I’d point out that St. Basil was a saint of the undivided Church, and his teaching on war seems clearly to posit that killing in war, even if it’s not murder, is certainly sin–else how do you explain it? It might not seem consistent in the way you’d like, or in line with Thomistic theology, but I’d be hesitant to buck St. Basil on such a matter.

    [The SSPX] wouldn’t sign a statement of faith because the Vatican said certain things were “non-negotiable.” As far as we can tell, “religious liberty” was one of the problematic points. But are they then claiming that’s a dogma? That seems rather hard, given that the SSPX merely advocate what Pius IX and Pius X did.

    Perhaps the Pii were making prudential judgments and not dogma?

    When someone claims “Church teaching has changed,” what I hear is that “the Church promulgated heresy in the past that it has now realized is unorthodox.”

    Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “change”. As you know, in his day Newman was fiercely criticized for his discussion of “development” of doctrine, which his critics insisted was just a devious way of saying “change”. His views are widely accepted now. Consider what Thales said above:

    I’m of the position that the Church doesn’t change in her principles, and that things that appeared to be policy changes in the past were either failings of properly applying the Church’s unchanging principles or a situation requiring a different prudential decision because of the particular circumstances of the situation.

    One might say that the Church’s broader principles, properly understood, would result in the realization that slavery and religious coercion (except to prevent human sacrifice) are always wrong in all contexts, and that the Church just applied them wrongly for a long time and taught wrongly (albeit in a non-infallible context) for a long time. Technically that would avoid a concept of “change”; but a lot of people would construe it that a change had occurred.

    As to heresy, I tend to go with the great Reformed theologian, the late Harold O. J. Brown, who in his book Heresies (an fascinating book that played a significant role in my conversion to Catholicism, interestingly–but that’s another story) argues that “heresy” should really be applied only to issues of Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. He argues that it tended to foster ecclesiastical overreach and become abused when “heresy” was applied in other areas. Now, he’s Reformed, so I disagree with him in places–e.g., when he argues wrongly, in my view, that Transubstantiation is effectively heretical); but I think his overall point is a good one.

    More generally, I guess I’d go easier on heretics than you. There were Monophysites, Nestorians, Arians, Gnostics, Cathars, and others who lived pious, ascetic, upright lives; many of whom died at the hands of the Romans just as the orthodox did; some died at the hands of the orthodox. Even the orthodox often had to admit the holiness of heretics–Dominic founded his order because he frankly admitted that the Cathari lived lives far more upright than those of the debauched clergy and monastics of the time. I can’t really see a good and loving God who is going to consider people who are model Christians in all ways but sincerely held, if wrong, beliefs, to be damnable even in principle. That doesn’t mean all beliefs are right about God–I agree with everything in the Creeds–but it does mean that heretics are not Evil People Out to Destroy the Faith.

    Now on another thread, you said you “simply put no metaphysical value on the ‘love’ my atheist friends and family members show me” and characterized love in a non-Christian context as “electric slime in the skull of a leaky bag of blood and bones.” I must say that you continue to astound me with such horrid, nasty, even hateful (though I’d imagine you wouldn’t characterize it as such) statements. Maybe you see the “holiness” and “piety” of heretics as equally worthy of scare quotes, as just more “electric slime in the skull of a leaky bag of blood and bones.” All I can say is I vehemently disagree.

    Or, you might argue that heretical beliefs aren’t reeealy sincerely held by whipping out mauvaise foi again. Aside from the fact that I completely and totally reject that whole framework, and frankly think it incompatible with Christian principles, it seems to me a rather devious argument (I’m not saying you’re devious; just the argument). This is so in that it allows one to argue that no one is truly in good faith about anything that one disagrees with. Which seems to me prima facie wrong and in conflict with human psychology.

    Yes, a religion has a right to promote its doctrines, insist on correct doctrines in its schools and seminaries, and to oppose what it views as incorrect views in the public square. It has the right to define heresy; to fire someone in a seminary or school who teaches it; and in super extreme situations, even to say that a person no longer espouses the correct faith (i.e., to excommunicate, though I’d say that would be for very, very rare cases). That, in my view, is the extent of it. I think the Church needs to be very humble in proclaiming who’s damned or damnable; and I certainly think that no sanctions, physical harm, or any other action by secular authority are warranted. I’d even say that indirect attempts are wrong–for example, the Church may deny an imprimatur on a book, but if the person goes ahead and publishes it anyway without Church permission, the Church has no right to attempt to stop the publication (as it has attempted to do in one or two cases). It may sanction the person ecclesiastically; but that’s another thing.

    The model I’d consider best is what prevailed in India before the Muslim invasions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism (all of which had many, many schools) all co-existed in relative peace. There were debates and doctrinal disputes; and there was even a category roughly equivalent to what we’d call “heresy” (nāstika, a term applied to Buddhists, Jains, and some schools of Hinduism by “orthodox” Hindus). Still, there was no oppression, no killing of heretics, no exiling of dissidents, no sanctioning of literature, or any of the other kinds of stuff all too prevalent in the West. The fortunes of the various faiths waxed and waned over time, for various reasons (most notably invasions by the White Huns and later the Muslims); but it was in a context of peaceful co-existence, not of heresy-hunting and oppression. Would that such could have happened in the West. And if you argue that it had to happen (as opposed to saying it happened because of human sinfulness) for orthodoxy to win out; well, then, I’d say that something is wrong with an orthodoxy that has to repudiate the message of love and compassion of its founder and struggle to the top by persecuting, torturing, and killing not only members of other faiths, but its own, if they believe wrongly.

  17. October 17, 2012 8:27 am

    “I have problems with ‘prudential judgment’ and ‘proportionate reasons’ because those terms are used all too often, particularly by neo-conservatives, as a form of dismissal along the lines of, ‘Well, Catholic teaching on war or Catholic social teaching may say X, but whether we invade Iraq or allow unbridled capitalism is just a prudential judgment.’ Which basically means that anything I like is dogma, but anything I don’t like is a prudential judgment, even if the Pope says it!”

    I hate the neocons too. And I think conservatives wrongly conflate political policy and ideological purity; for example, believing that abortion should not be criminalized is different than rejecting, theoretically, the humanity of the unborn. Joe Biden’s phrasing as “I don’t want to force my beliefs on anyone else” is extremely sloppy, and using the language of “rights” in reference to abortion may be downright wrong, but if what he means practically is that he doesn’t think criminalization will actually work best as a matter of policy, I’d actually think that is an acceptable position. The evil of abortion is a Catholic teaching, that it must be criminalized in all cases is not. And either way, when we vote, I don’t think orthodoxy is a criteria, especially not in the US. So voting for someone who will, as a practical matter, not produce the most good, merely because the other is more ideologically pure…I think is just stupid. Voting is a pragmatic act, not an ideological endorsement.

    But, if we ARE talking about people’s personal orthodoxy…then there really IS a difference. On something like war or government welfare, they are not advocating intrinsic evils. Now, they may be nevertheless advocating something gravely evil, but that’s because of an error in fact, not an error in principle. Most will tell you (and we have to take them at their word) that they accept the principles and just believe that their proposals DO in fact meet all the conditions.

    So they aren’t heretics in the way someone who advocates women’s ordination or that contraception is moral or that abortion can ever be a “right.”

    That doesn’t mean the neocons are more deserving of our vote. Indeed, again, “intrinsic” is not a measure of gravity; if we know that what they advocate is evil, the fact that this is debatable without compromising orthodoxy should be irrelevant to us politically. But it does mean that, personally, as an ecclesial matter, they aren’t heretics.

    Furthermore, if you see disagreeing with the current Vatican or USCCB party-line on prudential judgments like whether a SPECIFIC war is unjust as somehow equivalent to dogmatic dissent on principle…then this ties your own hands when it comes to disagreeing with the Vatican or bishops about wars they think are just but which you think are unjust. (Say, the Crusades; at the time, the institutional Church’s “party-line” was that these were just wars. In hindsight, I think that’s more debatable, and I think that YOU certainly would want the freedom to disagree with that prudential judgment. But if you have that freedom, then the neocons do too; if they accept the principles and sincerely believe the conditions have been met, then they are not heretics.)

    “These very same neo-conservatives (with whom I realize you, too, have a lot of disagreement on some issues) jump all over so-called progressives who question anything; but then hypocritically use ‘prudential judgment’ as a get-out-of-jail-free card when they disagree with Catholic teaching.”

    It depends whether we’re comparing apples to apples, or apples to oranges. I would agree that there is a hypocrisy in attempting to deny people’s right to make their own prudential judgments in POLITICAL matters. Like I said above: that abortion is evil is Catholic teaching, that it must be criminalized as a legal or political matter…is not. So conflating political decisions with ideological beliefs and saying people are dissenters or heretics because of divergent prudential judgments on the former…is hypocritical (this is “apples to apples”).

    However, what I often see is “apples to oranges.” Liberal Catholics will express disagreement NOT just on the question of casuistic application OF teachings (to, say, political policy), but on the very teachings or principles themselves as a doctrinal (as opposed to merely political) matter. And, in that case, dissent or heresy IS a legitimate category to use.

    “However, most people would consider such catastrophic conditions as irrelevant to civilized society; and rather than saying that such actions were ‘justified’ in such cases, most people would construe it as a symptom either of societal breakdown or an evil society.”

    I don’t see why the two things are mutually exclusive. The whole situation can be bad, but for the individual a given action might still be “justified” IN that bad situation in the sense that they commit no personal sin by going through with it out of necessity.

    “To put it another way, people would be aghast if one seriously suggested the argument that shooting people in the street is morally permissible in some circumstances.”

    Until they actually find themselves in a situation where (according to your concession of the hypothetical) their lives and those of their family depended on it…

    “They’d view that as exactly backwards–rather than arguing whether such actions might be OK in such a society, they’d want to argue how you change such a society so such behavior no longer obtains.”

    Well that’s great, but it’s of little use to us living day to day in an already VERY fallen world.

    Saying “the usurious debt-money system should be overthrown!” is great, but it’s also pie-in-the-sky. It doesn’t tell me, as an individual, whether I am morally allowed to earn and spend Federal Reserve Notes. (I am.)

    “Any set of conditions under which one might hypothetically justify such things is a set of conditions that I think needs to be eradicated–just as a state of affairs where you have to shoot your neighbors to survive is a state of affairs that needs to be eradicated. Do you see what I mean?”

    Yes. But any given individual or even institution cannot just choose to eradicate a state of affairs. We sometimes…just find ourselves in them.

    Obviously, EVERYONE would admit that in utopia, in the New Jerusalem, there would be no need for self-defense, since no one would try to hurt you. There would be no need for a State in general, since no one would violate anyone else’s rights. There would be no war because no groups would ever disagree. There would be no need for religious coercion because everyone would have faith on their own. There would be no need for slavery, because everything we need or could ever want would fall from the sky and so labor and an economic exchange system wouldn’t be necessary.

    But (to take slavery as an example), what happens when we DON’T live in utopia, when we live in a world where (for much of history) to even eek out sufficiency from the dust of the earth…constant labor was needed, and the means of production were so rudimentary that to sustain any sort of civilization at all, there had to be a huge base caste of socially immobile labor.

    You might say, “Well, then we should have all just have been free hunter-gatherers; if civilization required slavery, then civilization is bad.” But I doubt even the slaves in Antiquity would have said that! They too, generally, found living in a civilization preferable to being hunter-gatherers (even if it cost them freedom) AND without all their work throughout history, we would have never gotten to the point in technological/economic development where we COULD, in fact, start easing up on our labor needs.

    Which in the end benefited everyone; I’d like to think my slave ancestors [and we all surely have some] would be happy to think that their descendents were able to live in the comforts of today’s technologically advanced civilization, rather than being hunter-gatherers still. So I’m not going to condemn masters of the past as objectively sinning, as long as they were kind etc.

    “Whoa–there’s no damnable culpability associated with venial sin, by definition, right?”

    I think the example you might want to use would be original sin rather than venial. Both differ essentially from mortal sin, and strictly speaking both are only “sin” by a sort of analogy or extension from the strict definition, but venial sin is still personally culpable, whereas original is not.

    If you want to say “war is sin” in the sense that war is a result of the Fall, that it is a fruit of original sin in the world, this is true. But be careful with terminology here; it may only be semantic, but a lot of problems have been caused, for example, by Protestants calling concupiscence itself “sin.” I actually don’t doubt this may just be a confusion over words; what they intend to mean is something more like “sinful nature” or human “sinful-ness” as opposed to personal sin proper.

    Is war or slavery or even violence in self-defense an example of human sinfulness or of our sinful nature? Of course; as you say, the whole situation is tragic. That doesn’t mean it is a sin for each individual participant who finds himself in this sinful humanity, this fallen world.

    “Couldn’t that be what you’d call an ‘existential tragedy’ that we’ve made a world in which sometimes we must sin no matter what we do?”

    That’s not how we construct culpability, though. It’s a tragedy, no doubt, but living in a fallen world does not “require” sin. Look at Christ. Having to grapple in less-than-ideal circumstances does not impinge on personal holiness (and certainly does not justify “negotiating” morality for reasons that are less than absolutely necessary).

    “Anyway, I’d point out that St. Basil was a saint of the undivided Church, and his teaching on war seems clearly to posit that killing in war, even if it’s not murder, is certainly sin–else how do you explain it? It might not seem consistent in the way you’d like, or in line with Thomistic theology, but I’d be hesitant to buck St. Basil on such a matter.”

    Well, I tend to think of how homicide (even unintentional or in self-defense) was at one point an impediment to the clergy. Former soldiers could not be priests, etc. A sort of “ritual impurity” was attributed to killing that, while (if it were justified) it may not have impinged on personal character or virtue or holiness, nevertheless does leave “blood on your hands” which signifies sinfulness in the world even though it does not separate (nor even distance) the individual soul from God, and thus was thought to make the man an unfit symbol for Christ at the altar. But then, I’d point out, bastardy did the same thing; it was another “sign” of sinfulness in the world. But isn’t what Christ taught us that we should not question what sin caused the man to be blind? Blindness (and other disease) is no doubt a result of the Fall, a sign of the sinfulness of humanity, of sin in the world. But we don’t judge the individual for it; that would be very Old Testament of us. So I’d tend to say defensive violence is sort of like a disease that sometimes circumstances force us to go through.

    “Perhaps the Pii were making prudential judgments and not dogma?”

    They were, and possibly wrong prudential judgments (at least in the intensity of their hysteria). But the point is that their judgments, while they may have been wrong, were NOT heretical. The more recent prudential judgments putting more emphasis on religious freedom are not a dogma. (And, indeed, since both extremes have been advocated at various points, we could imagine the old opinion once again becoming ascendant at some time in the future).

    I suppose the real problem might be that the SSPX is insisting that the old opinions were dogma and that the new are therefore heresy. And such a position would be a big problem (ironically, exactly because it would imply the Church had promulgated wrong teaching).

    But if they’d be willing to say, “You let us have our prudential judgment, we’ll let you have yours, and we’ll resist each other to each other’s faces debating whose judgment is actually best”…I wouldn’t think the Vatican would deny them that.

    “One might say that the Church’s broader principles, properly understood, would result in the realization that slavery and religious coercion (except to prevent human sacrifice) are always wrong in all contexts, and that the Church just applied them wrongly for a long time and taught wrongly (albeit in a non-infallible context) for a long time.”

    The problem is that this CAN look like an attempt to dogmatize the new interpretation. It is perfectly acceptable to believe that wrong specific casuistic judgments were made in the past (say, the justice of the Crusades or Inquisition). It is not acceptable to speak as if the more recent prudential judgments (or hindsight judgments of the past) are any MORE dogmatic or infallible than the original judgments. They are BOTH just prudential judgments. You (and I) may personally agree with the more recent, but I’m not going to say the old judgments were heretical, just very imprudent. But that also means that they remain at least doctrinally “tolerable” opinions today, that they may still be advocated or defended without heresy, and that it is thus at least possible to imagine that the Church in 300 years will be found espousing the “medieval” judgments again (say, in an “A Canticle for Leibowitz” world.)

    “More generally, I guess I’d go easier on heretics than you. There were Monophysites, Nestorians, Arians, Gnostics, Cathars, and others who lived pious, ascetic, upright lives; many of whom died at the hands of the Romans just as the orthodox did; some died at the hands of the orthodox. Even the orthodox often had to admit the holiness of heretics–Dominic founded his order because he frankly admitted that the Cathari lived lives far more upright than those of the debauched clergy and monastics of the time. I can’t really see a good and loving God who is going to consider people who are model Christians in all ways but sincerely held, if wrong, beliefs, to be damnable even in principle. That doesn’t mean all beliefs are right about God–I agree with everything in the Creeds–but it does mean that heretics are not Evil People Out to Destroy the Faith.”

    Oh, I’d agree with this! But again, you’re speaking on the level of the individual, the internal forum, the subjective private case.

    It’s like with the necessity of baptism question. It’s clear that water baptism is the only revealed means of salvation. There is no public external-forum guarantee of anything else. But that doesn’t mean God’s hands are tied by revelation. I have good hope that God will save the innocent non-baptized. But that sort of hope in the unrevealed is very different from the presumption of those who speak (sloppily) as if the Church teaches “God saves the non-baptized!” That isn’t really accurate. The Church is agnostic there; She knows of no other means revealed except water baptism. But revelation doesn’t EXclude God doing what He wants in His dealings with the individual. But a non-exclusion, a “We don’t teach that God can’t or won’t save others,” a double-negative like that…does not constitute a positive teaching in itself.

    Could a heretic, as a matter of the internal forum, be in God’s grace? Sure. I might even privately judge this with a sort of hopeful certitude about an individual whom I knew, whose conscience I had discerned to be of good will. But that’s exactly it: that’s a private, casuistic, internal forum, personal, individual, subjective judgment.

    It does not change the “external forum” reality that heretics CATEGORICALLY are damned. That Public Revelation’s requirements (the only “guarantee” we have) for salvation do not include heresy. “Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.” Does this mean that NONE of these sorts ever made it to heaven? Not necessarily, but it remains a valid statement, because it is a statement of PRINCIPLE, not of individual cases.

    It’s like if there is a law which says, “Thieves will get 10 years in prison.” This is true, this is the principle. That doesn’t mean that the judge can’t be lenient or make an exception. But that’s just the thing about exceptions: they’re exceptions, they’re not PART of the rule. If they were part of the rule itself, they’d no longer be exceptions.

    If individual heretics are saved (and I have good hope many are), it is by way of merciful EXCEPTION to the principles enjoined on us by Public Revelation. The exceptions are NOR “part of the rule” on principle.

    “I must say that you continue to astound me with such horrid, nasty, even hateful (though I’d imagine you wouldn’t characterize it as such) statements.”

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with not valuing humanity apart from God. One does not have to be some sort of “hypothetical exclusive humanist” in order to be a Christian, as if it is a requirement of a Christian that he be the sort of person who loves humanity even if he were an atheist. I mean, the very proposition is absurd; “To be a Christian, you have to love humanity even if you were an atheist.”

    No, Christianity makes no claims on us regarding what we “should be” like IF we weren’t Christian, because that’s just silly and self-contradicting. If Christianity only grants heaven to those who could be good without it, the whole thing is pointless. Because, to me, at least, the whole point is to make people good who wouldn’t be otherwise, to make people (like me) love humanity who wouldn’t otherwise, whose natural disposition is towards misanthropy.

    Thankfully, Christianity does not essentialize human beings and reward this or that natural temperament, but rather measures us by how much we resist, with grace, our worst natures. I can’t help that my natural inclination is towards misanthropy. That won’t change, that will always be my “default” tendency, and without the supernatural would simply be the raw fact of my personality. Thankfully, there is a God, there is a heaven, and there is grace. And these things (and ONLY these things) can allow me to strive towards something better than my natural temperament.

    “This is so in that it allows one to argue that no one is truly in good faith about anything that one disagrees with.”

    What is “sincerity” as regards Faith though? Faith is already a submission to something we can’t understand or comprehend, so it’s not like a sincere case of mis-reasoning would effect Faith; it’s something a person either chooses to accept or not. There is no “sincerity” when it comes to choice. Free will simply is one way or the other. You might as well say, “Well, the rapist really thought he was pursuing a good.” Yeah, all sin is the choice of a lesser good, we never choose evil itself. That doesn’t mean we can’t make value judgments, objectively, about these choices.

    But, of course, we can’t speak of free will without grace, especially on the question of Faith. It is a supernatural gift that He chooses to give some and (apparently) not others (though perhaps we can hope for a lot of death-bed infusions?) Grace is not distributed equally. What can we do but fall down in awe at the baffling (but humbling) iniquity of it all?

    “for example, the Church may deny an imprimatur on a book, but if the person goes ahead and publishes it anyway without Church permission, the Church has no right to attempt to stop the publication (as it has attempted to do in one or two cases). It may sanction the person ecclesiastically; but that’s another thing.”

    But, again, what if there is a society where Church and State are both coextensive with the same group of people? The same community?

    At that point, isn’t something like an “excommunication vitandi” equivalent to a temporal punishment too? I mean, if all the police are Catholic, and thus (as an ECCLESIAL matter) are not allowed to assist or have anything to do with the person when they call for help…then the ecclesial punishment becomes, de facto a temporal punishment, because (as an ecclesial matter) all the State agents (because they, as individuals, belong to the Church) have to treat the person as dead. You might say, “As public agents, ecclesial rules shouldn’t allow them to shirk their duty,” but isn’t that like a law requiring a pharmacist to supply abortifacient drugs? Besides, if there really was such a conflict of interest, they might simply all RESIGN. But then we’d have no police at all!

    In truth, the Church/State distinction is rather meaningless when we’re talking about a collection of INDIVIDUALS. If a group of individuals have decided they want to exile someone from interaction with them, it really doesn’t matter if this happens “as Church” or “as State.” The practical result is the same.

    I remember an episode of The Simpsons where “the Stonecutters” (obvious allusion to the Masons) didn’t want Homer as their leader anymore since, according to the mythology of the Stonecutters, he was the “Chosen One.” It was said, “We might as well face the truth: as long as we’re Stonecutters, he will control our lives.” But Moe responds, “Maybe…but maybe we don’t want to be Stonecutters no more.” So they disbanded “the Stonecutters” and founded The Ancient Society of No Homers. The group was (except for Homer) entirely co-extensive in either case, but the point was that in the latter case the individuals had no obligation to him anymore, because the re-incorporated in this new form.

    “Groups” don’t really exist, but you also can’t force individuals. Let’s say there is a little island that is all Catholic. Church and State are institutionally separate, but the two communities are entirely coextensive. One of the members suddenly starts espousing heresy. So the Church excommunicates him. Nevertheless, you might say, the State agents AS State agents are still obligated to go help him if he’s trapped when his house catches fire (which was maybe no accident). That may be true. “Maybe. But maybe we don’t want to be a State no more” we can imagine them saying. So the State disbands (as is their right) rather than help him, and our heretic burns.

    I’m not saying they’re all acting morally there! By no means; there is still an obligation of individuals to help individuals even with no State in the picture. But my point is, I guess, that if a community really doesn’t like someone or some group…they’ll find a way AS INDIVIDUALS to disenfranchise or marginalize or destroy that person. For example, a restaurant owner who really doesn’t want to serve blacks…can simply shut down his restaurant. As long as he has a restaurant, he may be legally obligated not to discriminate, but there is no positive obligation to have a restaurant at all. But what if ALL the restaurant-owners in the country simply closed their restaurants? Or, for example, there is obviously no obligation to offer food for sale, nor to give it to anyone. So what if the farmers in a community that was all Catholic simply stopped selling food in order to avoid selling it to a heretic (and maybe, in the meantime, give it free to their compatriots). The heretic starves either way. Whether this was an action of the Church or of the State doesn’t matter, because they’re the same group of individuals (and there is no positive obligation on any given individual to be a farmer, sell food, or give food to the heretic). Speaking of duties of the collective is hard, because if any given individual doesn’t have to do anything in particular, how can the collective? How can duty “emerge” for a collective when any given member of that collective has no particular duty?

  18. October 17, 2012 7:10 pm

    Even heretics, non-Christians, and atheists “live and move and have their being” in God. Everything any human has–emotion, intellect, life itself–is because of God. Thus I’d assume that human love–even if it’s not charity–subsists in God, even if it’s from a non-Christian; and that it’s thus more than electric impulses in slime.

    The points you make about a Church-State interaction to me are good reasons for a pluralistic society and for not everybody being of the same faith, social group, etc. I’m inclined to go along with the Koran, Sura 5, which says that God could have made of us “one people”–one single faith community–but didn’t, so that we would compete with each other in doing good; and that at the end, He will “tell us what we do not know”. I wouldn’t want to live in a state in which nearly everyone is Muslim or Presbyterian, for the reasons you describe; but by the same token, I’d not want to live in a vast-majority Catholic state, either. Different groups help check each other. Now if one takes a narrow view that All the Unsaved Masses Must be Saved From Damnation by Attempting to Make the Church Encompass Everyone and that Catholic States (formal or informal) are desirable, then that view is questionable; but I don’t take that view. Thank God we’re not all the same.

    Catholics live peacefully with Protestants (whom before Vatican II they referred to as “heretics”) of all stripes in modern countries. That’s the appropriate model for interaction, and should have been in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, too. Period. They did it in India, so the historical period isn’t an excuse. If the idea that some other branch of Christians believe differently somehow motivates Christians to suppress, ban, exile, torture, or kill, then either there’s something wrong with the religion itself, or with the concept of heresy. Many anti-Christians have held the first idea. I don’t believe that; but frankly, if you look at how Christians who are supposed to “love one another” as Christ has loved them have treated each other over the centuries, you can see that the anti-Christians have a point. If it weren’t that I firmly believe in the transcendent love of God in Christ, and that the failure is in the followers, not in the religion, I’d take the same perspective and have nothing to do with the faith. Therefore, I take the second perspective. There is obviously something deeply wrong with the operative notion of heresy, God’s view of it, and the appropriate way of responding to it, as traditionally taught by the Church, given the horrible results it’s had. I’m not interested in systematically developing that notion, since it’ll be a waste of time. Suffice it to say that I have problems with the whole perspective on heresy you’ve outlined here, and to suggest reading the book I mentioned before some time.

    I believe that religious freedom should always be as close to absolute as is possible; that slavery is always wrong; that killing heretics is always wrong; and for that matter, I think interest and much of our economic system is always wrong. It doesn’t particularly interest me whether that makes the Church inconsistent, or heretical, or if it makes me heretical. If one is more concerned about whether the Church has “changed” its teachings, or whether one is in heresy or not, than over whether people should be free to worship as they choose, or that they shouldn’t be bought and sold like animals; in short, if fear of heresy leads one to feel the need to defend the possible rightness of these things in some cases; then I really have nothing more to say. We’re on different theological planets; different universes.

  19. October 17, 2012 11:04 pm

    “Everything any human has–emotion, intellect, life itself–is because of God. Thus I’d assume that human love–even if it’s not charity–subsists in God, even if it’s from a non-Christian; and that it’s thus more than electric impulses in slime.”

    Well, certainly it has a human meaning. People aren’t rocks or robots. But this modern idea that “meaningfulness” is valuable in itself is a bit dubious. I think it depends WHAT the meaning is and whether that meaning is transcendent.

    “I wouldn’t want to live in a state in which nearly everyone is Muslim or Presbyterian, for the reasons you describe; but by the same token, I’d not want to live in a vast-majority Catholic state, either. Different groups help check each other.”

    You can say that, but sometimes it just happens. In fact, certain structurings of the economic factors…I would argue inevitably lead to certain religious situations. Like I said; there was little persecution of heretics until later in the High Middle Ages because there didn’t need to be; the population didn’t seem all that interested in heresy either. Yet this was not just a voluntarist spontaneous coincidence; it was a sociological reality emergent from deeper realities of how society was socio-economically structured (there is, I think, a “spiritual capital” too tied up in all this).

    Now, I’m not saying Feudalism is a good socio-economic structure, far from it. But I also have a hard time understanding how people who are critics of the current capitalist system of oppression can simultaneously be such fans of liberal democracy and pluralism and the privatization of religion when they GO HAND IN HAND with the late-capitalist economic structure. They’re emanations from it, and defending them is to defend it, in my mind. That should help you understand where I’m coming from a bit better maybe.

    Of course, many critics of capitalism go the route of socialism/communism which, as Marx rightly pointed out, goes hand-in-hand with Atheism. Atheism is the inevitable ideological correlate of a socialist or communist economic system.

    I however, of course, am a Crediteer. And I’m pretty sure the ideological correlate of a social credit economy would be a Cathodoxy that “externally” looked medieval (as it did under feudalism), but internally had more of the Vatican II or Balthasarian spirit (in other words, a “Distributism” of the spiritual capital).

    “Now if one takes a narrow view that All the Unsaved Masses Must be Saved From Damnation by Attempting to Make the Church Encompass Everyone and that Catholic States (formal or informal) are desirable, then that view is questionable; but I don’t take that view. Thank God we’re not all the same.”

    Catholicism makes universal truth claims. Of course it is good for every individual to know and believe the truth.

    “They did it in India, so the historical period isn’t an excuse.”

    It’s more than just “historical period.” It’s related to political and economic structures. On my extremely limited knowledge, I’d be willing to bet that there was more of a “middle class” in the India you describe. Not that it was capitalist per se, but when we look at true Empires like the Roman, they are always pluralistic, that’s just the nature of their socio-economic structure.

    So I tend to connect modern pluralism more to Empire, which has characterized Modernity from the start (be it Spanish, French, British, or American).

    You think you are supporting people and treating them humanely and are “against slavery” and against violations of liberty, but your very premises support an Imperialism that has enslaved the whole world, and Revolutions that have killed more than traditional authority ever did.

    I think you’re a capitalist roader. But be careful, that road leads straight to…well, you know where it leads.

  20. October 18, 2012 8:12 am

    I don’t object to the Church making truth claims–I object to how it does so, and how they’re manifested. Simply, I don’t think universal truth claims ipso facto require a totalizing system at large, or molestation of those who reject said claims. I’d suggest you read The Astonished Heart by Robert Farrar Capon for some idea of where I’m coming from (his books on the parables and The Romance of the Word are also excellent). He expresses it better than I could.

    Frankly, I tend politically towards socialism. That need not imply atheism, etc.–remember, Dorothy Day, currently on the road to canonization, though a very much orthodox Catholic after her conversion, was an anarcho-socialist to the end of her life. I actually have no problem with working to bring down global capitalism. I think it’s a bad thing. So is Empire. A feature of Empire that you neglect is its insistence on a unifying dogma despite its pluralism. The Romans didn’t care who you worshiped as long as you burned incense to the genius (guardian spirit) of the Emperor. The alliance of Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion with the Right, and the almost mandatory genuflection of both sides to at least some aspects of it (we’re a long way from the time when Republican Eisenhower said our country was based on deep faith, and he didn’t care what it was; even a Democrat couldn’t say something like that now) is not completely unlike that; and the increased gravitation of conservative Catholics towards a neo-consevative crypto-Protestantism isn’t an accident, either.

    Honestly, I think that neither capitalism nor socialism is really the problem. The problem is that they are both predicated on an ideology of “better living though technology”, an increase in production and GDP, a higher standard of living, and an almost religious faith in the lack of limits in natural resources and everything else. They just disagree on how to get to Utopia and how to allocate its goods; but they agree more than disagree on the goal. In short, industrial economies of scale are the real problem, a problem no one on either side has figured out how to solve. I actually admire the social credit system you advocate, but I’m not sure how it could be made to work in a global industrial economy of scale. I suspect that it, like Distributism, might require a pre-industrial or at best early industrial society to actually be able to work. As to what it would look like ideologically, I think that’s difficult to say. I mean, should it be able to work in, say, China, or would they all have to convert first?

    I think imperialism is tyrannical; I think church-state union is tyrannical; I’m suspicious of large-scale societies that are too uniform, because there are usually subtle and informal modes of social control. I think in such societies there’s a lot more dissension, disagreement, and dissatisfaction that people tend to think; it just gets suppressed. It’s no coincidence that when things become more open in such societies that things tend to boil over (look at how much effort Saudi Arabia has to put on funding Wahhabism and clamping down on dissent now that people can use the Internet and TV to see the outside world). Put it another way–I’m against many of the same aspects of secular modernity that you are, but that doesn’t mean I’m for feudalism or religious and cultural homogeneity, either. Put it still another way: I’m against chattel slavery and wage slavery and the slavery of consumerism and secular imperialism and religious imperialism and totalizing systems of all kinds, religious (including my own religion) or otherwise. Aside from that, I can’t see that there’s anything else I can say.

  21. October 18, 2012 1:54 pm

    “I don’t think universal truth claims ipso facto require a totalizing system at large, or molestation of those who reject said claims.”

    No, the claims in themselves don’t. I am not saying that I need a Christendom to believe personally. (Though it is harder to be a good man in a bad polis, and ours is VERY bad).

    Though I’ve heard some dissenting “Catholics” in the past basically make such a claim; that they “would be” orthodox IF religion was a mass social phenomenon like it used to be. To me that’s absurd, of course, the nature of the Truth doesn’t change based on the current social experience.

    “Frankly, I tend politically towards socialism. That need not imply atheism,”

    Again, personally it may not. But as a demographic/social phenomenon, it does.

    I won’t argue about economics, as that really is very prudential. But I think nationalization is really not the way to go, nor is it in conformity with social doctrine. We want a distributism, not a socialism. In other words, we want individuals AS individuals to own the capital in a “democratized” (ie, broadly and equally distributed) way, not the collective AS collective to own everything in a depersonalized way. We want each to own something, not all to own everything.

    “A feature of Empire that you neglect is its insistence on a unifying dogma despite its pluralism.”

    No, I don’t neglect that at all. I think, in our case, the love of pluralism IS the “underlying dogma.” Secularism and laicitee and the idolization of Liberty and liberal democracy IS the underlying dogma.

    Perhaps this is where our misunderstanding is coming from: I see you, in your support for pluralism and secularity and all this…to be SUPPORTING the “underlying dogma” of the current Babylon, as I understand it.

    “The Romans didn’t care who you worshiped as long as you burned incense to the genius (guardian spirit) of the Emperor.”

    Right. And modern secular pluralism doesn’t care who you worship privately or what your private morals are as long as you pay lip-service to the goddess Liberty (and so the secular, the pluralistic, etc etc)

    “the increased gravitation of conservative Catholics towards a neo-consevative crypto-Protestantism isn’t an accident, either.”

    No, it’s not. I would agree with you here.

    I am a fan of neither left nor right, and don’t particularly advocate for either. Whereas your opinion seems to be more like, “I like the Left more than the Right, so I’ll side with them as the lesser evil” or something. I think that’s a big mistake; we shouldn’t be supporting either.

    “The problem is that they are both predicated on an ideology of ‘better living though technology,’ an increase in production and GDP, a higher standard of living, and an almost religious faith in the lack of limits in natural resources and everything else. They just disagree on how to get to Utopia and how to allocate its goods; but they agree more than disagree on the goal. In short, industrial economies of scale are the real problem, a problem no one on either side has figured out how to solve.”

    Abundance is here. Technology DID achieve it for us. We’ve had the problem of PRODUCTION solved for over 50 years. Distribution is the only issue we have left.

    Unfortunately, both capitalism and socialism see distribution as tied to participation in production. Capitalism, at base, believes that you must either own the capital or labor to get a wage; the owners of the capital decide who gets what, through “employment” etc. Socialism concedes the problem, but then says “Okay, well then we’ll make the collective the owner of the capital, and that way the collective as a whole will already be the owner of the produce and can divvy it up as the collective sees fit, there’ll be no subservience of individual to individual.”

    Social credit believes both of these are massively flawed. Private capital is fine, but there is a massive “social capital” (and this what “credit” reflects) that is owned by everyone. But I say it is owned by “every one”…this is different than saying it is owned by the Collective or by “the whole.” Rather, it is owned by every individual AS an individual, each with our own equal share. And like the owners of private capital, as co-heirs to this social capital, we all deserve our share of the production each year whether we personally labor or not. The fruit of the social capital is credit, just like the fruits of private capital is the actual goods. However, as the distribution of credit becomes more equitable, the distribution of private capital would naturally become more equitable too, as people would start to have enough money to invest.

    How material capital is structured in a given society, I theorize, will mirror how the “spiritual capital” is structured. Under capitalism, it is entirely privatized and whored out in a “free market” of religions or ideas. Under this capitalist system, the Church is reduced to, essentially, a “spiritual soup-kitchen” (one among many) giving out spiritual goods (for free, she still doesn’t sell them usually) on a shoe-string “spiritual budget.”

    “I actually admire the social credit system you advocate, but I’m not sure how it could be made to work in a global industrial economy of scale. I suspect that it, like Distributism, might require a pre-industrial or at best early industrial society to actually be able to work.”

    Distributism describes, as far as I understand, a certain structuring of capital (ie, widely diffused rather than concentrated in the hands of a small elite; but dispersed individually rather than socialized, owned privately rather than collectivized.) Social Credit describes a monetary policy that (money being the means of distribution) would effect such a distribution.

    And ll it would require is getting rid of the usurious debt-money system. I mean, you seem to disagree with usury too (and, as you say, not just as a matter of degree like “exorbitant interest,” but as wrong IN NATURE regarding how credit is created/handled).

    Take away the monopoly of private banks on creating credit, and make credit a social good, distributed as such. It would need be no more complicated (nor perfect) than our current tax system. All it requires is a different mode of conceptualizing/accounting for what “money” is (and one that, indeed, the digital age would make much easier and more instantaneous to achieve).

    “As to what it would look like ideologically, I think that’s difficult to say. I mean, should it be able to work in, say, China, or would they all have to convert first?”

    Oh no. I believe mass national conversions (like revolutions, etc) happen AFTER the socio-economic structure has ALREADY shifted, and then the “surface” manifestations (as ideology, as “official” political system, etc) sort of just fall into place naturally after the “tectonic” shifts in the structure of the network of society have already occurred.

    “I think imperialism is tyrannical; I think church-state union is tyrannical;”

    It is! Christendom was never a theocracy.

    Indeed, it is socialism which is “theocracy,” because it takes the “religious idea” of communism and makes it the ideology of the State.

    As I said above, I believe the structuring of the “spiritual capital” mirrors the structuring of the material capital. Now, in socialism, it is the State which collectively owns and distributes from the material capital. Well, the spiritual will simply mirror that. I don’t want the State in control of the spiritual capital (which it just turns into State Worship under socialism).

    “I’m suspicious of large-scale societies that are too uniform, because there are usually subtle and informal modes of social control.”

    I don’t see how you can support equality but be against uniformity. Non-uniformity is caused by inequality.

    In truth, there is a transcendent good, and people tend to seek it when they are most free. However, “freedom” is not unbridled liberty, which actually results in the predation of the weak by the strong. It is this which causes the construction of different classes, different races, different everything and which leads to different identifications of the Good based on where one is embedded in that system.

    In a society that is truly equal (ie, distributist and [non-liberal] democratic; where there are not major differentials in wealth or power) people naturally tend towards the same Good.

    “Put it another way–I’m against many of the same aspects of secular modernity that you are, but that doesn’t mean I’m for feudalism or religious and cultural homogeneity, either.”

    I’m certainly not for feudalism. I’m not necessarily for enforced homogeneity, but do tend to believe that solidarity (including religious) emerges when there is equality. Too often when I hear “cultural diversity” I think the phenomenon being described is not legitimate human differences on accidentals, but a radically relativized and subjectivized notion of Truth which is the result of late-capitalist atomized Individualism.

    In a society that is neither individualist nor collectivist, but rather communitarian…a certain uniformity naturally occurs that is NOT coerced (except inasmuch as it is “built into” the very structuring of reciprocity of relationships in society in general.)

    So when I look at something like the burning of heretics in the late middle ages…I am not inclined to see something like Wahabist oppression, but rather see an attempt (however futile) by the Church to protect a relatively communitarian society against the emergency of exploitative individualism, of the predatory capitalism which is the result of man’s worst nature.

    I would agree whole-heartedly with this, however: it was a misguided attempt to fight the disease by fighting the symptoms. Burning heretics wasn’t going to actually achieve anything, because their emergence was the RESULT, the SYMPTOM of an underlying shift that had already happened (as the result of various late-medieval demographic trends).

    Treating the symptom is futile. This is how I feel about the Church politicizing the “gay marriage” issue today too. It just feels absurd to me and like they’re shooting themselves in the foot because they’re trying to fight symptoms.

    And yet, is it wrong to also SYMPATHIZE, at least, with the attempt to treat symptoms? I mean, what else are people who don’t know any better going to do except treat symptoms? Their goal is still noble, their approach is just wrong. Don’t hold a double-standard here. I know lots of leftists say things like “Well, I don’t like the horrors of the Revolution…but they were fighting for the right things, and I’m grateful now that it’s over that those things were eventually achieved.” And yet you’ll give no such sympathy to the Inquisition and such, which were just trying to fight the emergency of Antichrist, albeit by futilely fighting symptoms.

    “Put it still another way: I’m against chattel slavery and wage slavery and the slavery of consumerism and secular imperialism and religious imperialism and totalizing systems of all kinds, religious (including my own religion) or otherwise. Aside from that, I can’t see that there’s anything else I can say.”

    That’s fine. And yet, wage slavery being bad systematically, does that mean it is wrong for me to work as a boss or even owner of a company that employs people for a wage? If you can’t absolutely condemn that, I don’t see how you can ABSOLUTELY condemn the slave owners of the past who were kind either. I would find that hard to say; Christianity does not make political or economic Revolution an imperative for the individual.

  22. October 18, 2012 2:17 pm

    Anyway, I think my main disagreement with you here goes back to contraception, if I now recall correctly, and maybe to monogenism.

    As I said, when I see most liberals trotting out “slavery” and “burning heretics” as examples of “change in teaching”…it is usually to justify the idea that other teachings could be changed in the future (and, thus, that it is legitimate for Catholics to “anticipate” these changes even BEFORE they occur).

    Usually the teachings they wished to see changed are those regarding sexual morality. I suspect this is because how sexuality and erotic capital is structured in a given society is perhaps the most accurate “barometer” regarding the underlying “tectonic” socio-economic structure. Under the atomized individualist late-capitalist malaise, our modern conception of sex as an essentially recreational activity engaged in between two consenting adults…is the perfect “fit” for that economic system (just like secular democracy is the perfect political fit, etc), and so people tend to squirm against a morality “incongruous” with this social reality (even though the very reason that morality is being put forth is as a vision of “living towards” a DIFFERENT sort of society, a different structure.)

    And the variety of variations you’ll see on this “modern morality” reflect the varying opinions on capitalism. A common one is the “it should be between two people who love each other deeply” schmaltz, which tends to correspond to a notion of “compassionate/conscientious capitalism,” in other words, a notion that doesn’t question the underlying structure, but believes in ameliorating its excesses through “regulation” by the government and personal moderation and charity. Unfortunately, when the underlying structure is rotten, this well-intended amelioration does little good.

    Now, in this thread you’ve come closer to admitting that the Church has never promulgated heresy and so in that dogmatic sense, teachings haven’t really changed, just prudential judgments about application. If this were true, however, then it would be hard to anticipate changes (or, at least, dismiss as non-dogmatic) things like the Church’s morals on chastity, which regard the individual and not the State or society, which regard a personal ideal, and not a social pragmatism. Here, we are not discussing specific prudential applications, but principles in themselves which nevertheless are specifically defined enough (as intrinsically evil) that they would seem to leave only a little wiggle-room regarding the specifics of application (say, the debate some “Providentialists” make about NFP, etc.) Certainly not enough to usher in the wiggle-room you’d seem to imagine.

  23. October 18, 2012 8:25 pm

    I see you, in your support for pluralism and secularity and all this…to be SUPPORTING the “underlying dogma” of the current Babylon, as I understand it.

    I’m not sure I see it that way. China is demonstrating that you can be an anti-pluralist, dictatorial, authoritarian state and a rapacious capitalist state all at once. Our corporate masters, IMO, would happily sign up to be Evangelicals and to ban all other faiths, or to be Hindus, or to worship Moloch (well, they do already, in effect, but openly) if it suited their purpose. Diversity and pluralism can become a dogmatic touchstone, and I wouldn’t quite take it that far; but I’m not sure I see it as being as tightly intertwined with the secularist capitalist state as you do.

    As John Lennon said, “You say you’ve got a real solution, well, you know/ We’d all love to see the plan.” I admire social credit and Distributism, as I’ve said. The thing is, I’ve read a fair amount of their literature, and there never seem to be concrete ideas of how to implement it. How do you get rid of the “usorious debt-money system”? You say,

    Distributism describes, as far as I understand, a certain structuring of capital (ie, widely diffused rather than concentrated in the hands of a small elite; but dispersed individually rather than socialized, owned privately rather than collectivized.)

    But how do you get capital “widely distributed”? From current capitalists giving it up out of the goodness of their hearts? By pleading with them? One might have the government break up trusts and forcibly redistribute—but that’s socialist, isn’t it? And it would use force, right? I mean, I’m fine with Distributism, but how do you apply it to something highly complex like manufacturing computers, which seems to require concentrated capital; and once more, how do you implement it?

    Too often when I hear “cultural diversity” I think the phenomenon being described is not legitimate human differences on accidentals, but a radically relativized and subjectivized notion of Truth which is the result of late-capitalist atomized Individualism.

    See, it need not be that. This interesting book discusses places where diversity works without “late capitalist atomized individualism”.

    And yet, is it wrong to also SYMPATHIZE, at least, with the attempt to treat symptoms?

    I guess that depends. One can very cogently argue that the Nazis were attempting to treat real symptoms brought about by the Treaty of Versailles (which was draconian and unfair), among other complicated factors operative for a long time in Europe at the time; but am I supposed to sympathize with the Holocaust?!

    Don’t hold a double-standard here. I know lots of leftists say things like “Well, I don’t like the horrors of the Revolution…but they were fighting for the right things, and I’m grateful now that it’s over that those things were eventually achieved.” And yet you’ll give no such sympathy to the Inquisition and such, which were just trying to fight the emergency of Antichrist, albeit by futilely fighting symptoms.

    I have no sympathy with the instigators of the Terror in the French Revolution, with Lenin or Stalin, and for that matter, I have less sympathy with the American Revolution than most Americans do. I think it’s highly debatable, to say the least, that killing heretics was an inchoate attempt to stave off “exploitative individualism” and “ predatory capitalism”—if you read the history, heretics had nasty things done to them in Late Antiquity, too. I think almost everyone would agree that the aristocracy was at least a more logical target for the wrath of the peasants in the French Revolution than Cathars were for any supposed attempt to stave off capitalism—centuries before it existed! But I’m not promoting or sympathizing with any of this. So, yes, it is wrong to sympathize with burning heretics, as much as it is to do so with guillotining aristos or gassing Jews.

    And yet you’ll give no such sympathy to the Inquisition and such, which were just trying to fight the emergency of Antichrist, albeit by futilely fighting symptoms.

    Damn straight—I don’t. Christians shouldn’t fight the Antichrist with his own weapons.

    And yet, wage slavery being bad systematically, does that mean it is wrong for me to work as a boss or even owner of a company that employs people for a wage?

    In the tales of the Desert Fathers, a thief robs some monks, and they call the cops (or equivalent) and the malefactor is imprisoned and tortured. Their spiritual father chides them, saying, “Being robbed was punishment for your own sins—yet you’ve sent a man to be tortured, and you are Christians.” In remorse, the monks actually go and break the thief out of jail! Now, I’m not saying this is a model for an orderly society; but I think there is a “crazy wisdom” aspect of the Gospel in which those of us who are heroically able to do so are called to buck the system of the world totally. Those who can’t do that (which will always be the majority) aren’t exactly quite sinful; but they are not perfectly witnessing to the Christian message. In a sense, then, it is wrong to work as a boss or owner of a wage-paying company. After all, if all who are supposedly Christians just walked off their jobs tomorrow, the usury-based capitalist system would be brought to its knees and things could be changed in a historical heartbeat. Ghandi managed to get the British out of India peacefully, something no one thought possible. We are all—myself included—moral failures. Maybe I’m more idealistic—or crazier—or less willing to make excuses. If Christians hadn’t gone to their deaths, Rome would never have been transformed. They didn’t foment rebellion, but they changed the world. We don’t even have to worry about being thrown to the lions, but our salt has lost its savor. I’m not going to give slave-owners of old a pass; but neither do I give myself a pass.

    As to sex: aside from contraception, I don’t have a problem with the Church’s teaching, and I’ve explained why before, so I’m not interested in opening that can of worms. I’m not convinced we’re talking about quite the same thing when we talk about “heresy” or whether the Church has ever promulgated it. Greater minds than mine—Maritain, for example—thought that the principle supposedly involved in banning contraception was incoherent. Maritain accepted Humanae Vitae when it was promulgated, but what’s interesting is that after that he never argued for the Church’s teaching on the basis of first principles, but rather (my emphasis)

    [H]e declared himself conflicted about the encyclical, calling it “admirable in tone, in elevation, in charity, and in courage,” yet confessing that its arguments “do not hold close enough to what is real and concrete,” and thus left him “not satisfied.” As for the article Journet was to write, Maritain advised him “as much as possible refrain from discussing. . .the subject itself oí Humanae vitae” Attempting to defend the encyclical point by point, Maritain warned, “would only redouble the sarcasms it has attracted.” He advised Journet to speak instead as “a theologian of the church, and to the general question of the authority of the pope.”

    In other words, don’t argue on its merits, but on the basis of “the Pope says so”. This indicates to me that he was honest enough to think that there was no really good argument for it from principles (he explicitly argued that contraception was OK prior to the encyclical), and grudgingly agreed with the Pope out of obedience. I can at least respect a “there is no humanly compelling argument, so just do as you’re told” more than trying to argue for something that isn’t coherent. Btw, I’m not asking you to agree with this–just pointing out that if someone such as Maritain–who accepted the teaching–and who knew more about Thomism and theology than both of us put together thought there were logical problems in the arguments used, then to assert thus isn’t necessarily the sign of a horrible evil heretic who’s just using it as an excuse.

    FWIW, if I were to change my mind on contraception tomorrow, it would affect absolutely none of the other opinions I’ve expressed here. It wouldn’t even necessarily convince me that the Church’s teaching hasn’t changed. Long before sexual issues were something I thought about, I was always a passionate foe of infringement of conscience. I’ve always thought that burning heretics, the Inquisition, and slavery were wrong; and conclusions I come to about sexuality are totally independent of that. The ancients and Medievals still don’t get a pass.

  24. October 19, 2012 2:06 am

    “I’m not sure I see it that way. China is demonstrating that you can be an anti-pluralist, dictatorial, authoritarian state and a rapacious capitalist state all at once.”

    The system of any one State doesn’t prove anything. It’s a World System. The Second World (in this case, China) in a capitalist world system play the role of the “overseers” (just as the first world plays the role of master and the third world plays the role of slave.)

    The Soviet Union had to “play capitalist” on the world stage too, regardless of what it’s domestic economy was. No State that engages in any sort of trade can escape capitalism.

    In fact, that’s the whole point of the modern capitalist world system. As Wallerstein explains: “Capitalism has been able to flourish precisely because the world-economy has had within its bounds not one but a multiplicity of political systems. I am not here arguing the classic case of capitalist ideology that capitalism is a system based on the noninterference of the state in economic affairs. Quite the contrary! Capitalism is based on the constant absorption of economic loss by political entities, while economic gain is distributed to ‘private’ hands. What I am arguing rather is that capitalism as an economic mode is based on the fact that the economic factors operate within an arena larger than that which any political entity can totally control. This gives capitalists a freedom of maneuver that is structurally based. It has made possible the constant economic expansion of the world-system, albeit a very skewed distribution of its rewards.”

    The capitalists need pluralism, including a pluralism of political jurisdictions in the world, in order to exploit the peripheral areas of the world while being protected by the strong with impunity. But this is true ideologically too. Exploitation of this type would not be politically possible in a world state, and it would not be psychologically possible in a world belief-system.

    Nowadays, in analogy to the political, one can always change ones beliefs to a system in which one is already a good person. Or, at least, even if one does adhere to a given belief system, the existence of others makes it not so urgent to actually change in response to your own.

    “Our corporate masters, IMO, would happily sign up to be Evangelicals and to ban all other faiths, or to be Hindus, or to worship Moloch (well, they do already, in effect, but openly) if it suited their purpose”

    But it doesn’t. Their purpose is served by pluralism. Their whole method of exploitation is structurally based on having no one system (politically, especially, but it can be said for the ideological to) that covers everyone. Having multiple nation-states, for example, is the recipe for war.

    “and there never seem to be concrete ideas of how to implement it. How do you get rid of the ‘usurious debt-money system’?”

    WHAT!?! There is a very specific and simple plan; look into CH Douglas or the folks at the Michael Journal.

    You establish a national bureau of statistics to keep track of production (it doesn’t have to be perfect; we already calculate GDP each year, etc). We then issue new purchasing power to represent the new production. First by giving an equal dividend to each citizen, and then through an “accounting mechanism” or rebate which would “close the gap” between purchasing power and production by allowing sellers to collect the full market price for their goods, while simultaneous not requiring consumption to have to go into private debt to reach it.

    The greatest thing about this system is that it “balances the books” AT THE POINT OF SALE so that money put in savings does not send things out of whack, and so that products that no one wants are simply accounted for what they really are: valueless. By doing this, you’d avoid inflation entirely.

    While it would have been a bit more of a hassle to implement in the past, with digital money becoming a reality, it would be very easy. To implement at least. The problem is getting people to let go of their “fetishized” view of what money even IS.

    “But how do you get capital “widely distributed”? From current capitalists giving it up out of the goodness of their hearts?”

    No, by changing the system (which is the monetary or credit system) which leads to the concentration of capital in the first place. Have you ever watched the movie “Money as Debt”?? It’s on youtube, about 40 minutes. Worth it for someone who opposes usury, as you seem to. The reason capital gets concentrated is private bankers are allowed to create money out of nothing as debt (by people pawning their houses, etc, basically, converting this into private credit) but then expect interest to be paid back on the principle. While interest on a real loan of pre-existing money might not be necessarily problematic, interest on money which you invent as a debt out of thin air is just theft. We shouldn’t need to go to private bankers for access to credit which inherently belongs to all of us as a social good. This, however, allows them to concentrate more and more of the capital in the hands of the financiers and their corporate allies.

    If the debt-money system were eliminated, this concentration process would, first of all, simply stop, because the mechanism which drives it (the private creation of credit; which only occurs because it is authorized by the government) would no longer be in place.

    Then, we wouldn’t need any massive coercive redistribution scheme to undo the concentration that’s already taken place. Over time, as people begin reaping the dividends from the social capital to which we are all heirs (and which we should have been getting all along), people will start having more money to invest, and the former usurers and their allies will (without their old source of exploitation) need to start selling off the capital they already have accumulated, and everyone will have the means to by shares in it.

    No coercion at all. You change the distribution by altering the how the MECHANISM of distribution works; in other words money/credit.

    “I guess that depends. One can very cogently argue that the Nazis were attempting to treat real symptoms brought about by the Treaty of Versailles (which was draconian and unfair), among other complicated factors operative for a long time in Europe at the time; but am I supposed to sympathize with the Holocaust?!”

    Not exactly, but what you can do is say something along the lines of “The United States and Great Britain are also responsible for the holocaust.” Blame the monster…but we made the monster. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to feel about the monster at that point. How do you feel about Frankenstein’s? I’m not sure; the point of monsters is that they’re animals, they’re agentless, amoral, so it’s hard to morally judge (when we’re talking about a collective here, mind you; obviously, the individuals in a collective are still presumably humans with individual responsibility).

    “I think almost everyone would agree that the aristocracy was at least a more logical target for the wrath of the peasants in the French Revolution”

    Oh, but not at all. All the peasants were doing was carrying out the structural political shift FOR the bourgeoisie. In a sense, they were bamboozled.

    “than Cathars were for any supposed attempt to stave off capitalism—centuries before it existed!”

    Again, I’m not claiming that was the CONSCIOUS reason. But we’re talking about surface phenomena which emanate from the tectonic socio-economic structural changes. Do you really expect there not to be an earthquake when tectonic plates shift?

    “So, yes, it is wrong to sympathize with burning heretics, as much as it is to do so with guillotining aristos or gassing Jews.”

    “After all, if all who are supposedly Christians just walked off their jobs tomorrow, the usury-based capitalist system would be brought to its knees and things could be changed in a historical heartbeat.”

    Oh yes. Now I’m liking you more! I’ve often wondered why the Church (while it still has SOME sway over many of us) doesn’t use its institutional power to say, “All Catholics are to walk off work tomorrow, collect at their cathedral.” Even if only some of us did (at first), at least when some organizing authority says so, the “I’ll do it if you do it” organizational problem is solved. And then as people see that some have done it, more and more might join. It’s not a card to be spent lightly, though. We’d really have to have a good vision of exactly what we were resisting and wanting instead.

    Without that, though, I can’t blame the individual who is just trying to make it for their family and kids.

    “Greater minds than mine—Maritain, for example—thought that the principle supposedly involved in banning contraception was incoherent.”

    I’m not sure that’s QUITE true. I think what some theologians were arguing is that The Pill specifically, and more generally the subset of non-onanistic contraception which might more accurately be called “sterilization”…was a new technological phenomenon that was not as clear cut as things clearly condemned in the past (say, complete sodomy or coitus interruptus) because of the question of how involuntary infertility, taking advantage of periodic infertility, and deliberately actively causing infertility were different (or whether they even were.)

    We might identify four schools based on their opinions of sex under these three sorts of infertility. A) the rigorists, who would believe (as no father or theologian ever did) that sex must explicitly be procreative (as opposed to merely “open”) and thus that sex among even the involuntarily infertile (the elderly, the hysterectomy, etc) was wrong. B) the Providentialists, who wouldn’t question someone naturally infertile but even today have grave reservations about NFP. C) the “mainline” position [ie, the Vatican line] which allows for involuntary infertility and NFP, and D) the “revisionist” opinion which would seek to allow sterilization methods too.

    None of these groups necessarily questions anything else about Catholic sexual morality, though one is always very suspicious of the revisionist position acting as a wedge in the door for marital sodomy or onanism, followed by homogenital acts in committed relationships, followed by premarital sex all around. But I’ll admit theoretically that the revisionist position on sterilization could be coherently held without going down that slippery slope.

    Here I might be willing to make a distinction. I will say that condemnation of sterilization (while simultaneously allowing NFP and infertile couples) is not necessarily as self-evident as everything else. The “first principle” of Catholic sexual morality in practice boils down to something like “ejaculation only in a wife’s vagina.” In practice. I’m sure as a principle it would be phrased more in terms of abstract values of procreativity or one flesh union or something like that.

    Either way, this prima facie excludes onanism, homogenital acts, premarital sex, adultery, etc. Those are by strict logical necessity excluded by the principle and so defending them would be equivalent to denying the doctrine itself.

    I would admit, I think, that the question of sterile sex (and the various distinctions among how that sterility can occur or be approached) is not prima facie from the first principle like this. Rather, it is more “derived,” is at least “a step removed” because analyzing that situation requires invoking other principles and combining them with this one to figure out the correct approach. Namely, it requires accessing more obscure ethical principles regarding the difference between active causation and passively taking advantage of a situation, regarding the ordering of the will towards its final end, and the different between that end and the specific intent, etc etc

    As such, the condemnation of the Pill and other sterilization is more like an “application” rather than immediately contained in any one principle. And even the Church recognized this. If it was “in the doctrine” itself, rather than a conclusion drawn from doctrine, they never would have had a commission to study and debate it.

    I can’t say, then, that supporting the pill is intrinsically wrong on principle (though I do believe it is the wrong conclusion). For example, on the other side, I don’t think I’d call the Providentialist cynicism about NFP heretical, even though I think it’s the wrong conclusion, because it’s clear to me that the providentialists don’t reject any first principles (I just think they don’t quite get how the logic of the church’s teachings about moral choices apply to this case, which admittedly is rather subtle). However, I have never found a revisionist argument that is comparable. Any revisionist argument I’ve seen has always been revealed to reject a principle of moral teaching (for example, the distinction between intent and final end, etc), and not merely to be incorrect application.

    But, what did I expect from people who trust their own judgment over that of the magisterium? Submission of intellect and will is required on this point, even if it is not directly of divine faith given that it requires being “derived” by applying two principles.

  25. October 19, 2012 8:14 am

    The capitalists need pluralism, including a pluralism of political jurisdictions in the world, in order to exploit the peripheral areas of the world while being protected by the strong with impunity.

    OK, here it is in a nutshell. I don’t necessarily disagree; but it’s like saying, “Gangsters and thieves need food, water, and air to function; therefore food, water, and air are evil.” Or put it another way: “Con men need trusting people to pull their scams on; therefore it’s wrong to trust anyone.” You see? Pluralism might be useful to capitalists in perpetuating the system, but that doesn’t logically make pluralism itself wrong.

    Regarding economics, I still don’t see how you get the capitalist elite to acquiesce to the implementation of a social credit system. I think it was Malcolm X who said something to the effect that no one who’s already got the power ever gives it up voluntarily. The reason the Church doesn’t do what you suggest is that, alas, as we can see from things like the Banco Ambrosiano scandal and Vatileaks, the hierarchy is far too entwined in that very system.

    I can’t say, then, that supporting the pill is intrinsically wrong on principle (though I do believe it is the wrong conclusion). I just think [revisionists] don’t quite get how the logic of the church’s teachings about moral choices apply to this case, which admittedly is rather subtle

    Well, at least you admit this much. On this basis, it shouldn’t surprise you that there has been so little acceptance. As I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a matter of subtlety–I think the concept of “moral object” is essentially circular thinking which in essence assumes in advance that which it sets out to demonstrate. I don’t want to go there again, though–it’s pointless. Anyway, at least it seems we’re more in agreement with some things–economics–than I’d originally thought. I’m maybe more pessimistic about its chances for implementation; but you never know.

  26. October 19, 2012 1:44 pm

    “OK, here it is in a nutshell. I don’t necessarily disagree; but it’s like saying, ‘Gangsters and thieves need food, water, and air to function; therefore food, water, and air are evil.’ Or put it another way: ‘Con men need trusting people to pull their scams on; therefore it’s wrong to trust anyone.’ You see? Pluralism might be useful to capitalists in perpetuating the system, but that doesn’t logically make pluralism itself wrong.”

    Oh ho! But there’s a double-standard here, then. Because one of your MAJOR arguments throughout this thread has been that whether something is intrinsically absolutely on principle evil in every possible hypothetical case…doesn’t really matter when it comes to our condemnation of it, is a heady scholastic distinction that is trivial. That what really matters is how, in practice, something has played out in history, and how it’s hurt people.

    In other words, you’ve said that the “theoretical” justification of slavery in an unideal world doesn’t mean it’s actually good given how abused it was in practice. Strict curfews and harsh punishments might be necessary in a war-zone or after an electromagnetic pulse sends a city into chaos…but these are still awful realities.

    Well, pluralism is always and everywhere abused, and as long as human beings are sinful, it will be. That we could “theoretically” imagine a non-exploitationist pluralism doesn’t matter, what matters is what pluralism really is in practice today, how it really is (ab)used, what it’s structural function really is in the modern secularist liberal democratic capitalist enterprise.

    As Dante pointed out in De Monarchia…there could be no wars if there was only one World Empire. Wars result from States being able to exploit people whom they have no duty to protect. America could go to war with Iraq only because the Iraqis are not represented by the American congress, and because Iraqis don’t vote for the US president. So the US government could do things which hurt THEM without losing any of its own legitimacy, because its legitimacy is limited to its own constituents.

    To people who think that we need multiple nation-states because the dangers of a single government are too much…I have to ask: the dangers are really worse than all the wars which a pluralism of States has caused over the course of all human history?? Even totalitarianism always relies on having an EXternal enemy (“We have always been at war with Oceania”). A truly total or Whole system, however, encompasses everyone, and thus is structurally much less inclined to exploitation, exactly because there is no Other to exploit. As someone who seems inclined to Universalism yourself, you should understand this!

    BUT, if you’d admit that “the one vote we cannot allow in a democracy, is a vote to disband democracy,” then you should also admit that the one thing a World State like this could NOT allow is people choosing to BECOME Other, choosing to secede politically in other words.

    I had this discussion/simulation activity with my 7th graders during student teaching. Why couldn’t we just let the South secede in the Civil War? Because, they concluded, if you allow secession, then the slope is towards every family becoming their own little country in their own house when they don’t get what they want, and then there is no protection for anyone, because I could murder you in my own little country with impunity, or murder you in yours and then flee to mine, and alliances and wars between all these would be constantly shifting (and larger States would inevitably emerge again that WOULDN’T allow secession, by sheer force). Wars between nation-states are just this same principle writ large.

    But the same principle would seemingly need to apply ideologically too. The one thing a world- or society-wide belief system cannot tolerate…is “secession,” is choosing to become other to it. Belief serves a purpose in a civilization analogous to political power (something like, internal control rather than external control perhaps). If people are allowed to “secede” from a conception of the Good whenever they want, then all you’re left with is rapacious State control, because the external is all that’s left.

    If I am not accountable to the community for my values, but am allowed to just say, “Hm, no, I’m going to choose a belief system that let’s me not feel guilty for murdering people”…then the ONLY defense society has against everyone killing each other like animals is that of external threat. Then values become useless and the one value becomes the State. Is that really what we want to reduce motivations to? And yet, without a uniform belief system, there is no “internal” accountability to the community, because I can always change to a different value system with no consequences. Which is chaos!

    Can you imagine if someone was allowed to secede from the union every time they didn’t like the laws? In fact, our problem is that this is exactly what corporations CAN do. While individuals still have high barriers to leaving a given State, corporations are multinational entities, and thus can avoid consequences from any one State if they want to. “We can exploit Zimbabwe, but we’re headquartered in the US, so how is the weak peripheral State going to stop us?”

    Allowing “secession” ideologically with total freedom and no consequences or binding or accountability to the community…is like allowing political secession. It’s something very dangerous. Secession from itself is the one thing a truly free system cannot allow. That’s not a paradox, as you say, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature, like banning the ability to vote to disband democracy.

    “Regarding economics, I still don’t see how you get the capitalist elite to acquiesce to the implementation of a social credit system. I think it was Malcolm X who said something to the effect that no one who’s already got the power ever gives it up voluntarily.”

    Well that is something of a problem, but not QUITE as much as you might think, for the reasons I will give in a moment. But my point was just that it wouldn’t require any confiscation or coercive redistribution of physical or material property, not even money, as you seemed to imagine.

    The only thing that “we” (through the political process) would have to “take away” from the elite is their monopoly on creating credit. But the thing is, “taking away” a monopoly isn’t actually “taking away” inasmuch as the way to “take away” a monopoly is simply by empowering other people to do the same thing. If the government started distributing credit socially according to Douglas’s proposals…who would stop them? If the masses all agreed to recognize and use the new Social Credit Money among ourselves, how could the elite stop us? The most they could do is try to boycott our money, but then we wouldn’t recognize their’s either. They’d be left realizing that all they ever had was an illusion, and be left standing there like any ruler who has lost legitimacy saying “You must obey me!!!” who quickly realizes that his power does not inhere in himself, but comes from everyone mutually agreeing to recognize him (and the moment that recognition ceases, the moment everyone including the army agrees to stop listening…he’s nothing).

    The problem, then, is mainly their current control of the political process and government. But, I’m not a pessimistic fatalist. If, for example, the Church got its act together (and yes, its all tangled in this too, but I think at least the bishops’ hearts are pretty good; they’re certainly not in it for the money) it could be a powerful political voice for proposing such a reform in the system and getting everyone to vote for that. Certainly, at least, it could be involved in raising consciousness about usury and the true nature of our current system and in dispelling the current “fetishization” of money.

    “I can’t say, then, that supporting the pill is intrinsically wrong on principle (though I do believe it is the wrong conclusion). I just think [revisionists] don’t quite get how the logic of the church’s teachings about moral choices apply to this case, which admittedly is rather subtle”

    This is deliberately misquoting me. If you look, I said I think PROVIDENTIALISTS (those traditionalists and super-conservatives who think NFP is essentially contraceptive and therefore oppose it) don’t get the logic, but don’t intentionally reject any principles either. So their error is in application, not principle, and they aren’t heretics. I went on to say that while this could theoretically be true of revisionists (ie, people supporting sterilization), I have never seen a revisionist make an argument that didn’t, in the end, involve a rejection of some principle rather than just faulty application.

    Or, rather, sometimes they start that way, but disingenuously. Sometimes a revisionist will begin by saying something like, “If infertile sex is okay, then it must be okay to actively cause the infertility.” If they sincerely believed this was the logical application of the principles, they might be in good faith. But when I go on to point out that this doesn’t follow, that other moral principles in the Church’s teaching make a clear distinction between an obligation to actively include and an obligation merely to not actively exclude…then without fail they wind up rejecting that sort of ethical distinction on principle even, and so reveal that their position is not just the result of an honest misapplication.

    “As I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a matter of subtlety–I think the concept of ‘moral object’ is essentially circular thinking which in essence assumes in advance that which it sets out to demonstrate.”

    But then you are rejecting a lynchpin PRINCIPLE of the Church’s whole ethical system. This is why every revisionist I’ve ever seen is not merely “faulty application” like the Providentialists (at least application of principles is a question of argument), but rather outright dissent.

    Ironically, for people like you, it’s apparently not the Church’s “first principle” of sexual morality itself which is rejected, but rather another principle regarding how choices are to be morally evaluated in general (the idea of the moral object as distinct from intent, etc). Dangerously, while this actually has LESS effect on the realm of chastity specifically, it has much broader consequences in general, given that the principle rejected is something that applies to moral evaluation of ALL acts, not merely those involving sex.

    So this still winds up as a claim of the Church being wrong on principle and not merely in application. Which is why, I suspect, you need to believe the same thing about other cases in history (even when a good argument can be made that these have never, in fact, been errors in principle.)

    So my assertion stands that people’s intense attachment to the idea the Church has “changed teaching” is less about intellectually honest evaluation of the past, and more about wanting to keep the door open for revisionism in the future (which they can then “anticipate” in their own lives in the present…)

    • October 19, 2012 3:05 pm

      Well, pluralism is always and everywhere abused, and as long as human beings are sinful, it will be.

      Everything–including religion–is “always and everywhere abused, and as long as human beings are sinful, it will be.” That’s the human condition. We’re just going to have to make do with things that can–and will–be abused.

      Secession from itself is the one thing a truly free system cannot allow.

      I think we’re arguing more about granularity than anything else. Obviously I can’t secede from the belief that murder or theft is wrong without disastrous consequences for society. On the other hand, it would be crazy–and tyrannical–if the “community values” insisted that we all wear the same color clothing or eat exactly the same food or listen to the same approved list of music, and punished us for seceding from those norms. The line is somewhere between. You set religious belief–at least in principle–on the side of things that have to be uniform. I don’t, and I make no apology for that. In any case, I’m not interested in some ultra-complex, totally consistent, over-arching theory that can absolutely give perfect support to my expressed views here, while taking perfect account of every single conceivable ramification or implications. Down that road lies madness. That’s the exact flaw in Thomist method, which Thomas himself later said was “as straw”.

      As to whether social credit can be implemented peacefully and non-coercively under current conditions, I’ll just say that I’m fine with it, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

      I don’t think it is an infallible teaching of the Church that the concept of “moral object” is a necessary component of its moral system. Certainly other systems, both in the Church and in other denominations have existed. As to change, I think what you’d call dissenters have the better of that argument–they look at something anyone would call a change and call it what it is; those who support the official version have to go through all kinds of hoops to explain why it was just prudential judgment or something that was never really infallibly defined, etc–anything but “change”. Finally, I’d tend to define infallibility in very, very narrow terms. I don’t think that contraception comes under that, short of an ex cathedra pronouncement. All of which I’m sure you’d disagree with, but there it is. I think I’m going to hang it up now, because I think we’re beating a long dead equine corpse.

      • October 19, 2012 6:04 pm

        But turmarion, under pluralism people have ALREADY seceded from the view that murder and theft are wrong.

        Abortion is a horror that is a result of allowing a diversity of value systems (regarding who is human) without even a recognition of Natural Law to decide for the community who is right. And communism, certainly, called for (and in some places achieved) the abolition of private property.

        • October 20, 2012 11:28 am

          Except for the ancient Germanic people and the Jews, all premodern cultures practiced infanticide on a horrendously huge scale. They had crude methods of abortion–potions and such–but it was less dangerous to the woman to just expose the unwanted children, so they did. Napoleon Chagnon documented such things among the stone-age Yanomamo, too–they’d jump up and down on a pregnant woman’s stomach to induce abortion, for example. Also, Google “angel maker”. There was a lot of discreet infanticide even in the Middle Ages and right up to the dawn of the modern era. Finally, the common name “Esposito” means “exposed”. Children were left on the doorsteps of convents and such, or found by luck. Not quite as bad as infanticide (although many such children probably did die), but still.

          My point is not to affirm abortion–I’m anti-aborition and I think that it’s one of the darkest stains on our society. I just don’t think it can be blamed on pluralistic secularism. Had they had the technology, the ancients would have outdone us easily. It’s not the darkness of pluralism–it’s the darkness of the human heart.

        • October 21, 2012 1:02 pm

          “My point is not to affirm abortion–I’m anti-aborition and I think that it’s one of the darkest stains on our society. I just don’t think it can be blamed on pluralistic secularism. Had they had the technology, the ancients would have outdone us easily. It’s not the darkness of pluralism–it’s the darkness of the human heart.”

          But that’s not the point. The point is that Christian society IS against abortion, and thus an enforced CHRISTIAN hegemony WOULD result condemning abortion. Could that ever be “enforced” 100%? No, no law can. But at least their humanity would be recognized.

          Under pluralism, however, who is “in” and who is “out” is determined only by pure voluntarism, only by whatever consensus is reached by the competing factions in society. And if that means a denial of the humanity of some group (almost certainly groups that are most vulnerable because they cannot speak up for themselves)…then that’s what it HAS to mean under pluralism.

          If you don’t think pluralism is DIRECTLY behind something like Joe Biden’s statement that “Sure, I recognize that life begins at conception. But I can’t force that on anyone else”…I really have to ask whether you’re just toying with me, because it’s blatantly obvious.

          I don’t understand by WHAT calculus you can defend a system whereby people are prevented from human sacrifice (even though their conscience OBLIGES them to carry it out) but then allows the murder of infants (even though few consider that a matter of obligation, merely convenience).

          I stand by what I say: there is no value except for the State in a system where people are not accountable to the community for their values. Without that sort of accountability, there can’t be any values (or, rather, values then do nothing).

        • October 21, 2012 9:24 pm

          Right here is what people in your beloved Middle Ages, which actually had Christian hegemony, in which people were accountable to their community for values, actually did. Not pretty. I never said pluralism is all sweetness and light, nor that it didn’t result in some bad things; but the Christian hegemony of the Middle Ages also resulted in some bad things, without being able to stop some of the other bad things, such as infanticide. I’m all for fighting abortion; but I don’t think seeking a re-institution of religious hegemony is the right way to do it. I stand by what I’ve said, too.

  27. October 19, 2012 4:12 pm

    One slight addendum. Even in terms of stabilizing society, there are certain things that we generally hold as more important; some things we’re more willing to stand up for than others. No one would die for the right to wear plaid; but they might die for the right to follow their religion. The early Christians’ faith was more important to them than the unity or stability of Rome. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: even if I accepted your argument about religious coercion or culturally homogeneous states or the suppression of heretics in the Middle Ages, etc., I consider freedom of conscience and religion as of greater weight than the stability, or survival, or even existence of the state. Relative chaos with freedom of conscience and religion is better than peaceful, orderly uniformity without such freedom. Thus, even if I accepted your argument that there are situations under which it might be necessary to limit religious freedom for the sake of the relatively abstract concept of social cohesion, the good of the State, etc., I would still argue that it’s wrong, since I consider the value of freedom of conscience a higher value.

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