This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why the Church is so Focused on Abortion, et al

The battle over birth control, abortion and stem cell research is about more than just sex or the life of the blastocyst or fetus. While these are important issues, the reason the Church feels such a stake in this battle is that it says a lot about the very nature of the human soul.

The Church is wed to the idea that life begins at fertilization. This is a fairly recent development, as classical metaphysics, indeed Thomas Aquinas himself, taught that the soul was imparted at a later, sometimes much later, time. Aquinas thought that when the fetus began to move, there was proof that a soul was present. The Anglican Communion posits that implantation or gastrulation is the marker for ensoulment - a position that actually makes sense because before gastrulation human-bestial hybrids still develop. One can assume that God does not impart a soul to such hybrids, or that he adds an additional soul when twinning occurs, but this comes under the heading of making God do tricks to justify the Popes take on biology. This does not work as a matter of natural law reasoning.

This is a minor point of debate which impacts whether the Church is credible on birth control and stem cell research (which, as I have said before, it isn't - the Church's authoritative position would be strengthened if it would concede the biological point and move on). However, it only scratches the surface of the deeper question.

The deeper question, which scares the Hell out of the bishops, is whether people believe in a soul at all. If there is no soul at the front end then there is also no soul on the back end. If the soul is not cause it cannot be immortal. Without immortality with God, why bother with God at all, or with any of the Sacraments of the Church. They simply can't concede the point.

The soul has to be causative, even before the child develops the capacity for rational thought. The alternative is either no soul at all or a soul that is developmental - meaning one that grows out of experience and language rather than something that drives the organism. The sticky part is that neuroscience seems to show no "ghost in the machine." The soul, if it exists (and again, I believe it does) is totally integrated with the brain. This need not cause difficulty, as the brain and the cells which give rise to it, are totally involved in the development of the embryo after gastrulation - however they are not involved before it because before gastrulation the cells are not differentiated.

Like I said above, the Church would win by conceding the point on fertilization. Sometimes admitting when you are wrong actually increases credibility. Not doing so is generally regarded outside of the hierarchist world as being faulty reasoning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Purpose of Sex and the Church as Bride

The 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae has brought in its share of apologia, among them Russell Shaw's piece in the Arlington Catholic Herald. There are two main themes that most cite. One is the equation of blastocysts with fetuses and the implication that stem cell research and birth control constitute an act of murder. The other is the usual handwringing about the separation of the generative and unitive purposes of sex when artificial birth control is used.

Both are problematic.

Scientifically and morally, there is evidence to show that Paul VI and John Paul II were just plain wrong. Until gastrulation, which occurs after implantation, twinning can occur (a moral objection to the gestationalists) and hybrids continue to develop (proving that a blastocyst may not actually be a human in some cases if bestiality was involved in the conception). 40 years ago, the Pope's scientific and theological advisors told him as much and were disregarded. In ethics class, this is called vincible ignorance and does not excuse the evil it causes.

Married Catholics also provided advice to the Pope on this issue and were also ignored, as they supported artificial birth control. As a married Catholic myself, the idea of taking advice about sex from confirmed celebates strikes me as a bit odd. As one who is approaching middle age and whose wife is approaching menopause, I find the assertion that sex without the possibility of procreation to be less than worthy to be personally insulting. The argument ad aburdo arising from this position is that I should divorce my wife and find a twenty year old for more procreation. That may work in some fundamentalist Mormon sects, but it is hardly Catholic.

The increase in sexual permissiveness since Humanae Vitae, which Shaw notes, has nothing to do with Humanae Vitae, since the encyclical was directed at married Catholics, not singles or gays and lesbians. Some of it comes from the liberalization of divorce laws, which left a lot of formerly marrieds in search of casual sex. Casual sex among the young has more to do with their increased economic power and the rise in collegiate and coeducational education than any teaching about married sexuality. Gay liberation has nothing to do with separating marital sex from creation. There has not been any increase in the incidence of homosexuality. What has increased is the tolerance of it and this is a good thing. Studies show that even young conservatives are more sexually tolerant than their traditionalist parents, which is why the hierarchy is so afraid. Their prejudices are going to die off when they do.

A separate piece that I read recently and cannot seem to locate made the outlandish assumption that gay marriage is wrong because it cannot reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is also compared to the marriage covenant. This argument is almost circular, as originally the comparison between Jesus and the Church with marriage was used as a teaching tool. Comparing marriage back again is to turn the entire exercise into a tautology. There is also a problem with considering marriage in this way, since it clearly puts the female in a subordinate position.

Wives are no longer considered the property of their husbands, so the analogy breaks down - as it should anyway. In the Last Discourse, which was written after the Pauline Epistles, Jesus states that he no longer considers the Apostles (and the Church) as servants but as friends and brothers. This is an entirely different covenant than the marriage covenant described by Paul or by pseudo-Paul in Ephesians and Collosians.

Gay marriage is headed toward legal and constitutional acceptance in the not too distant future and the unraveling of the Republican Party will prevent any constitutional amendment in reaction to an almost certain overturning of gay marriage bans under equal protection grounds.

This will be a hollow victory, however. True acceptance of gays will only come when the Church doors are opened to them for marriage. The condemnations of homosexuality found in Scriptures did not consider such relationships, as most homosexual men had wives as property as well, or practiced pederastry, which is detestable even among liberals (when Jesus taught about corrupting children and the preference for being thrown in the sea with a milstone around one's neck, this is what he was referring to). When Paul wrote his letters, he fully expected that the preaching of the gospel to the known world would result in the imminent return of Christ. We're still waiting. We now know more about human sexuality, including the formation of sexual preference and its innate nature. Very few are "turned gay" if any (although some may be initiated into cycles of pederastry, which is different). With this in mind, the kind of moral ideal Paul recommends would be served rather than harmed by the celebration of Gay Weddings. Doing so allows the preaching of that sexual ideal, rather than presuming that gays and lesbians are naturally promiscuous. We can't share that message, however, until we abandon the notion that homosexuality is somehow disordered. How are gays to trust us with the words of Eternal Life if we do not trust them when they tell us that they did not choose their homosexuality?

Finally, there is the key teaching about marriage itself. Marriages are made by the parties involved. The Priest is merely a witness for the community. God blesses all marriages entered into in a sacramental spirit, whether witnessed or not. The fruits of this have been demonstrated by gay couples modeling the love of Christ in care for their partners suffering with AIDS and other maladies. To deny this is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit, which according to Luke was said to be sin which is not forgiven.

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Care at the End of Life

Archbishops Lori and Rigali write in America Magazine about "Human Dignity and the End of Life." They argue against "Euthanasia by Omission."

Euthanasia by Ommission is equated with Passive Euthanasia, which when I was studying "Death and Dying" was considered permissible under Catholic doctrine. It is abject revisionism to state otherwise. Doctrine is not to be made by press release or by public address, which is essentially the standing that recent teachings on hydration and nutrition have. Finally, the circumstances of patients who have developed PVS over time are fundamentally different from those who have been resuscitated and have never regained conciousness. The former deserve continued care. The latter have already experienced "natural death" and should be allowed to return to it.