Monday, 23 April 2018
The listener's role in a devotional address
The talk asks you, then, or you ask yourself by means of the talk, what kind of life do you live, do you will only one thing, and what is this one thing? The talk does not expect that you will name off any goal that only pretends to be one thing. For it does not intend to address itself to anyone with whom it would not be able to deal seriously, for the reason that such a man has cut himself off from any earnest consideration of the occasion of the address. There is still another reason: a man can, to be sure, have an extremely different, yes, have a precisely opposite opinion from ours, and one can nevertheless deal earnestly with him if one assumes that finally there may be a point of agreement, a unity in some universal human sense, call it what you will. But if he is mad, then one cannot deal with him, for he shies away from just that final point, in which one at last may hope to find agreement with him. One can dispute with a man, dispute to the furthest limit, as long as one assumes, that in the end there is a point in common, an agreement in some universal human sense: in self-respect. But when, in his worldly strivings he sets out like a madman in a desperate attempt to despise himself, and in the face of this is brazen about it and lauds himself for his infamy, then one can undertake no disputing with him. For like a madman, and even more terribly, he shies away from this final thing (self-respect) in which one might at last hope to find agreement with him.
The talk assumes, then, that you will the Good and asks you now, what kind of life you live, whether or not you truthfully will only one thing. It does not ask inquisitively about your calling in life, about the number of workers you employ, or about how many you have under you in your office, or if you happen to be in the service of the state. No, the talk is not inquisitive. It asks you above all else, it asks you first and foremost, whether you really live in such a way that you are capable of answering that question, in such a way that the question truthfully exists for you. Because in order to be able earnestly to answer that serious question, a man must already have made a choice in life, he must have chosen the invisible, chosen that which is within. He must have lived so that he has hours and times in which he collects his mind, so that his life can win the transparency that is a condition for being able to put the question to himself and for being able to answer it -- if, of course, it is legitimate to demand that a man shall know whereof he speaks. To put such a question to the man that is so busy in his earthly work, and outside of this in joining the crowd in its noisemaking, would be folly that would lead only to fresh folly -- through the answer.
(Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing, trans. by Douglas V. Steere (Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 183-184.)
Saturday, 3 December 2016
Lying about Santa can be a sensitive topic. For some people, this sensitivity has something to do with the figure of Santa himself: for them Santa is sacred, a bit like God, or the government: a basically magical entity that lives far away and gives them free stuff, and forms part of the basic fabric of culture and life without which the world would be a rather colder, nastier, more inexcusable kind of place. Others are sensitive about it because it concerns their own parenting decisions, and since parents naturally want to do well by their children, it can be uncomfortable to consider that certain treasured elements of one’s parenting practises might in reality be morally suspect.
In any case, sensitive issue or not, I think it's an interesting one, morally and sociologically. Morally speaking, we generally recognize that it's wrong to lie (and yes, wrong to lie even to your own children). And yet in our society we have a generally accepted practise of lying - entirely gratuitously, I might add - to our children about Santa. So why do people intentionally deceive their kids into believing stories about the jolly fat man with the beard and the reindeer? It seems obvious that the primary reason they do it is simply because "everybody's doing it" (it's a 'tradition') - and practically speaking, that is reason enough.
But if you ask parents the straightforward question, so why do you lie to your kids about Santa?, you might find - as I have - that they are surprised and offended that anyone would even say such a thing; and they might even deny that it is lying - even though it perfectly obviously is. (They knowingly assert falsehoods to their children with the intention of inducing them to believe that those falsehoods are in fact true - in other words, it's very straightforward: they lie!)
But I guess most people would not care to outright deny that they are lying to their children, so instead some justification needs to be offered for such an abuse - I'm just saying! - of their children's confidence and naïveté.
The primary reason why people actually do it (lie about Santa) in the first place is, as mentioned: everybody's doing it; and this reason might well be offered by some people also as a moral justification. But "everybody's doing it" is a pretty lame moral justification (obviously!), so in spite of the call of the herd, they need to appeal to more than just that.
So what more is there? There are a series of rather vague notions: it's harmless, it's fun, it's part of childhood, it's good for children to have vivid imaginations, to believe in magic, etc. And because everybody's doing it, they don't want their kids to miss out on the fun. In general, then, the idea is: I don't want to deprive my children of living this (lie-based) fantasy. So sure, I'll lie in order to give it to them.
Now I love fiction. I think it's mostly harmless, often beneficial, fun, part of childhood and of having a vivid imagination, and yes, everybody exposes their kids to fiction, and I wouldn't want mine to miss out on that. But still: If my son asks me, say, is Narnia real?, I answer him truthfully. When a child asks for the truth, I'm pretty sure that is a sign that he wants to know the truth and is ready to be told the truth (in a way, obviously, that is appropriate to his level of maturity and understanding, and doesn't simply denigrate the value of imagination). So I don't worry about whether I'll be stunting his imagination by revealing the truth to him when he asks about it, and I certainly don't think that any such concerns could justify outright lying to him about it. And I don't think there are any good reasons for thinking that the same doesn't apply when it comes to truthfully answering questions about Santa (not to mention introducing your kids to Santa in a truthful way to begin with). But it should go without saying: if there are any such reasons, please, I'd like to hear them!
Nonetheless, there is one obvious 'justification' for lying: I need no justification, because lying isn't wrong. If you don't like lying, then don't do it! But mind your own business: you have no right to arrogantly impose your moral views on others. Given the evident brazen hypocrisy of saying stuff like that, you would hope that no one would ever actually take such a position. But in the real world, unfortunately, shit (i.e., post-modernism, psychological trauma, nihilism, narcissistic personality disorder, bad parents and teachers, etc.) happens, and people all too commonly do have this kind of angrily puerile reaction when their views are challenged. In other words, the issues in this case are likely deep-seated psychological ones, not simply matters of confused thinking - and sadly I'm not much of a psychotherapist.
However, for those not overly hampered by arrested psychological development (such as - dare I say? - myself), it's often helpful to think about what a bright guy like Thomas Aquinas had to say about the subject. So put this (Summa theologiae II-II, q.110) in your pipe and smoke it (in honor of jolly old Saint Nic). Some quick highlights
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Jeff Mirus writes an interesting piece here: Not Heretical.
Ed Peters responds to Mirus here: May I Demur...
I would add this response to Mirus:
Mirus writes: "The key question is: Which is more important, the potential scandal which could weaken the commitment of others to the Church’s teaching on marriage, or the need for the (venial) sinner (caught in a no-win situation) to be spiritually nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ?"
This is a false dichotomy. One is not spiritually nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ only by receiving them sacramentally under the species of bread and wine. Spiritual reception of Christ does not require sacramental reception of Christ. These are very different things. Indeed sacramental reception can be the opposite of spiritually nourishing (obviously that's a central point in this whole discussion). So in fact one can be spiritually nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ precisely by one's conscientious actions to honor the Body and Blood by refraining from sacramental reception in order to avoid scandal (such as that caused when receiving sacramentally while one is in an objectively sinful state, even if there is some reason to believe it may be only venially sinful). So this action of refraining can in fact be a win-win (not 'no-win,' as Mirus alleges). What Mirus's analysis seems to ignore is the fact that sacramental reception of Christ is not an end in itself. Sacramental reception is supposed to be - it ought to be - a means to the end of spiritual reception. But again: sacramental reception is in fact largely independent of - indeed, sometimes, and perhaps often, positively opposed to - spiritual reception.
Monday, 12 September 2016
Thursday, 14 July 2016
So what we need is empathy? ("Our problem is that we don’t empathize with Black people.")
CCC 1767: "passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will."
Empathy is entering into and sharing in the passions/feelings of another. It is a passion (a feeling, an emotion, a reaction). It is "neither good nor evil" (etc. - see above). When empathy has the effect of encouraging one to disengage reason, to disregard facts, it is evil. (Consider: "I have a lot of empathy for serial adulterers." Sure - but that's not a good thing!)
Love drives out hate.
Empathy may be useful, or not. Empathy may just mire a person in another person's irrational passions. Empathy in itself is not a strength. Empathy is different from love. And it is love, not empathy, that drives out hate. Empathy alone may lead a person to wallow in vain passions. Love leads to - it demands! - forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding. But only because genuine love is a participation in the love of the one God, who is justice, mercy, truth. Empathy is only a participation in the fragmented and contradictory world of individual passions.
Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Fr. Zuhlsdorf (here): "Last night I read a surprising account of some off-the-cuff remarks offered by Pope Francis on marriages. He opined that most marriages today aren’t valid because people don’t understand very well what they are entering into. Of course we know that people who don’t understand very well what they are entering into can and do validly contract marriage. [Similarly, we know that people who don't understand very well what they are entering into can and do validly receive baptism, for themselves or for their children (notwithstanding the obligatory baptismal dialogue: "Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?" "I do. (I think I do. I sort-of do. I really don't but I just want to get this over with.)").] And so the Pope’s remarks give us pause. We pause and reflect seriously about the sort of catechesis (the lousy catechesis) we have given people for decades and the less than optimal marriage preparation so many couples receive. We are, hence, ready to get our noses to the grindstone and improve the situation because, as we know, people can and do enter into valid marriages without knowing fully what they are entering into. After all, validity is one thing and having the graces that come with the sacrament of matrimony are another."
So reflecting on Aristotle's words and Fr. Z's comments, we should be grateful to Pope Francis, even when he expresses superficial views, insofar as he affords us the opportunity of developing our powers of thought. Even if he isn't intentionally encouraging us to do so (and to some extent we can assume that that actually is part of what he is trying to do), if we are rightly disposed that should be the effect upon us: if we are struck by the superficiality and inconsistency of his views (as we should be), we should be encouraged to reflect more deeply so as to avoid such superficiality and inconsistency in our own thinking.
[Of course the problem with Francis's remarks is that most people are not rightly disposed towards reflecting carefully and deeply on the truth (nor are they intellectually well-equipped to do so), and unfortunately Francis's example (as too-often manifested in his problematic statements) hardly seems likely to serve as an encouragement for them to become better disposed towards love and care for the truth (or better-equipped intellectually) - it is rather the opposite danger that seems likely. But still: grace works in mysterious ways and God is able to bring about good even from evil.]