Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the synod

Three months ago, I got married.  While still engaged, my then fiancee and I found ourselves explaining our living arrangements to curious parties.  No, we were not living together.  No, we were not planning on living together before we were married.  In fact, with my fiancee's lease up two weeks before our wedding, she was going to move in, while I would be kicked out to live with a friend.

The reactions to such an explanation were revealing.  Conservative Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, seemed to understand implicitly.  But those who did not share our philosophy about sex and marriage seemed befuddled. 

It's important to note here that living together before marriage is not, absolutely speaking, sinful.  Fornication is sinful; living together is a good example of a near occasion of sin since, though fornication need not take place, it increases the likelihood that it will. 

There is another reason living together is imprudent.  It gives rise to scandal.  Here we refer, not to the tabloid sense of the word, but to its Catholic meaning: an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.  If a younger sibling sees an older sibling living with his fiancee, he will see this as morally acceptable. 

In point of fact, by youngest brother assumed that we would be living together before marriage.  He thought that this "premarital preparation" was a necessary step in the process, a matter which was swiftly corrected.  Even the young are skilled in neologism.

I bring all this up in light of the 2014 Synod of Bishops which is presently taking place in Rome.  The subject matter is marriage and the family.  Reports on the synod have diverged wildly.  Rather than seek to reconcile the reports, I want to clarify a matter of some confusion.

There is a notion that every Church pronouncement is a matter of doctrine.  So if a Pope gives a speech about how the welfare state must respect the dignity of the poor, this is seen as proof that Catholics must accept the welfare state, and in whatever forms it may take. This is to conflate doctrine, which does not change, and policy, which, because it seeks to work out the good in the midst of human frailty, can.  In this case, there are any number of arrangements which respect the human dignity of the poor, and a great many more that do not.  There is no one Catholic way to address this issue.

The synod concerns itself with policy.  Speculation that the Church will drop Her opposition to homosexual relations can be easily dismissed.  This doctrine cannot and will not be altered, neither in this synod, nor in any subsequent council.  However, the Church can make alterations to policy recommendations for pastors who must deal with laity who do not have the same sense of sin as that taught by the Catechism.

If a couple comes to a priest for instruction prior to marriage, it would be easy for him to dismiss them for cohabiting.  But this would mean he would miss an opportunity for catechesis.  If the couple is obdurate, and intends to remain in sin, I do not see how the priest can marry them, but if they are receptive to reconciliation and reform, he has a chance to prepare them for a sacrament of much grace, grace that will be indispensable throughout their married lives.

Other cases are trickier.  What does the Church do with homosexual couples who are "married"?  What about those who are divorced and have not obtained annulments?  Like the cohabiting couple, we can simply exclude them, but the Church should seek to bring these lost sheep back into the fold.  These are important questions in the west, where the divorce rate hovers around fifty percent and gay marriage is increasingly accepted by the secular legal system. 

One last point: it is very easy for those of us who live in the west to forget that these aspects of marriage and family life, though important, are not the be all and end all of the matter.  The Church is catholic, and thus must concern itself with the laity everywhere.  The family is as important in Europe and North America as it is in Africa, or Asia, or South America.  Hopefully, the synod will reflect that reality when it issues its report.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rotten fruit

The fruits of bad philosophy are rotten to the core.  This is not to say that all problems stem from bad philosophy, only that if the core principles which undergird a philosophical system are rotten, so too will be the fruits. 

We may approach the problem from either direction; which is to say, we can discover erroneous philosophical principles, and from them find our way to absurd positions on moral issues; or we may start with the latter and trace our way back to the former.

For instance, the Evil League of Reactionaries has recently been vanquished, and the metaphysical absurdity known as gay marriage has been accepted by the culture.  The legal system will no doubt follow.  In the meantime, the Forces of Progressivism have moved on to win "rights" for the transgendered. 

Note first that the term transgendered is a neologism of the Orwellian sort we have been discussing.  So long as people talked of sex, we resided in the realm of Science.  A male human was one who possessed both an X and a Y chromosome, while a female human possessed two X chromosomes. 

Hence the shift to gender which is, to repeat the cultural Marxist mantra, "a social construct".  Sex is determined biologically: it applies to the body of human being; gender is determined psychologically: it applies to the mind.  By ignoring sex and focusing on gender, a man could claim to feel like a woman inside and that claim was expected to override his biology. 

In other words, we've split the human being into two and allowed the mind of man to reign over his body.  This is the rotten philosophical core of modern progressivism.  The ostensible argument was that gender was a social construct; the actual argument was that the real social construct was biology.

This is rank nonsense of the highest order.  A man can no more cease to be male than he can jettison his humanity and become a bird.  Both his maleness and his humanness are fundamental to his nature.  Sure, quack scientists can shoot him up with hormones; they may even treat him as a walking laboratory in which to implant a human child.  But they can't even pretend to alter his genetic structure so that he no longer possesses the dreaded Y chromosome which threatens to call him back to reality.  He cannot become a woman; he can only become a sad freak, upon whom we may look with pity.

If we accept the fiction that the body is only a prison for the mind, there is no end to the silliness which we can assert.  Not only sex, but age, race, ability, all attributes of the body, can be substituted at will.  No longer am I an evil white cismale--the idiotic modifier cis implies that I do not suffer from mental illness, only bad prose--I am actually a gay black trans grandmother.  Please address me accordingly.

Of course, no one is ready to take that sort of nonsense seriously, even though it follows logically from this mind body split.  Sex is held to be amorphous because it further undermines the natural law and healthy human relations.  Sexual autonomy is a goal in a way that racial autonomy simply isn't.  Anything that furthers the illusion of sexual autonomy--for, after all, one can never completely separate sex from procreation--is desirable.

It follows, then, that while it is beneficial to point out the contradictions inherent in what passes for progressive metaphysics, we should not be too troubled when our criticisms are brushed off.  For bad metaphysics are only a means to an end.  We preach to the indifferent, and to the convinced who do not yet realize what is at stake.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Choosing birth prevention

"An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention." - St. Thomas Aquinas

We live in age of moral confusion. Sometimes, we justify our actions based purely on intent: if a policy was enacted with the goal of reducing poverty, that it makes it, per se, good, irrespective of the results of that policy. Other times, we justify our actions based purely on results: if someone is suffering, it is our duty to reduce that suffering, regardless of the means which we utilize to achieve that end.

The problem with such thinking is not just that it is blatantly contradictory and therefore incoherent; the problem is that is is bad philosophy. Pureness of intention does not absolve one from acting in a way that will lead to a bad end. Likewise, achieving a good end does not grant one license to use any means at one's disposable. Ethics must consider the intent of the action, as well as the means and end.

This brings us to an article in Slate magazine: How Choice Can Stop Abortions. Therein, the writer argues that since stopping abortions is desirable, any means to achieve this end must be considered a good.

Before we get to the substance of the article, the headline merits investigation.

There is a sense in which choice could stop abortions. Namely, people could stop choosing to have abortions. All that is necessary to stop abortions is to stop abortions. We need not worry overmuch about the means; what is required to not do an action is to not do it. End of article.

Alas, for Slate, things are much more complicated. The subtitle of the piece reads: Long-acting reversible contraceptives can cut the teen abortion rate by 75 percent. In other words, it is not choice that stops abortions, but choosing a specific set of items, namely, long-acting reversible contraceptives.

It makes no sense to idolize choice in isolation from the thing chosen. Choice employs an end, or, rather, any number of ends. Some of them are good, some are not, and the validity of the choice depends on whether or not the end is good. It is meaningless to insist that one is pro-choice when it comes to drinking and driving unless one is ready to recommend drunk driving. If we extol choice in this area, we mean to extol drunk driving. Otherwise, we would not commend choice, but rather, choosing not to drive drunk.

The Slate piece, in other words, is arguing for the moral goodness of birth control, which is to say, birth prevention. They would make matters much clearer if they simply stated as much.

The author of the piece notes:

More than 1,400 teenage girls in the St. Louis area were offered a range of free contraceptives. Seventy percent chose LARCs. The beauty of LARCs is that they bypass the problem of inconsistent use. Once the implant or IUD is inserted, you don’t have to think about it every time you have sex.

After three years, researchers counted the pregnancies. For hormonal IUDs and injections, the annual failure rate was five per 1,000 women. For hormonal implants and copper IUDs, the failure rate was zero. These methods wildly outperformed contraceptive rings (52 failures per 1,000), pills (57 per 1,000), and patches (61 per 1,000).

This finding makes sense. One of the problems—practical, as opposed to moral—with, say, condoms and birth prevention pills, is that people forget to use them. Implanting an IUD removes the element of human error.

This fact is itself interesting because implanting a contraceptive device reduces the range of choice. Once the device is implanted, and so long as the device is working properly, one cannot choose to become pregnant. One must first schedule an appointment with one's doctor, and then, once the device is removed, one may try to become pregnant. Should one change one's mind, or simply decide at a later date to try to prevent pregnancy, a like device must be reinserted.

This may be called many things, but insofar is removes the responsibility of controlling pregnancy from the woman and her partner, and places it in the hands of the medical authorities, I do not see how we can argue that this is especially conducive to choice.

On the contrary, the Catholic school of thought maintains that sex leads to pregnancy. As such, sex should only be engaged in when one is willing to achieve the end to which that act is naturally ordered, that is, children. That, moreover, since children require a good deal of love and attention, prospective parents should be willing to care for the child as long as they can manage. Which is to say, that they have pledged their faithfulness to each other in front of witnesses in the act of marriage.

This places the choice firmly in the hands of the husband and wife. True, they may turn to medical authorities for assistance, but the choice of whether to try to have a child is theirs alone. If we truly wish to glorify choice, this argues in favor of the Catholic position. It also requires us to study human fertility so as to understand it, instead of treating it as if it were an unfortunate medical condition. But that is a topic for another day.