Scripture and the Crisis – Part 1

Eamonn Clark

In several posts, I have tried to provide some context to the present crisis of morals in the Church. As always, the linchpin is Holy Thursday and Good Friday – we are always doing better than that – but here I wish to give sexual crimes and cover-ups a deeper treatment through looking at a few examples in Scripture. I will present an abbreviation of the text and my own gloss.

The first story, familiar to most, is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s escape.

GENESIS 19

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. [Lot is a quiet force for good in Sodom. He sits at the gates on the lookout. He knows what is around him, and he has a real concern to keep his guests safe from harm. He offers his own house so that they will be under his own watch, and then he gently suggests that they should get out of the city quickly afterward – he even uses unleavened bread to feed them, as will also be used later in the Exodus as a symbol of hasty departure.] Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” [These men are opportunists, but they are also homosexuals. They do not want Lot’s virgin daughters, they want his male guests. This group has grown large enough to protect themselves, as they come from all parts of the city. Although they arrive at night, they are open about what they want. We can infer that they have been at this for some time – they have corrupted the young and incorporated them into the group, likely as a lower caste. Twice we hear about the bifurcation between the ages within the group.]

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” [Lot knows that he cannot stop the men from sinning. Knowing the lesser evil, he proposes it to them. He can’t do anything else – it is beyond his power. Despite being “in the know,” his responsibility is limited. Undoubtedly, his opinion on this group is already well-known throughout the city.]

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. [We see the manipulative and coercive tactics of the group… Command, ridicule, threats, and finally violence.]

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” [God does tolerate great evil, but only up to a point. Evidently, the existence of such a group has become intolerable, and death is their penalty.]

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. [Lot finds that his whistle-blowing lacks effect. His sons-in-law surely know of the evil in the city, but they don’t believe it is bad enough to warrant divine intervention. Could there really be that much of it? And is it really that wicked to begin with? Etc.]

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” [The way to protect oneself from being destroyed in Sodom is to run away from it. It is not Lot’s responsibility or prerogative to reform or rehabilitate the group, it is to distance himself from it.]

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. [Incredibly, Lot is somewhat attached to the city. It is familiar to him and is pained by the thought of putting it behind him. The purification, although he knows it is necessary, is a fearsome thing.] 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. [With the rising of the sun comes a plain view of Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants what comes next to be seen.] 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. [Curious schadenfreude, or misplaced mercy and regret? Either way, it was not virtuous. One of the few who was supposed to be saved destroyed herself by failing to keep her sights set in the right direction.]

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today. [The end of the story leaves our hero in disgrace. Lot thought that since he had escaped the evil men of Sodom, he was safe. He was not – he carried evil with him. He failed to stay vigilant, as if he believed the destruction of Sodom destroyed all the evil in the world. His own fall into perversion, while unintentional, leads him to become the father of two wicked races who would later persecute the sons of Israel, trying to keep them from reaching the Promised Land.]

The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, not spared even after Abraham’s pleading, called for a proportionate punishment, which in this case meant the absolute destruction of the cities. (There is archaeological evidence of the historical truth of this account, by the way.) God “gets it.” Coincidentally – or not – August 30th saw the 450th anniversary of an Apostolic Constitution by Pope St. Pius V which legislated degradation and then death for clerics who participated in the perversion of Sodom. Such curious times we are living in. But as Lot’s ultimate downfall shows us, no one should presume to be above depravity, even those who fight against it.

Next, we will look at a story about a cover-up… and how it goes awry.

No, campaigning for a pope does not invalidate the conclave…

Eamonn Clark

I don’t want to comment on the escalating rhetoric stemming from the letter from the letter of Abp. Viganò… I do want to comment on the escalating fear that campaigning for a pope pre-conclave (or at least before “santa sede”) invalidates the election.

It does not.

The argument goes like this: it’s an excommunicable offense to campaign for a pope (at least before the Holy See is vacant), a number of cardinals did this (the “St. Gallen’s Mafia” as it’s called), those excommunicated cardinals had invalidated themselves from voting, and therefore the last conclave was invalid.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. And it is irresponsible of people with only a passing familiarity with canon law to be going about spreading such a serious claim.

Here’s what the documents say.

From Universi Dominici Gregis, the document with the special procedural rules for conclaves:

“The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons. If this were in fact done, even under oath, I decree that such a commitment shall be null and void and that no one shall be bound to observe it; and I hereby impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae upon those who violate this prohibition. It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election.”

So, electors are forbidden from what we might call “serious” campaigning. It seems they would not be forbidden from simply expressing desires to each other, or discussing pros and cons. Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine this prohibition was indeed violated by a number of electors, and despite the litany of conditions which make such penalties very difficult to incur, they’ve really been excommunicated by their acts of “campaigning.” Then what?

In the Code of Canon Law, we find:

“Can. 10 – Only those laws must be considered invalidating or disqualifying which expressly establish that an act is null or that a person is effected.”

AND:

“Can. 1331 §1. An excommunicated person is forbidden:

3/ to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions whatsoever or to place acts of governance.

§2. If the excommunication has been imposed or declared, the offender:

2/ invalidly places acts of governance which are illicit according to the norm of §1, n. 3″

So what this means is that, while excommunicated persons do indeed have the obligation not to vote in a conclave, that act now being illicit, in order for such an act to be invalid that excommunication must be declared. That’s why section 2 says “If the excommunication has been imposed or declared,” implying that if it hasn’t been declared (or imposed, not categorically but personally, ferendae sententiae), then the subsequent penalties don’t apply. Obviously, no such excommunications have been declared (i.e. made public by the proper authority), and so any campaigners, while doing something illegal and immoral, would be doing something which is valid.

See more here.

It was a valid conclave, whether the outcome was good or bad.

True Myth Part 3: Noah’s Ark, Utnapishtim’s Ark

Eamonn Clark

So here’s a shocking fact for your Monday afternoon… The story of Noah and the Flood is reiterated in ancient cultures across the entire planet. China, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, North and South America, Oceania… In all these places we find a story about a pre-historical global flood, typically brought on by divine power in response to some problem or frustration, a hero who wins survival (almost always with a boat in which he protects some other living creatures), and ensuing re-population, usually after a prayer of thanksgiving. Some even have their own version of the mysterious “Nephilim” and the “sons of God” who fathered them, mentioned immediately before the story of Noah – and not just in the Ancient Near East. What does that tell us?

Possibly a lot, especially given a defining characteristic of the Jewish version… Unlike the other heroes, who are saved because of their strength or cleverness, Noah is saved because of his righteousness.

Beyond this, the order of the world after the Jewish Flood is quite different, including a clear provision for violence in both sustenance and punishment; there is a covenant; and in the end of the story we find the very roots of the rivalry between the Jews (the descendants of Shem… “semites”) and the Canaanites (the descendants of Ham). Quite significant.

The words “Noah’s Ark” often brings one of two visceral reactions: open mockery or full-blown fundamentalist zeal. I suggest that neither are warranted. Without an attempt to unpack every intimation of salvation history and every echo of other Flood narratives, here are some quick thoughts for consideration.

The story of Noah is much subtler than people usually give it credit for. Like many Biblical texts, it has a chiastic structure (ex. A, B, C, B’, A’), where each part of the story is “undone” or “reflected” in reverse order later on, with the apex being the moment that God “remembers” Noah. Also, the Ark is not an “equal opportunity” vessel: one pair of each of the unclean animals, seven pairs of the clean animals. Of course, all life is contained in the Ark – nothing outside survives the Flood. The point is to purify the Earth… although some “impure” things are kept alive intentionally, thus pointing towards some later, more complete purification.

Perhaps this helps explain why violence is explicitly sanctioned by God after the Flood – both to kill animals for food, and to kill men as punishment (“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…” – Gen. 9:6). The antedeluvian order is not simply reiterated, lest it go awry once more. Since God commits Himself to refraining from destroying the whole Earth again as in the Flood, the race of men evidently need the right to govern themselves more severely, and to “cleanse” their concupiscence by eating flesh. (It is not entirely clear that eating meat was forbidden before the Flood, but it is at least explicitly allowed after.)

Unlike Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah does not win immortality; in fact, he dies shortly afterward. And lifespans get shorter in general. (Bossuet notes this in his wonderful book The Continuity of Religion – a wetter, cooler climate would lead to shorter lives, goes his explanation.) So what was the Flood for? It leads to an arguably more violent world order with shorter lifespans, and the ritual impurity aboard the ark was outmatched by the spiritual impurity of Ham, who shames his father Noah and becomes the patriarch of the wicked race of Canaanites whom will be purged by the descendants of Shem. Could it be pointing at a spiritual order yet to come, where lives are yet longer, and there is no bloodshed, in crime or punishment, and no need to purge anyone from the Earth? It seems that the story expresses this longing, which cuts through all cultures… The Flood doesn’t present itself as a permanent solution.

While we should expect similar stories across cultures about eternal things, the similarities between Flood myths are striking. Could there have really been some prehistoric event, perhaps in North East Africa or the Fertile Crescent which was carried by early human migration across the planet? It’s certainly possible.

Supposing this, what would that mean for the Jewish account of the story? Are the Jews simply “sprinkling some God on it” for the sake of some theological agenda? Whether that is true or not, it remains that the text itself is inspired – apparently, this is the version of the story which God prefers, and its lessons are the ones to be learned. This would be true regardless of its literal historical status. The text is revelatory and so can tell us His own private thoughts and actions – such as a covenant or moral prescriptions. Whether the historical figures of an ancient flood did precisely what Noah did is not exactly the point either way. Reducing Scripture to mere “brute fact” history cheapens it in a way. God’s inspiration of “epic history” – however “literally” historical – makes him like a supernatural version of Herodotus. He gives us the interpretation of important historical events which is most conducive to salvation.

And that perspective is what has to inform any Christian study of comparative religion… God knows well the context in which He has taught and appeared and uses it to His advantage. A universal Flood myth, healed and spiritualized by the Jewish account, is a great example.

The Double-Effect Death-Spiral… and the Way Out!

Eamonn Clark

There are a number of pressing problems in Catholic moral theology, especially in bioethics. One of them is the right understanding of the so-called “Principle of Double-Effect,” (PDE) or whether this is really a legitimate principle at all in the way it is normally expressed. Now that Dr. Finnis has both parts of his series on capital punishment out, let’s put on our moralist hats and get to work.

I’ll spare you all the ins and outs of the history of the problem – Fr. Connery’s wonderful book on abortion in the Catholic moral tradition deals with this in some relevant detail – but will give you the gist of the recent discussions so that we can dive into John Finnis’ articles. I too will write in two parts, I think…

The 19th century saw the problem of “craniotomy” come up, and this is a decent and to me, most familiar way to dive into the problem of PDE. (Craniotomy is crushing the skull of an inviable fetus, in this case with an eye to extracting the child to save the mother.) Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore wrote his morals handbook and forbade the operation, Cardinal Avanzini of Rome anonymously opined in favor (page 308-311) of the procedure in his journal (which would become the Acta Apostolicae Sedis), and Cardinal Caverot of Lyon (the city pictured above, coincidentally) petitioned the Holy Office for an official response. Needless to say, there was some controversy.

In response to Caverot’s dubium, the Holy Office (the precursor to the CDF) decided in favor of Kenrick’s position. But it did so cautiously, saying that the procedure “cannot be safely taught.” It did not exclude definitively the liceity of the procedure in itself.

Let’s fast-forward to today’s iteration of the old camps, of which there were and still are precisely three…

The “Grisezian” Position:

Doctors Grisez, Finnis, and Boyle were major proponents of the liceity of craniotomy in the 20th century and into the 21st. Grisez lays out his argument in several places, including in his magnum opus (entirely available online), The Way of the Lord Jesus. It is worth quoting the relevant passage in its entirety:

“Sometimes the baby’s death may be accepted to save the mother. Sometimes four conditions are simultaneously fulfilled: (i) some pathology threatens the lives of both a pregnant woman and her child, (ii) it is not safe to wait or waiting surely will result in the death of both, (iii) there is no way to save the child, and (iv) an operation that can save the mother’s life will result in the child’s death.

If the operation was one of those which the classical moralists considered not to be a “direct” abortion, they held that it could be performed. For example, in cases in which the baby could not be saved regardless of what was done (and perhaps in some others as well), they accepted the removal of a cancerous gravid uterus or of a fallopian tube containing an ectopic pregnancy. This moral norm plainly is sound, since the operation does not carry out a proposal to kill the child, serves a good purpose, and violates neither fairness nor mercy.

At least in times past, however, and perhaps even today in places where modern medical equipment and skills are unavailable, certain life-saving operations meeting the four conditions would fall among procedures classified by the classical moralists as “direct” killing, since the procedures in question straightaway would lead to the baby’s death. This is the case, for example, if the four conditions are met during the delivery of a baby whose head is too large. Unless the physician does a craniotomy (an operation in which instruments are used to empty and crush the head of the child so that it can be removed from the birth canal), both mother and child eventually will die; but the operation can be performed and the mother saved. With respect to physical causality, craniotomy immediately destroys the baby, and only in this way saves the mother. Thus, not only classical moralists but the magisterium regarded it as “direct” killing: a bad means to a good end.

However, assuming the four conditions are met, the baby’s death need not be included in the proposal adopted in choosing to do a craniotomy. The proposal can be simply to alter the child’s physical dimensions and remove him or her, because, as a physical object, this body cannot remain where it is without ending in both the baby’s and the mother’s deaths. To understand this proposal, it helps to notice that the baby’s death contributes nothing to the objective sought; indeed, the procedure is exactly the same if the baby has already died. In adopting this proposal, the baby’s death need only be accepted as a side effect. Therefore, according to the analysis of action employed in this book, even craniotomy (and, a fortiori, other operations meeting the four stated conditions) need not be direct killing, and so, provided the death of the baby is not intended (which is possible but unnecessary), any operation in a situation meeting the four conditions could be morally acceptable.”

We can see the attractiveness of the Grisezian position. It removes the uncomfortable conclusion that we must allow two people to die rather than save one. However, it simultaneously introduces an uncomfortable conclusion: that we may ignore the immediately terrible results of our physical exterior act in favor of further consequences of that act due to the psychological reality of our intention, in this case contingent on even further action (viz. actually extracting the child after crushing the skull – presumably, a surgeon may perform the craniotomy and then simply leave the child in the womb, thus failing to save either life).

Hold on to that thought.

The “Traditional” Position:

I put the word “traditional” in scare-quotes because it is the position which follows the cautious prohibition of the Holy Office, but it is not very old and is merely probable opinion. It is taken by a good number of moralists who are “conservative” and “traditional” in other areas. And it doesn’t have a modern champion the way Grisez was for the pro-craniotomy camp.

Folks in this school often make more or less good critiques of the Grisezian position, zeroing in on the lack of the appreciation for the immediate physical effects which flow from an external act. How is it that crushing a child’s skull does not equate with “direct killing”? It seems that such an action-theory, as proposed by Grisez, Finnis, and Boyle (GFB) in their landmark essay in The Thomist back in 2001, is utterly at odds with common sense. The plain truth then, is that craniotomy, just like ripping the organs out of someone healthy to save 5 other people, functions based on consequentialism.

This position, however, must bite two bullets. First, there is the sour prescription to let two people die when one could be saved. Second, it throws into confusion the topic of private lethal self-defense… Doesn’t shooting a person in the head also directly kill in order to save another’s life? GFB made this point in their Thomist essay, and, in my opinion, it is their strongest counter-argument. It pulls us back to the fundamental text in the discussion, q. 64 a. 7 of the Secunda Secundae, whence supposedly cometh PDE.

Hold on to that thought too.

The Rights-Based Position:

The final position for our consideration comes most recently from Fr. Rhonheimer, who seems to be at least in part following Avanzini. Basically, the argument goes like this… In some vital conflicts, like the problematic pregnancy at issue, one has two options – save one life, or allow two deaths. Everyone has a right to life, but in cases where we find acute vital conflicts, it sometimes makes no sense to speak of rights. The case in which a person in a vital conflict (the child) will not even be born is one such example. Therefore, while the child retains the right to life, it makes no sense to speak of this right, and so it does not bear on the decision of whether to perform an act which would end in the child’s death if it will save the mother.

Leaving aside the problem of the language of rights in moral discourse (see McIntyre’s scathing critique in After Virtue), we can simply observe that this is a position which does not evidently derive from virtue-ethics but is made up wholesale out of a desire to appease an intuition. Rhonheimer, as far as I recall, does not even attempt to integrate his position into the broader framework of moral theology. In sum, the damning question is, “Why precisely does acute danger to others and shortness of life remove the necessity to respect the bodily integrity/life of a person?” To me, it seems little more than an appeal to intuition followed by foot-stomping.

I credit Fr. Rhonheimer for making an attempt to present a different solution, and certainly, not all of his work is this problematic. But we are presently concerned with this particular topic. Anyway, I suggest that this is not a serious position for further consideration.

A Brief Synthesis

I recently wrote my STB thesis on moral liceity with respect to “per se” order, which is to say that those acts with “per se” order form the fundamental unit of moral analysis upon which the whole question of “object” vis-a-vis “intention” turns. I look at Dr. Steven Long’s truly excellent groundwork in his book The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act, but I expose what I found to be some ambiguities in his definition and presentation of what exactly constitutes per se order. Skipping over all the details, let me quickly show how problematic the first two foregoing positions are and then give a rundown of the basic solution and its integration with respect to capital punishment. (It is Finnis’ articles on the death penalty which brought us here, remember!)

There are 3 dilemmas we have already mentioned: the central problem is craniotomy. At the two poles are the “transplant dilemma,” with one healthy patient and 5 critical patients in need of new vital organs, and the standard case of private lethal self-defense (PLSD), such as shooting a person in the head in order to stop his lethal attack.

The Grisezian position ably explains the craniotomy and PLSD. Nowhere – and I have looked pretty hard – do NNL theorists explore the implications of their action-theory (such as presented by GFB in their article) with respect to something like the transplant dilemma. One could easily appropriate the language of Grisez’s passage in TWOTLJ to accommodate such an obviously heinous action as ripping out the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc. of a healthy man to save 5 others. (It should be noted that the individual’s willingness to give his body over to such an act, while good in its remote intention, is totally inadmissible. I think basically all Catholic moralists would agree with this.) To rip out the man’s vital organs could certainly be described as “reshaping the body” or something similar to Grisez’s description of craniotomy as “reshaping the skull.” After all, the surgeon need not intend to kill the man – he could simply foresee it happening in view of his means to save these other men.

GFB evidently miss the point in their Thomist article, as they claim a causal equivalence between craniotomy and procedures done on a person for that person’s own sake, on page 23: “It is true that crushing the baby’s skull does not of itself help the mother, and that to help her the surgeon must carry out additional further procedures (remove the baby’s body from the birth canal). But many surgical procedures provide no immediate benefit and by themselves are simply destructive: removing the top of someone’s skull, stopping someone’s heart, and so forth.” We can see, then, that the principle of totality is undervalued by GFB and those who follow them. Serious damage done to a person must at least help that person. Any help to other persons is secondary, and I would argue per accidens rather than per se… One human substance is always related accidentally to another human substance.

The traditional approach more or less throws the teaching of St. Thomas into a cloud of ambiguity. By stating that the craniotomy is illicit because of the directness of its physical causation, the language in q. 64 a. 7 becomes unintelligible. We have to see the whole thing:

“Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental as explained above (II-II:43:3; I-II:12:1). Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one’s life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor. Therefore this act, since one’s intention is to save one’s own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in ‘being,’ as far as possible. And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end. Wherefore if a man, in self-defense, uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repel force with moderation his defense will be lawful, because according to the jurists [Cap. Significasti, De Homicid. volunt. vel casual.], ‘it is lawful to repel force by force, provided one does not exceed the limits of a blameless defense.’ Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense in order to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s. But as it is unlawful to take a man’s life, except for the public authority acting for the common good, as stated above (Article 3), it is not lawful for a man to intend killing a man in self-defense, except for such as have public authority, who while intending to kill a man in self-defense, refer this to the public good, as in the case of a soldier fighting against the foe, and in the minister of the judge struggling with robbers, although even these sin if they be moved by private animosity.”

Without launching into a critique of the Cajetanian strain of commentary which ultimately gave rise to the crystallized formulation of PDE which pervades most moral discourse on vital conflicts, I will again follow Long and say that the “rules” of PDE really only work if one already knows what one is looking for. In this respect, PDE is like the moral version of St. Anselm’s ontological proof for God’s existence – it is nice to have in a retrospective capacity, but it is not actually that helpful as an explanatory tool.

As we have seen, GFB take Thomas to mean that one does not “intend” to kill the aggressor, just as the surgeon does not “intend” to kill the child in the craniotomy. The traditional school does not have as clear of an answer – it seems forced to say, somewhat like Fr. Rhonheimer, that the rules just “don’t apply,” yet without a convincing explanation. After all, the principle of totality does not bear on the slaying of one person for the sake of another, even in the case Thomas addresses. Furthermore, because it appears that it is only due to the death of the aggressor that the attack is stopped, thus implying “intentional killing” as a means, how do we explain St. Thomas’ position?

We can note a few things in response. First, it is in fact not death which stops the attack initially – it is the destruction of the body’s capacity to continue attacking, which itself is the cause of death. The separation of the soul and body (which is what death is) need not be the chosen means or the intended end. In every single case, the aggressor is incapacitated before dying, and such incapacitation is what is sought. (This is at least part of what makes Finnis’ argument about “unintentional killing” in war plausible.) Second, the child stuck in the womb is a radically different kind of threat than the rational aggressor. Third, Thomas is quick to turn the discussion to public authority, as a kind of foil. All of this is quite significant and points to an answer.

To the first point… It is true that the private citizen can’t have the death of the aggressor as a goal, meaning, death can’t be what is sought as a means or as an end. He doesn’t need to do anything to the soul-body composite as such, he only needs to do something to the body’s ability to be used as a weapon.

To the second point… A gunman in an alley is a very different sort of threat than a child growing in the womb. There seem to be two classes of threats – non-commutative, and commutative. The non-commutative threats are those which result from principles not in themselves ordered towards interacting with the outside world, viz., the operations of which are without a terminus exterior to one’s own body. These would be the material principle itself of the body (the act of existing as a body), and the augmentative and nutritive faculties of the vegetal soul. So a person falling off a cliff, or a child growing in the womb, are not acting on the outside world… Threats which proceed from the animal or rational appetites, however, are indeed acting externally. The crazed gunman who is not morally responsible and the hired hand are both trying to do something to another person, whereas the child growing in the womb is not. So perhaps different kinds of threats allow for different kinds of defense.

To the third point… Without a full exploration of the famous “self-defense” article quoted above, Thomas is eager to explain that public authority can kill intentionally – evidently meaning it can be the end of one’s act rather than just the means. (“Choice” refers to means, “intention” refers to ends – they are only equivocally applied in the inverse senses in scholastic morals.) Here’s where it gets weird.

Because the soul-body composite is its own substance (a living human being), the act of killing a person (regardless of one’s psychology) destroys that substance insofar as the world of nature is concerned. (We leave aside the interesting questions of  the survivalism vs. corruptionism debate among Catholic philosophers.) It forms a per se act – that is to say, there is nothing further which can come from this action which will be per se an effect. This is because, as I argued in my thesis, per se order exists only within the substance chosen to be acted upon. Per se effects are those effects which necessarily occur in the substance an agent acts on which come from the agent’s act itself, given the real situation of the substance. So to destroy a substance necessarily ends the per se order. At the end of per se order there is the intended effect – such as debilitation (which is only logically distinct from self-preservation and therefore is not a separate/remote/accidental effect – what it is to protect oneself simply is to remove a threat) or death. Of course, this intended effect can itself be part of a chain of intended effects which function as means with relation to some further end. If I defend myself in order to live, but I want to live for the sake of something else (like acquiring wealth), then there is a chain of intended ends which function as means. The necessary process of moral evaluation, however, is to look for the per se case of action and examine whether it is rightly ordered in itself.

We have seen with the transplant dilemma that it is wrongly ordered to damage one innocent person’s body lethally with the good aim of helping many others. The answer to the craniotomy seems to be the same… The child does not have an unjust appetite, he has a rightly ordered vegetal/material appetite which is inconvenient to others, so he may not be attacked, unless that attack also proportionately helps him and is chosen in part for that reason. (Such a case might really exist – for example, an inviable fetus is causing the womb to rupture… It’s foreseen that delivering the child will both save the mother and allow the child to live longer than he would have otherwise, even though exposure to the outside world will be the cause of his death. It certainly seems that this would be permissible given the principle of totality.) Finally, we reach the case of PLSD… There is no principle of totality at work here, even though the intended effect of self-preservation is immediately achieved with the debilitation which causes death. Rather, the normal rule of totality is indeed suspended. This is because of the kind of threat which the aggressor poses – it is a threat to the commonwealth due to a disordered external appetite.

Because “it is natural to everything to keep itself in ‘being,’ as far as possible,” and “one is more bound to take care of his own life than another’s,” it stands to reason that in a case in which there is public disorder due to the external act of a person, that person becomes the rightful recipient of correction at the hands of those whom he threatens, without his own good being a barrier to protecting the good of oneself or the community. The blows to the aggressor, we can see, actually help him – they keep him from being a bad part of society. And the private citizen’s duty is indeed to protect the commonwealth insofar as he is a part… This would include a kind of “natural delegation” to dispense with individual totality for the sake of communal totality – he is at liberty to risk the good of the one person (while, remember, he actually does something good to the aggressor by rectifying his disordered exterior act) for the sake of the commonwealth. The private defender may not try to kill the aggressor, but he may knowingly cause it with no benefit to the aggressor beyond keeping him from being harmful. Even though death is a per se effect, the defensive act is legitimate – the private defender acts like a miniature public official in this urgent situation, without psychologically taking death itself as an end.

This plugs in very nicely with Thomas’ vision of capital punishment… Stay tuned for part 2, though I’m sure a lengthy tome like this won’t be too necessary, given that a response from Dr. Feser is likely forthcoming, due in no small part to having been called out personally by Dr. Finnis.

Interesting times indeed.

The double-effect gauntlet has been thrown…

Eamonn Clark

John Finnis has published the first part of a two part series on capital punishment at the Public Discourse.

It is wrong.

I will wait for the second part to appear to launch a full critique, but note now the startling assertion that he makes: all intentional human killing, of any kind, is forbidden by the 5th commandment.

For those unfamiliar with Finnis, he and Grisez (and to a lesser extent, Boyle,) were the chief architects of what is widely now considered to be a failed normative ethical project called “New Natural Law.” Its arch-proponent, Dr. Grisez, was a long-time professor at my own undergraduate university. He died only a few months ago.

NNL has its rhetorical advantages, but it suffers serious theoretical problems. I won’t explore those any time soon… Except for one, which I just did my thesis on. It centers around NNL’s vision of the so-called “principle of double effect.”

Without getting into it too much – and hopefully without spoiling the possibility of publishing my thesis in some form in the future – suffice it to say that Finnis and friends face “unintended consequences” of their own when they take the line that “intention” reigns supreme in the way they suggest.

Note that NNL theorists, while typically opposing the death penalty, would also support the use of craniotomy. (Don’t google it. It’s essentially medical abortion necessary to save the life of the mother.) This debate extends back into the 19th century, when Cardinal Caverot of Lyon inquired of the Holy Office about the matter, and Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore wrote against the procedure in his moral theology handbook. This sparked a round of debates which has swirled for more than a century. Eschbach, Pennachi, Waffelaert, Avanzini… and on and on until we have the three camps of today, one represented by NNL theorists, one represented by the teaching of the Holy Office and most Catholic moralists, and then finally one represented almost exclusively by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Briefly, however, the paragraph in the Catechism about the 5th commandment and war which Finnis proof-texts (2307) is either simply poorly worded (although it does use “intentional destruction” rather than “intentional taking,” for what it’s worth), or it is just a lacuna.

lacuna1

More to come… Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe.

Egyptian PR, Church PR

Eamonn Clark

There is a well-known principle of studying history known as the “criterion of embarrassment.” We see it vindicated in our own day in America every time some self-righteous SJW campaigns to demolish a statue of a Confederate general or what have you, and they call it “progress.” The Romans called it “damnatio memoriae” – the destruction of a person’s memory. It often involved scraping out their names from stone epitaphs… not far off from the methods of the SJW’s. And we see similar things done throughout the world in every age in an attempt to cover up the bad things to make the culture look better than it really is.

The Egyptians did it too. Those of us engaged in apologetic work will sometimes hear the claim that there are “no records” of the Jews having been in Egypt or having left it, therefore, etc. (Never mind the fact that Egypt is like an iceberg – we’ve only discovered the tip.) There are at least two problems with this, corresponding to each part of the claim.

First off, what rich society wants to dedicate precious resources to memorialize their slaves? Even the amateur historian knows, for instance, that even though it appears that we have loads of knowledge about Heian Japan, this knowledge almost exclusively concerns the “1%” of the population – the imperial families, those closely related to them, their hobbies and personal endeavors, and a bit about the military class. We know next to nothing about the lives of the average farmer or merchant, despite knowing all about the aristocratic Fujiwara clan. And that’s how we should expect it.

In the second place, military defeats were embarrassing events for the pharaoh, signaling divine disapproval and encouraging enemy attacks. If I recall correctly, there is not a single known ancient Egyptian record of their nation suffering a military loss. So why should we expect a record of their abject humiliation by their slave-class? That would be extraordinary.

The Jews, on the other hand, are extraordinary indeed. They bucked this dominant trend of self-chronicling. Instead of highlighting their victories to the total eclipse of their failures, the most cursory glance at the Torah – let alone the Prophets – reveals a people obsessed with detailing their own corruption and failure, set in contradistinction to the fidelity and glory of their God.

This is remarkable. It is not how human beings operate. This is “Jewish PR.”

In “Church PR,” there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. The potential public scandal of a revelation
  2. The reputation of the individual perpetrator(s)
  3. The risk of a later revelation
  4. The good of the victim(s)

It seems that in general there has been extremely poor evaluation of the last two items over the past few decades. I should not have to defend that position these days.

Protecting the public good name of the Church is certainly laudable. And it is surely unwise to be too quick to publish names and unnecessarily destroy reputations and cause furor, especially over mere accusations or the mildest perceptions of impropriety. But we should have no “criterion of embarrassment” in Church PR.

Christ did not instruct the Apostles to cover up the actions of Judas, and the Jews were quick to recall how terrible many of their ancestors were. The animating principle there was not a thought about “what people will think,” but rather, “what God will do.” For the faithful have always known that His power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12: 9) In a crisis, a little panic and ineptitude from leaders is understandable, but those who try to make the institutional Church look “stronger” than it really is may as well throw the sleeping Jesus off the boat like dead weight and try to save themselves from sinking in the storm. (Mt. 8: 23-27)

The right order of priorities in any kind of impropriety on the part of Church officials seems to be the reverse of what I have written above… The good of the victim must be the fundamental value, and this should only increase in importance given due consideration of the possibility of later revelation, a situation which almost invariably makes things worse. Then the good name of the perpetrator must be considered in accord with right reason. Finally, almost as an afterthought, one might see if there is a way to minimize the public nature of the affair for the good of the Church’s popular image, without affront to any other values. If that’s not possible, then it’s on God to make it work long-term, just like with ancient Israel.

We are only partially responsible for how people see the Church. God gives sufficient grace to everyone, after all. When we are put in a position where we have the immediate power and authority to help individuals who have been harmed by the institutional Church, then we are entirely responsible for attending to their legitimate grievances, whatever the broader consequences. Let the world know that Judas did something bad. Tell them that he was a bad priest. Better now than later, because in the meantime there will be a festering cover-up implicating more and more people, and crimes which could have been prevented by absence or deterrence will go unstopped.

That’s what happens when the Church uses Egyptian PR… the mighty are cast down from their thrones. (Lk. 1: 52)

 

Main image: “The Weighing of the Heart” from the Egyptian Book of the Dead (even the ancient Egyptians believed in final justice)

Some Dogmatic, Canonical, and Moral Questions to Ponder

Eamonn Clark

Given the past few years of theological disputes, several questions have proposed themselves as needing more serious attention, either in explanation of or exploration for the correct answers. Except to suggest the use of one particular theological tool, I don’t have any purpose here other than to say what some (but not all) of these questions are and to give them a definite shape in the hopes of helping them to be more effectively addressed. Here we go…

  1. How do we determine what is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium and what is fallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  2. Even if something is certainly taught fallibly by the ordinary magisterium, how do we know if it is still binding through demanding “religious assent”?
  3. What is the moral significance of failing to adhere to various kinds of positions taught with varying degrees of frequency, strength, and recentness?
  4. To what degree, if any, are theologians exempt from such demands and their corresponding moral penalties?
  5. Who exactly belongs to this supposedly exempt category called “theologians”?
  6. When does it become morally acceptable for theologians to presume to correct a legitimate ordinary magisterial organ, in various degrees of publicity?
  7. What is the exact significance and character of the extraordinary magisterium if it can only teach what has already been taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  8. Can a practice of the Church or its encouragement of a practice establish a speculative doctrine to one degree or another, other than with regard to the liturgy and the sacraments?
  9. What is the authoritative character of prudential utterances of the Holy Father or his legitimate direct cooperators (such as the CDF) when the matter of the utterance actually belongs most properly to the discretion of a legitimate civil authority?
  10. Is there a good solution to so-called “conflict marriage” annulment cases in which the petitioner is unable to produce witnesses due to a legitimate obstacle (such as the witnesses being dead)?
  11. What level and kind of ignorance of the Church’s legal system and its legitimate demands upon oneself would suffice to remove some or all of the formal aspect of sin from one’s materially sinful union?
  12. If there is a possibility of a complete or partial excuse of moral culpability due to ignorance of canon law’s legitimate demands upon oneself with regard to marriage which can be privately ascertained by a sacred minister, how ought such persons be sacramentally ministered to, whether publicly or privately?
  13. Aside from the general application of c. 915, and independent of the question of culpability for cohabitation and bigamy themselves, under what circumstances, if any, is it possible that to leave a person in ignorance about the moral necessity of an annulment, for which he or she is privately judged to be at least partially culpable, constitutes a legitimate condescension to a perceived likelihood of being unwilling to cooperate and thus likely leading to even worse sin?
  14. What is the exact character and efficacy of a so-called “spiritual communion” for those who persist in mortal sin?

These aren’t “ivory tower debates.” Some of these questions, as I have implied in previous posts, could be helped by a more common use and further refinement of the Church’s system of “theological notes.”

Wake Up and Smell the Concupiscence

Eamonn Clark

Policies will fix the problem. Bishops will fix the problem. Lay people will fix the problem. Money will fix the problem. The Pope will fix the problem.

Yeah, right.

Among several things that really stuck with me from my old seminary’s Church history professor was him asking our class this question: “What is the value of studying Church history?” Were he to ask me today, without the slightest hesitation I could say that perspective on crises must be one of the most important benefits.

The most cursory glance at the annals of Catholic history, let alone the history of ancient Israel, takes one on a tour of practically every kind of human wickedness imaginable, often in its most extreme forms. While there are certain elements of our own day which are uniquely challenging, by and large we have of late been spoiled rotten with good popes and a healthy ecclesiastical environment. You don’t believe that? Come with me on a brief tour.

So we have a sexual scandal among clergy? We do. But recall Pope John XII, who died while in bed with another man’s wife when her husband came home, either from shock or from being murdered. This was no fluke but was rather the culmination of a wanton life of lust and hardened impiety. (He also was kind enough to give the people of the Diocese of Todi a 10-year-old whom he had consecrated personally to be their bishop.) There was also Alexander VI of the infamous Borgia family, and Julius II, and Paul III, to name just a few men who were rather fond of the ladies.

Ah, but it’s a homosexual problem, it may be replied… This too is hardly new, as a small litany of popes have had serious accusations of such behavior leveled at them, several of them as recently as the 16th century. One can begin to understand some of Martin Luther’s frustrations, no?

So there’s some financial corruption in the Vatican? Do you remember when Pope Benedict IX sold the papacy? And then when he ended up being pope again, and even after leaving a second time, returned for a third? (By the way, he also had an intense “appreciation” for women… and sometimes men. On the other hand, he may have been elevated to the Chair of St. Peter as young as the age of 11, and when he left the papacy for the third time he went off to do penance for the rest of his life, so let’s cut him some slack.)

We hear about how corrupt and inept and “legalistic” the Church’s courts can be. Well, who could forget the infamous Cadaver Synod of 897? That was when Pope Stephen VI exhumed the body of Pope Formosus and put him on trial – and found him guilty. This eventually led to a public uprising in Rome, Stephen being strangled in prison, and the excommunication of 7 cardinals. (The 9th and 10th centuries were particularly interesting times for the papal court, due in no small part to the enormous influence of the wicked Theophylacti family.)

It’s nearly impossible to go a day in the Catholic blogosphere without reading about how seriously ambiguous and possibly gravely erroneous some statements of the current pope are. Well, imagine if Popes Honorius I or John XXII had been on Twitter, or if the three different popes who attempted to give authority to some priests to confer Holy Orders could have quickly adjusted an online text of a universal catechism to reflect their fallacious opinions.

You think that there might be a possibility of a papal deposition, or that the Holy See might already be vacant, and that this is all unthinkable? Go read about the Western Schism, where there were not two but three men who had serious claims to the Chair of St. Peter. Many saints were divided on the issue, among them Catherine of Siena (who supported Urban) and Vincent Ferrer (who supported Clement).

And we’ve only been talking about popes. The investiture controversy, the Arian crisis, the laxism which brought on the Gregorian reform… And on, and on, and on.

Church history is one long series of crises, guided by God’s providence. The worst crisis has come and gone, by the way – that was the first Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It can never be overstated how important those two days are for understanding what role sin has in the Church’s hierarchy, and why it should not be cause for existential alarm. Christ wanted Judas in the Twelve for a reason… It seems it was partially to dissuade us from seeing the Church as the kind of worldly messianic kingdom that the Jews had been waiting for. Heaven has only half come to Earth.

It’s not that the various public reactions don’t contain good ideas to help rectify the roots of the McCarrick scandal, although I do wonder about some of the particulars. They are probably worth pursuing to various extents. But it is naive to think that with the right policies or people or pressure, sin – even grave sin – is going to somehow be expunged from the clergy. As long as we ordain sinners, we will have sinners for leaders. Do not let Judas scandalize you.

So there is, in fact, only one way to “solve the crisis” – it is for God to bring the world to an end.

Wake up and smell the concupiscence.

Perspective on Scandals in the Church…

Eamonn Clark

Lots of scandals brewing these days. I have written about bad priests before, but here are a few items worth considering today for those who are at their wits end and feel ready to abandon ship.

Adam was born in a perfect state of grace and innocence. He chose with a perfect human freedom to depart from God.

Moses was a wrathful, disobedient murderer.

The first King of Israel, Saul, was a greedy, sacrilegious murderer.

The second King of Israel, David, was a vain, adulterous murderer. He was the best of the Kings.

The third King of Israel, Solomon, was an exceedingly greedy, idolatrous, womanizing slave driver.

Most of the rest of the Kings were monstrous, with only 5 unequivocally good ones. Manasseh, King of Judah, was the worst of them, despite a conversion late in life. He was a genocidal maniac whose zealous idolatry led him to desecrate the Temple with an Asherah pole and to sacrifice his own children by burning them alive. Manasseh had the longest reign of any of the Kings – 55 years. It was his evil which led to God’s choice to allow for the Babylonian captivity.

Judas was a lying thief who sold Christ into death.

Peter thrice anathematized himself out of fear of a slave girl while standing next to the imprisoned Christ whom he had only moments earlier sworn his undying allegiance to in the hopes of ushering in a worldly messianic kingdom.

Some of these men were repentant. Some were not. The examples could be multiplied, but the point is that we are not to put our trust in princes, as the Psalm says (146:3), even when those princes are appointed by God and specially blessed by Him… Though they sit on the seat of Moses and we must do what they say, we must not be like them. (Mt. 23:2) And their personal holiness or lack thereof matters naught for the holiness of the grace of God.

We are doing better than ancient Israel, and we are doing better than the Church of that first Holy Thursday.

The ship has always been in a storm… It has always been guided by the imperceptible winds of providential grace and always will be until the end. (Ps. 107:27, Mt. 14:22-33) So don’t jump off – there is no telling if you will be swallowed by Jonah’s whale or by the Leviathan instead.

Three Intellectual Errors in American Leftism

Eamonn Clark

Though there are many problems one might point out in present day progressive American politics, I want to point out three particularly deep-seated intellectual vices. The misunderstandings are with respect to the following: the order of charity, experience and knowledge, and the terminus a quo/ad quem paradigm. They correspond to three key issues… the mode and structure of government, the value of so-called diversity in rational discourse, and the purpose of social institutions and roles especially in relation to sex and gender.

First, the order of charity. One of the great principles of Catholic social teaching is subsidiarity, which is the preference to defer to the more local government to provide for a constituent’s needs. The chain goes something like this: individual – family – town – county – state – nation – world. To know the needs of many individuals belongs to the governor of the family, to know the needs of many families belongs to the governor of the town, and so on. It is easy to see that as we ascend the ladder the task of governance becomes increasingly complicated, as it involves increasingly many parts. This proves the need for an order of governance in the first place, as it would be unthinkable for the king of a large country to govern each town directly, not only because of the amount of time and energy such micromanagement would take but also because of the diverse needs and situations of each town which are understood best by those who actually live there. The king is only in a position to know the affairs which affect the whole country, where its largest parts are concerned in their relations with each other. Thus, subsidiarity. The more that can be delegated to smaller governments, the better. The value of this principle is taught by some of the harshest lessons of world history… When the emperor gets too powerful there is trouble ahead both for him and for his empire.

But what about the relationships as they go up the chain rather than down it, or even those relationships at the same level? For example, what should characterize the individual’s actions vis-a-vis the family, or the state, or the world? How should families or counties or nations interact with each other? Of course, the lower owes care and respect to the higher and ought to be willing to make appropriate sacrifices for the good of the whole of which he is a part, with a greater kind of love given according to the dignity of the political body. However, this good will, or charity (ideally), follows an order, just like the governance to which it relates. Because we are creatures, we can only love in concrete practice up to a certain point, and our acts of love therefore should be patterned on our proximity – physical or otherwise – to the object of that love. Just as good parents care for their own children more than their next door neighbors’ children, they would also care more about their own town than a different town, because it is their own town which is most immediately able to care for them. Furthermore, they would be more ready to sacrifice for their town than for their county, state, or nation, not because they don’t have a greater kind of love for the larger body (i.e. the nation) according to its dignity but because that body is more remote. Finally, they will exercise more diligence and care toward families in their own town or neighborhood, as they have more interest in common with each other and are more able to look out for each other precisely because they are parts of the same small community. Such care is a legitimate application of the principle of solidarity… To be in real solidarity involves real proximity, of geography, blood ties, virtues, or even goals, and that proximity also tends to give a better understanding of the situation. This is why voluntourism is generally bad, or at least not as good as it feels: it ignores the needs of one’s close neighbors to go save people far away, and it does little to no help in the end, possibly even making things worse. The Western obsession with “saving Africa” is one example of this.

This should reveal at least one major problem with two key progressive agenda items: socialism and globalism. It is simply not possible to take care of everyone by centralizing government more and making it bigger (including by weakening or removing borders). We have a duty to look after those who are more closely united with us – and so long as we are flesh and blood, occupying physical space and belonging naturally to families, there will exist this natural order of government – and charity. We are bound to love our neighbor, but we are certainly bound to love some neighbors more than others. (See Gal. 6:10, 1 Tim. 5:8, etc.)

Second, experience and knowledge. It has become an all-too-familiar rhetorical move: you don’t share my experience, therefore your position is automatically irrelevant. “How can you, a man, dictate sensible policy on abortion? You don’t know what pregnancy is like!” This kind of thinking pervades public discourse in debates on race, gender-theory, guns… It even exists in the Church. How much do we really need to “discern with” and “listen to” various people or groups in order to understand the moral and doctrinal issues at stake? Certainly, nobody is saying that acquiring knowledge of particulars is bad or even unhelpful for dealing with those particulars themselves – indeed, it is vital, as Gregory speaks about at length in the Pastoral Rule – but once the general principles are known, especially through the authority of revelation, there is no need to go on studying particulars to learn those principles. If some people want to be “accompanied” a certain way, at odds with right morals or doctrine, then it is they who need reform, not the principles. It is they who need to work to build the bridge. Thus, the first public words of the Lord were not “what do you think” or “how are you feeling,” but rather, “repent” and “believe.”

What, then, is the value of experience? It is the collection of memories which can be applied to work for a desired end through abstracting the universal principles at work. Experience can contribute to making a person more prudent if he pays attention and has a good memory, but it does not necessarily give someone all the knowledge required to make a good decision about how to reach the goal, nor does it necessarily tell a person what ends are best to seek at all. Likewise, empathy with suffering groups, which provides a kind of substitute-experience, does not give the right means or ends either. It can actually be quite blinding. For example, perhaps you feel terribly for victims of drunk driving – but you have to look at whether outlawing alcohol would result in damage far worse than the damage avoided. Everyone you govern must be considered fairly. (See above about subsidiarity!) The wisdom that comes from suffering borne well is a spiritual kind of wisdom, a sort of perspective on one’s own life and meaning, and typically that is its limit. Being a resident of a war-torn country does not make a person an expert on foreign policy, it makes him an expert at hiding from bombs and bullets. If the same person also studied international politics at university and served for decades in his nation’s diplomatic corps, these would be of greater value for prudential decision-making about foreign policy, as they both communicate more information about the relevant matters. Perhaps his experience of hiding from air raids helps to contextualize what he is learning, or helps to remind him of how important certain consequences are, but simply having experienced the wrong end of a war does not make him a good politician.

Knowledge can be gained without experience of the things learned about. This principle is easily proven by the very existence of education: we believe that we can give people information through communicating information. It is left to the individual to organize that information and make a judgment, right or wrong. Thus, a priest who has studied the Pastoral Rule, for instance, is in a much better position to preach and rule well than if he had not studied it, ceteris paribus. If experience is the sole criterion for knowledge, we would face epistemic anarchy: no two people have the exact same experience of anything, and therefore there could never be any common body of knowledge. To rectify this, there is a theory of group-based experience, codified in the doctrine of “intersectionality.” Because minorities (and women) are necessarily victims, and the victim-narrative must always be believed, the number of victim-classes to which one belongs gives greater primacy to their claims and demands. So goes the theory. But if intersectionality defines knowledge, then we should only need to find the few Black, homosexual, transgender-woman, overweight, Muslim immigrants and let them run our lives, since they are practically demigods given their high intersectionality. And even within such an elite group, there would be divisions – some grew up poor, others did not. Some have genetic diseases, some do not. Etc. And so intersectionality is also a kind of compartmentalization which tends toward epistemic anarchy. The truth is that we are not only animals, we are rational animals; we are capable of learning without experiencing, and therefore we can generally see what is good and right in public policy without having been in the exact circumstance of those to whom any given piece of legislation applies, provided we are actually informed of how that policy will affect people and be enforced (subsidiarity!)… But we don’t need to take subsidiarity so far that we actually must be part of the racial, gender, “whatever” group over which we exercise authority.

Third, the terminus a quo/ad quem paradigm. The terminus a quo is the “point from which” one goes. It stands in relation to the “terminus ad quem,” the “point to which” one goes. It behooves a person who wants “progress” to say exactly where that progress leads to, and where it stops. Not only has there been deep confusion about where exactly some kinds of “progress” are heading, but also no principled way to determine when that progress ought to stop and be conserved. Some slopes are slippery indeed.

Today’s conservatives are yesterday’s liberals, especially with regard to gender-theory and its related issues. If you need proof, well, there is an endless supply, but try this one on for size. (Yes, really, click the link. If that doesn’t drop your jaw, nothing will.) What is the endgame? What is it really all about? How far can we “progress”? Of course, the goalposts keep moving. First, mere social tolerance is the only request. Then, once acquired, it is a small legal concession here or there, nothing big. Then, the redefinition of a social institution protected by law – but surely, this is the last step… Except then it becomes domination in schools, in the workplace, in the culture at large: indoctrination of the youth, forced service to same-sex weddings, and constant positive portrayal and exposure in the media. And now that the homosexual lobby is quickly running out of room, the momentum has carried into transgender rights.

But at this point I want to ask about these intermediate steps, which, for some basically sincere people, really are seen as the “end,” the terminus ad quem. That step is the the redefinition of social institutions or roles, such as same-sex marriage on the homosexual agenda and right around “bathroom bills” on the transgender front. There is a distinct problem of intentionality for each with regard to their understanding of their terminus ad quem as such.

Everyone has heard the comparison between the civil rights battle of the 1950’s and the present-day struggle for so-called “gay rights.” There is an oppressed group which only wants equal treatment and protection under the law. Just like Blacks couldn’t use the White schools or water fountains or any number of products and services, so gays don’t (didn’t) have access to marriage, because it is limited to the heterosexuals. Because marriage is so important in public life and personally desirable for so many reasons, it is equivalent to the desire for education, transportation, etc., wherein Blacks were discriminated against. Therefore, the two movements are basically analogous.

The problem with this argument is with regard to the terminus a quo/ad quem relationship. Under Jim Crow, goods and services that were equally desirable to both Whites and Blacks were apportioned unequally and unfairly. It was unfair because it put Blacks and Whites on fundamentally different levels of human dignity, when the reality is that race does not determine basic human nature. In other words, Blacks and Whites share the same terminus a quo, since they are fundamentally equal as human beings with the same desires and therefore deserve basic equality of opportunity, but they were treated as having different termini a quo. Because they share identical desires, such as good schools, a seat on the bus, and so on, their desires themselves have an identical terminus ad quem. To sum up, Blacks were given a different terminus ad quem because it was thought they had a different terminus a quo when in reality they did not. The civil rights movement sought the right to the same terminus ad quem by trying to show the Black terminus a quo was the same as the White terminus a quo.

This is (was) not the case with the push for same-sex marriage. Here, the terminus a quo is assumed to be the same by the government, and the terminus ad quem (marriage) is available to all. There is already equality of opportunity – it’s just that the desire of homosexuals is not the terminus ad quem which was equally available. Instead of pushing to be able to use the White water fountain, this was a push to create a Black water fountain because the water from the White fountain tastes bad to some.

Consider again: in no country ever in world history were homosexuals categorically barred from marriage. It is that they typically don’t desire the “kind” of marriage available. Instead, a new kind of marriage needs to be created to suit their desires – a different terminus ad quem altogether, just with the same name. The terminus a quo is different too, not because homosexuals and heterosexuals differ in fundamental human dignity, but because the desires which define these two categories are unequally useful to the commonwealth in which they seek to be fulfilled. Unlike schools or water fountains, marriage has not historically been treated as a good or service consumed, it has been treated as an office from which services and goods are provided to the community, namely, children and care for children. Even if same-sex couples were generally able to provide equally well for adopted or surrogate children as a child’s natural parents, which seems quite obviously incorrect for several reasons, they would still be at an unequal public dignity because they need help bringing children into existence. A man and a woman do not, generally speaking, need help procreating. And because of the clear good of parents staying together, having kids, and treating those kids well, the government is right to incentivize a lifelong commitment to a monogamous heterosexual relationship with certain public benefits which are not due to even the most committed homosexual relationships. The tendency to produce children is why there is such a thing as marriage in the first place (to protect, educate, and nurture children in a balanced and stable environment), and kids are also the primary reason the government should be interested in marriage at all, as they are the future of the commonwealth. It is especially dangerous when many fatherless young men are gathered together – this is how and why gangs form in cities… the kingpin is the replacement for the father.

We could map this same twist of the terminus a quo/ad quem dynamic onto some other public function or office of nature, such as the military. Just as every society needs marriage, it also needs a military, and so there should be certain incentives or “perks” that come with taking up arms as a soldier. But what if I want those same benefits, but without joining the current version of the military? Suppose I too am patriotic, own a gun, dislike terrorists, and sometimes wear camouflage. Shouldn’t I too have equal access to the military? I do, of course – I could go sign up at any moment – but I want to do it my own way, because I don’t desire to go to the desert or live on a base. Shouldn’t military rights be extended to me, too?

Anyone can see that this is the same line of reasoning as the same-sex marriage argument, and anyone can see also that it is a patently absurd argument.

But there is a different kind of absurdity at work in the transgender activism of today… What is the terminus ad quem of a gender transition – or even of the activism in general? If gender is a social construct, as it is so often claimed today, what is the value of changing the body? Cross-dressing or surgery would make sense if one’s real gender were something inherent to the person. So is the terminus ad quem simply to be treated a certain way by other people according to the superficial notions of male and female? If gender is a social construct, then there is no “noumenal” change, it is only a “phenomenon” which changes – that is, there is only and can only ever be a change in perception rather than any objective reality in the person or the body called “gender.” This seems contradicted by the advent of the big step in transgender activism, which is, like the gay agenda, compulsion. In this case it is even worse, because it is more arbitrary. If gender were only a social construct, looking and acting sufficiently “male” or “female” would suffice, but because the meaning of those terms is sliding away into oblivion, like “marriage,” the “appropriate” way to treat a person is based solely on that person’s desire to be treated a certain way. Because there is no objective reality “male” or “female,” and either it is consistently impossible or irrelevant for transgender people to look and act sufficiently like the paragon for “male” or “female” because of their biological sex, before or after surgery, it may be necessary simply to force people to use certain pronouns that they would not normally use.

Not to do so would be “violence,” because it causes depression and social isolation which can lead to self-harm or harassment. Therefore, speech at odds with my own desire to be called “he” “she” “zhe” or whatever, to refuse me the use of any bathroom or locker room I want, to disallow me to put on my official documents whichever of an ever-growing list of genders I determine, is punishable by law… Bad, right? It’s happening in Canada already with the infamous Bill C-16. Except we are not looking at all the harm this can cause, we are looking at the terminus ad quem. What has a trans-man or trans-woman actually become? Surely, they would say a “man” or “woman,” full stop. (Never mind that this is already causing problems – for example, does a trans-woman count as a man or as a woman for the purposes of any kind of affirmative action slanted towards women? Or take the example in the link above about the “transphobia” of RuPaul!) If gender is a social construct, a gender transition is to create a perception of a person as a member of a certain gender category. But since that category is completely based on perception, in what does the transition actually consist? What is actually being changed? And if it is all about my desires anyway, wouldn’t it be easier to change my desire to match with people’s seemingly entirely empty and baseless perception rather than the other way around? If “man” and “woman” don’t really mean anything objective anyway, then why would one even want to be called or treated as one or the other? What is the motivation to depart from the terminus a quo? It seems to be a comically extreme exercise in vanity…

Hopefully I have hammered home the point. The terminus ad quem of gender transitions and the activism surrounding it is unclear at best. And where the movement in general will end is anyone’s guess, but compelled speech is likely involved. After that point, my guess is trans-humanism will be next, especially given the rapid advances being made with the ongoing development of CRISPR.

Of course, the truth is that gender dysphoria and its accompanying behavior constitute a tragic mental illness and symptoms of that illness. The desire to “become a man” or to “become a woman” is based on a fetish with the biological reality of the opposite sex and the social realities based upon it, or some similar unfortunate disposition of the mind. Something approximately the same could be said of same-sex attraction.

These three points understood rightly – the order of charity, experience in relation to knowledge, and the terminus a quo/ad quem paradigm – give us a fitting lens through which to look at mainstream American (and broader Western) politics. The ideas are firmly rooted in the Christian intellectual tradition and help to make very useful distinctions. Hopefully they can assist you in forming your own opinions and in having your own discussions. Let me know what you think in the comments – but play nice!