A plea for mercy

We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried.  Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage.  However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces.  Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church.  I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.

Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress.  Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship.  We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love.  Not to condemn them!  To walk with them!  And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.

What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church?  Do we not presume to judge them?  Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort?  Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy?  Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister.  But this is cruelly unrealistic!  A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress.  Illegitimate children might be involved.  Plus, she might be totally hot.

Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful.  Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?

What should the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses.  The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers.  It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion.  But if one, why not the other?  Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament.  The question that is posed in response is:  is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others?  Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?

Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful.  However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars.  Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance.  We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love!  Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people.  So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.

Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior.  Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman.  That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.

Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone:  the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.

Why all the Self-Esteem Talk?

My area of the country has an FM music station that advertises itself as “family-friendly.” It plays nothing but the latest Christian rock songs and although it has no commercials, it intersperses the music with vaguely Christianoid happy talk. Apparently it is sponsored by a consortium of Evangelical churches. The rest of my family enjoys it to a certain extent, so I have no choice but to listen from time to time.

One day, I heard one of their station breaks say approximately the following:

Children love it when their parents tell them how great they are! Call us and record an affirmation of your child that we can broadcast, and don’t forget to build up your child today by telling him how great he is!

Certainly it is good to commend your child for a job well done. And parents should generally be positive toward their children. But there is no mention here of waiting for the child to do something praiseworthy. Just tell them they’re great, out of the blue.

Typical postmodern drivel, but it caused me to consider why self-esteem has caught on as one of the important concepts of our age. I think one reason is that modern life is officially nihilistic—albeit nihilism with a happy face painted on it—and naturally children respond with despair, at least when they grow old enough to notice the nihilism. Continue reading

Dives in Hell

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Every commentator on this story I’ve read or heard seemed determined to avoid the point Jesus is trying to make.  Many are troubled by that fact that Dives in hell pleads for his family.  He’s not all bad.  It just seems wrong that he’s in hell.  Often I’ll hear priests tell us to ignore that last part.  Dives didn’t really care about keeping his brothers out of hell; we all know there can’t be charity among the damned.  In reading the parable, we should just stick to the main point Jesus is making and ignore (for theological purposes) those little details He adds that make the characters seem to come alive.  Perhaps this is true, but the question is whether in ignoring these details we really are preserving the main point.  The main point is supposed to be that Dives is condemned to Hell because he was rich, Lazarus was poor, and Dives failed to help Lazarus when he could.  In fact, even this is a softening of what Jesus said:  the most straightforward reading of the parable is that Dives is in hell simply for being rich when Lazarus was poor; a philanthropic sin of omission is not explicitly mentioned.  Now, if Dives were indeed a totally heartless man with no concern for anyone but himself, he would have much worse sins on his conscience than failing to help Lazarus.  His damnation would have nothing to do with Lazarus at all, but rather be a consequence of being a complete moral monster.

I once heard a priest say that, according to Thomas Aquinas, Dives is actually in purgatory, because he displays charity, which cannot exist in hell.  This is an interesting argument.  Charity is a supernatural virtue, and the damned are by definition not in a state of grace.  However, could Dives’ plea not be one of natural love and benevolence?  I suppose one could say that even natural virtues are blotted out of the souls in hell.  To me this sounds plausible, but hardly obvious.

The really important point, though, is that we must not alter the parable by making Dives completely wicked during life.  This destroys the point.  Let me therefore add my own embellishments, consistent with the story Jesus tells.

There was once a rich man who lived his whole life in luxury.  He was a pious and patriotic Jew, a loving brother and uncle, a fair and hard-working employer, a generous master, an active and public-minded citizen.  Reverence for God and love of his family guided his life.  He loved children, and many thought it sad that he never knew the joys of fatherhood himself, for his beloved wife having died years ago in a plague, and he could never bring himself to consider remarriage.  There were at his gate poor beggars, faceless shadow beings always on the periphery of his consciousness.  Always there were more important things to attend to.  “Should I toss them a coin?  Perhaps, but not now; let me now attend to my own household.  Perhaps, but not now; let me rest a little.”  And he never got around to them.  When death came, his brothers travelled far to be at his side.  The rich man blessed them all, saying “Do not mourn for me, dear brothers.  I go to the God of Abraham.”  With that, he drifted from consciousness.  He awoke to eternal torment.

Do you like my story?

“Good God, no!  You’ve totally warped the story by making Dives a good man who just does one bad thing.  It wouldn’t be fair for him to go to hell, when so much of his life was good.  You’re making God out to be a monster!”

Ah, but where did you get the idea that “mostly good” people go to heaven, that wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to eternal life?  Not from the Gospel, I assure you!  We many be damned just for sins of omission to the poor, no matter how good we otherwise are.

“But this is terrifying!”

Indeed.  If you’re scared, you’re starting to get Jesus’ point.

Supersizing the Whopper: Higher Ed in the Trenches

My old graduate-school office-mate “Ivar the Midwesterner,” who teaches at “a nondescript, mid-tier state college west of the Mississippi and east of the Left Coast,” has, for years, collected the wildest, most desperate student-improvisations from the final examination in his survey of the classics in translation.  Some entries in the following catalogue come from as long ago as ten years while others are of recent vintage.  Ivar writes that he started to insert sic where it seemed necessary, but soon grew sic of it.

Continue reading

“You social conservatives are so sex-obsessed!”

Only because you social liberals were sex-obsessed first. It was only because you lobbied–hard, and ultimately successfully–for the normalization and legalization of (in roughly chronological order) divorce, contraception, cohabitation, abortion, pornography, and homosexuality that we’ve then had to lobby against these things. In this way, “you social conservatives are so sex-obsessed” is the moral and political equivalent of “stop hitting yourself.”

Render unto Caesar: On the duty of (not) voting

After my last post on voting, I discovered that our friend Zippy Catholic has recently had an excellent series of very compelling posts on what he sees as the moral duty to refrain from voting. I give a brief overview of his arguments and a number of links below the break.

Continue reading

SlutWalk and the gnostic temptation

Remember SlutWalk? From the Wikipedia page:

Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance.[3] The rallies began when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that to remain safe, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.”

It’s one of the peculiarities of the modern condition that advice of this sort is taken as an exercise in moral blame-assignment rather than simple, prudential wisdom. “X is a bad idea so don’t do it or Y might happen,” where, in this case, X = “Getting ruinously drunk in a sexually-charged environment surrounded by people you don’t know, then walking home alone through a bad part of town at 2 AM on a Saturday” but could just as well mean lots of other things, means just what it says and nothing more. And if Y happens, the fact that you’re not morally culpable for Y doesn’t mean X wasn’t, therefore, a bad idea.

Why, then, the leftist/feminist griping that this constitutes “blaming the victim”? Here’s a useful graphic of the typical SlutWalker demographic that gives us some insight into what’s going on in their heads:

Continue reading

Ayn Rand and Sacrifice

The following is a segment, much rewritten, of an article on Rand’s Atlas that Modern Age ran some few years ago –

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is, up to a limit, a true revelation of redistributive rapacity, even of the old call to sacrifice in its Twentieth-Century ideological manifestation; the novel is, up to a limit, a true revelation of ideology as a reversion to the most primitive type of cultic religiosity: Collective murder as a means of appeasing a supernatural principle.  It is also – it is primarily – a sacrificial narrative, as most of popular, as opposed to high, narrative ever has been and probably always will be.  It follows that the novel’s borrowed premise is sacrifice: Rand invites us to view with a satisfying awe the destruction before our eyes of those who have mistreated the protagonists, with whom she has invited us to identify – one of the cheapest formulas of commercial fiction.  The standard Arnold Schwarzenegger or Clint Eastwood thriller achieves its effect by no different means.  The catharsis in Atlas comes not at the end, however, but around two-thirds of the way through the story.  It is the superbly stage-managed Winston Tunnel disaster.

Continue reading