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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Papal Resignations - And So It Begins (Update 3.4.13)

That didn't take long.

[So-called] Catholics for Choice has issued a statement on the papal resignation. After castigating Benedict XVI and John Paul II for being, well, CATHOLIC, and lamenting the prospects that the upcoming conclave will elect another CATHOLIC pope, it includes this paragraph:
“It is, however, reassuring that the pope has taken the mature decision to resign. While Benedict has not gone against the grain during his papacy, the fact that he is the first pope in 600 years to choose to leave office is perhaps a sign of a maturing approach to governance.”

Mature. The pope is being mature. He's all grown up and making mature decisions! Who'da thunk it?

Because of course the popes of the last several centuries have been so, well, darn immature. And that darn, infantile, immature predilection for staying in office for life, in an office that is for life? Well, now we have a "sign" of a "maturing approach" to governance of the Church.

The willingness to resign is the sign of a mature approach.

Not only has Catholics for Choice been vocal in their criticism of the Catholic Faith and the defense thereof by the present and former popes, and is all set to continue in their habits with the next one, NOW they have a new weapon to bear, and they will not be the only one. Surely they wished JP-II would have resigned but that's sort of like wishing Obama would be impeached. Technically possible, procedurally infinitesimally remote.

But now, NOW.... NOW they have a precedent!

To resign. Pressure to resign. Like B-XVI did.

This is only the beginning.

You watch. It's been THREE DAYS, and already there's pressure on the next pope to resign.

Now look, I don't think of Catholics for Choice as influential in the Church, but it is in the world. But the Anchoress has said that maybe being exposed to the vitriol of the world through Twitter might have influenced B-XVI to resign. Well, Catholics for Choice is one of the more vocal sources of the kind of vitriol the Anchoress is referring to.

Lots of good Catholics, people I respect in the blogsphere, lecturers, professors, learned and devout folks from all walks of life are spinning this as a good decision.

Admittedly, it has some good dimensions and I thank those folks for pointing them out.

But it is not on the whole good.

(Don't have time right now to put in links to the catholics for choice and the Anchoress - will when I can)

UPDATE, 3.4.13: Found and editor in chief of Inside the Vatican, Robert Moynihan, PhD, has a recent post about the conclave and the various papabili. In discussing the dynamics of a conclave, he reports speculation of some of the strategies some of the cardinals may be employing.

Two surround the idea of choosing a pope who will eventually resign.

Just go to his article and search for "resign" and you'll find the pertinent passages with the second incidence of the word. (Of course the whole thing is worth reading.)

So, some cardinals may push for a very old pope who will fix certain things in the Vatican quickly, and then resign in, say, 5 years. Other cardinals may push for a relatively young pope who will fix things, and be young and vigorous enough to initiate other needed programs or whatever, and then resign in, say, 15 years.

Just imagine how the resistance and possible hostility that pope will face if he decides not to resign as he was elected to do.

Now I know just yesterday I said it was time to start praying for the cardinals in the conclave and to the eventual Successor of St Peter, and I stand by that. In fact, what I have just said makes it all the more urgent.

But if reporters who cover the Vatican are thinking these things, you can be sure that many of the cardinals are, too.

And you can bet that as soon as this guy steps out of line in anyone's eyes - oh, say the mainstream media, because the new pope will be - horrors!! - a Catholic - there will be calls for his resignation, too.

The next pope will have a very hard time maintaining control, because rampant disobedience and insubordination are very powerful incentives for a leader to resign. Even if the factions wanting his resignation be diverse and even opposed to each other, the one thing they can work together on is getting the guy to resign.

As for me, I am the pope's man, even if he doesn't know me. I accept Benedict XVI's resignation with humble obedience. I will accept the next pope's persistence until his death in the same way.

But I am bold enough to offer the new pope a bit of advice. Get rid of everyone who elected you, as soon as possible. Remove the powerful ones to the hinterlands and make sure your own picks are in key positions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday - My Annual Dismay

It's Ash Wednesday again. And as I sat in church for Mass and ashes, I was reminded of my experience last year.

My first post regarding Ash Wednesday pertained to the bioethical importance of Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. You can find that here: http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com/2012/02/ash-wednesday-and-authentic-bioethics.html

The second post compared the homily I heard on Ash Wednesday to the one I heard the following Sunday, the first being rather lame and the second being a rather good Ash Wednesday sermon even if it was delivered for a Sunday. You can find that one here: http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com/2012/02/bioethics-and-tale-of-two-sermons.html

It was this post that I was thinking about today. Especially the first sentence. The first paragraph, in fact, which went like this:

I have to admit, sometimes I rue going to church on Ash Wednesday. More often than not because of my work schedule, I have to go to a parish not my own and end up with a defective homily. My own parish is devoted to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and the homilies are usually excellent. If anything, the (minor) defects I encounter -- in my opinion, which is to say I could be wrong -- tend toward excessive rigor, but even then I would rather have the homilist set the bar too high than too low. Because when it's set too low, I (and I would think most people) tend to take advantage of the low mark.
Today was another low-mark homily, although it was at a different church from last year. Last year I went to a suburban parish on my route to the train station. A relatively new building but still using traditional forms and materials on the outside, it is thoroughly modern on the inside. This year I went to a gorgeous old church in the city - beautiful columns, wonderful stained glass, an army of saint statues, and the original ornate high altar still in tact. On the down side, this church uses electric votive candles (my opinion of which you can read about here, one of my more fun posts) and in character is just as modern as the other church.

This year's homily was about 60% of the way to being good. He started with a brief consideration of the pope's recent retirement announcement and the fact that the pope did a substantial examination of conscience before making his decision. And he related it to the purpose of Lent, and how we would use this season wisely by examining our own consciences and weeding out the things that are "less than good." All that, basically, was fine.

He could have gotten 85% of the way to good by adding three little words to his exhortations and repeating them once: Go to confession. (Ok, that's two little words and one biggish one.) Man, if there were ever a brief homily that built up to the message of going to confession, his was it. But he didn't get to the punchline. Actually, I think he never mentioned the word "sin" either. Oh well. A better explanation as to "why" all this is important would have gotten him the rest of the way, I think.

You can see my expectations are not really all that high. This is the season of penance. Examine your conscience. Go to confession. We have a duty to pursue holiness and combat sin, and all the more do we need to do so considering how the church is misunderstood and maligned in the world. Ta-da.

Today, however, decided I would like to hear a homily about certain passages in the readings for the Ordinary Form. The first was from Joel, in which he commends fasting and prayer and penances of various kinds and then pleads with God, "Between the porch and the altar the priests the Lord's ministers shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God?" It occurs to me that the Church is facing the same sort of difficulties for which Joel recommended penances. We are held in reproach by secular forces, who constantly taunt us about believing in God, and so doing penances seems appropriate.

The second reading was from Paul where he talks about Christians being ambassadors of Christ. Again, we are ambassadors in an alien land with a hostile government.

Anyway, I'm glad I didn't hear another "don't give up something for Lent, do something positive instead" homily.

I don't think I will ever hear the homily I just described though. Mainly because I'm not in the church I want to be in on most Ash Wednesdays.
I'll have to ask my wife what she heard.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict to Retire - Why It's a Bad Decision

By now everyone has heard and has formed opinions about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he is going to retire.

I think we should start with the notion that he is retiring rather than resigning. Now, in order to retire, one must, technically, resign, too. So maybe it doesn't matter. But one can resign for many reasons, retirement being one of them. And retirement has connotations that resignation just doesn't. Popes have resigned, but I think Benedict is the first to retire.

Let me categorize some of the reactions I've seen among friends and over the internet.

First, there is the cynical, secular, godless reaction: The Catholic Church in this view sucks, and so does the pope, whoever the pope is, including this one. Good thing he's quitting, let's hope someone that shares our cynical, secular, godless view of religion takes his place.

Then there is the polite, diplomatic reaction of non-Catholics: Oh, what a surprise, he's a good and holy man, he'll be missed. That sort of thing.

But among Catholics I see these sorts of reactions:

Heartbreak and disappointment: This is what my wife is going through. Yes, the papacy is an office that can be held by anyone and indeed is held by no one permanently. But it is not just an administrative function in the Church. He's our father. Our leader. Our role model. Our inspiration. Retiring just doesn't cut it. It feels like he's abandoning us to the vagaries of the conclave, which by the way, may just give us someone who will do much damage. For instance, a weak and inept administrator or even worse a strong, action-minded but misguided individual. Now, the pope is old, and perhaps he doesn't have much longer to live, but doggone it, he should stay until the end and be our father until the end, and forestall a potentially dangerous conclave until the end. At least stick around and appoint some more cardinals who can vote in the conclave - you can do wonders in that way alone with another 6 months, a year, two years. It seems like a disappointing lack of... heroism. I am personally not as distraught as my wife, but I do share to some degree the heartbreak and disappointment.

Relief: Pope Benedict has been very traditional and has been turning back the clock on things Catholic, so much as we believe God has put him in the papacy, maybe now we can get back on track. My view is that one person's damage is another person's progress, and in my opinion, we've been making wonderful progress under Pope Benedict.

Wonderment: What a strange and unexpected thing this retirement of the Pope is! We love you, Pope Benedict!! If YOU think this is a good decision then it MUST be! You deserve you're retirement!! We just KNOW that you'll be praying for us in your monastery and we look forward to your writings and we KNOW that we're in your heart always!! You will always be our father!! We're saddened to hear of your frail health and hope that God will strengthen you until you finish your books!! I understand this mentality, but I do not share it, or rather I do, but only a little.

Reason: Well, look, if the pope is actually in ill health, the nefarious elements in the Church might be able to take advantage of his frailty as things get worse. If he retires now, then he is protecting the Church by enabling someone more capable to take over in a timely way. This is a good thing. I see the point of this, but I think it's just trying to make lemonade out of lemons.

I'm not the pope, but I think it's a bad decision.

This is how we know the pope is fallible on things administrative - accepting that he's infallible when teaching officially about faith and morals.

It's a bad decision because it sets a precedent. If popes can retire for reasons of ill health or old age, then every pope that finds himself in ill health will be expected to, asked to, pressured to retire. "You're sick, let someone stronger take over." "Your enemies will take advantage of your infirmity. Retire while your friends still have sway among the cardinal electors." "It might be a mortal sin to leave the Church without an effective shepherd while you slowly, slowly deteriorate." "Are you sooooo proud that you want the whole world to watch you suffer and die? Well you will have your reward before you die then, and risk losing your eternal reward!"

I think this is why John Paul II never retired, though he was pressured to. Popes do not retire. "There is no room in the Church for a Pope Emeritus," I think he once said. He poured out every ounce of his life for the good of the Church. Perhaps retirement can be seen in that light. (Look at Wonderment and Reason above.)

But honestly, is avoiding martyrdom a kind of martyrdom, because one denies himself the glory of being martyred? If so, then avoiding martyrdom is the higher thing!

And the reason I think of this is the same reason I oppose so-called "death with dignity" legislation. The very existence of such a law is pressure to exercise it, and the first step in it becoming a duty rather than a mere right to kill oneself when one's suffering is too costly and too distressful for one's loved ones.

I think it's a bad decision. But what does God think?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

3 Lessons from Ayn Rand...?

There is an opinion piece over at Fox about how wonderful Ayn Rand is on this, her birthday.

Before I point out the difficulties with these "3 crucial lessons," I want to say a few things about my own views.

First of all, I hate large, intrusive governments. I think that the very first level of government is one's own governing of oneself. I like a free-enterprise economic system, which is not precisely the same thing as capitalism. And if capitalism gets chagrined at people who oppose it, it has to face the reality that it does, in fact, give opponents something important to oppose.

Secondly, just because of the things I just said, that does not mean I thereby embrace the diametrically opposite extreme. Error is found on both extremes. If communism is evil, that does not mean that unbridled capitalism is good.

Now, onto some of the difficulties with the article at Fox.

The author says:
As she explained in 1961, the businessman is the great liberator who, in the short span of a century and a half, has released men from bondage to their physical needs, has released them from the terrible drudgery of an eighteen-hour workday of manual labor for their barest subsistence, has released them from famines, from pestilences, from the stagnant hopelessness and terror in which most of mankind had lived in all the pre-capitalist centuries.
Wait a minute. If we're not working 18-hour days, us and our kids with us, it isn't due to those wonderful businessmen. Unfortunately, it IS largely due to governmental intervention and labor unions. Now, having said that, I am no fan of labor unions insofar as they overstep their purposes for just wages and working conditions, and use coercion to get unfairly favorable wages and so on. Nor am I a fan of overly burdensome regulations and restrictions. On the other hand, these entities exist precisely because BUSINESSMEN were very, shall we say, reluctant to provide cushy, 7-hr workdays in safe workplaces with wages high enough to let our kids continue in school through high school. 

I grant that it is business that proves doing so can be nonetheless profitable - but don't you think those profits are way less than they could be with 18-hr workdays for cruddy wages and and all that? Of course they are. And businesses just "gave" us cushy jobs out of the goodness of their hearts, because they could? I don't think so.

Furthermore, a lot of those advances, which came from science, were invented or developed by people with a good mind for science who didn't give a whit about business. I grant that these inventions were brought to market by businessmen and the world is definitely a better place in the ways named on account of it. But businessmen ALONE, as BUSINESSMEN, would be hard-pressed to make such a difference. Left on their own, without a good scientist or altruistic (an evil word in the world of Rand) inventor to help, we get cheesy, rip-offs. I'll give you an example. Why does a new printer cost like $50, with all its electronics and features and abilities and components, and a new batch of ink comprising less than a teaspoon of each color that you can't use in any other device cost $65? Don't you ever wonder why the amount of ink you get is not mentioned on the package? You'd be PISSED, that's why. If you buy the printer, you need THEIR ink. Yeah, yeah, yeah, without businessmen, I wouldn't be printing at all for $115, I get that. I really do. But what am I supposed to do, be STUPID? Roll over, like the liberals want us to do? In true Ayn Rand fashion, I vote my money, and unless a name-brand business proves their VALUE for my dollar, I buy generic.

The authors go on to talk about the value of the profit motive. I basically agree, but with some nuance. The profit motive is ideally tempered by a desire also to treat people well. Profit motive alone, while it can do the good things the author mentions, also can make businessmen into heartless exploiters who do not wish to pay fair wages or take on the added cost of making better products. Now, there is the role of competition in all this, and I get that. But if business wants to minimize intrusive regulations, then it has to regulate itself, not through rules, but through virtue, through the habitual disposition to do what is right. If the profit motive is the highest "good" and "right" in business - and not the safety and happiness of employees and the satisfaction and safety of customers because they're all HUMANS who have a RELATIONSHIP with the business - then these other goods take a back seat. These other goods, instead, ought to be primary, with profit taking a back seat. This does NOT mean that businesses should lose money - hey, I LIKE the idea that businesses generate wealth, I GET IT - but what's missing here is the human experience that WEALTH as a DRIVER drives people to harming others in order to get it. First, be a good human being towards others, and then make your profit in that context. Ayn Rand's selfishness-as-virtue is just the flip side of communism and just as bad.

The third lesson is "run from anyone trumpeting the 'Public Good'". Hmmm. Well, run from me then. Oh, and let me run from Ayn Rand. LIBERTY is an highly important COMMON GOOD, and the authors' arguments defend liberty, and capitalism, and the profit motive precisely as common goods, whether  they realize that's what they're doing or not. But this is how you know they're missing the mark. 

Their basic points are true insofar as they reflect the fact that liberals have basically hijacked the notion of the common good. But Ayn Rand is wrong. We are not merely a bunch of individuals, and society is not a mere abstraction. We are conceived and born and raised in RELATIONS. We cannot exist without them. Relations are real. We need them. "I" need my neighbors to be "doing well," whatever that means. For one, I "LIKE" them. For another, "I" benefit from it. For a third, there are some things we need to pull together on. It was a labor union - Solidarity - that beat communism in Poland. This is why we need at least some government. Why we need a police department, for instance, and a defense department. If it is true the notion of the common good has been hijacked by people who abuse the term, is it the "common good" that we should run from, or those who have hijacked and abused it? Point out the abuse and reclaim the notion of the common good - for the common good! Indeed, if conservatives are ever to get the upper hand, that is something they must do. 

Anyway, I used to like Ayn Rand. When I was 20. When I first voted for a presidential candidate and voted for Reagan. Haven't voted for a Democrat, EVER. 

But by the time I was oh, 21 or 22, I realized her philosophy is simply defective. It is the equal and opposite extreme, and therefore an equal and opposite error, to liberalism.

Insofar as we are dominated - lorded over - by liberalism, I understand the reaction that compels some people to embrace Ayn Rand. And if we have to lean towards one error or the other, I would lean towards the error of Ayn Rand.

But why do we have to lean towards error at all?

Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand. I will say this in her favor: Her characterizations of the communists who take over everything in Atlas Shrugged is spot-on. But her characterization of the capitalists.... right out of her fantasies, them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why I think Virginia's Look at Minting It's Own Money Is a Good Idea

Here's the story.

Basically, Virginia is getting fed up with the Fed and wants a gold-based money system. So they are looking into it. They haven't done anything yet, but they are looking into it.

I honestly don't know much about this sort of thing. Having dollars backed by something real, like gold, sure does sound like a good idea. Because as it is now, a "dollar" is just an abstraction. Today, if you have $100, the number of those dollars will remain the same but over time those dollars are likely to be worth less and less and less.

That is why an ounce of gold costs more and more dollars. It's not that the "value" of gold is increasing - I am willing to bet than an ounce of gold today buys pretty much what an ounce of gold bought years ago - but that the value of the abstraction called a "dollar" is decreasing.

So, a gold standard sounds like a good idea.

But there is one sentence in that story that put me squarely behind Virginia's plan.

“He’s descending into serious la la land,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mark Sickles told FoxNews.com
Sickles said this of Robert Marshall, a member of Virginia's state legislature. When a Democrat resorts to ridicule such as this as his strongest argument, you have to believe that the thing being ridiculed is a good idea. "La la land." Waste of money. Money that could be spent on education and the unemployed. And Virginia's (current) bond rating is great. BUT - what is it about the idea ITSELF that makes it a bad idea? The person who proposed it is in "la la land."

Bernanke also thinks it's a bad idea. That view has a little more credibility. Then again the proposal would basically make his very lucrative and powerful job obsolete.

So, Virginia's plan is sounding better and better.

And what does this have to do with bioethics? Oh, not much. But I do notice a similar tactic in bioethical decisions as that used by Mr. Sickles. 

Ridicule. A thing is unethical if some loudmouth can ridicule you for it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Guns, Obama, NRA... NRA, Guns, Obama... and Bioethics

I don't own a gun. I wouldn't mind owning a gun, and my kids play with toy guns all the time. Just last week, I bought my 8-year-old a cap gun and some caps. They also have a ton of toy swords and Nerf weapons of various kinds.

They are not violent kids. They have a natural revulsion to causing others harm. They play at heroics in the eternal battle between good versus evil, and that's fine.

A few lunatics later and we're talking about gun control.

This is what I think about it. No one should ever trust a government that wants to have all the guns. The very fact that a government suggests that guns should be outlawed - except for the police and military - means that government is tyrannical. No government should control all the weapons. It's bad enough that governments have all the cool weapons. In a fight with its own people, even well armed citizens, the government will have all the technical advantage. Still, I don't trust a government that wants to disarm its citizens.

Nonetheless, I will not have a real gun in the house until my boys are old enough to know what it means to hold a real gun.

Guns are made with one purpose in mind. Killing. Handguns are made to kill humans. This is an serious fact. Then again, swords are made for hacking. People, not animals.

People have a natural right to defend themselves. By natural right, I mean that it is a matter of justice, which is above and prior to any enacted human law and against which human laws can be measured, that human beings are permitted to defend themselves. Laws should respect this fact and not undermine it.

Given that there are violent people against whom we need to defend ourselves, it is also a natural right that we be permitted adequate means to exercise our right of self-defense.

In a society in which law-abiding people are not permitted to own guns, how is one's right to self-defense to be exercised in face of a threat wielding an (illegal) gun?

Anyway, this is not really about defending gun ownership, but about what are the ethics of using a gun.

Through the principle of double effect, it is ethically permissible to kill an assailant IF a) the use of potentially lethal force is the only recourse one has to stop the assailant; b) one's intent is honestly focused on stopping the assailant; and c) killing is thus specifically not intended, even if it is foreseen.

So the guy is coming at you with a big ol' knife and you have a gun. We're past warnings and such; they haven't worked. We're at the stage where you have to shoot or you will die.

Do you shoot him in the head to kill him?
Do you shoot him in the chest, hoping to miss his heart but to incapacitate him?
Do you shoot him in the legs?

There was a movie with Julia Roberts who played a woman who married a charming man who turned out to be a really jealous control freak who made her life miserable. Sleeping With the Enemy. She left him. He came after her. Relentless hounding ensues. Suspense. Violence. Then at the end, he's in her house, she shoots him in one knee. He can only hobble. She shoots him in the other knee. He can't walk now. She picks up the phone, calls the police, says she just killed her husband, hangs up the phone. And then kills him. Cheers in the audience.

I was horrified. That was an evil act. My sympathies for her went out the window. She was as bad as him.

A Christian may shoot at an assailant, and I would say he should go for the chest as the biggest target and the most effective way of accomplishing the goal of stopping him. The goal of stopping him. He can stop the assailant. If he happens to hit the assailant's heart in the process, that's the breaks. I do not say that tongue-in-cheek, as if to say, "Go for the heart and say you hoped you would miss it." No, I mean honestly, hit the chest, miss the heart if you can, but no guilt if he dies.

If he is a really good shot under such stressful conditions, maybe he can aim for the legs, depending on the gun and the kind of wounds it would make in the legs. It may not stop the assailant, or more than one shot would be needed. If he's a good shot and aims for the heart? or the head? Then his intent is to kill. Guilty of killing, because the intent was to kill.

Now, things get a little less clear or at least a little more complicated in the use of the death penalty and in war. In both cases, the one doing the killing as a moral act is the civil authority who ordered it as a mode of defense of the innocent in society. But I would set aside further comparisons for now.

But for the individual exercising his right to self-defense, it is he himself who is the moral agent. Can he call himself a Christian who intentionally kills someone who is in the midst of committing an act evil enough to warrant damnation to hell? Where is love of enemy, the love that Christ has for us, and that he commanded us to have? Surely, a Christian should take some element of risk upon himself to give the assailant one last opportunity to repent, and not kill, or at least leave some chance however slim that the assailant could avoid bodily death at this time, so as to avoid eternal death a moment later.

Finally I just want to say this. The gun and ammo makers couldn't have asked for a bigger boon than Obama and other politicians wanting "to protect" the people with restrictions on guns. If I were really cynical, I would say they're in cahoots. But again, I have said that Obama is a tyrant in the past, and this is just another piece of that puzzle.