Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Indispensable Family

Thirteen years ago, William E. May wrote the book: Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family Is Built. Three years ago, Ignatius Press published a second edition, which includes a new introduction, as well as two additional chapters, one which delves into John Paul II's Catechesis on the Theology of the Body, and another, which covers Pope Benedict XVI's Teaching on Marriage and Family Life. These are much welcome additions to an already fine book.

Many of the arguments we have about divorce, or whether or not gays ought to be allowed to marry, start at the wrong end. Marriage and the family are primary, and must be discussed first, which May wisely does. Thus in his first chapter, he offers fourteen basic moral criterion for families with supporting argument. For instance: “the family must be rooted in the marriage of one man and one woman”; “children... are to be begotten in the loving embrace of husband and wife”; “spouses ought not... impede procreation”; “Church and State must both honor the primary right of parents as educators of their children and cooperate with them in this educative task”; “society must support the sanctity of the marriage bond if men are to be fathers to their children.”

The second chapter builds on this, exploring the complementarity of male and female. In our age of triumphalist feminism, it is verboten to suggest that men and women are different, and--worse--that this difference is intrinsic and natural. Yet as Chesterton remarked, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” May takes this difference as a given, and indeed, illustrative, for it tells us something both about mankind as well as the God who made us. Our design is such that husband and wife participate in procreation, bringing new life to the world through an act of love. May quotes the philosopher Robert E. Joyce who notes that men: “give in a receiving sort of way” while women “receive in a giving sort of way.” One mild complaint, these wonderful phrases are used too frequently throughout the text, reducing their potency.

Another chapter is devoted to examining Pope Paul VI's prophetic utterances in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Yet somehow May's defense here is a bit underwhelming. He accurately explains that the late pope was correct about the consequences of detaching, or rather, attempting to detach, sex from reproduction. Still, the critics were so disastrously wrong that one wishes May would hammer the point home with a bit more force. The mainstreaming of contraception has been so thorough that the idea that sex has a natural end is not so much considered outdated as simply ludicrous. 

In making his arguments about marriage, May uses a variety of sources. He relies heavily on Catholic references: philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, encyclicals, the Catechism, and so forth. This allows him to make the Catholic case thoroughly. Unfortunately, this reduces the appeal of his book to a secular audience. Revelation undoubtedly guides the Church's understanding of marriage; hence she has elevated it to a sacrament. Yet marriage antedates the Church. If the author plans a third edition, I would like to see him to sketch an argument in defense of marriage that relies on secular sources.

Still, until Catholics adhere to their own Church's teaching, there is more work to be done. May's book provides a well structured look at the family and the role it must play in society. For as Pope John Paul II observed, “As the family goes, so goes the world.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan

The respective tickets for the 2012 presidential election are now set: Obama-Biden will attempt to defend their title against Romney-Ryan.  No word as yet as to the availability of Butter Bean for the undercard.

Nominating a vice president makes sense, insofar as one must provide a reasonable form of succession in the event of the president's demise.  Yet it strikes me that most of the talk about the vice president is overwrought.  Sometimes, the vice president wields considerable influence: many of W's policies emanated from the office of Cheney.  Other times, vice presidents seem to do very little.  Can anyone discern what Biden has done for the last three years, save for serve up gaffes to the media?  The role played by the vice president, then, would seem to suggest more about the strength of the president, or the lack thereof.

Nonetheless, I should probably offer my thoughts on Paul Ryan.  Conservatives seem rather happy with the pick.  For some reason, Ryan is a darling of the Tea Party, so this pick proves, not that Romney is a cynical and unprincipled political opportunist, but that he is really a conservative.  There are an assortment of flaws with this narrative, the most important of which is that Paul Ryan isn't a fiscal conservative by any stretch of the imagination.  Here's a look at some of his votes.

Paul Ryan on Bailouts and Government Stimuli
-Voted YES on TARP (2008)
-Voted YES on Economic Stimulus HR 5140 (2008)
-Voted YES on $15B bailout for GM and Chrysler. (Dec 2008)
-Voted YES on $192B additional anti-recession stimulus spending. (Jul 2009)
Paul Ryan on Entitlement Programs
-Voted YES on limited prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. (Nov 2003)
-Voted YES on providing $70 million for Section 8 Housing vouchers. (Jun 2006)
-Voted YES on extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks. (Oct 2008)
-Voted YES on Head Start Act (2007)
Paul Ryan on Education

-Voted YES on No Child Left Behind Act (2001)
Paul Ryan on Civil Liberties
-Voted YES on federalizing rules for driver licenses to hinder terrorists. (Feb 2005)
-Voted YES on making the PATRIOT Act permanent. (Dec 2005)
-Voted YES on allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant. (Sep 2006)

What a sterling record.  And that's before we get to foreign policy views, where he's essentially a loyal neo-conservative. 

The hilarious part about the degraded state of political discourse is not that otherwise intelligent people will be duped into believing that Paul Ryan is a fiscal hawk, despite all evidence to the contrary.  It's that the case will be made by the political opposition.  Romney and Ryan are middle of the road types, who, if they can be prevented from bombing Iran, will do nothing to alter the size and scope of government.  But if that's the case, why would anyone vote for Obama?  So a new narrative must be constructed, one in which the Republicans are actually going to cut government programs.  Would that it were so.

The Ryan pick changes nothing.  If you like running huge deficits and bailing out banks, vote for either party.  It doesn't matter which.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

About those gays

There always seem to be a handful of issues that distract us and engage far more attention from us than prudence merits.  The political right falls into this trap when it exerts energy lambasting non-starters such as the National Endowment for the Arts.  Yes, it's idiotic that the government sends money to Mapplethorpe and similar degenerates, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter very much. 

So it is with homosexuality, and our endless arguments over whether or not those predisposed to prefer their own sex ought to be allowed to couple legally.  At most, gays represent 10% of the species; these are Kinsey's numbers, and must be considered the absolute high-end estimate.  In actuality, this figure ought be granted no more credence than early estimates of those "relaxed" at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition--at least before Henry Kamen's pioneering revision.  Gays account for a much smaller portion of the population. 

My guess is that we are squabbling over something that directly effects three to five percent of the population.  Of course, we all know a gay person, and are therefore appalled and offended that they can't get married and have little test tube children, etc.  The point remains.

Hence we defenders of tradition must occasionally enter this sorry arena, to give battle to our foes.  We do this with little enthusiasm, partially because we do not really care, and partially because whether or not we decide to alter the centuries old definition of marriage, we know that the zeitgeist will overwhelm us.  Merely entering the arena, is, indeed, a sign of caring too much about what others do, and therefore, a priori evidence of--what else?--suppressed homosexuality.  This despite the fact that many of us are content to let the sodomites bugger each other as they please, little good it may do them.

Yet, at root, the argument against gay marriage is a simple one.  Men and women are different; we are not interchangeable.  Yes, there are marriages in which the husband is out every night, cheating on his wife, or the wife sits in her room dead drunk.  And yes, in these particular circumstances, two nice gay men or two lesbians would undoubtedly provide a better home.  But this is to confuse particulars with the thing as it was designed, as it ought to be.  The degraded state of contemporary marriage is such than any number of curious arrangements are to be preferred in certain instances.  Some marriages are so wretched that one could replace one of the partners with a vacuum to salubrious effect.  There may even be, for all I know, a way to defend dropping an infant off at day-care.  But that is a case against the marriage as it is, which is to say, it a criticism that recognizes the ideal and laments the way in which the particular instance falls short of that ideal.  It is not a point against it.

In a way, this is all the fault of heterosexuals for botching marriage up so badly that two people, whatever their sex, would be preferable to the all too common broken home.  Yet it is also--and here, perhaps, things finally becoming somewhat important--a reflection of our inability to think about things clearly.  Nothing in the modern climate of hookups, cohabitation and easy divorce altered the essential difference--and complementariness--of the sexes.  The way babies are formed in nature, if not in our brave new labs, is still the best way for children to be raised: by the mother and father who together formed and birthed them. 

Such an elementary truth, apparently, has need of defenders. But as it is written into the very fabric of our being, we will soon return to it--or perish.

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Dear oh dear, an entire month with nary a blog post.  I could blame all of my friends for getting married this summer, but in addition to being uncharitable, even if I were less busy, I'd be just as reluctant to write.

The political situation is too depressing to dwell on.  Obama hasn't the foggiest idea of how to right the economic ship, but Romney is likewise ignorant, and possibly even more loathsome.  There isn't anything about him which is genuine; at least Barry likes golf and basketball, which makes him nominally relatable.  Romney likes... power, and reading opinion polls to determine what he should say so as to obtain his favorite thing.  He also likes Israel, which is fine, but chickenhawk overcompensation tends to lead to wars, so I'd prefer he leave the Jews to themselves.

Eventually, Congress will have to figure out what to do about the pending tax increases, and squabble until the last possible moment before raising the debt ceiling again.  But until that happens, Washington is boring, boring, boring.  So one watches the market to see if the ECB or the Fed will print the money to fix everyone's problems for the eleventh time in the last four years.

Back to the books I suppose.