Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Canon fodder

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Well, much to my delight, Jimmy Akin has continued his discussion of recent textual discoveries and their bearing on the biblical canon (part 1 and part 2). It’s worth reading Jimmy’s thoughts on this issue in full, but one statement caught my attention more than others, to wit,

It would be hard to prove it authentic but not inspired since (a) we have no independent test for inspiration besides Tradition (which is absent here)...

Alas, Jimmy has forgotten Fundamentalism, the dowsing rod of God. All we'd need is a blood-bought, regenerate, Spirit-and-fire-baptized Christian to get his paws on the text, wait for the Inner Tingling of Infallible Conviction Free From the Aid of Papist Traditions (TM), and then either Name It and Claim It for all true believers or Cast It Out. ;)

It’s funny, but, in all seriousness, it's pretty much how Fundamentalists (and numerous mainstream Protestants) "verify" inspiration, right? I've never understood how Calvin can defend the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit for an individual Christian without at least countenancing God can and does do the same thing for the whole Church (and confirm that decree with an individualized internal testimony). If the Holy Spirit can work truth claims from a co-worker through my brain and then confirm or deny them in my spirit, surely He can work truth claims through the Pope and ordinary Magisterium without forfeiting the same corroborative apparatus inside me. Calvin’s main hurdle is not how a Christian can infallibly and assuredly hear or sense God speaking in the Bible, but how he gets the Bible in the first place. Tradition trumps the internal testimony from the get-go precisely because we must rely on Tradition to locate an acceptable version of the Bible. Put another way, we rely on Tradition to approach an otherwise random array of ancient manuscripts *as* the Word of God. It’s one thing to say Christian can have the assurance of God *when* they listen to God’s Word. It’s quite another to say any person can “divine” the right table of contents *about which* to feel assured.

A scenario I'm more intrigued by is if we found copies of the canonical works that significantly *alter* their contents. It would not then be a question of changing the canon (the formal bounds of Scripture), but of changing parts of its content (its material bounds). I mean, we already “update” and “improve” biblical editions in light of new papyri, so there is in principle nothing wrong with changing the Bible based on the best scholarship[1]. What is the line between a principled, intra-canonical, textual revision and an outright, extra-canonical addition? I realize, with a sigh, this is about as simple a question as the old metaphysical riddle of when adding grains of sand to a small mound of dirt makes it become a big mound. What's the line between near and far? What's the line between bright and dark? What's the line between a manuscript correction and a canonical switcheroo? I'll have all the answers for you tomorrow, first thing, don't worry. (Riiiiight.)

A crucial point is that Scripture is not exhaustively coterminous with the Word of God. This is the whole basis for revering and following Tradition and Scripture TOGETHER AS the Word of God. God's Word is larger than Scripture, but Scripture is God's Word FOR THE CHURCH. Even a totally authentic apostolic writing would not need to be added to Scripture, since 1) the canon is closed [yes, I know that's a big question still on trial here, but indulge me] and 2) it could still function as God's Word by becoming a living ALBEIT EXTRA-/NON-CANONICAL element of the Tradition. Just as the Fathers, Doctors and Popes of the Church became (and comprise) a living, formative element of the Faith, even without being canonical Scripture, so too would this apostolic "late comer" become formative, canonized or not.

Having said all that, since I think my quandary about significant textual/material revisions to the canon does leave a window open for effectively altering the canon, I think it's important to consider how Trent decreed the canon. Did Trent negatively (descriptively) set the canon, as against Reformed rejections of certain books? Or did Trent positively (prescriptively) define the canon, as against any possible additions whatsoever? In the former case, which I think better accords with the language in the pertinent decrees, Trent defended the fact that the OT, Deuterocanonicals and NT all really ARE inspired and that efforts to remove or suppress them are anathema. In the latter case, which accords with our instinct of “finality” on this point, Trent set ironclad boundaries around what is Scripture, and THEREFORE established that nothing else could ever be Scripture too.

I'm inclined to believe the former (although Trent's defense of the Vulgate is harder to square with certain advances in biblical studies and promulgations in the last half-millennium). I see the same kind of negative dogmatism at work in the decrees on Transubstantiation. As the Pontificator has pointed out very well on many occasions, Transubstantiation does not exhaust the doctrine of Real Presence – it defines it! Trent, in effect, declared there can be no orthodox “theory” or theology of the Eucharist without *at least* affirming what Transubstantiation affirms, to wit, that Christ is really and truly present in the bread and wine, and that his propitiatory offering is not substantially mingled with any thing else (incl. bread and wine). As far as the metaphysical and semantic modes/means of expressing and understanding that truth, well, that’s not really a matter of dogma (i.e., changes in accidents/essence metaphysics may open new vistas of faith without denying the older meaning of the dogma). Point? I see the same kind of negative "line in the sand" dogmatism with the canon. There can be no orthodox canon of Scripture WITHOUT the Catholic canon, but advances in archaeological and textual studies can and may expand upon that dogmatic basis without incurring anathemata.

[1] Indeed, much of KJV-Onlyism rests on the claim that the KJV’s Textus Receptus, unlike other corrupted (Masoretic, Septuagintal) Bibles, has such an astounding percentage of manuscript integrity (~95%).

Monday, April 25, 2005

Tropes, man your stations!

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[I didn't originally intend to post this, but then as people came over I pressed Publish and so there it is. Why not remove it with my Blogger Omnipotence? Cuz I'm a silly boy. Now I can explain why I wrote it: over at Jimmy Akin's blog, he discurses some fancy new find in Egypt and then a commentor asked about its potential impact on the biblical canon. Which got me thinking....[1]]

Pardon any apparent casuistry, but in a very nitty gritty sense the canon is not closed. Insofar as we are not certain exactly which *copies* of the canonical works to use (copyist errors, textual variations, lexical ambiguity, etc.), we must admit a certain fuzziness around the edges of any dogmatic decree of canonicity.

It seems to me the Church sensibly avoids this "problem" by relying on a realist metaphysic to establish the canon, as a collection of instantiations of the inspired autographs themselves. What would be needed to absolutely hermetically seal the canon is a more precise (but basically unworkable) trope metaphysic, whereby THIS or THAT unique instance of said canonical work is THE canonical MS. Realism says X instantiates or actualizes the idea of "red." Nominalism says "red" actually just means the (socially/ statistically) accepted set of all things said to be red.

Trope theory, by contrast, tries to speak between them both by saying there is such a thing as "redness" but that it is "THIS red thing's redness." Thus, there is a supersensible reality which red objects really do instantiate ("redness") but which is itself based on BEING instantiated by *particular* red things. Redness, then would be what all red things truly instantiate, and not merely what we consider the set of all things to add up to. And yet, each thing's unique instantiation of redness in turn depends on the reality of redness as such. X's particular redness cannot be red without redness, but redness is not red without "accepting" X's particular redness "as its own."

By extension, there are numerous (?) copies of St. Paul's letter to Titus, but the epistle itself only comes to us by way of the concrete MSS. we have. Are we lacking the "real" epistle if we only have later and minutely varied copies? No, because each copy of Titus is what it is precisely by virtue of really and truly instantiating the "ur-epistle" itself.

These are abstruse considerations, I know, so I leave it to my canon-law and dogmatic betters to explain whether the canon, as a set of instantiated but non-tropically defined works, is unalterable. I suspect so. I also sense there is something useful here in a consideration of Scripture and Tradition… perhaps how the same message may be instantiated in its own unique mode….

But for now we just need to get down to finding those golden tropes!

[1] As much as I blush to admit it, I really do love metaphysical conundra. In small measures. About the right topics.

Gute Nachricht

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Good news.

So far, one student at Providence University has decided to travel with me to World Youth Day! I hear the avalanche coming!



Speaking of Ratzenfreude...

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If you haven't laughed this week, have a gander at Matthew Fox's recent absolutely ear-splitting, froth-spitting, aneurysm-causing, fist-clenching, teeth-gritting, logic-flaying, anecdote-flinging SCREED against Benedict XVI.

At least now we know where Jack Chick gets all his material.

I’m waiting for Fox’s lawyer-spirit to bypass his mother-spirit’s unsuccessful efforts to calm his ranting father-spirit and sue it for defaming his scholar-spirit’s reputation with such a pitiful display. I can actually hear him stamping his feet and turning back into a five-year-old. I've seen a man so angry once he fell down just standing. Fox is doing the same thing in this screed. One charge tumbles over the next without a moment to present itself as anything but a flimsy thread in a massive bizarre rag. This ex-dog of the Lord[1] is the only fox I know that quacks. Meine Ratzenfreudigkeit erkennt keine Grenzen! (All mirth aside, he has my lowly prayers.)

I'm sure my Ratzenfreudigkeit paints me as an elitist, capitalist, Eurocentric, racist, ________ oppressor. But, if I may say so, the truth is more complex. I have a deep respect for the noblest aims of liberation theology (have you seen my sidebar?) and I do believe justice -- good ol' "Catholic Action"! -- is an essential component of the Gospel. I simply don't think lambasting Benedict XVI as a neo-Nazi (!) has any place outside the loony bin, especially when the reality is this hoary Grand Inquisitor officially suppressed only 24 dissidents in over two "fascist" decades.

When it comes down to it, Fox resents the former Teutonic Inquisitor for excommunicating him and now being more influential than him. He's indignant but lacks the eloquence or the raw power (both, in fact) to do anything about it. Hence, this screed. The problem with academics like Fox (and myself, in a way) is that they can't often release their anger in more traditional, carnal, manly ways (i.e., running around with sharp, heavy things in their hands, jousting, kicking some dude's ass, breaking stuff, eating big pieces of undercooked meat, etc.), so they have to emit immensely powerful bursts of prolix hissy fits that manage to quell their stifled machismo. _Fight Club_ and _Broadcast News_ were brilliant movies if for nothing else than portraying this reality so well.

This is why Fox and his neo-cosmic-earth-mother-father spirit mumbo jumbo is so pathetic. They are the theological equivalent of pasty Goth kids: so über-unconventional and so über-raw that they quickly wither away into self-perpetuating caricatures. Today's sex-priests talk a good game about the carnal depths of the human person and the sacred interpenetration of the yin-yang, male-female fields, but they are so out of practical, living touch with how real men and women -- and gods for that matter -- act. No one, neither man nor woman, approaches a meal like it's a celestial force waiting to interpenetrate our otherness. We approach food for what it does according to what it's meant to do: fill us and please us. By extension, no man wants a woman to be his interpenetrating feminized soul-pair; every man wants his woman to be his woman, with all her dissimilarity and inaccessibility and casual sexiness. No woman wants a man to be her masculinized phallic ballast in a sea of cosmic disunity; every woman wants her man to hold her. The glitterati would call this sexist; I call it plainly sexual. Sexism forces men and women to submit against their natures and wills to the order and will of another. Sexuality enables men and woman to offer themselves in accordance to another with their fecund natures (given by God) in harmony with their wills (offered up by love).

The odd man out is today's polymorphous anti-sexuality, which is not sexist only because it's not even sexual. Today's anti-sexuality, far from enabling people to offer themselves "freely," actually prevents people from giving themselves based on anything other than a roving will. A man cannot give a man his nature, and thus not his whole self, because a man cannot accept a man's whole nature (i.e., in his fecund depth as an image-bearer of the fecund, triune Creator). The same paralysis of love goes for women. Anti-sexuality tries ship the cargo of love without loading them in the chamber of nature. But our natures demand the cargo ships, which is why every homosexual relationship all but automatically polarizes into a "male" (bear/dyke) and "female" (twink/honey) structure. Even when men and women refuse to embrace each other (via contraception, adultery, divorce, porn, etc.), men and men and women and women end up holding each other just as men and women hold each other. The failure of we heterosexuals to live up to the mysterious gift of marital union have carved the path of less resistance for homosexuals to fail at sexual uniformity.

The problem is that today's sex-priests have utterly confused the telos of gender without being able to shake the functional nature of sexuality. Rather than functions being defined by nature, nature is today defined by function. This is why babies can be aborted: until they are rationally and biologically functional, their nature and rights *as humans* are contestable. This is also why Terri Schiavo could be killed without much ado by so many people: since he functionality was basically gone, her rights and nature as a real person were also erased. Finally, this rampant functionalism is a big part of why gay marriage (along with female ordination, along with licit therapeutic pedophilia, along with polygamy, “swinging,” etc.) is making such inroads. As long as marriage is seen a functional agreement between partners (and who would presume to decree how many?), rather than as a divinely ordered *covenant* that holistically ties into all levels and modes of creation for specific reasons, then marriage will be putty in the hands of the law. And as long as we view gender as a functional (or dysfunctional) construct, we can mold it any way we like. Hence, Fox's reference to exclusively "male genitalia" for priests is so naive. His own (undoubtedly) polymorphous and functionalist theory of sexuality undercuts any real, stable meanings for "masculine", let alone for "genitalia." A penis is not a "male" penis, but is in fact simply an object typically used to stimulate some other "feminine" object. This is why someone like Joe Perez will always only have an audience in Harvard divinity school tea rooms. In defining a cosmic homotheology based on the affinity of phallus with phallus and vagina with vagina, he just as surely confuses the sexual meaning of reality as a man with "two left feet" confuses a dance.

The affinity of like and like is grand, but it's only half the story, and a sterile, clumsy, all too obvious one at that. The union of left and right, however, Him and Her, God and Man -- this union is the stuff of dreams, nay, the stuff of waking. Men and women, like the hemispheres of the brain, belong together precisely because they are so different and don't belong *together*.

[1] For my non-geek readers, Fox is an ex-Dominican and in the Middle Ages Dominicans were known as the "Domini canes," the dogs of the Lord.

Yes, I admit to indulging in a bit of...

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Ratzenfreude, the expression of joy about others' dismay at the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

He's German without being eurotrash, he's conservative without being atavistic, he's brilliant without being arcane, he's maligned by the world (like any good Christian should be), and he's successor of Peter, the vicar of Christ -- all in all, a true and living successor of John Paul II and our Lord.

All of this leaves me, a man of simple pleasures, feeling better than gloomy.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


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All Your Base are Belong to Ratz

Now we need a whizbang animator to bring this up to the level of the original, the immortal All Your Base... (yes, that's from a real, and really horribly translated, Japanese video game).

Monday, April 18, 2005

Like a fiddler on the roof

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Some of my recent, more crystallized thoughts on Tradition:

The Catholic Church understands the role of Tradition and the Magisterium is to provide a living "ecosystem" of faith for the Word of God to thrive in. This ecosystem, while formally distinct from the authority of Scripture, and sometimes materially distinct from the contents of Scripture, is ITSELF a product of the Word. Without the Word, the ecosystem of faith sickens and dies; but apart from its environment of faith, the Word mutates and darkens. The Word only made sense when Christ came to explain and fulfill it; as the Church is His Body today, the Word still only makes sense IN HIM, in His living pleroma both as a pious and an ecclesial reality.

Comments? Concerns?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Did I mention...

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I've registered as a volunteer for World Youth Day in Köln, Germany this August?

I can't wait to go! To soak in the Catholic fellowship, to speak a ton of German (and buy, ahem, a few German books), to travel, to serve people from around the world. That's my kind of vacation.

Now all I'd like to do is form a team to prep, travel, serve and pray with. My pickings are slim here in Taiwan, but I have hope regardless what develops.

Any takers?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Binding and loosing

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An interesting little piece from the Jewish Encyclopedia online about binding and loosing.

Rabbinical term for "forbidding and permitting." The expression "asar" (to bind herself by a bond) is used in the Bible (Num. xxx. 3 et seq.) for a vow which prevents one from using a thing. ... The various schools [of Jewish theology -- EBB] had the power "to bind and to loose"; that is, to forbid and to permit (Ḥag. 3b); and they could bind any day by declaring it a fast-day (Meg. Ta'an. xxii.; Ta'an. 12a; Yer. Ned. i. 36c, d). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin..., received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, ix.; Mak. 23b).

In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt. xvi. 19, xviii. 18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who "bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers"; that is, "loose them," as they have the power to do (Matt. xxiii. 2-4). In the same sense, in the second epistle of Clement to James II. ("Clementine Homilies," Introduction), Peter is represented as having appointed Clement as his successor, saying: "I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing so that, with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens; for he shall bind what ought to be bound and loose what ought to be loosed as knowing the rule of the church."

Quite different from [and yet not opposed to? -- EBB] this Judaic and ancient view of the apostolic power of binding and loosing is the one expressed in John xx. 23, where Jesus is represented as having said to his disciples after they had received the Holy Spirit: "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." It is this view which, adopted by Tertullian and all the church fathers, invested the head of the Christian Church with the power to forgive sins, the "clavis ordinis," "the key-power of the Church."

In this light, consider Matthew 23:1-3,

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

and Matthew 16:13ff.,

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" ...

16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed[d] in heaven."

And, finally, consider the words of St. Macarius of Egypt (371 A.D.):

"Moses was succeeded by Peter, who had committed to his hands the new Church of Christ, and the true priesthood." (Macarius, Hom. xxvi. n. 23, p. 101)

Very modestly, it is parallels and admissions like these that deepen my appreciation for the Catholic Church: it's got all the divine structures and rhythyms (and blotches) of Judaism but with the astounding bonus of forgiveness in Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit! Christ came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill, deepen and redeem it (cf. Mth 5:17). That promise is much of the basis for my Catholic faith.

(P.S. Such thoughts are running through my head partly because I recently made a contribution to a dialogue I've been having with a [no offense, D.] self-styled Jewish Christian. Writing that letter helped me see more clearly the continuity between Judaism and the Church (as I hope it helps my dialogue partner see). On top of that, I'm reading Roy Schoeman's enjoyable book, Salvation Is From the Jews. Mazel tov!)

Who knew?

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Jack White of the White Stripes is a Catholic.

And he almost became a priest.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Sunday, April 3, 2005

A giant of the faith sees his Lord at last

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Pope John Paul II died at about 9:37 PM (Vatican time) on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. As soon as I heard the news this morning as I got ready for Mass, I was, despite myself, brought to my knees. Time seemed to stop. I could only shake my head with a sense of loss that seemed to come out of nowehere. My grief was, of course, tempered by Christian hope and transfigured into stupefied prayers for mercy.

John Paul II preceded us on earth to lead us to Heaven and now he precedes us in death to continue leading us there. I am honored and humbled to have been born AND received into the Church during his pontificate. He is dead, but his legacy, so deeply rooted in Christ, will shine for the ages. His work on earth is finished, but the Church will carry on with the same divine aid that animated John Paul II's life. As my priest, Fr. John, said this morning, "John Paul II prayed for us, now we must pray for him. In baptism and faith, he died with Christ, and now he will live in His resurrection."


I'm so excited!

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There is gloom and doom and bad tarffic everywhere, but I'm so excited about Mass tomorrow! I have been thirsting and hungering all week for the Lord in the Eucharist. As far as I know, all the local parishes have Mass only on the weekends, which means I must "fast" eveyr weekday. Huge bummer. Of course, this inconveniense only heightens my joy for each Mass I am privileged to enjoy!

Psalm 42
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,

so my soul pants for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food

day and night,

while men say to me all day long,

"Where is your God?"


Revelation 3
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.


John 6
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.


Luke 22
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.


Luke 24
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.


1 Corinthians 5
7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.


Psalm 23
5 You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD


O Lord, your Kingdom has come, Your Kingdom is coming, and Your Kingdom shall come! You long to eat with us in your Passover feast. Indeed, You long for us to eat and drink You as our Passover lamb. I too long for You, O Lord! I hunger for you! Thank you for the Mass tomorrow in which You and I may eat together in Your house with all the family of God!

The riddle of euthanasia & the tragedy of Terri Schiavo

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Let's agree for the sake of argument that Terri Schiavo really did tell her husband she did not want to be hospitalized indefinitely, hooked up to a machine. Let's also agree she was in a persistent vegetative state that whole messy time (a claim which I deny). This state, this loss of consciousness and intentionality, would suggest she had "passed on" and that it was merely her body being kept "alive" artificially. It is also crucial to recall that the real Terri was the one that allegedly told her husband of her desire for euthanasia.

Now, assuming all this was true, I fail to see how her husband's right to kill her actually fulfilled her supposed wishes to be "unplugged." In fact, I fail to see how euthanasia could *ever* fulfill the wishes of a pre-hospitalized person. But for now let's focus on Terri's particular case. The pro-death argument was more or less that since Terri -- that is, since the inner center of consciousness and rationality that is the true Terri -- had become detached from her atrophying body, then we were not actually killing a real person. You can't murder a vegetable, for the simple reason that murder is a moral action, while vegetables are amoral, or extra-moral, entities. We did not murder Terri because she was beyond murdering, much less rehabilitating. Terri was gone; murder was never an issue; we simply disposed of her body, an amoral assemblage of matter. Or so the pro-death argument went.

But here's the problem: if the real Terri was gone (who can say when?), and if only her body was being kept alive, then the real (pro-euthanasia) Terri was not having her wishes violated. She was *not* being kept alive against her previous wishes, simply because the real Terri of volitional, rational and moral value had already been released. Hence, her husband's desire to starve her body was gratuitous, and his pleas to do the best for Terri were specious precisely because her irrevocable condition simultaneously meant she was free of the relief euthanasia was intended to bring her. If Terri was so far gone, she wasn't suffering, and euthanasia was a worthless intervention *for her sake*.

If, however, a pro-death advocate retorts she should have been euthanized because she was trapped in a brain-damaged body, he *eo ipso* admits the fact that the real Terri was still alive. Lacking consciousness, her “suffering" was merely the attempt of a non-human organism (i.e., the body) to outlast those starving it. This is why the moral weight imputed to Terri's suffering by pro-death advocates backfires. If Terri was cognizant enough for us (and, uh, her husband) to pity, and if euthanasia would have relieved her of pain in a way befitting her moral dignity as a person, then she was clearly not so "vegetative" after all. Admitting Terri was still "human enough" to ask for and deserve euthanasia is simultaneously an admission she was not far gone enough to kill. In the pro-death scheme, if she was truly “persistently vegetative,” her bodily suffering was no assault against her human dignity, and euthanasia was unnecessary. If however, she was not vegetative, but rather still capable of truly *human* suffering, then starving her to death for almost two weeks is absolutely homicidal. She committed no crime. There was no basis for killing her but the desire to be rid of her.

I've caught up enough on this case while Terri was dying, and since she died, to know a simple truth: killing Terri while she was still with us -- and with us in remarkable, touching and disturbing ways -- was murder. Watch those videos. Watch all the videos you can. Listen to the testimony of eye-witness lawyers and attorneys. Behold her vitality and human warmth before she was starved to death. Also face the myths of this case. Ask yourself what you would do if she were your daughter. Ask yourself what you would do if she were your wife: commit her to her doting, grieving family, or starve her to death because you don’t have the “courage” just to divorce her and get on with your life without her dragging you behind? When you have done all these things, you will see that Mr. Schiavo is to euthanasia what O.J. Simpson was to homicide. Both men escaped the demands of morality and legal fairness with the disguise of legal and financial chicanery.

Finally, I'll tell you this much: if Terri's behavior in the videos I just linked to puts her beyond care, compassion, dignity and even rehabilitation, then my mom's entire 25-year career as an occupational therapist for profoundly handicapped children is a sham. I've seen her students. I've touched them. I’ve fed them. I've laughed with them. I've cried and prayed for them. They were just like Terri, and in some cases worse, but they are every one of them God's children. If Terri Schindler-Schiavo was in a PVS, then a PVS isn't such a bad thing to be in.

Why fight over this dead woman? Because she was a martyr for the truth and deserves our veneration. Because someone has to speak the truth Terri was unable to tell. Because the truth must always be proclaimed, regardless of its effectiveness or pleasantness. Because it is left to us to be even more equipped to defend the next target of the culture of death. Because telling it like it is may just prick the consciences of some people into the life that is repentance.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Blog maintenance

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A few changes:

1. My attempt to add a discussion board to FCA was a miserable failure. It has been removed and may rot quietly in cyberspace for all I care.

2. I have returned to a simple Haloscan combox (at right, below profile) for announcements.

3. I am now a proud member of St. Blog's Parish!

4. I've added Trackbacking.

That is all. Back to your stations.

More cool Eastern Jesuitry!

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This site, Orientale Lumen, is even cooler cuz it's got material about the Catholic Church in China and Taiwan! Represent!

The vectors of Providence

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A vector is -- if my elementary knowledge of physics still has any traction -- the speed and direction according to which an object moves. A couple vectors in current events have caught my eye for their peculiar interplay. First -- may God have mercy on her, and especially on her killers -- Terri Schiavo died recently. Second, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, is facing (again) the veil of death. Make no mistake: as a Catholic and as a more or less optimistic person, I refuse to say he is "done for." In fact, it appears he is still quite cognizant. All the same, he has tangoed with death more than once, and it's simple honesty facing the fact he may die soon.

The interaction of these two vectors, in terms of their narrative logic as well as their play in the media, caught my eye. As I wrote to a dear someone earlier today: "Our Pope's suffering is providentially tied up with Terri's, just as his teaching and witness for the Gospel of Life was providentially tied up with all the efforts to rescue her and any other target of the Culture of Death. His sufferings unite him not only to Terri, of course, but also to Christ Himself (see Rom 8). Our prayers, in turn, must unite us to all three of them. This is Catholicism." I am stunned by the basic harmony coming from the chorus of death in Terri's and now in the Pope's case. Both have outlasted their usefulness; both have reached an irreversible low of human importance; both, therefore, should be "taken out of their misery" so that the families and the Church can "get on with life." Terri's vector, the first, was that of a Christian life smothered by clinical and legal maturity. The Pope's vector, the second, is that of an apparently tired, old, confused man being asked not so indirectly to bow out with grace for the sake of all involved.

And the third vector? That is my own reception into the Catholic Church. My vector of ecclesial wholeness hits Terri's in that I feel almost as if my new Catholic life is pledged towards filling the gap left by Terri's demise. She has left the Pilgrim Church and I have been called to enter it. I'm certainly not worthy of this honor, much less am I alone among the many Easter converts this year in enjoying such grave timing. Nevertheless, I do feel this obligation, so I'm going with it. My vector hits the Pope’s in that his pontificate has spanned my entire life. He became Pope about eight and a half months before I was born and has lived to “see” my reception into the Church. The longer I considered entering the Catholic Church, the more deeply I saw him as a spiritual father. His pontificate, a pontificate of hope, truth and zeal (with its admitted share of failures and inconsistencies), has become in my eyes a sort of sign of contradiction for the era in which I grew up. I was barely aware of his ministry as a boy, and then only dimly interested in his legacy as a Protestant, but I now see how he was fighting the good fight while God did His work in me.

These are the incalculable vectors of Providence. I'm left in humble awe. attempting each day to keep in sync with the vectors of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25).

Friday, April 1, 2005

The benefits of technology?

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[Dear Anonymous Discourse Partner,

Please know that I want you to feel "affirmed" by me, the "Other," to point out any spelling, grammar or logical errors in this little act of sharing. I also affirm your self-disclosure as someone above correcting, as someone self-affirmed in just accepting your life waves as they reach you. In either life path, consider me thankfully vulnerbale.][1]

The common claim is that having the Internet helps us do things faster and more efficiently. I'm not so sure. Obviously, I agree the Internet helps many areas of commerce and administration be better organized. (Of course, since I'm basically a nincompoop about commerce and administration, how would I know either way?) My skepticism has more to do with the everyday life of everyday people. I am seriously considering not having Internet at home next year, whether I’m in Taiwan or the Philippines or the USA or wherever.

My first impulse against this thought was that I would be unable to do things so efficiently and that I might miss important deadlines, especially being overseas. My second reservation was that having no Internet would reduce my contact with my family and friends.

But then I realized one problem with the Internet is that it gives us a warped sense of time. A second problem is that while the Internet does allow us to do particular things more directly or quickly (e.g., paying bills, buying books, making travel arrangements, etc.), it actually may hamstring us into hyperactively trying to do too much.

I think of my warped sense of time in a digital age. For one thing, doing so much in one interface -- a computer -- skews my sense of how many activities I actually do over the course of a day or a week. At some point, after so many years staring through a screen into a virtual world, everything becomes a blur. All time becomes computer time and the only really memorable times, as conceived in distinct moments and occurrences, are the non-computer times. When I draft a document in Microsoft Word and send it via email, I am, in the capacity of my social and technological self, doing two things. (Scanning the news while doing this may bump me up to three tasks at once.) But as far as my biological and pre-computer-brain-self is concerned, I have done only one thing: sit at a compute and move my hands a lot. "What have I been doing this whole time?" we sometimes ask ourselves, realizing how late it's gotten after only a "few minutes" of "checking email" or "scanning news" or "catching up on" our favorite blogs.

A corollary of this warped compression of action and duration is how immediate the transfer of information is. I myself often assume the recipient of an email has gotten, or is getting, my message even as I type. Why? What a bizarre assumption. My problem is that I have an unconscious desire to get my message out as soon as possible so that the ball is in my communicant’s court. This sense of communication “debt” is only heightened by my modern, habituated awareness that once I send the email, the ball really will be in the other person’s court. Without the all too human delays of the postal service and the other person checking their mail, I develop a hyperactive sense of accomplishment for received, replied to, sent and definitely delivered a communiqué in the shortest amount of time as is technologically possible.

And now we see the second potential snare of the Internet: hyperactivity. It's more popularly called multitasking, and is meant to be a modern version of the old business of "getting things done." But it's not so much getting things done as perpetually discovering new things to get done. The Internet is a self-perpetuating need, and "using" it is very often like using a shovel to dig a whole in the sand near the tide line. We make a divot (get our things done), but then meet a wave of new links or pop-up windows which immediately fill in -- or at least tempt us to fill -- our little hole of finished business with more things to "check out." The efficiency and, shall we say, manifestness of the Internet is actually what makes it so often so unnavigable. "I just wanted to sit down and type this one email, but now look -- it's been half an hour!"

Imagine how bizarre such a complaint would seem to previous generations. How often were people fifty years ago lured away by a theological discussion on the way to the post office? How often did a person thirty years ago regain their sense and find themselves immersed into an encyclopedia volume hours after starting on their way to the check-out line? We moderns, we Internet users, must constantly thread our way between the Charybdis of wandering through a maze of increasingly unrelated links and the Scylla of losing ourselves in a pit of endlessly helpful explanations and considerations. You may end up playing “Fling the Cow” when you began paying a credit bill. Or you may end up reading the entire Wikipedia entry on credit and economics when you began paying a credit card bill. Either way, somewhere along the long blue line, you got sucked into the hyperactivity of multitasking.

For many people I’m sure the hyperactivity of the Internet is nothing but a boon. “People are having a great time learning and exploring the world, and you are complaining? How ignorant! We should be so grateful to have so much information at our fingertips. The Internet is a real dream-come-true for the mass proliferation of knowledge, and you, you Luddite, need to accept that fact.” In many ways, these imaginary zealous “Internetarati”[2] are right: the availability of information for so many people is a great thing.

But, with all due respect and gratefulness, it’s hardly an unalloyed blessing, as I’ve argued in an earlier essay. How many crank “experts” and recycled misquotes do we need to put our students, and ourselves, through before we realize the Internet is an intellectual game of roulette? The problem of the Netarati is that they treat information per se as a positive good, regardless of its value or reliability. Of course, I can’t blame them too severely, since they are suffering from a larger problem in all of Western culture: the confusion of the proliferation of information with the advancement of education. I’m all for the (supposedly) more democratic proliferation of information – as long as education is carefully distinguished from verbiage, just as knowledge is rightly distinguished from wisdom.

Aside from the misguided philosophical and pedagogical defenses given for the Internet-as-a-better-way-of-life outlook, my most fundamental concern is (not surprisingly) its spiritual effect on humanity. Aside from the problem of feeding people a lot of misinformation and spin in the name of “free trade of ideas,” allowing people to read whatever they want whenever they want undermines one of the most important spiritual virtues, to wit, self control.

Recall the man fifty years ago walking to the post office. He may have been able to dialogue – cough, bicker about, cough – the fine points of Calvinism and tort law on his way there, but, then again, that’s exactly the point. He didn’t have the option of leaping from link to link. Hence, he didn’t have anything but the humility of self-control which had to suffice to get him there and back before the mail went out that day. We on the other hand are, strangely, congratulated for wasting our time doing two simple tasks while we expanded our horizons googling Jeeves.

The problem is not that the Internet presents us with more temptations for distraction – though of course it does that. The problem is that society is increasingly becoming integrated with this vast network of endlessly linked distractions. This development is a spiritual ill precisely because it cuts at the root of self-control, which in turn, aims to sever our trust in divine providence.

One day (it may or not be true), St. Francis of Assisi was weeding a garden when a younger monk approached him with a question. “Dear Brother Francis,” he asked, “what would you do if you knew the Lord were returning tomorrow and the world was ending?” St. Francis looked up from the patch of weeds beneath him and said, “I would finish weeding the garden.” This is one of the reasons St. Francis is a saint: he had an apparently inexhaustible trust in the work of divine providence. He had such confidence in providence that he knew even weeding a monastery garden on the eve of the Parousia had its proper place in the divine plan. His failure to fulfill his role in that plan, whether by weeding or by rebuilding God’s Church, would have been primarily a failure of trust in Providence and, secondarily, a failure of self-control. The two virtues – faith and self-control – go hand in hand. The Internet, however, intrudes as a spiritual ill precisely by insisting, like a charming, whispering serpent, that more important things are waiting to be “done” just beyond the next link.

And here am I again at my own mental list of pros and cons for having the Internet next year. Does the Internet help me work and live more efficiently? Yes, but only because I *must* work and live more efficiently. While the Internet does allow me to find things for lesson planning, it also lets me savor an inner “net lag.” I know I can dally precisely because I know I can work faster once I do stop dallying!

Likewise, while the Internet does allow me to communicate more easily with my family and friends, it also lets me be as leisurely in most replies as an old-fashioned lord answering a serf’s latest entreaty. I know as soon as I get an email that I have literally just gotten that email. As a result, I know I can give it a little time to breathe. By contrast, if I received a traditional letter, I would feel obliged to reply more promptly. A letter is more demanding in a sense first because it shows the writer was willing to put more into communicating with you – and thus perhaps more into your friendship – than shooting off an email. I’m sure many companies recognize this deficiency in the Internet, since they still insist on a land address. No matter how wired it may be otherwise, sending a customer snail mail inquiry or reminder is simply more impressive and motivating than yet one more email.

Another reason handwritten letters encourage more prompt replies is that we do not have the comfort of knowing we just heard from someone. An urgent request via email is rarely is ever treated as truly urgent. Why? Because only the rarest urgent business literally can’t wait. Knowing this, we wait. A letter, on the other hand, has already burned away its wait period while it was in the mail. Knowing this, we wait a little less. With a letter, we realize it has been in transit for some time, and that therefore its content is already dated. Any deadlines it contains are already that much closer. The delay of sending a handwritten reply on intensifies the need for us to reply quickly. Forget the fact that writing and mailing a letter promptly require we use more self-control to sit down and assemble the parcel: no auto-reply, no copy and paste, no choice but to write. The simpler reality is that letters help us be more self-controlled: no links, no pop-ups, no distracting bells and whistles.

So, all in all, I feel pretty confident I shouldn’t have the Internet next year at home. Mastery of offline procrastination is enough for me.

[1] Ahh don't know, I just felt like being weird.

[2] Now that’s a word I’d be hogtied and painted pink for if I didn’t coin it!

A good Jewish boy

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Jesus was not only a good Hebrew boy, he was a sinless Hebrew man. This means he perfectly honored his mother (and earthly father) in fulfillment of the Law (cf. Exd 20). The hitch for us is that we have been adopted into the family of God. We are not simply Christ's slaves (cf. Rom 5-7). We are not simply his friends (Jhn 13-17). we are his very own brothers and sisters (cf. Mth 12:49, Rom 9:4, Eph 1:5, Heb 2:11, Lke 2:7, Rom 8:29, Col 1:18, etc.). As adopted children, we must learn the rules of the house. As adopted foreign babies brought into a new kingdom (cf. Col 1:13), we must learn the language and customs of our Big Brother. And, like any good Jewish boy (like the Messiah in fact), Jesus adores his mother. It's left to us to learn to follow him in this. Refusing to love Mary, to honor her and to turn to her as a mother is nothing less than a refusal to be fully conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:29). If Christ could (and did) honor his "surrogate" father, St. Joseph, we can and must also learn to honor our "surrogate" mother, our Lady, the Virgin Mary (cf. Jhn 19:26-27).

Thank God the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches still uphold this sacred family privilege! Amen!