Monday, February 28, 2005

A Declaration of War and a Call to Arms

War has been raging against us, though we do not recognize it. We have been happily doing our daily business; our lives seem so normal and uneventful. But this war rages, mainly far away, and we think there is peace here.

Pinellas County, Florida, Circuit Court Judge George Greer gave Michael Shiavo permission to remove his disabled wife's feeding tube. The death is to start on March 18th, 2005, at 1:00 p.m. The wife, Terri Schindler-Schiavo, has a condition that does not meet the commonly-accepted standards for ending a patient's life, and so this extends the bounds of what the Pope calls "the Culture of Death".

Many Christians and others of good will are outraged by this, are realizing the great extent of this warfare, and no longer want to passively accept what is happening in the world. They are ready to declare war against this evil, recognizing that the opposition has already declared war against them; they also are ready to take up arms against the enemy, instead of just passively watching.

This is a war of good versus evil, of right and wrong. In this war we have two distinct enemies; the primary enemies who are hate-filled and seek only destruction, and the secondary enemies who are unwitting dupes or fools, and who do the work of the main enemy. In this war, we will not be satisfied until the primary enemies burn in Hell forever. The secondary enemies must be corrected and chastised, with utmost severity.

These enemies are not whom you might expect. The primary enemies are Satan and the evil spirits; ever since Lucifer the light-bearer, said "I will not serve", and became Satan the accuser, he has waged war against God and His creation. The secondary enemies are ourselves. Whom do we serve? Do we love the Lord Our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our strength, and with all our spirit, and our neighbors as ourselves, or do we have residual favorite sins, which we keep as concubines of our hearts, thus serving evil?

But what of these activist judges, unfaithful husbands, and the strident supporters of the Culture of Death? Some may say that they are our enemies, those whom we oppose in this war. But can we blame them, ultimately? They perhaps never had a conversion, perhaps they never had faith, which is a gift. They live in our world and our culture, which has been teaching everyone about material progress, secularity, progressive politics, and never about the Laws of God. Modern ethics has taught Man to ignore the Law written on his heart, using endless nuance and utilitarian doctrines. Christianity is banned in many ways in our world. Our secular laws impose these ethics on us, and our public and even most Catholic schools accept these ethics as correct. This kind of thinking exists everywhere in our world, including our churches.

This is spiritual warfare. According to Saint Paul: "Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

But the Spiritual Warrior must have a level of perfection unknown in the world today. The weapons of the Spiritual Warrior are the Sacraments, prayer, and penance, but we must be well-disposed to use these weapons well. How hard it is to do it!

The ancient Desert Fathers fled the world and the destruction of society, to the wilderness, where they battled the demons and their own desires directly. They used extreme ascetisim to purify themselves for the fight. The monastic tradition uses community, obedience, and constant prayer in the battle; and it was the monks who saved civilization. The Medieval friars used poverty and preaching in the fight, and brought the flowering of Christendom. Warfare was taken to education and the arts in the Counter-Reformation. Up to our present day, lay associations have taken the fight from within the world, while not being of the world. Since our Modern culture has been called 'the synthesis of all heresies', our methods of warfare must meet it on all fronts, so we should strengthen all of these spiritual methods.

According to the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, evil is real, is immortal, is obvious, and that too great a knowledge of evil is not good; and also that evil defeats itself, for evil can only mock, not create, and that evil seeks destruction, but cannot ultimately profit from it. Weakness is better than strength in the fight against evil, for evil's plans are ultimately defeated by itself. Dr. Kreeft says that weapons against evil are sacrifice, humility, friendship, and words. The example of the Holy Martyrs show how weakness and self-sacrifice overcome evil. Friendship avoids the perils of being divided and conquered. Humility is the opposition to pride, which is a first step to sin. Words, efficacious, sacramental, words are of great power against evil; Kreeft says that the phrases "I love you" and "I hate you" are not just words, but weapons. Evil, however, will ultimately defeat itself, and in the end will unwittingly work for the ultimate good.

No man is all good or all evil; we all are morally some shade of gray, but grayness implies the existence of both black and white. It is our duty to purify our fallen souls, otherwise we hurt our cause.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Radio Interview about Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Catholic physician and medical ethicist Robert Onder has a radio interview on radio station KWMU. The interview aired on February 23rd, 2004, and states the reasons against embryonic stem cell research. Another interviewee gives an opposing opinion in the second half of the interview.

Terri's War

Terri Schindler-Schiavo's husband, Michael, is seeking judgment from the State of Florida to have her feeding tube removed, which will cause her death by slow starvation and dehydration.

Terri is brain damaged, although not in a coma or vegetative state, and does not appear to be in pain or in a state of misery. Her parents are willing to support her, and large numbers of pro-life people are willing to donate money and time to also support her. Her husband wants her dead.

Many Christian and pro-life commentators out on the Web question whether some sort of action could be taken to save her life, even if the court orders Terri's death. A well-known Catholic doctrine says that an unjust law is not a law at all. Early Christians, under the domination of the Roman Empire, had to deal with unjust laws supporting slavery and the death sentence for those unwilling to sacrifice to the gods of the Empire. While patriotism is a moral requirement for Catholics, being a part of virtue of justice, and following the law is a part of that virtue, the Christian conscience is not bound by unjust laws.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (United States Council of Catholic Bishops):

"1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility"

"A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence." -- St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2.

"1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."

It appears that Terri has a natural right to live, and that any court ruling to the contrary is unjust and therefore void, at least according to Catholic morality, and to the Natural Law philosophical basis of our Constitution. Also, the Holy See has declared that hydration and food are a basic right and must not be withheld, so any court order for removing her feeding tube would be considered unjust by the Church, and not morally binding on the Christian faithful.

But while a law is unjust, direct opposition to that law may be discouraged for pastoral reasons. For example, the Church has always opposed slavery -- a Papal encyclical on the subject came out even before the discovery of America -- but the Church did not take a firm stand on the subject in the United States. This was for pastoral reasons: Catholics were a small, persecuted, and hated minority in the country and also some Catholics supported slavery, or more precisely, feared what would happen after the slaves were freed. Would the Church be willing to start a civil war over that issue, where its members would most certainly be slaughtered? I assume that this is why most American bishops don't have a strong stand against abortion, since it is a fight that the Church would lose, at least in the short run. Many bishops have been warned by political powers: play ball or we will destroy you.

Terri's local Ordinary, Bishop Robert N. Lynch, made this following statement on October 12th, 2003:

"....If Terri’s feeding tube is removed, it will undoubtedly be followed by her death. If it were to be removed because the nutrition which she receives from it is of no use to her, or because it is unreasonably burdensome for her and her family or her caregivers, it could be seen as permissible. But if it were to be removed simply because she is not dying quickly enough and some believe she would be better off because of her low quality of life, this would be wrong.

"This situation is tragic. I strongly recommend that

"1. in the presence of so much uncertainty and dispute about her actual physical state, all parties pursue a clearer understanding of her actual physical condition;

"2. Terri’s family be allowed to attempt a medical protocol which they feel would improve her condition;

"3. Excessive rhetoric like the use of “murder” or the designation of the trial judge or appellate judges as “murderers” not be used by anyone from our Judeo-Christian tradition. This is a much harder case than those who use facile language might know."

I was unable to find a newer statement by the Bishop on his web site. The full text may be found at the Diocese of Saint Petersburg in Florida. I would think that Catholics are bound by this statement by the local Ordinary of Terri's diocese . The Bishop's recommendations are acceptable, in my opinion.

In the case where Terri's death by starvation and dehydration is ordered by a court, then the Bishop's recommendations would no longer be applicable, since he did not state what a Catholic's duties should be; in that case, one could go back to the old Catholic moral teaching that "an unjust law is not a law at all". Along with sins of commission are also sins of omission. Perhaps Terri's parents, along with well-wishers, could go to Terri's hospice, and inform the staff, very politely and with humility, that they will be taking Terri out of that place. And then do so.

I grew up in the 1960s, where political activists violated the law for reasons of justice. These activists made an excellent case for their action, and now some of those activists are in positions of power in our government. These activists were, in many cases, right; society did not want to change, but knew that it must, and it did. I think that Terri's supporters have the same or greater moral imperative to act in this case. I would think that peaceful action to remove Terri from the hospice to give her loving care is completely justified and moral, and certainly falls within the virtue of charity. Even if force is used to oppose them, a proportional response would still be moral, although it may not be pastoral.

What the Pope calls the "Culture of Death" has gone too far with Terri, and the American Civil Liberties Union is making a mistake supporting Terri's death in this case; the ACLU will be perceived even more as an organization that supports atrocity. This is an innocent woman, who is not dying, nor apparently in great pain and suffering, who may die because one man wants her dead. I am amazed at how the Culture of Death innovates: death was, until recently, given to those who are unwanted, such as a child in an unwanted pregnancy, but now, a woman, wanted by her parents, still must die! I didn't think that this would be possible until recently. It is as I suspected, two decades ago, that the right to die would eventually become the duty to die: this is a big step in that direction.

Those who wish to expand the boundaries of legal death have had tepid opposition until now, since we all just want to get along and not be bothered. However, Terri's case has energized the pro-life community, who are sick of the continual expansion of legalized death. The new attitude is: "A line has been drawn. The Culture of Death shall go no further."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Population Falling, Faith Rising

Hong Kong has a population decline. The territory, now controlled by the Communist mainland, is promoting a new policy: HK promotes 'three child policy'. This is in contrast to China proper, which has a draconian one-child policy.

It is something of a secret that Christianity is florishing in China, that China has more practicing Christians than most countries, and may become majority Christian in only a few decades. Guangdong province, the region north of Hong Kong is a center of Catholicism which, due to geography and culture, was left relatively alone during the Modernist atrocities of the Red Guards Communist reign. In China you see priests older than 70 and younger than 30, kind of like the U.S., and for the same reason, cultural revolution. The Church in China is officially cut from the Vatican, but prayers for the Pope are offered at Mass and informal contacts with the outside world and travel are allowed.

The Patriotic Catholic Association is the state-run controller of official Catholicism in China, but apparently many members are also loyal to Rome. There is an underground Church too, which has millions of members. Pope John Paul II is attempting closer ties with the government in exchange for greater religious liberty.

A Christian China would not need a harsh birth control policy, for morality would take precedence over force.

No Pain, No Gain

No pain, no gain.

Feel the burn, baby.

I hit the wall, and kept on going.

You've got to work your way through the pain.

What doesn't kill me, only makes me stronger!

The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.

If you are serious about athletics, the above proverbs are very familiar. We Americans wouldn't blink at hearing a coach say something about working through pain to achieve a greater goal. But the same kind of attitude used to be used in spirituality.

Nowadays, if you mention corporeal mortification as a necessary component of the spiritual life, you would be considered insane, or stuck in the middle ages.

In athletics, what does this mortification gain you? Winning a contest, perhaps? Money? Becoming more attractive so that you can have better-looking lovers? Self-gratification?

In spirituality, this is what mortification gains: Denial of self. The spirit of poverty. Solidarity with the poor and sick. Possibility of Heaven.

I would think that mortification of the flesh has better application in the spiritual life.

Our current American society is well-illustrated by contrasts. We have the most successful athletic programs in the world, and we have the highest incidence of obesity. While it may seem that these show contrasting attitudes within society, I would think that they show the same attitude, expressed in different modes. The Athlete and the Obese both desire self-gratification; they act for their own carnal pleasure.

We Americans like a comfortable religion, one that doesn't require much of us, other than an occasional visit to the local Worship Facility. Those who demand that religion must be challenging, end up just challenging religion itself, quoting from the 'Gospel of Thomas' and worshiping the 'feminine divine' (not that they actually do that particular worship themselves). We don't want a religion that asks us to make sacrifices, unless that just means supporting some ballot proposition that will increase our sales tax by 1/4 of 1 percent.

Catholicism, at one time, used to make strong demands for sacrifice, which mirrors the sacrifice which is re-presented in the Mass. These demands, with charity, will return, have no doubt.

Some corporeal mortifications seem quite bizarre to the modern American. The world charges that some of these practices are a form of sadomasochism: but, if pleasure is received from mortification, then it is a grave sin, and should be stopped immediately, and council with a good spiritual advisor is needed. Americans don't understand this! However, the most basic self-sacrifice, which nearly everyone is able to fulfill, is fasting. No one would consider fasting a form of masochism (although some may consider it a form of political protest). And since so many Americans are obese, perhaps this is a sacrifice that could be very widely practiced. What easier, yet noble, sacrifice could we do for Lent than have only one full meal a day? When we do not eat, we would feel compassion for the very poor, who have nothing to eat. When we do actually eat our meal for the day, we would be thankful to God for giving us that meal. We are to see Christ in the poor, and are to give thanks to God for our gifts: I would then think that fasting is an excellent spiritual practice.

It is commonplace for an American to consider the pain of athletics acceptable. Why not suffering with Christ, who suffered for us?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

An All-American Controversy

The recent controversy about Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish's refusal to conform to the norms of canon law is a near-perfect contemporary example of the centuries-old dispute between the American Established Religion and Catholicism, which started when the Pilgrims landed on these shores.

This parish in the City of Saint Louis, privately owned by a civil corporation, recently changed its charter to exclude archdiocesan representation on its board, as well as making other changes that deviates from the norm of canon law. In reaction, Archbishop Burke has placed Parish's board members under an interdict, or exclusion from the Sacraments.

The mainstream media are overwhelmingly favorable to the parish board: this is seen as a David versus Goliath struggle, and these media are cheering for the underdog without consideration of the facts of the matter, such as well-established canon law. The media seem to be interested only in certain types of Davids or certain underdogs, however. Would the mainstream media cover a similar dispute, say, between a parish in Los Angeles that decided to offer the Tridentine Mass without an Indult from their Archbishop, and were then placed under interdict? It seems that only particular underdogs, those that keep the party line, are to be encouraged.

The American mainstream media, while not official organs of State propaganda, are instead the mouthpieces of what could be called the American Established Religion: the Religion that forms the basis of belief used consistently in the courts, public education, and civic life in general. That the United States should have an Established Religion (it can no longer call itself a church, having divorced itself from explicit Christian roots) should be no surprise to those who study the history of our country from its very founding by the Pilgrims. It is a religion with radical Protestant Puritan roots, but also includes elements of the Enlightenment Religion of Reason as well as now nature worship.

Religion and philosophy are, at their roots, similar. Religion may have Divine Revelation, where philosophy uses Reason, but there is considerable overlap. Faith is now often defined as a system of beliefs, but the same could be said of philosophy. So some kind of faith is present in civil life, where that life is shaped by a civil philosophy. Every judge, especially when developing -- or creating -- law, does so from some basis, some philosophy, some norm. Educators teach, and have to teach something, and that something ultimately is chosen according to educational philosophy. Judges and educators act according to their philosophy, and we can inductively deduce a philosophy from these actions. We can then say that judges, educators, and even journalists show faith -- acting on a system of beliefs-- through their actions. If we find that all of these public professions are acting from a similar basis, and if that basis is enshrined in law and public custom, then that basis is dejure the official philosophy of the State: it is Established. And an all-encompassing philosophy can be called religion when it assumes a universal worldview in conflict with other religions. Our American civil philosophy is becoming ever more radical, so now it is fair to call it a religion; as it had been called in the past. Now if judges just made decisions based on the laws passed by Congress, and if teachers just taught what the school board tells them, then I would not say they are acting on a philosophy. But instead these professions are autonomous to a large extent, and are highly influenced by the American philosophy. The same could be said of other professions, such as medicine.

The American Established Religion was originally the Puritanism of the Massachusetts Colonies; it was the official religion of the government and did not tolerate Catholicism. The extensive Blue Laws of that colony included the death penalty for Catholic priests. Puritanism was basically Calvinist, and its modern descendants are the Presbyterians, Congregationalists (now UCC), Quakers, low church Anglicans, and some Unitarians. This movement rejected tradition, hierarchy, liturgical art, and all things Catholic. Its leaders believed that they were saved: a single conversion experience justified a person forever. They sought autonomy and freedom from higher worldly authority, but were strict and controlling of the multitudes under them, for the Puritans believed that the ignorant and poor were born to be damned. Poverty was a sign of God's displeasure, and showed that the person was not saved. The Puritan ideal of a "Shining City on a Hill" is actually a stark statement of the saved living in a free society upon which the lost can only look from a distance. Puritans founded Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth Universities, as well as other prominent schools, and these are still highly elitist institutions that promote policies for the control of the masses in a particularly Puritan manner. The United States still celebrated its Puritan roots even as late as the 1960s. Puritan ethics informed American law, especially regarding the economy, and educational reformers used to encourage Puritan-style "good citizenship" in public schools.

During the Enlightenment, the religion of the Puritans developed into the philosophy of the Freemasons, exchanging Reason for the Bible as the source of wisdom and civic philosophy. The Enlightenment perhaps started with Isaac Newton and his deterministic laws of physics. This theory is very much in harmony with the deterministic religion of the Puritans and Calvin. The Enlightenment philosophy is a belief in a rational, orderly and comprehensible universe, and the Enlightenment embraced a religion of a rational, orderly, and comprehensible God. The ecclesial communities of the Puritan movement became quite liberal and rationalistic during the Enlightenment. Freemasonry, the ultimate Enlightenment movement, promotes a rationalistic and naturalistic philosophy, and could also be called a religion, since it reinterprets public religions in a private and hidden manner within its own worldview. The Enlightenment promoted an elitism of intellect, and had great fervor during the French Revolution, which attempted the destruction of the not-purely-rational Catholic Church. Similar anti-clerical Enlightenment regimes were founded worldwide, and priests and religious were executed en masse in diverse places such as Spain, Mexico, Italy, Russia, and Portugal, and Catholic churches were shuttered. The United States embraced this Puritan-Enlightenment determinism, in its philosophy of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, and its continuing mission of changing the world in its own image. The Enlightened mind needs autonomy from all authority; however, this autonomy is not to be extended to those still in darkness; in fact, those unenlightened need to be controlled far more than they were under the former regime.

The Enlightenment ended with liberal Modernism, in both its Capitalistic and Socialistic versions, which has recently formed a remarkable synthesis called 'Globalism'. This synthesis isn't really surprising since they come from the same rationalistic roots. Under Globalism, freedom and power is given to the intellectual elite and others who are masters of their own destiny. Under Modernism, a person only deserves freedom if they claim it. Like the Puritans, who knew that they had salvation and acted likewise, the Modernist shows his freedom only by acting independently of authority. A Modernist cannot freely choose to tie himself to authority and still have claim to freedom. This is in opposition to the Catholic version of freedom, which is the right to choose the Good. For example, a Catholic artist is free to use any style in his art, while a Modernist artist is contstrained from making his art in any preexisting style. American business and government, dominated by the thinking and the graduates of the Puritan universities, imposed liberal Modernistic principles on all sectors of American society.

Postmodernism is a somewhat irrational outgrowth of Modernism, and has its roots in 19th century Romanticism. The Enlightenment had a dirty secret: many of its proponents preached Reason in the daytime and practiced the Occult during the night. The Romantics were drawn to the Occult, nature-worshiping, and sexually free aspects of the Enlightenment, bringing it out into the open, and formed a movement that was parallel to Modernism. Postmodernism is a synthesis of the highly organized and Puritanical Modernism, with the irrational and free-loving Romanticism. This movement gained much political power in the 1970s.

Modernism is democratic, for sure, but it still respected institutions. Modernists may not like the Catholic Church, and would oppose it, and would offer alternatives, but still they have an explicit respect of the Church as an institution, even if they were trying to destroy it. A Modernist will proudly oppose the Catholic Church. Postmodernists, however, have a radical individualist democratic vision, and they do not respect institutions, and they encourage internal subversion of institutions. So a Postmodern would feel comfortable calling himself a Catholic, even though he hates Catholicism, since he is attempting to subvert it.

Postmodern legal theory has no respect for institutions and promotes free-love as is obvious in our current judicial climate. The current form of the American Established Religion has an extremely radical vision of democracy: the enlightened citizen must have total freedom of conscience, even to the point of freely subverting any institution to which he belongs. A common Postmodern argument is that a person has an absolute right to belong to an organization, even though he will not submit to the views and requirements of that organization. The Boy Scouts are a common target. Current educational practice trains students in this kind of thinking. The law is also attempting to do the same to the Catholic Church, especially in response to the over-hyped sexual abuse crisis.

Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish is supported by the Established Religion because it stands in stark, explicit opposition to its major competing Religion, Catholicism, in particular to Catholicism in its official worldwide form. A small, weak, schismatic Polish church is more in compliance with the Established Religion as are other groups such as the Old Catholics. Disunity and discord in Catholicism is then to be encouraged: divide and conquer.

Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish is appealing the Archbishop's interdict to the Vatican, and will lose. Two paths seem likely: either the parish will immediately join a schismatic group (so that they may have access to the Sacraments, which may be valid but illicit), or they will appeal to the secular courts. Either path would be a victory for the Established Religion, but the later would be a greater victory.

In his article "ASSIMILATION, TOLERATION, AND THE STATE’S INTEREST IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS DOCTRINE", associate professor Richard W. Garnett of the Notre Dame Law School writes "Thirty-five years ago, in the context of a church-property dispute, Justice William Brennan observed that government interpretation of religious doctrine and judicial intervention in religious disputes are undesirable because, when “civil courts undertake to resolve [doctrinal] controversies . . . , the hazards are ever present of inhibiting the free development of religious doctrine and of implicating secular interests in matters of purely ecclesiastical concern.” This statement, at first, seems wise and fittingly cautious, even unremarkable and obvious. On examination, though, it turns out to be intriguing, elusive, and misleading. Indeed, Justice Brennan’s warning presents “hazards” of its own, and its premises —if uncritically embraced —can subtly distort our constitutional discourse."

Garnett shows that "free development of religious doctrine" is encouraged by the State through the courts in cases such as these. This "free development" always means conformity of doctrine to the Established Religion: radical individualism, denial of moral authority, liberalism in politics, sexual libertinism, and naturalism instead of revelation. Our foreign policy also encourages such attitudes in an extremely heavy-handed manner.

Garnett later writes: "...a reminder that liberal, democratic governments like ours necessarily care what their citizens believe, and therefore will invariably seek to shape the content of citizens’ beliefs through government speech and other means, including regulation, subsidization, and criminalization. The state does this not simply for the sake of self-expression, but in order to form and change the minds of those to whom it speaks. A speaker hoping to change listeners’ minds is not indifferent to the message of her competitors. A sober awareness of this fact is a better defense for the freedom of religion than well meaning but marginalizing and misleading assurances of the government’s lack of interest."

More Catholic law articles can be found in the blog Mirror of Justice

I make the claim that the United States has an Established Religion. American has a distinct culture, this culture is enshrined in the law and our professions, and this culture has a universal philosophical worldview, and is put into practice, which makes it a religion. It does not tolerate competing worldviews, and the single major worldview that it must deal with directly and constantly is Catholicism. The culture feels that it is in its interest to encourage the schism of Saint Stanislaus Kostka parish.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Good That May Come From Parish Closings

I've spent several months lately in the Diocese of Sacramento, California, and am amazed at how crowded the parishes are here. Typical Sunday Mass at the Church I attend has parishioners out in the parking lot, peeking inside through the open doors. Daily Mass attendance is also very good. Other churches I've visited are the same. Is there a better sign of a lively faith than crowds such as these? My adopted parish isn't about entertainment either, but seems to have a good piety. Our liberal Mainstream Protestant brethren must feel lonely, with their nearly empty churches.

Perhaps parish closings in Saint Louis may bring back the crowds in the churches that are left, and with it a better parish life and more opportunities for evangelization, both in the world and within the parish itself.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Cloning Ban Veto

Here is an email that was forwarded to me. Action is requested.

From: Laurel
To: -------
Cc: -------
Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2005 5:01 PM
Subject: Governor Blunt and the ban on cloning- ACTION needed

Dear Pro Life friends,

Last weekend our new Governor, Matt Blunt, made a statement to the press about cloning that might surprise you.

As most of you know Senator Matt Bartle is the Senate sponsor of Senate Bill 160 ( SB160), which makes cloning a human for any purpose illegal in the state of Missouri. He is standing for righteousness against very large odds.

Because the governor made a statement to the effect that he would “probably veto” the cloning ban if it makes it to his desk he needs to hear from you immediately. He campaigned as a pro life candidate. I believe that he is indeed pro life. But he needs to hear from those of us that worked hard for the Republican ticket in Missouri and elected him because we want him to stand up for Life.

In my opinion Governor Blunt does not fully understand the cloning issue. We need to encourage him to change his stance on this very important bill.

I am asking you to take time right now to email the Governor’s office. His email address is:

The office phone number is: 573-751-3222

Please be polite in explaining that his statement made to the media regarding a veto of the cloning ban is out of line with his supporters.

You, his supporter, expected him to stand up for life. Ask him to change his stance right away before the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on it next Monday evening, February 14.

Please pray for the Governor’s eyes to be open to this critical issue and please pray for Matt Bartle as he leads this fight for us.

There is widespread ignorance of the cloning issue. I highly recommend that you go to Senator Matt Bartle’s website and read some of the articles he has been publishing about cloning and stem cell research. They are excellent and easy to understand. Please share this information with others. Go to go to weekly columns, also 2004 weekly columns.

A wealth of info awaits you there.

Thank you for taking quick action and standing up for American values!

Laurel Morton

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Philosophy 101

Philosophy is Greek for "love of wisdom", and a Catholic's study of philosophy goes back to the ancient Greeks, in particular Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. These three men were involved in debates in opposition to teachers known as Sophists, meaning 'wise'. Now Socrates taught Plato, and Plato wrote down what we know about Socrates. Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Saint Augustine's philosophy is based on Plato, Saint Thomas Aquinas' philosophy is based on Aristotle, and the Greek influence on early Christianity is due to Alexander conquering most of the ancient Middle East. These philosophers form the basis of the rational Western tradition, and much was written by two of them and is of such high quality that they are still useful to us today.

The three philosophers were in debates against the Sophists, whose style and method is of much interest. The Sophists started getting a bad name around the time of Socrates, and we still use the word sophistry to describe their style. The Sophists taught for a fee, which was considered bad form, and were sometimes highly paid, unlike Socrates who taught for free out of the love of truth. The Sophists taught boys Rhetoric, the art of argument, which was a critical skill for a man of the upper classes in democratic Athens. This was a narrow curriculum compared to the whole of knowledge taught by Socrates and his followers. Sophists taught the students how to win debates, not by using logic and reasoning to arrive at the truth, but by appealing to judges' feelings (and even the occasional bribe). Truth, according to the Sophists, is whatever the judge says is the truth, and they tended to deny even the existence of an objective Truth. The Sophists would use the ambiguities of language and rhetorical tricks to deceive. They tended to be relativists with regard to knowledge and thought, and were critical of traditional religion, ethics, and law. Most were atheist or agnostic. Ultimately, the Sophists, instead of loving truth and knowledge, were merely interested in power, money, and having a good time. There were condemned as immoral by the State.

The Sophists also had bad habit of seducing the boys that they were being paid to teach. They would gather in a symposium (literally, a drinking party) to discuss their conquests. But Plato said that one ought to seduce them to love wisdom instead, and this is where we get the term 'Platonic friendship'.

It is clear that the Sophists are still with us. Especially since the 1960s, when class action lawsuits with punitive damages and compensation for pain and suffering became the norm, sophistry has made a huge resurgence in the courtroom. Nowadays, a good class-action plaintiff lawyer will choose a friendly venue where the facts don't matter and where a positive victory is guaranteed. The Sophist lawyer will manipulate his hand-picked jury's feelings to the best effect.

In contemporary education, facts don't matter, and Progressive, Model U.N., Outcome-based, or whatever-it-is-called-nowadays education is Sophist to the core. Feelings are what matters, subjectivity is emphasized, knowledge is relative, religion and ethics are banned, and boys are still at a high risk of being molested by their teachers. The counter-style of teaching, which emphasizes broad reading, which is taught by teachers who love truth and who are paid little or nothing, is absolutely anti-Sophist, and indeed is called Classical Education, for it is based on the teachings of our philosophers of Classical Antiquity, Plato and Aristotle.

Democratic politics is a Sophist profession. Plato, in this Ship of State analogy, describes Athens as a ship at sea. The ship's captain, who represents the electorate, is under the control of the Sophists, who use him for their own benefit, and the ship ends up being their own wild, drunken, floating party. The ship's navigator, who represents the true philosophers, is hated and ignored, and is prevented from doing his job. Without a good captain or navigator, the ship is in danger of being lost or smashed on the rocks. Athens did lose a major war, and ended up under foreign domination because of Sophist power grabs that ignored the common good. Sadly, rationality is not often found among modern politicians, nor is love of the truth. Power is what matters, and at any cost.

Journalism is also a Sophist profession. Rarely do we see high journalistic standards anymore, and certainly not in television journalism. We do see appeals to emotion, and the manipulation of facts to get what the editors want. Ultimately, Journalism as usually practiced today is not about truth but about power.

In the Church today, the Sophists are very easy to spot. When a Bishop proclaims that in his mass the "real Presence is manifest in the gathered community", is he really saying what you might first think about the "Real Presence" or not? Is a priest -- who gives warm feelings in his homilies instead of the hard teachings of Christ -- abusing his authority with his young parishioners? No doubt parishioners will say that the Sophist priest is really good with children, and is never strict or disciplinarian. Is a Vocations Director actually encouraging vocations or is she pursuing another agenda by actually turning vocations away? Does a theologian redefine well-known terms, or takes odd viewpoints on scripture or even redefines what is actually scripture? And do all of these folks use confusing language, are ambiguous in their statements, and try to constantly subvert liturgical norms with a political slant? "In the Spirit of Vatican II" is a Sophist phrase, meaning not what the documents of Vatican II actually state, but what they want you to believe what they state. Making religion a handmaiden of politics is a sure sign of sophistry.

Socrates agreed that the truth is sometimes hard to pin down, but that truth is out there and must be sought. Plato went further and even postulated that reality was divided between an ideal world and a sensible world. Plato's Ideal world, the world of the Forms, is made up of intellectually understandable perfect ideas that have mathematical perfection, while the world of the senses is made up of imperfect copies of the ideal Forms which we can see with our senses. God, as the pagan Plato understood Him, exists in the world of the Forms and is represented by the image of the Sun. It is from Plato that we get the term idealism.

Plato's Allegory of the Cave, attributed to Socrates, describes his ideas of the Ideal and Sensible worlds. The allegory goes like this: imagine a group of prisoners in a cave, prisoners from their childhood, with their necks and legs chained so that they can only see the wall of the cave. Far behind them are large fires giving light, and in front of the fires men carry vessels and statues of animals and such. The light of the fires cast shadows of the objects on the wall of the cave, and these shadows of the objects are the only things the prisoners can see. The men's voices reflect off of the wall and so the prisoners think that the shadows have voices and make sounds. Also, the prisoners think that the shadows on the wall are all that exist of reality, and think that they are real objects in the real world. The prisoners talk about the shadows, and give them names. Imagine though, that somehow one of the prisoners becomes unchained and then turns around to face the fire: this is called his "conversion", which comes from the Latin translation of "turning around", and from this allegory is where we get the religious meaning of the word. The prisoner turns around, has his conversion experience, and although he is blinded and disoriented by the firelight at first, eventually he sees that it is objects that are casting shadows on the walls, and that the shadows are not real objects at all. He climbs out of the cave and is even more blinded by the daylight outside; it takes a long time for his eyes to adjust, seeing only the darkest shadows, but then eventually he sees real animals and other objects, and realizes that the objects casting shadows in the cave are mere representations of the real forms outside of the cave. Eventually his eyes fully adjust, and he can see the Sun itself, which sheds light on all of the real objects outside. The former prisoner, now that he has seen the world of the Forms, the ideal world, is now 'enlightened', and has become a philosopher, and goes back into the cave to free the other prisoners. Since it is dark and his eyes haven't adjusted yet, he is awkward, and stumbling around, making a fool of himself. The still-chained prisoners even threaten to kill him for his nonsensical talk of 'the real world', and they don't even feel a need to be freed, since their life is the only one they know.

According to Plato then, a person starts life as a prisoner of his senses, seeing only crude representations of the ideal, but believing that they are all that exists of reality. A person must first have a conversion, to know that he has been seeing only shadows. Then his soul must ascend heavenward, to contemplate the ideal forms, actual truth. It is overwhelming at first, but eventually he can even contemplate God. He must then descend downward into the darkness, to help his fellow man, even though they may oppose and reject him.

The ideal ruler, according to Plato, is also a philosopher, who has ascended in spirit to the realm of ideas and the contemplation of God. Power-hungry opportunists are what caused the downfall of Athens, but the truly wise should be made to rule instead. It is pretty obvious why Saint Augustine found favor with Plato, since his philosophy is based on truth and the contemplation of ideals. It is also clear that Plato's opponents are quite like Christ's opponents today, who reject truth and seek only power.

Aristotle is known in part for his development of logic and for his examination of logical fallacies. One of his books is called "On Sophistical Refutations", which is a manual for finding the errors in the arguments of the Sophists. Here he outlines many rhetorical tricks, such as straw man arguments, post hoc reasoning, and begging the question, and how to refute them. Like Plato, Aristotle has a high regard for the truth, and his opponents were fond of sidestepping the issue of truth. Contemporary Christians can still learn much from Aristotle's logic, and Saint Thomas Aquinas used his logic to a great extent in explaining much of Christianity in a way that is still used today. Contemporary Sophists will use the same kind of arguments that Aristotle refuted, so be on the lookout for logical fallacies.

Aristotle explained morality in his book the Nicomachean Ethics, and was interested in finding a way of defining the way a man must act in order to be good. Our classical or moral virtues come from Aristotle: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude, and were further developed by Aquinas. The Sophists, however, thought virtue was the means of acquiring power, without regard to truth or goodness. Perhaps ambition and resourcefulness are their virtues.

Sophists don't believe in truth, and they don't believe in virtue. However, they will hammer a Christian who is untruthful or who has ethical failings, calling him a hypocrite, since they love denigrating someone who does not live up to his ideals. Of course, the charge of hypocrisy is impossible to levy against a Sophist, since they only believe in power, not ideals. Perhaps the best thing to do against one is to call him a 'loser'! Sophists hate to lose, are very poor losers, and they don't have an ideal of good sportsmanship. They are the first to cry foul -- especially if you don't follow the very letter of the rules, which don't apply to themselves -- and will refuse to accept their loss graciously.

In some respects Sophists are immature, wanting to get something without regard for the rest of society. They are selfish and self-centered. Perhaps this has something to do with their poor education -- knowing how to argue, but not having a deep knowledge of the world of ideas. Their atheism and lack of morality may also be due to their poor education, and fits in well with their selfishness. Perhaps they never had a conversion experience. But how does one deal with a Sophist who has managed to gain power? Beyond prayer and instruction, this is beyond what I can write about.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

New Novel by Saint Louis Priest

Father Michael Giesler, local priest of Opus Dei, has written a new book, Marcus, about a young Christian convert in ancient Rome. This is a sequel to Junia-The Fictional Life and Death of an Early Christian, which tells of the conversion of his sister and her martyrdom. Both books are published by Scepter Publishing.

I've read Junia, and even got the copy at a retreat given by Fr. Giesler. I was facinated by different paths to Christ that Junia and her brother Marcus followed...Junia by the love shown by Christians to each other and to strangers, and Marcus by the perfect philosophical synthesis that the Church offered as an alternative to the pagan philosophers.

Our nation, explicitly modeled after the Roman Republic, as it descends into absolutist rule, is resembling more often the Empire, with its sex-drenched bloodlust and raw power. Junia, while its subject matter is ancient, seems quite fresh and relevant to our times.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Phillip Johnson, RIP

Last week marked the death of Philip Johnson, architect, at age 98. Johnson is perhaps the single person most responsible for bringing Modernist architecture to the United States. As a curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he vigorously promoted the new European architects Le Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe in this country, and even coined the name "International School of Architecture" for their modernist movement. Johnson had a late vocation as an architect, and became famous for the design of the "Glass House" home in 1948. Johnson was a prolific architect and even designed a building in Saint Louis, the General American Life Insurance Building. Johnson had the most success with the "glass box" high-rise corporate buildings that have dominated the skies of our cities since the 1950s. Later in his career, he developed a style known as Post-Modernism, that while still modernist in its use of abstract geometric figures and lack of decoration, jokingly added historical elements: the first was his comical Chippendale top of the AT&T (now Sony) building in New York.

So this was the man who perhaps should take the blame for planting the seeds that led to the modernist movement in church architecture...a movement that led to structures that are unrecognizably Catholic, and totally lack iconic and catechetical value. Johnson's most prominent church design is pastor Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in California. This glass enclosed geometric space is quite compatible with Schuller's modernist "Positive Christianity" which almost deifies self-esteem and nearly denies the concept of sin. One of Johnson's final projects is the Cathedral of Hope, as yet unbuilt, that lacks straight lines and confuses and mixes walls, floor, and ceiling together, which seems appropriate to the church's pansexual advocacy ministry. It seems that Johnson -- one of the three or four most prominent architects of the twentieth century -- was an early advocate of the idea that atheists are the best church designers. This idea has become almost universal now, and we hardly even ask if our next church's designer is a practicing Catholic or not.

Some may say that now that the Philip Johnson stumbling-block is gone we can move on and restore our tradition in church architecture. Johnson was an atheist, practiced sexual deviancy, promoted Fascist ideology for a while, and remained fascinated with the obscene use of power. But we must not judge the state of his soul, and instead he should be prayed for. Should we assume that he chose his particular life-style, and never felt drawn to God? Of course not. As a boy, he visited Chartres Cathedral: "I remember saying to myself...that if I lived in Chartres, I would turn Roman Catholic to enjoy that cathedral, and if I turned Roman Catholic, I would go and live in Chartres. Because how else could I exist without this closeness to this particular thing? .... I don't see how anybody can go into the nave of Chartres Cathedral and not burst into tears..." What made him turn away? Why did he not say "Here I am, Lord"?

And from his acceptance speech for the Pritzker Architecture Prize: "The practice of architecture is the most delightful of all pursuits. Also, next to agriculture, it is the most necessary to man. One must eat, one must have shelter. Next to religious worship itself, it is the spiritual handmaiden of our deepest convictions...But today architecture is not often acknowledged as basic to human activity. Industry and science take up our energies. Our thinking is dominated by the word — in prose or in poetry. Our philosophy is semantic, our metaphysics irreligious. Our values beautifully inherited from Calvin and John Stuart Mill are utilitarian, our hopes consumerist, materialistic; our way of thinking non-mythic, rationalistic, pragmatic. We eschew old-fashioned words like God, soul, aesthetics, glory, monumentality, beauty. We like practical words like cost-effective, businesslike, profitable." He speaks truth here. But his artistic output seems to embrace the worst of what he speaks about, and I see no evidence of those old-fashioned values, which many Catholics are rediscovering lately.

And more strange words from an atheist: "There is a greater aim that an architect can have and that's a building that isn't materialistic, that isn't built for man, but built for God. We believe that this is what we are on earth for, to create shapes and space like this. We have a saying in architectural circles that you'll find all over Europe, often engraved over the entrances of many a church, deo omni potenti maximo - this building was built for the greater glory of God." But he also said, sadly: "Whoever commissions buildings buys me. I'm for sale."

I've read stories of prominent atheists who knew that they were pursued by the Holy Spirit throughout their lives, and yet continued on their path. Were they rejecting God out of pride or because of despair of God's mercy? It is strange how many reject God for emotional reasons.

Johnson's greatest wish was to be asked to design another Chartres, but he never got the call.