Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Luther's Knocking

I have been in Italy one week, and have had countless rich, stimulating conversations with Italian Catholic friends. Yet I find that I struggle to convey the gravity of the scandal roiling the US Catholic Church. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to many folks here. Some think it’s nothing more than a political attack on Pope Francis. Others agree that it’s bad, but they say the Church has always been corrupt to a certain degree, and don’t grasp why Americans are so worked up about it.
Rod Dreher: The Very Big Deal Catholic Crisis

Massimo Faggioli and Rod Dreher have both been writing--and tweeting--extensively on the sexual abuse saga that seems to have thoroughly permeated the Catholic Church.  While both writers have polar opposite approaches to the issue one thing both can agree on is recognition that American Catholicism is different from it's European version..

Faggioli, particularly, seems to have grasped  just how vast the difference is between the two in mindset,  and recognises that the Europeans have underestimated the seriousness of the American angst--and desired response--to the situation as it is. The Europeans, on the other hand, perplexed as they are by the American response, don't seem particularly perturbed by the saga as their underlying attitude seems to combine both a recognition of the historical corruption of the Church hierarchy and a resignation to its permanence and inevitability.

The Italian response, in my mind, is probably a consequence of Italian culture and I'm not saying this pejoratively. Catholicism has had a long history of illiberality when it came to the rights and opinions of the common man. The laity were subjects to both clergy and nobles and were expected to do what they were told.  Pushback was not permitted, and if the elites or the clergy were corrupt there was nothing you could really do about it: it was a matter for elites to sort out among themselves. This attitude and the reality of life on the ground encultured among the people an attitude of resignation and adaptation.  The family, instead of the State, became the unit of social organisation Any new initiatives were strictly private affairs because assistance from above was likely to be counter productive. It had been this way for centuries and as a result,  a certain resignation cultural resignation within the Italian mindset. You learn to accept it and work around it because there's nothing you can do to change it. When you hear that the local bishop's a pedophile and not much is being done to remove him you've heard it all before; what's the big deal? The Church (clergy) is corrupt.  In a Darwinian manner, Italians have learned to forge a life in a manner which accommodates and accepts institutional corruption.**

This Italian attitude is prototypical of the Latin mindset. One of the things that European, particularly Latin, Catholic culture suffers from is its inability to deal with institutional corruption in any meaningful way. There are many reasons for this. Some are the result of traditional habit, others the result of certain theological biases and it's beyond the scope of this post to go into this deeper, however the overall effect is that corruption remains an entrenched endemic phenomenon.

Protestantism didn't have this problem. One of the main drivers of national development and wealth is institutional honesty and it's no surprise that until the advent of widespread secularisation the Catholic countries were Europe's most backward. Protestantism's apparent economic superiority wasn't just due to the work ethic but the superiority of its institutions, which relative to Catholic ones, were seen to be more honest and efficient.

Protestantism, on the other hand, gave the believer far more legitimacy in public affairs  and the theology of Protestantism expected the  believer to behave act as one of the elect. There was no reliance on the confessional to wipe away misdeeds and poor behaviour was an outward sign of perdition which rightly disqualified a man from institutional office. The net effect of this "theological bias" in Protestant culture was attitude towards institutions which demanded honesty and efficiency.

Which brings us to the phenomenon of American Catholicism. The United States was founded as a Protestant Enlightenment project: the institutional culture is Protestant. While the country was explicitly secular, Protestantism was the de-facto institutional religion of the country and within its theological framework established it's habits, ideas and cultural practices. It was into this culture that the waves of Catholic migrants flooded and eventually became assimilated. However, the assimilation wasn't one way, Catholicism too had to adapt to the culture with the overall result that American Catholicism became Protestantised. (The Church recognised the phenomenon early on issuing an encyclical.) The same phenomenon seems to have occurred in other countries where Catholics lived within a dominant Protestant culture. The Germans and Canadians seem to have been liberally Protestantised while the Americans have assumed more of the conservative faction. Australia seems split down the middle.

Years ago while reading G.K. Chesteron's, Why I am a Catholic, I was struck by this line.
In all probability, all that is best in Protestantism will only survive in Catholicism; and in that sense all Catholics will still be Puritans when all Puritans are Pagans.
What I think what I'm seeing now in American Catholicism, particularly, is the realisation of Chesterton's prophecy, in that it has incorporated the best bits of Protestantism and is now using it as a battering ram to reform the institutional corruption of the Church.  Unlike Latin Catholicism, American Catholicism won't put up with institutional corruption. Massimo Faggioli, in analysing the current situation, sees it as the  machinations of the "right wing" of the American church, using the sexual abuse crisis as an opportunity to dispose of the Pope and his process of reform,  and there is certainly an element of truth in this.  However,  I don't think he fully realises that the current revulsion by the American Church, particularly the laity, is less directed towards the Papacy per se, than the institutional corruption which he is seen to be upholding by failing to adequately deal with the issues at hand. The Catholic Church in America wants the Church leadership to live up to it's ideals. Acceptance of the fallen nature of man as an excuse to do nothing is not going to cut it.

I am generally supportive of Francis and his policy of reform, if not his liberal theology. However I do feel that he his management of the sexual abuse crisis, on the basis of the facts seen by me, hasn't been up to scratch. The Church has got some serious problems that need to be fixed and I'm getting the impression that Luther is going to get his second chance at instituting church reform.

*In other news, Brazilian Bishop Jose Ronaldo Ribeiro of Formosa resigned after he was arrested for stealing $606,000 of diocesan money. Apparently he'd done something similar before and was "transferred". The Church has got some serious problems.

**De Gasperi, one of the great Italian politicians following WW2 shocked Italians by his lack of corruption. To quote Wiki:
It is said that he had to be given a State funeral as he had died with almost no means of his own - a jaw-dropping fact in a country where, even then, politicians were expected to do well for themselves.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Teleology of Coitus......Again

In the previous post commentator Goldeneye said;

This is off topic, but I want your thoughts on this. You've talked about the purpose of sex before on this blog, and after mulling on it for a while, a thought occurred to me.
If I remember correctly, there are supposed to be two parts to sex, the unitive and the procreative. What if the primary purpose of sex is actually the unitive part,and the procreative part is a secondary purpose?

These are half formed thoughts, but critiques are welcome.
I though I'd start thsi by bringing up the relevant passage from Humanae Vitae which deals with the matter in question:
The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.[ED]
If we look at the female menstrual cycle, we notice that the potential for fertility is not present throughout the cycle but is limited instead to about six days.

In other words, in an "average" 28 day cycle, there is no potential for procreation in roughly 22 of the 28 days present. Sexual activity during this period has no "intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life." This is not my opinion, it is an empirically observable fact, like the Earth's rotation around the Sun.

The fact that for most of the menstrual cycle sexual activity is intrinsically infertile has several important implications:

Firstly, what exactly is sex for? Clearly that assertion, carried over from Aristotle, that sex is primarily for procreation is wrong given that most sexual acts occur outside the fertility window. As I see it, sex is teleologically ordered towards getting people together, i.e. it is primarily unitive.  The generation of life is a second order phenomenon which occurs after union.  In fact, this second order phenomenon is completely outside the couple's control. If you look at the above graph, the probability for fertility is only about 35% when sex activity deliberately occurs at the optimal point in the menstrual cycle.  Even in healthy people sex at the optimal time is still not "intrinsically" linked to fertility.

Secondly: Given that the unitive meaning seems to be the primary reason for sexual activity does that mean that all acts of infertile sex are legitimate. In my opinion acts which private the sexual act are acts which are contra Caritas and are therefore forbidden. The difficulty here is determining what constitutes a privation.

For instance, does a using a condom during the infertile phase of the cycle constitute a privation?

The old "manualist" theologians, divided the sexual act into voluntary and physiological components.
The sexual act was understood as depositing the sperm into the vagina, the physiological component took care of the fertilisation. Taking a holistic view with regard to Church tradition and  the notion of privation, it's my opinion that privation of sexual act consists of measures which aim to frustrate the deposition of live semen into the vagina. That means things like condoms, pessaries, caps, spermicides are morally illicit.

Actions which mutilate the reproductive tract, vasectomy and tubal ligations are likewise illicit.

However, the gravity of the sin in these circumstances needs to be evaluated in the context of weighing the unitive good vs the procreative good should they come into opposition for whatever reason. Suppose a couple are too poor to afford contraception and already have six children and don't want anymore. A U.S. government sponsored program is offering free sterilizations. I know it's wrong but I don't know if it's mortal given the new evaluative context. I don't have a firm position on this.

What's interesting is the Pill and other anovulants. The aim here is to induce a state in the woman that is akin to the infertile phase of the menstrual cycle and therefore such agents should prima facie be licit. The question here does the suppression of ovulation in itself constitute a privation in fertility. Strictly speaking, it does constitute a privation of the periodicity of fertility, though it does not constitute a privation in fertility per se. As women who take the pill return to their previous fertility once stopping it. What the pill does is modulate fertility, not abolish it.

The thing is that the Catholic Church does permit the use of the pill provided that it used for the treatment of a medical condition, once again from HV:

On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.
This bit of text is actually quite problematic. Here the Church is permitting the use of Pill based on the principle of double effect. But the whole point of double effect doctrine is that the benefit of the intended effect is greater that privation of the unintended one. What that means is that, as a treating physician, I have to "weigh" the benefit of the therapeutic affect against the trade off in fertility.  The Pill, for instance, is quite effective at dysfunctional uterine bleeding. Is the treatment of heavy periods worth the loss of fertility? The Church seems to think it's OK. It also works well for acne. I mean is the treatment of it of more gravity than the loss of fertility. Clearly, according to the Church, acne seems to be a more serious condition than the loss of fertility. Go figure? This is one of the reasons why I reckon the document is a mess and it's why I started thinking that maybe the laity's rejection of it may have had deeper origins than just simple rebellion to Church teaching.

However, what most people don't know is that the Church actually does permit the suppression of ovulation for the regulation of fertility through the Lactation Amenorrhea Method.  The Church is quite OK with the use of an endogenous anovulant, though it's not happy with an exogenous one. Once again, go figure? However, all things considered, it would appear that the Church has unintentionally permitted the regulation of fertility provided there is a good reason.

Summing up, I think an evaluation of coitus in the the light of empirically demonstrable data leads to the conclusion the primary end of coitus is unitive with procreation being a secondary end. This view is much more in alignment with human nature and common sense than the traditional view. A view which I feel was strongly influenced by a Manichean bias in early Christianity which saw no good in Eros, even within marriage.


The Teleology of Coitus.
A Slow Toxin. Natural Law and Tradition

A slightly bigger if less accurate study on the fertility window.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Atheist Service Notice

Over the next few posts I plan to post on religious themes so I thought I'd give a few of my atheist readers a heads up in case they wanted to avoid the posts.

As I've said before, it is my opinion that the collapse of religion is THE fundamental problem of Western Civilisation and without the restoration of religion we're going nowhere.  However unlike the Trads it is my opinion that an attempt to turn the clock back, and practice religion like it was practiced in the 1650's is not going to work. Rather, the Christian religion is going to have to transform itself in someway if it is to successfully combat Modernity.

As for Christianity, Western Civilisation is really the civilisation built on basis of the Protestant and Catholic religions. Eastern Orthodoxy, while Christian is not of the West, and I would advise the Trads, those looking to turn the clock back to look at it, as it lacks the ability to change: It's all tradition.

With regard to Protestantism, I see it as a dying religion. Not because I want it to be so, rather it's how I interpret the facts. It seems to have completed it's divinely ordained purpose--more on that later--and is now in terminal decline.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that without the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church would have shared the same fate of either Protestantism or Orthodoxy. It is the only organisation which has the capacity to drag out out of this mess, unfortunately it's own house is currently not in order. The problem with the Catholic Church is that while the Council gave it a mandate to change the institutional cultural mindset of the Catholic Church ensured that the changes done after Vatican Two were botched.

I know it's hard to believe for many, but this is why the current crisis within the Catholic Church is vital for the future of Western Civilisation,  If it goes down so does Western Civ, and what's going on is a three way fight, between the Trads, the Liberals, and the Reformists.

In one corner you have the Trads, who are increasingly trying to return to the old pre-V2 Church. Let me explain the problem here in military terms. What these guys want is return to the old frontal infantry assaults of WW1 against an enemy who wants to use blitzkrieg tactics.  Their idea is that strict discipline in the face of withering fire will eventually triumph, no matter what the cost. That strategy worked great in Ireland and Spain.

In the other corner you have the Liberals, who much like the Vichy French, want to "fight" for their country but secretly admire the enemy and want to come to an accommodation with him. If they win, it's all over.

Finally you have the reformers, who seem to want to reform the Church and recognise it has problems but don't really know how to reform or what to reform to. Francis is of this group and illustrates its problems. Francis, sees that frontal attacks are stupid and counterproductive, and he hates the generals who can't see this, however his own vision of seeing the Church as a field hospital, places the Church in a passive position and neglects the "offensive" aspect of the Christian religion. The job of Christianity is not to take a beating but to proclaim the truth and overwhelm the enemies of Christ.

Massimo Faggioli, a self-proclaimed theological liberal, gets a lot of heat from the conservative side of the religious divide but in my opinion he has penned the best analysis of the current situation that I've seen around and it's well worth a read. I don't agree with a lot of what Massimo says but he has a more nuanced understanding the Church than many of his critics have.
The rift within U.S. Catholicism, and between traditionalist Catholics and Francis, cannot be understood apart from the political polarization of America. The first phase of the problem was the growing identification of the U.S. bishops with the Republican Party, largely because of a few social issues. As the Republican Party has been radicalized in the past decade, so have more than a few bishops. During the same period, some prominent conservative intellectuals have embraced Catholicism for reasons that seem purely political. This is not a new phenomenon. It has much in common with Charles Maurras’ Action Fran├žaise, a nationalist movement condemned by Pius XI in 1926.* Maurras had no time for the Gospel but saw Catholicism as a useful tool for the creation of an antidemocratic social order. The new enthusiasm for an older version of Catholicism on the part of conservative intellectuals with no interest in theology also mirrors the rise of Ultramontanism in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Jesuit John O’Malley’s latest book on the theological movements that set the stage for Vatican I helps us see the many similarities between nineteenth-century Ultramontanism and early-twenty-first-century traditionalist Catholic Americanism. In both movements, the game is played mostly by journalists and other lay intellectuals whose understanding of the church is essentially political rather than spiritual. They celebrate the church as an institution that can withstand modernity, and especially the modern state. They have little or no interest in ecclesiology or sacramental theology—or anything else that cannot be easily weaponized against their political enemies.
*Massimo doesn't give the complete story here. Action Francaise was initially supported by the Pope, then condemned and when the threat of Communism loomed again in the 1930's,  supported again.