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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Natural Law and Homosexuality

I was blogging on Facebook on gay marriage with a classmate from college today, who claimed that Catholic support for gay marriage comes from bad Cathechesis. This is my response.

In the 40s and 50s, everyone thought homosexuals were mentally ill. Turns out that this was wrong. After Vatican II, many in the church were moving quickly toward excepting gays and lesbians as being born that way until Cardinal Ratzinger called them disordered, likely at the behest of John Paul II.

Cathechesis is a bit hard when the Church can't seem to make up its mind. If you will look at your ethics book from Loras - Fagothy's Right and Reason - a good natural law tome - not something you would find in Paul Allen's class - you will note that the natural law argument on whether homosexual relations being licit comes down to whether you are a theist or not.

Without reference to authority (and the scriptural authority is week, so we are talking about curial fiat here), there are two possible natural law views on the subject. One is that homosexuals can licitly have monogamous sex in response to how they are created (even if there was a hormonal problem - as is suspected - such problems if they occur with regularity can be as attributable to God as the lack of melanin in white people) and the other is that sex is linked to procreation - although such a view is, at its heart, offensive to post-menopausal women - who are free to marry. Homosexuality is only disordered if you create your view of order from metaphore rather than how life actually occurs for people. We have had quite enough metaphor in defining Catholic sexuality. It is not helpful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Relativism of Infallibility

A major theme of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI is resistance to the “tyranny of relativism.” Relativism is seen as an attack upon the Infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church – a modernist attack designed to destroy the Church. This essay will examine the concepts of relativism and infallibility to see if this is really the case.

The doctrine of infallibility has its roots in an almost Protestant bit of proof texting, where St. Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, so that what is bound on Earth is bound on Heaven and what is loosed on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven. In other places this gift is given to the entire Church, but because Peter is reputed to have died in Roman, it is claimed he was its bishop and founder (the latter is definitely not the case, else Paul would have greeted him in the letter to the Romans) and has also been interpreted to refer to the forgiveness of sin rather than to the definition of orthodoxy.

In the early Church, the See of Peter was not regarded as infallible. Indeed, he did not stay in one particular place. Like Paul, he moved around before going to Rome, although his journeys are not chronicled in the New Testament canon. The claim of infallibility came later. Indeed, the first bishops were more likely those who presided over the Eucharist in a community that was more a parish than a diocese. It is a wonder the Church survived at all and it is testimony to the promise that Jesus would stay with it (or even her if you prefer) and Hell would not prevail against it.

Papal infallibility was actually first declared as doctrine by the First Vatican Council under Blessed Pope Pius IX. In recent times, the entire teaching Magisterium of the Church, including the actions of the Bishops, are considered infallible as well.

Is this really the case? While it would be glib to simply deny it is possible, I believe it must exist at some level. There are two ways in which it can occur.

The first is that the Pope and the bishops have some sort of cosmic access to truth so that they can never be wrong and that they are so careful in exercising it that nothing they within the context of the Magisterium can ever be reformed or changed, that it is based on natural law. This is the basis for its absolutism – a belief not only in the existence of absolute truth but in a superior grasp of it over and above what is available to the laity. In short, the Church is protected from committing error.

The second possibility concedes the existence of absolute truth, but does not concede the Church’s access to it. Rather than the hierarchy being protected from error, the faithful are protected from any errors in doctrine. They can trust that they will not be held responsible for any errors in the doctrine of the Church.

Such an interpretation is actually consistent with absolutist philosophy, which teaches that while absolute truth exists in the realm of ideas (or if you prefer, in the mind and Word of God), it does not exist in the human world in its purest form. If it did, time would stop because the absolutes would be laid bare. There would no longer be free choice, because all would be instantly attracted to the perfection of God, His Perfect Truth and their Perfect Love (aka, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Freedom exists precisely because God is hidden from us, although experiences of grace can make God present to us through the Sacraments of the Church, as well as individual grants of grace when most needed. The Church is still a channel of truth, but cannot claim its perfection since such perfection cannot be experienced in this life.

The essence of infallibility in this context is that it is dependent not on the absolutes but on their interpretation. This is the essence of relativism, which lodges truth in the life of the community and of the individual conscience (which is always seen as king, even in Catholic doctrine). Indeed, the spirit of prophesy, when understood in its ancient sense, is the criticism of the hierarchy by men and women based on the dictates of their consciences and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. While the faithful are protected from sin by following the teaching Magisterium of the Church, those who have been prompted by the Spirit to disagree, even at personal cost, are not allowed to keep silent. The Communion of the Saints is full of dissenters, some of whom were put to death by both the ancient kings of Judea and Israel and later by the Church for speaking in this way – and were later vindicated when their words proved to be from God.

There is no reason to believe that the process of purification in the Church has stopped. Indeed, recent events seem to indicate that there is much work yet to do. In this context, the promise that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church is not a promise that it will never be challenged, but rather that the Spirit of God will use men and women of conscience to speak the truth to it when it errs, just as Jesus promised when He said that there was more to be revealed through that Spirit.

In the current context, there will always be people like Pope Benedict to correct the errors of those like Cardinal Sodano, who would protect the reputation of the Church in its darkest days rather than bring it into the light. It is the reformers in the Church that fulfill the promise of divine protection, not those who would resist reform. It also means that no doctrine is unreformable, especially those which violate the command to love perfectly, as the Father loves perfectly. How to love perfectly is always a matter to be debated and that debate will shift as we further understand human nature and with it an evolving natural law, which in reality must be understandable by every person who can exercise the capacity for reason and love, not just the chosen few. One need only look to the history of the Church and the lives of the saints to know that this is, in fact, the case.

GOP Is Blowing It by Pandering to Tea Party

GOP Is Blowing It by Pandering to Tea Party by Bruce Bartlett

Bruce is the rare exception among those who left the GOP because of the budget profligacy of George W. Bush. While fiscal conservativism may have been a factor in the loss of the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, I suspect that the mishandling of Iraq had more to do with 2006, while proto-Tea Party anger was what alienated many GOP voters in 2008.

My own Republican mother voted for Obama, largely because McCain nominated Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin. I know that I was schocked at the tone she stoked in her rallies, which gained ample coverage in the fall of that year.

It took John McCain to try to tone down the almost Klan Rally atmosphere - and he was not entirely successful, especially given his angry old man performance in the second debate.

In the short term, whether the Republican Party exists as an ongoing concern will be determined by whether Tea Party members of Congress resist back bencher status when Boehner, Reid and Biden negotiate a budget deal without them. If they openly revolt, the GOP is likely dead - the only question is who leaves first.

If Boehner is removed as Speaker by an internal revolt and lack of loyalty and courage by the more seasoned members of his caucus, I suspect that mainstream Republicans will join a centrist party, like the Independence Party of America.

If they are compliant, the GOP may survive - although I suspect that many may flee to more radical parties in 2012, like the Citizens Party, the Libertarian Party or the Constition Party. Indeed, mass revolts may lead to a fusion of the radical right - although the remaining GOP will have lost its spark and will be unable to form a majority anywhere.

Of course, Obama is quite capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. 2010 can mostly be explained by his new voters staying home - mostly because they are upset that they have graduated college and are living at home without a job, including that job in the West Wing that they all believe they deserved.

If the economy comes back, they will come back to the polls. This is where Obama must frankly dump some of the advice he is getting and instead force Fannie and Freddie to do principal modifications to nip the housing crisis in the bud, as lingering pain in this sector will continue to keep the economy at half speed. More imporanatly, he must find some way to regulate the oil market so that the bubble pops now and not in 2012 (at the behest of David Koch, who knows something about energy trading and who hates Obama). If he ignores these issues, he deserves to lose.

The only question is, who deserves to win?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Marriage as an adult right

The Family Research Council, in its opposition to the California Attorney General's support for immediately allowing marriage equality, has stated that the family is the foundation of civilization - to which we all say - that's the point! In a very real sense, to deny gay couples marriage equality is to deny them full participation in civilized society. As such, conservative opposition is more than preserving a cherished institution. It is an assault on the adult rights of gays and lesbians.

In pre-modern civilization, there was no real age of majority. You were an adult when started your own family (back then, if you were gay, that was a side issue - marriage was about acquiring female property). Even with ages of majority, until you marry, you have still not really left your family - as they maintain kinship with you in extremis. In other words, if you cannot speak for yourself and are unmarried, your parents and siblings have the right to speak for you. You are still their child.

When people marry, the right of familial decision passes to the spouse. That is part of being an adult in a very real sense, the ability to chose to not let your family of origin have any say in your affairs and instead pass that responsibility to a person of your own choosing. Without marriage equality, gays and lesbians do not have that right.

Domestic partnership is no substitute. As the FRC stated, marriage is the foundation of society and that foundation should be available to all people. Abolishing civil marriage and calling everyone partners would just be a lame attempt by conservatives at placating the religious. Recognition of spousal rights came way before there were modern religions. Marriage to a large extent predates society.

The desire to deny marriage to gays and lesbians comes from a desire to control their behavior, to make them conform to conservative convention in order to enjoy full adult rights. Denial of marriage is not just about the ceremony - it is about the recognition of adulthood. For full equality in society, denials of marriage equality cannot stand and they are not a fit subject for either legislation or plebiscite.