Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christian Carnival 359 up at Parableman

Check it out here. Will edit this post to reflect reactions.

Barry Wallace's post just makes me glad for purgatory and absolution.

Diane R's post mostly depresses me. In particular the section where 89% of evangelicals disagreed about the importance of preaching and sacraments. Of course, to a certain technical degree, I kind of have to disagree too--the sacraments, aside from baptism, are thing you receive after a decision to convert; only Baptism is really part of what most people are probably thinking of as the conversion.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jacob's Hip

In John 20:29 (NIV), John tells his disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

One thing that seems to be said by this passage is that a faith that does not require proof is a great gift. But what if there is a secondary blessing in not having tangible proof? When God touches people in tangible and measureable ways, the stories are scary. I sometimes wish I could have been there with Jacob, the Apostles, or Padre Pio, but to be there may have been too much for me.

There seems to be a horror in the Holy. Something in the Sacred can scar us. Perhaps we sinners are unfit to see or experience God as heavily as we sometimes do in this life. Maybe this is why the Saints who are closest to God so often carry symptoms which appear as misery to the world. Maybe if they have any misery left, it is not in reality a sickness or a stigmata, but complete conversion to Christ that cannot choose anything but faith and joy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dan Indulges in Dark Theological Humor

The Dutch did not bring their kleats to the slippery slope. (See the Groningen Protocol if you don't believe me.)

But it's not like anyone else wants onto this slippery slope. Oh, wait...

Well, at least it hasn't made its way to the United States yet. Crap, I guess we lost that one. And where I live, too. Darn.

What's left now but to run out the clock on being European and see just how horrific things get before someone in the public arena stands up for life?

Apparently, more horrific than they have.

All aboard for the train of tenderness, folks! Next stop is the slippery slope! Hope you brought some good climbing gear.

Christ Jesus, and Mary and all the other Saints in heaven, pray for our world today.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christian Carnival for Wednesday, November 17 (UPDATE: Late Submissions!)

Hey y'all, welcome to this week's Christian Carnival! I'm afraid I'm on a 1:30-10:00 PM schedule this week (the next few weeks) and I haven't really had time to read all the entries, but what I've read, I like.

ON the other hand, deo gratias, I got a job!

Spiel, shamelessly copied from the Google Group:

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

Ali presents Christians, Entitlement and Political Action. posted at Kiwi and an Emu.

annette presents November 11, 2010 - A Lesson posted at Fish and Cans.

Matt Rawlings presents If Some Christians are Blue like Jazz, then I?m Red like Metal posted at Pastor Matt.

Madeleine Flannagan presents Bovine Faeces and the Sexual Proclivities of Rocks at MandM.

Scottyi presents An Ideal Life posted at Sacred Raisin Cakes.

Russ White presents First Things First posted at Thinking in Christ.

Tom Gilson presents The Truth Holds Us (Short Version) posted at Thinking Christian.

Ridge Burns presents Revelation 2:5 posted at Ridge’s Blog.

Jeremy Pierce presents NIV 2011 and the singular "they" posted at Parableman.

FMF presents If You Want to Be Wealthy, You Need Understanding posted at Free Money Finance.

And I present an audience-participation-mostly post here called Canon Without the Canon. Please feel free to join in!

A Late Submission (or at least, I got it late):

Fadi presents Modern Day Prophecies posted at INSPIKS.

A Very Late Submission (Post was dated in October)

CChisholm presents God’s Existence: Proof from Biological Information | The Chisholm Source posted at The Chisholm Source.

Canon Without the Canon

An old theology professor of mine used to talk about the "canon within the Canon"--those books we prefer implicitly over others in the Bible. Anyone out there have a "canon without the canon"--books they un-prefer over others? And willing to say what it is in comments?

Mine's Romans. Could also be said to be certain OT books, but that's mostly for lack of having read the OT all the way through in a comprehending fashion.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"You're Going to Hell"

Most Christians should meet somebody who will tell them: "You are going to hell."

I say most because I don't know if we're all strong enough to handle it, but I think it would be healthy if we got a taste of how it is to be on the other side of our own beliefs about the afterlife.

I have many friends who are atheists or agnostics of some kind from college, and all through college I held to pretty conservative views of salvation. Still do. Now they've been tempered for a long time by a more inclusivist strand of thought, and an emphasis on not judging anyone's individual salvation. Still, I can't imagine I never inadvertently insulted anyone simply by believing what I did, which boiled down to, qualifiers or no, all other things equal: You're going to hell.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that there are people who think I will spend my eternity in torment because I am a Christian. Oddly enough, though, the more memorable times I've actually gotten a full, realization kind of taste of it, have been on the Protestant-Catholic divide. The first time was back in high school when one of my Catholic friends made some comment (which did then, and still does, strike me as kind of theologically simplistic) that it would be necessary for salvation to believe that the Eucharist was really the Body and Blood of Christ.

And now that I am a Catholic, and I do believe all this nonsense about the Eucharist and Communions of Saints, etc., it's not even so much a moment, but merely having a friend who desperately tried to talk me out of it (actually, someone close to him did, but I don't think he disagreed), and whose church would seem to be teaching him--if it mentions the Papists at all--that my salvation is dubious. Now granted, that's just part of the divide that is a consequence of choosing communion with Rome. I should say that I am grateful and touched that he, and his friend, were loving enough and caring enough about my spiritual health, to say what was said. But it introduced a palpable divide that I can feel every time I see him, an awkwardness introduced into all those situations, that wasn't there before. And the phrase "you're going to hell" was never even used, or even necessarily implied. Just there, under the surface, a highly uncomfortable possibility for me in the theology of the other.

Now I always felt a little bit awkward if I knew I'd said anything directly to any of my non-religious friends about the afterlife. But I do wonder whether the way I feel around my friend now is the way they sometimes felt around me. It's a feeling of being on the other side, of knowing someone is seriously concerned about the state of your soul (in a way they wouldn't normally be, that is a healthy concern after all.)

And I wonder if maybe it's not a good healthy experience that most Christians should have, to go out and meet someone who makes them realize--not just know in some academic sense, that someone believes they are going to hell.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts from Theology on Tap (10-22-2010)

Warning: I'm writing this, and I'm not a sacramental theologian. My thoughts are somewhat scattered; this should be taken as a slightly frustrated set of thoughts, and not as a well-structured argument. Please do not attempt to engage this as if it were argument.

Went to Theology on Tap tonight. Lots of good discussion. The priest who gave the talk that night was discussing the Eucharist and the Mass. Now one thing he'd said struck me wrong, which was that he almost seemed to suggest that the Eucharist being an object of adoration was wrong. (Someone, much to my relief, asked about this, and I was delighted by his clarification which seemed to suggest that he was more against people going to Mass just to adore the Eucharist and ignoring the fact that (a) it was also to be received, and (b) the Mass is not merely to be observed and wondered at but also taken part in. There was a lot of spirited debate because he said some things (not all of which were correct, or correctly phrased, in my mind) that seemed to denigrate the Tridentine Latin Mass. People of course stood up in defense of the TLM, and there was a lot of debate about things that in my mind don't hold so much water either way--things like how many of the faithful want, or would want, a TLM if it were offered at their parish, etc. Those things are important, but not the most important thing, I don't think. And I don't want to give the impression that I think only the TLM defenders were contributing to discussion that may or may not have been entirely fruitful. Lots of things the speaker said seemed questionable and were very hard to interpret charitably coming from where even I am coming from--and I am no Traditionalist.

At one point I have written in my notebook, from sometime in that whole exchange:

I wonder:
Would this be such a problem if were simply willing to fall in love with Jesus?

By "this" I think most of what I meant was "all this liturgical business about the N.O. vs. the TLM, etc. etc." I'll get back to that later.

Now to give some background, about a week ago a Deacon gave a talk on everyday spirituality. Somehow or other this connected with something G.K. Chesterton once said about St. Francis, in his biography of the same, which I remembered only imperfectly at the time but which I quote in full below:

The practical reconciliation of the gaiety and austerity I must leave the story itself to suggest. But since I have mentioned Matthew Arnold and Renan and the rationalistic admirers of Saint Francis, I will here give a hint of what it seems to me most advisable for such readers to keep in mind. These distinguished writers found things like the Stigmata a stumbling block because to them a religion was a philosophy. It was an impersonal thing; and it is only the most personal passion that provides here an approximate earthly parallel. A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfil the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love. [...St. Francis] was a Lover. He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation [...] as Saint Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. (Italics mine, copied from an electronic copy on this webpage)

Chesterton recognized that the oddity in much of Francis's behavior was that it was something one did when one was in love. So I'm trying to adopt this quality, to make it my own, to cultivate the quality of being in love with God and with the world. Going to Mass is one definite way of doing this, and surely a huge expression. If one believes that Christ is truly and specially present at the Mass, and one is in love with Christ, surely one goes where one's beloved will be? Would I not do this for another human being, if I felt I were in love with her? Why not, then, for God?

Quite frankly, I'm not a Traditionalist. Though I do consider myself pretty conservative, and my ballot will probably wind up backing that up. But I'm not really a TLM kind of guy. I have some Sundays--not all--that I like Holy Rosary's 11:00 AM Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, but that's not the TLM. I'd be lying if I said my reasons for the other Sundays got much holier than "some Sundays I like a folksy Mass" or "some Sundays I want a slacker Mass that lasts forty-five minutes and is said in words I understand immediately." At the same time I know some people prefer to meet Jesus in the TLM, and that's their deal. I'm not going to intrude, and it bugs me when other Novus-preference people want to, because they call it the Catholic Church for a reason. It's universal.

Anyway, I said I'd get back to that original note I made. So here goes:

Is it naive of me to believe that maybe if we all--that means people who are more liturgically 'liberal' and those who are more 'conservative'--simply focused on loving the Eucharist, with only a secondary focus on those technical details which pertain strictly to licitness, that much of this logistical debate would go away? That maybe a Church-wide revitalization of that reverence could be--even if saving the liturgy could help it--part of the process that catalyzes us to save the liturgy in the first place?

Of course, Legitimate concerns about validity of sacraments go strictly under reverence for the Eucharist and for God; an invalid Mass is not proper reverence. Legitimate concerns about licitness are also quite pertinent but sometimes get overstated in my book. Thus, I risk undervaluing them here because sometimes I think they just lead us to legalistic conversations and debates about pastoral needs that nobody in the audience or anyone speaking can verify. Maybe the new translation will help some. I hope it does, and maybe I'm overthinking the debate that happened tonight. It was certainly helpful and informative, and I don't mean to suggest that debates like that are useless. But I'm not entirely sure it was the most productive debate we could have had, and it seems like maybe the one guy's question about whether we should adore the Eucharist was the main point at which the more debate-like questions actually worked towards deepening our understanding of what happens at the Mass.

Of course I have relatively useless theological things I like to debate all the time, so maybe I've got some work do to, too.

Those are some thoughts Theology on Tap brought out for me tonight.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Which I Respond to John Meunier's Question

John Meunier has a good question up which I think is kind of a good one if we're at all trying to navigate the postmodern wilderness that is the world.

I invite anyone reading this to make their own response to my response, or to Meunier's question, here or on their own blog. (But if not here, please let me know where because I want to see it.) I of course invite the other KBT to respond with their own posts if they want.

[Later edit:] The question is "If you had the opportunity to preach to a crowd of nominal Christians or non-Christians in an informal setting – like John Wesley’s field preaching – what would you preach?"

Here's my response:
Ask yourself this question: "Am I good?" And if you answer yes, justify it. Without appealing to grace or any coherent and concrete concept of goodness that does not change with culture and goes beyond just what we think it is. 
If you justified yourself, you probably don't really believe in good at all, at least, not good with a meaningful meaning. Maybe you're good thinking that goodness is relative, something that's not inherent in anything, or something we have to make for ourselves, but I'm not. It's not meaningful meaning if we can change it as we please.
If you couldn't justify yourself, then I guess you'll need some help to be good. Christ can help you with that. Sorry state that I'm in, you should see what state I get into when I close myself off to Him. And if you're at all interested in being good, even if you already think you're justified on that front or that all I'm saying is twiddle-twaddle, you owe it to yourself to see what kind of change Christ might make in you. 
So really, just try and live like Him. Try and fall in love with Him, even if--right now--you don't know what you believe about Him. 
I think you'd be surprised to see the difference.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bad Christians

In my view there are two ways to be a Christian.

(A) Be a bad Christian, and recognize and work to change it.
(B) Be a bad Christian, and deny it or downplay it.

I'm sure all of us do a little of (A) or (B) at some point in time.

I'm also pretty sure that (A) is the road to being like Christ, and (B) is the road to a complacent and dead spiritual life, if not, and we should hope not, an actual spiritual death.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Best Ritual Moment Ever

From the former rite of confirmation (as found in the 1885 Pontifical):

"Next [the bishop] lightly slaps him on the cheek, saying:

Peace be with you."

(note: the word translated as 'slap' could also be translated as 'beat', 'cut', or 'slay'. And who knows how they interpreted that in the craziness that was the pre-Trent world?)

As an aside, since the tradition shows that slapping can be a legitimate sign of peace...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spiritual Warfare Metaphors?

I'm not sure how I feel about them. I'm not sure the phrase "prayer warrior" really applies to anyone who isn't at least a person who's had some real experiences praying against more concrete manifestations of dark forces. I feel like for most of us the effects aren't that direct. (This is not to be taken to mean they are not present, but let us note that war has many indirect effects on non-soldiers.) I believe in the unfortunate pervasiveness of dark forces but at the same time the ways they work, "war" seems too violent an image for the resulting conflict. Of course, the whole thing is a war, but I think of angels and exorcists as being more the warriors. I think most of us are more like homeland manufacturers or field support. So yeah, we're fighting a spiritual war. Nothing metaphorical about that. But I'm not sure we're quite as on the front lines as we sometimes might think.

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Robinson on the Puritans and Economic Justice

Marilynne Robinson is a fairly solid cultural ally for consistently Christian conservatives as far as criticisms of modern cultural and 'scientific' excess. She's not a big fan of the overarching cultural narratives that seem to have developed in modern times. While I was reading her books of essays, The Death of Adam, I found a great resemblance between much of her mission, and the mission of the more conservative Catholics I have known, in terms of being truly faithful to one's faith tradition on all matters, including matters of economics.

Speaking first of the so-called Christian right and then of the supposedly hypercapitalist "Protestant work Ethic", Robinson says in the chapter on "Family:"
"My own sense of [the Scripture], based on more than cursory reading, is that the sin most insistently called abhorrent to God is the failure of generosity, the neglect of widow and orphan [...] I have heard pious people say, Well, you can't live by Jesus' teachings in this complex modern world. Fine, but then they might as well call themselves the Manichean Right or the Zoroastrian Right and not live by those teachings. If an economic imperative trumps a commandment of Jesus, they should just say so and drop these pretensions toward particular holiness [...] I know those who have taken a course in American history will think this merger of Christian pretensions and bullyboy economics has its origins in Calvinism and in Puritanism. [...] Go find a place where they are guilty of this vulgarization. Or [...] find a hundred or a thousand places where they denounce it, taking inspiration, always, from the Bible."
Elsewhere in this same chapter she bemoans the loss of the Sabbath to commerce and labor, and the inability of the lower classes to refuse an employer, among other things. There are definitely places where she differs from the Catholics, but she is very much an ally in terms of bringing back the Sacred. And one thing I think Catholics can and should get behind her on is people actually reading historical things they want to condemn, or at least, not thinking they know too much about them to read them--Robinson pretty rightly lists the entire Old Testament among these so-known-nobody-reads-it works. The way that this theme comes through here is in Robinson's exasperation that this sort of Capitalism gets assigned to the Puritans when, really, it is so not what they meant. Though her book focuses mostly on correcting our distortions of what Calvinistic strains of Christianity actually taught in their historical forms, she seems quite obviously an ally of the more truly conservative Catholics who would also very much like to recall traditions of economic justice and fair limits on enterprise--as opposed to just legislating on abortion and gay marriage.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Catholicism and the "Modern Notion" of Consent

So bear with me. There's this "modern notion of consent" that we've seen some objections to, the one that had been given in the book Yes Means Yes, a group of feminist essays about dismantling cultures which aid and abet rape. In particular it seemed to run up against understandings about what it meant for a husband and wife to have a 'marriage debt' to each other. And a few weeks ago I finally got it formulated for myself as to what I don't like about the modern notion with respect to the Christian view of marriage. (In particular, a feminist friend of mine, and Eric, and others, have all served as sounding boards for my formulations.) I'm going to pull pretty heavily from commenters Eric, Nick and CJ to try and establish certain points. So enjoy.

Eric had said:
Your first question was what I meant by saying there is no analogy between modern "consentual sex" and marriage. I said this because your first post had a comment along the lines of "I would agree to such-and-such a statement in the book, provided its in the context of marriage." If you look up "marriage debt" you will see why there is no analogy.
The statement you're speaking of, I believe, is:
Obviously my stipulations about the proper and moral context of this initiative differ from that of secular feminism, but within a marital framework, if we truly consider the husband and wife equal in dignity, regardless of whether we're complementarians or egalitarians, is there any good reason not to treat the two as having an equal weight not only in consenting to their bodily union, which the serious thinkers on the subject in the Christian tradition has already taken seriously, but also in initiating it, in asking for that special bodily intimacy?
I need to write shorter sentences. I'm going to "trim the fat" a little, but I'm leaving the original there in case I trimmed something essential by mistake. (Please, someone let me know if I trimmed something essential.
[W]ithin a marital framework, if we truly consider the husband and wife equal in dignity [...] is there any good reason not to treat the two as having an equal weight not only in consenting to their bodily union [...] but also in initiating it, in asking for that special bodily intimacy?
I am in agreement that the modern notion of consent can't be applied here. Perhaps I spoke hastily or was slightly mis-phrased. What I do maintain is that reading Paul's injunction that a couple not deprive each other except by mutual consent does not imply that persons must, whenever asked, consent, except for the reasons Aquinas lists. Aquinas obviously has some major concerns about concupiscience--concerns with no small reason--but seems to overstate the case. The natural reading of the text seems to me, again, a guy with no Greek lexicon, to indicate that a marriage ought to have a healthy sex life unless there's some reason not to--not that every request must be met unless there's some reason not to. That said, I definitely don't think it's good for 'deprivation' to last longer than a few days without mutual consent; at that point I'd call it borderline; much further and I'd be willing to go as far as sin. I will say I think it's more important that two persons in a marriage have the same understanding of marriage debt, and that this understanding be consistently applied regardless of gender, than that every person who calls themselves Christian or Catholic has that same understanding. That is where I draw the line; if there is still disagreement, we will have to agree to disagree about this.

Now Nick had written, regarding the modern notions of consent:
The modern notion of consent operates in this framework: "You can only *use* me when *I* gain something from that *use*". That's prostitution. Pope Leo XIII called it "legalized concubinage."
I actually agree with what Nick is saying about the modern notions of consent; they do seem to (mostly) boil down to a mutual use. I think one big concern of the Yes Means Yes people is to correct hatever imbalances there might be in perceptions of the importance of male vs. female enjoyment of the act itself. That in itself is fine. I should hope the Church doesn't teach that one is more important than the other. And I don't at all think it would be Christian or loving to be unconcerned with how much one's spouse enjoys having sex. As a general pattern it does seem like the ideal presented by the Yes Means Yes crowd veers more in the direction of consenting mostly if not almost only when one is seeking pleasure. I should note that nowhere in the book have I actually read that said--but the overall tone suggests that consensual and pleasure-seeking sex is the ideal. And I sort of agree with them on that, but not really. I'll get back to that.

Nick went on to say:
The Catholic notion of "consent" (so-called) operates in different framework: "Through Charity (in which *I* love God and neighbor selflessly), *I* give myself to *You* in order that *You* grow in holiness and maturity as Spouse." (1 Cor 7, esp v3-5) Now, in a fallen world this is not easy for most of us, but it's a clear ideal, which the One True Church promotes and guards.
Yes. This goes along with what CJ had said in his response to Eric:
[S]ex within marriage must be understood [...] active consent, while not getting us all the way there, does reclaim some of that essence. It is an active giving and an active receiving. Yes, there is a marriage debt. But that marriage debt in light of the Christian Gospel is not to be fulfilled in the way we view, say, the ten commandments. These are, in fact, marriage debts owed by Christ's Church, his bride. But she is not to fulfill them because she has to, but because she wants to.
I actually agree with this, for certain definitions of "want." Of course forcing someone to go to Mass and take communion against their will would be wrong, but to convince them to will such so even if they didn't particularly desire it would not be. I definitely don't want to do service when I do in the sense of actively desiring it, but I do in the sense that I actively will it. Clearly there is a space in which we can will something, without wanting it in the colloquial sense, though in the sense of going to Mass or making love with our spouses desiring it is certainly the ideal.

So, as I see it, the things that are wrong with the 'modern notion' of consent seem to be:

1) It's tied up too much with seeking of pleasure in a hedonistic sense.
2) It does not, at least not prima facie, allow for consent to a reasonable sexual life with another person in the future.

So the overall tone of YMY, as I said above--and I have said this, and I may be wrong--but to me it suggests that consensual and pleasure-seeking sex is the ideal. And like I said, I sort of agree. I agree if we mean the pleasure of contemplating God, the pleasure of the proper union of spouses, the pleasure of two persons given to each other in Christ. In other words, pleasures that transcend the hedonistic. As for criticism (2), consent seems very much an immediate and for-the-moment thing in modern thought, and there is truth to this; a lack of consent for a sexual act makes it wrong. But in Christian marriage there is a sort of implied consent which does not imply one's consent whenever asked, but more of an agreement not to deprive one's partner of that facet of the relationship; there does seem to be an implicit agreement that one will consent in the future, sometimes, but not all of the time.

So with all of this in mind--here's my moral heirarchy. Here's what I'd call "good, passable, ehn, bad, worse, abhorrent" with respect to different uses or misuses of the 'marriage act'--specifically, here, the act within the Christian context of marriage. I think this does apply more or less to other marriage as well, but I can only claim to speak most fully about what I see as the ideal coming from my perspective as a Catholic.

Good: Husband and wife with a healthy sex life, because they want (desire) to have one.
Passable: The same, but because they want (will) to have one.
Ehn: The same, but just to pay their marriage debt. So, really, probably not as healthy as it could be.
Bad: Either a lack of sex that constitutes "deprivation" on the part of one partner or the other, without mutual consent for prayer. Here's where we cross the line into sin, as we've clearly violated a Scriptural mandate. (Again, I can't know for each couple when this line is crossed.)
Worse: Coercion on the part of one partner or the other under threat of sin.
Abhorrent: Marital rape.

I'm not sure if there's a giant difference between my descriptions for "passable" and "ehn." So I'm not sure exactly how else I'd construct Christian marital consent; obviously this was not a rigorous process for me, and quite frankly I don't know if it's something I want to try and construct with much more rigor unless I find myself breaking into academia and studying Catholic sexual ethics as part of my living. So there it is, for now at least.

Anyway, Hope you all have enjoyed this ride as much as me. Comments as usual are welcome. This will probably be the last Yes Means Yes post for quite awhile.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Consistency, Hope, Scripture

(1) I generally hope, and I take this hope to be an action of the will, for the salvation of all; I find some encouragement in knowing that there is some sense in which God desires all to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

(2) I doubt that this will actually happen, based on the weight of the Biblical evidence and a couple of rather conclusive-sounding things Jesus said about the narrow way and the wide gate, and the knowledge of some sort of predestination inextricable from the Christian tradition.

Is (1) consistent with (2)? (2), judging by the Christian tradition, certainly has more weight for our intellectual lives. Are they both consistent with the Scriptures?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How I'm Learning to Stop Worrying and Love the Eucharist

For awhile I was on track to being one of those people who take the wrong kind of interest in doing Church right. I didn't hit rock bottom with my attitude at Mass. But I fell a bit. I already stunk at paying attention, and in the last few weeks I had been losing my focus on the center of the Mass! Instead I was getting cheap satisfaction through irritation at small things which may not even have been liturgically illicit, when I stunk at paying attention even besides those.

In my later Protestant years this was already a problem, but I think it might have been made worse by a liturgy with rules. Somehow I got the idea that I should take liturgy really, really seriously, all the time, even if I cheated the Eucharist in the process.

My increasing conviction, not at all the result of just my efforts, led to this Q&A: What's happening here? Jesus Christ is becoming Really Present. What should distract me from that? Almost nothing.

My new policy is twofold. (1) Only things that can affect the Eucharist are big enough to distract me. If it's illicit or lesser, I forget it or file it away. (2) I make an effort to explicitly thank Christ for His body at least twice while at Church.

Anyone else have this problem?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An odd sort of remembrance

Dan brought me on awhile ago, and now, after much needed badgering, I'm finally getting around to writing stuff. I love studying liturgy, and the studying the Eastern Churches. I'm currently working on some posts concerning the 20th century reforms of the rites of the Latin Church, but I just wanted to start with an unrelated very interesting note.

A huge part of the theology of what goes on during the Eucharistic prayer (and the whole liturgy, really), is the idea of anamnesis. 'Remembering' in English doesn't quite give us the full sense. This is a sort of recalling and remembering that actually makes present- now- the event recalled (or, better yet, makes us present to the event). Anamnesis is the Greek term used when Jesus says in the various Last Supper accounts, to 'do this in memory/remembrance of me'.

Remembering is crucial to the Jew and the Christian. It can be seen to stem from the scene in Exodus where Moses pleads with God to remember his covenant, to remember the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so that He will relent and not destroy His people, Israel. In asking God to remember, we recall the covenant ourselves. We recall all that God has done for us, and recall how we have far from lived up to our end of the bargain.

An important part of most Eucharistic prayers then, is the act of recalling the great events of our salvation.

For instance, here is the version from the modern translation of the Roman Canon (aka Eucharistic Prayer I in the Missale Romanum):

"[Preceded by the words of institution]
Father, we celebrate the memory of Christ, your Son. We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into glory; and from the many gifts you have given us we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation."

Or from Rite I of Holy Eucharist from the Book of Common Prayer:

"Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Savior Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same."

Everything I have said up to now is really just prefatory information. Now, on to the Really Neat Thing!

In the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, during the anamnetic part of the Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer), we find the following :

"Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming, we offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all."

Notice anything odd? Anything particularly different from the other two?

Let's look at the sentence taking out all the stuff that gets in the way of noticing this little oddity:

"Remembering, therefore...the second, glorious coming..."

Whaaattt?? How can we remember something that hasn't happened yet? How can we remember the future?

Partly because there's a certain already/not yet tension going on, for in the Eucharist Christ has come again to His people.

But the bigger reason seems to be that there is truly only one liturgy, the heavenly one, and all others are an inbreaking of the eternal liturgy into a particular time and place. For Christ has ascended to the Father and dwells in eternity, where all is present to God. Mystery!!!!

On a side note, in Eucharistic Prayer IV, which is modelled after an Eastern Anaphora, we get the following:

"Father, we now celebrate this memorial of our redemption. We recall Christ's death, his descent among the dead, his resurrection, and his ascension to your right hand; and, looking forward to his coming in glory..."

Which, needless to say, just isn't as awesome....

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Red and the Blue...

Should be treated as apolitical. Basically this is a thought I've had laying around since my Senior year of college, at least. Now it comes out! Hopefully the graphs do all the talking so I won't have to. The case I didn't visualize, where the faith community is off on its own tangent, and the red and black lines converge, is definitely in some "bad" category. Where would you put it?
More graph-themed posts will be coming!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

[June 26 UPDATE:] Things I'm Working On

Sometime in the future, watch for posts on the following:

* Reading Johnson's Consider Jesus. Will be working on the appropriateness of labeling a Christology 'ascending,' and the proper place of feminist-theological thought and liberation-theological thought in Christianity. Almost done with this now.
* Reading an anthology of feminist essays called Yes Means Yes which a friend lent me. Judging from what I've read so far, I'll be thinking on the degree of conflict between the traditionally (and accurately) defined virtue of chastity, and feminist thought about sexuality. Definitely finished this and some posts have been made. Two to come, one on consent and one on sexuality and fatness.
* Finishing The Shack. It's not the best book ever written, but it is a book that's had an impact, particularly on my family, and so many people are decrying it as worse than it is. Finished it now. Two-sentence review: (1) If you're reading it naively and taking it theologically, you're reading it wrong. (2) Whether you're a foe or a fan, quit reading it wrong. Going to do an "NATT" on this.
* Reading Stuff Christians Like. Not sure if this one will get an "NATT" post, but either way I can say that I highly recommend this book. I actually don't know where my copy is or when it'll get done.
* Reading the documents of Vatican II. It seems clear to me that somewhere in wording, interpretation or implementation, something went wrong with this council. The question is "what, exactly?" I'm going to try and see if I can spot anything that may have gone wrong in that first part--in the way that the council documents were worded. I'm never going to be a Traditionalist, but the myriad objections of both Traditionalism and more mainstream Roman Catholic conservatism (especially with respect to implementation), as well as the way that persons on both sides of many political issues have taken upon themselves a right to dissent where the teaching strikes as much more essential than they want it to be...I'm smelling multiple rats, here.
* Finishing Deming's Paul on Marriage and Celibacy. It'll be interesting, mostly I think in terms of what the relationship of the idea of a celibate priesthood, especially in the early Church, might be to the Stoic-Cynic marriage debate.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Yes Means Yes: Comments, Etc.

So I've actually finished reading Yes Means Yes now. There'll be some more reaction-posts coming, but there are some comments that have been made that warrant a further reaction. If you want this post to make the maximum amount of sense you should probably go back and read the initial post on YMY and then the follow-up post where I discussed some of the questions/comments a friend had left on the first post. Please note that I am pulling comments from both threads; if you're wondering why nothing of Eric's comment on the first post is here, it's because the second post was intended to address that. I'm going to save some of Eric, Nick and CJ's commentary especially for another post, because I think their comments were helpful to me in probing what this "modern notion of consent" is that we dislike, as opposed to the general notion of consent that I would argue should be agreed upon by Christians. Still to come on the YMY front: I'm going to attempt to respond to a particular essay in the book that has yet to be mentioned on this blog. I'm also going to attempt a post about "modern notions of consent" that seem so controversial. If I have the energy and the development on this front I might also attempt some post about what a Christian model of sexuality might actually be, because I'm not satisfied with the feminists' model, as a Catholic, at least not the Yes Means Yes crowd's model. Commenters will be addressed in alphabetical order.

Commenters' words will be in bold.
My responses will be in normal text.


Stuff CJ said:

Dan, good reasons why women shouldn't initiate? If that's the way the cookie crumbles in the relationship, far be it from me to limit the way God's love works in people; however, while most of these radical feminists will probably scoff at my suggesting this, I have rarely met a woman who doesn't wish for the initiate from a real man (I think you know how I mean this) and not just these p[r?]etty boys we find in today's society. Physical archetypes would be the reason I would cite, but many people find the interpretation of physical realities woefully close-minded (though still living by the die-hard line of scientific method and empiricism).

Either by socialization or by biology, there's bound to be truth to what you're saying. Not sure if it's quite as scientific and empirical as you claim. The main trap I now consider it part of my project to avoid is considering female sexual desire as lower than male. (I don't think you're doing that.) Note that I don't necessarily consider either desire to be really, really important, but that I am simply saying they seem to be equal in importance if the persons are equal in dignity.

Plus, I'm still not sure how to apply such a concept in modern times.

I think you lost me a little. Which concept don't you know how to apply?

Yes, I know Dan, I really need to proof these things before I post them.

Yes. Yes you do.

Stuff Eric said:

Marriage does necessarrily include the physical. If two people "marry" with no desire to have sex (or to do so without children) they are entering into something of a sham marriage.

I do agree with you on this point (and, I should note, not just you but the Church) but I feel like we need to discuss this in such a way so as to leave room for, well, not calling the marriage of Mary and Joseph a sham. (For any non-Catholics who might be reading this, this is an issue that Catholics such as Eric and I have to deal with that you might not, because Catholic Tradition insists that Mary and Joseph's marriage had no physical intercourse.

What I said is that the physical union of the spouses is not the ultimate end, or the high point, of marriage, no matter how many spiritual analogies modern Catholic sex educators use.

Agreement. But then what is its ultimate end? I'm not tied down to one answer to that question.

Regardless of whether or not you happen to like the language of debt, it's clear that sex in Christian marriage is not necessarrily consentual in the modern sense, even if it should not for that reason be forced (though it does not mean one can use force or coercion, it is in fact a serious sin to deny one's spouse).

I agree that it's not consensual in the modern sense, but I should expand on that later. Regarding "serious sin:" Do you mean that anytime one's spouse asks, it would be a sin to deny? Or do you mean it would be a sin to deny for a significant period of time, unless one was doing so for some purpose considered legitimate? The Pauline passage--on my admittedly naive and un-scholarly reading--doesn't seem to force a reading that every request must be met on pain of sin. It seems, prima facie, at least as reasonable to read it simply as the admonition that all marriages have a healthy sex life. Nonetheless the Pauline passage does point to an irreconcilable difference between Christian views and the modern views of sexuality, which I'll get to in a later post.

Cho's scenario does not make sense in the context of marriage, because a spouse giving in to the other even though he/she doesn't really want it is not necessarrily a bad thing in marriage, whereas it is in the logic of modern sexuality. I don't say of course that it's an ideal in marriage, but it is something of a duty as far as I understand it.

Yes. I'll try and give some more nuanced thoughts on the subject later. I do think--and I don't know if I said this in my first post--but I do still think it's worthwhile for Christianity to speak to situations that aren't marital, if only to see if--as a temporary measure, not as a solution--we can help move them further from being screwed up. Many of the reasons Cho gives in her testimony for having said yes were pretty awful reasons, and might have been even worse in the context of marriage.

I don't think it helps anything to praise consentual fornication, simply because it does not pile on other sins.

I'll take progress where I can get it. I don't intend, however, to praise it as if progress automatically meant a lack of sin. In this case, 'those other sins' refers to one of the few things condemned by the Church as being never, ever, okay. I don't praise consensual fornication. But it's closer to Truth than rape.

In fact, it may in some way be worse because it stabilizes the sin. Someone who is able to maintain a reasonably stable sex life because they've embraced the rules of consent may be much further from seeing how damndable the whole situation is. In fact, it may in some way be worse because it stabilizes the sin. [...] It seems to me that people in this situation are only questionably better off morally, and in terms of the possibility of conversion may be much further off.

I do share your concern. In some ways it reminds me of Lewis's caution in The Four Loves that sometimes love is most dangerous when it most approximates the love of God, and yet is not that love. Certainly there is the danger that in trying to reach into an incredibly sinful situation we might accidentally simply decrease the sin and make the lesser amount of sin seem more acceptable than it is.

That said, I would prefer the situation of consent to the situation of rape because the latter seems not only worse in degree but also in kind--there is a perversion there of sinning not just against one's own body but also against the body of another, in a way not present in simple fornication. The question that must be immediately answered, for me, is not which situation we prefer--it is what we say and where we stand when someone says "no" to the proposition of sex--or even when they answer in a nonverbal "no."

I did not say feminism created this problem on its own, but that it helps to create the grey areas that make it possible. Obviously the wickedness of man's heart is reason enough for any sin, but we now have a social space in which this sin can be normalized and even embraced as a "lifestyle."

Eliminating those social spaces is tricky. I'm not sure any one culture has ever done it.

I don't necessarrily reject every possible idea which has ever been called "feminism" [...] by some liberal definitions of the word, I am a muslim. [...] I see no reason to constantly redefine the term in such a way that it becomes completely disconnected from the historical movement which gave it its name.

Hence my irritation with modern redefinitions of fundamentalist to include anyone who takes religion seriously.

I'm quite certain that we don't agree completely about what being "just Catholic" means, but I'm also quite certain that we don't disagree in any way so big as to make us opponents in any fundamental sense.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I take a slightly more minimal approach. But it is good to remember that we are together on the fundamentals.

Stuff Nick said:

From the "traditionalist" standpoint (hehe), there is a reason why Popes over the last few centuries have (repeatedly) spoken out against the idea of the State taking over Marriage (in order to confine it to the secular realm). The problem is that it strips Marriage of it's Sacramental character and thus cuts off it's ultimate ends, which are supernatural (Mat 22:30).


A secular marriage becomes ordered towards what currently benefits society, with it's ends limited only to the present - which is likewise "guided" by the ever changing wind of "popular opinion."

This would seem to flow logically.

But it seems like some of the societal ends do still matter, or at least, that the stability is--even if it is only an "in the meantime" solution--better than instability.

This is one of the core reasons why separation of Church and State is impossible for the Christian, and without this foundation any dialogue with "others" (e.g. feminists, Protestants, "Republican Party Catholics") is ultimately futile. Without that foundation, you're conceding 'home field advantage' to the lost, confused, or even downright evil 'opponent' - and at that point it's an up-hill and no-win game for you.

I am not at all married to our Constitution; I should much rather see a state reordered to human dignity and the law of God. However, it seems rather pessimistic to assume it is simply "an up-hill and no-win game" to venture out of one's "home field." Certainly it makes things more difficult, but I think the consistency of Catholic moral philosophy can serve as a witness even when we're not in the home-field, if we really say not only that "I agree with you about XYZ," but also "You're wrong about ABC, because really, this is the way things should be." (ABC doesn't mean artificial birth control here, but it could!) Of course, for this witness to really work, we've got to be living as a people with hope in the Resurrection, and living the philosophy we preach.

When the ultimate end is to assist their partner in attaining Heaven, things such as rape, grey area, even consent, 'drop out' of the equation because they inherently oppose that ultimate end. The modern notion of 'consent' is inherently wrong because it is not formed by Charity (Love), because it is based on selfishly consenting only when the person consenting sees them self in a position to gain ("take") and not as an unselfish fulfillment of duty. Consent formed by Charity is only possible in the Sacramental context, but at that point it resembles nothing of what the secular reader can make sense of.

There is truth to many of the nuances Dan is speaking of, but they need to be re-framed into the Christian framework and not left 'hanging' as if applicable to the secular view of marriage.

Yes. At the same time, being able to speak Catholic truth into situations that aren't immediately Catholic, and in a way which encourages conversion, would be a useful endeavor if we can manage it.

Stuff Shawn said:

As the only female commentor as of this moment, I will say that intimacy (which, from my angle, is the point of relationship in general, and marriage specifically) is certainly not limited to sex/intercourse (nor is intercourse a requirement for intimacy). Arrogance and entitlement are intimacy killers. Consent and desire will both be augmented by a move toward intimacy, which is fed by respect, self-sacrifice, and having your beloved's back...emotionally/physically/spiritually.

You, being a non-Catholic, are in an intellectual sense freer than I am to take union as being the end of marriage. I, being Catholic, am free to take it as being an end of marriage. I do however think intimacy is bad phraseology for anything that is supposed to be "the point" of marriage specifically. I assume when you say intimacy you mean intimacy that is found in a sense of marital union--otherwise, if you just wanted intimacy, why wouldn't you just go monastic? A faith community is plenty intimate. Something about marital intimacy must be different. So if you meant to say that intimacy itself was the point of marriage specifically, I would have to say I think you're wrong on that point.

From where I'm sitting, many of the less savory components of "feminism" are essentially self-defense or at worst reactionary.

To be honest, most of the things I dislike most aren't even the reactionary things, they're the things that comes from a worldview that's very much outside of Christianity.

The sad part is that women felt the only way to be as valuable as a man was to be like a man. This should make us all sad..."femininity" was sacrificed on the alter of not being second class. Tragic.

To a degree, I agree. I don't think most women have actually made that switch in its entirety (or if they have, our culture is doing a poor job of showing us this shift.)

Feminism has had some unfortunate fall out, but it was necessitated by oppression (generally at the hands of men, often those who used religion and "headship" as a cheap crutch).

From where I'm standing, with my admittedly naive readings of Paul, it looks like headship exists, and that it does seem to be the husband's. That seems to be a reality that we've all got to deal with if we're seeking to be historically Biblical Christians. The question is what it means. I lean more complementarian on that than you do, but I have no fully formed opinion on it except that it definitely includes a strong sacrificial component.

To sum up my thoughts, I'm tickled pink (yes, it's a girlie color, and I LIKE it!) to hear men (primarily, so far) having this conversation. It gives me hope for a better future, where we all embrace the unique ways we were designed.

I suppose my big question would be whether a belief in uniqueness of the sexes puts any serious limitation on straight-up egalitarianism.

In general, some of the assertions you made in comments about abortion and dogma are not necessarily Catholic positions; I feel that at least for the present conversation I've addressed those sufficiently here.

A Snippit of Conversation from About the Time I Decided to Convert

This is from mid-November of 2009. So that would've been about a month before I talked to Fr. Anthony about joining RCIA.

well part of the problem was the fact taht [sic] miracles were drawing me to the church
and keeping me drawn to Christianity in general
i still think that's a good thing, but i know that miracles aren't supposed to be the thing you put your faith in

but it is evidence

but a few days ago i made the distinction between putting your faith in miracles, and miracles putting you over the edge to putting your faith in Christ

if they weren't good God wouldn't have the,

precisely. and i've seen too much evidence now to go back to the...dare I say atheism that may have inhabited my mind for even a few days, or even a few hours, at a time
(in addition to Fatima I've also done some reading on the case of Padre Pio...i still need to do more on lourdes, i should pick up a book)

have one somewhere but that doesn't do you much good

heheh :p
the big difficulty is i sometimes have the problem making the connection to 'hey, i believe that, okay'
but then when i really think about it something scares my brain
because it doesn't feel rational--it's mysterious
and like lots of people, i hate mystery
but when i look at the history, look at the evidence
it seems that there are moments in human history that ARE that mysterious, that horrific, that incomprehensible
One of those sorts of events recurs several times a day in Catholic and Orthodox churches all around the world
and it's disgusting, disturbing, and True
it sounds weird, but a lot of that connection, that disconnect I feel between my abstract thought and what goes on in the world...if the gap's going to be bridged, it seems like the Eucharist is the thing that does it
not that Jesus himself doesn't play a factor, but on an ongoing, daily basis that seems to be the major way
and also, of course, Jesus is still playing a factor in the sense that the bread/wine is Jesus
...gah, i dunno if you got anything out of that, sorry if it was just a jumbled mess of gah

that is pure dan thought but I got most of it
just remember you can speak of the Eucharist and leave out Christ [Pat informs me that he meant to say "can't" here, but in the moment I had read "leave out Christ" as indicating simply "not mention Jesus explicitly"]
they are the same [from a Catholic perspective this is, at least for the purposes of this conversation, correct]

Thursday, June 17, 2010


It's here.

I'm sorry. I know it'll create a mild annoyance. I had thought about doing it for quite some time, because I'm sick of dealing with foreign-language spam ads masquerading as comments.

Some of you might be wondering what I'm talking about because you've never seen said comments. That's because I clean them up completely.

The other option here is comment moderation, but IMHO the CAPTCHA is preferable because (a) I don't have to deal with Japanese porn, or whatever the heck is being advertised, and (b) comments will show up when they are made, not later.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Quick Misuse of Paul

We've seen lots of awesome discussion on this blog recently. Some of it's been rather heavy. So to lighten the mood I'm going to purposefully and blatantly abuse a quotation from the Apostle Paul. Here's the famous passage where he told Christians to go get smashed (taken, minus verse numbering, from Biblegateway, NIV, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (edit: actually it was chapter 5):
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us [...] get drunk at night.
In case that's not enough context for you, let's have a little more. At this point it becomes clear that Paul is only recommending drunkenness implicitly:
"So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep [...] For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night."
Okay, so maybe that's not enough context.
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
It should be clear that Paul is here recommending that at night we go out and get smashed with caffeinated liquor of some kind (for the alert-ness, and to help keep us from losing our moral reason.)

Of course at this point my abuse is blatantly obvious. Thanks for indulging me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some Questions/Comments on that First YMY Post

I'd said some thing about my initial impressions of the book Yes Means Yes over in this here post.

In the comments below my friend Eric had left some interestings which I felt merited a post in response. If anyone else wants to chime in they may feel free to do so either in the original thread, or here. Eric's comments will be in bold, my responses will be in normal text.

Full disclosure, I feel that I owe some of my thought to correspondence with the friend who lent me YMY, much to correspondence with other people and Eric (outside of the comment I am responding to), and a bit to correspondence with the Catholic philosopher Alexander Pruss.

The logic of "consentual sex" is in no way something which can be applied to consenting to marriage.

I am not sure what you mean--do you mean we can't apply it to each act within marriage, or that we can't apply it to the consent one gives to be married in the first place? I disagree either way--a consent, an "I will," is important. Coercion, even if it was not forceful, would certainly cheapen the strength of that will, if not pervert it. "I do" does not indicate an "I will" for all future instances; the question is when in the future "I won't" is acceptable. I don't think you're advocating coercion or force, but certainly within the context of a relationship built on Love, neither ought to be allowed. And if a construction of consent helps to enforce that ban, I'm all for it.

First of all, consenting to marriage is about a union of lives. While modern Christians seem to obsess over the sexual ethics, with some theology of the body people going so far as to suggest that sex is the ultimate realization of the union of marriage, really it's not the main point.

With few exceptions (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!) it's a pretty clear corollary of the Genesis definition of marriage, which seems to indicate a man and a woman becoming one flesh. A union of lives is certainly present but (again, rare exceptions) I'm not sure how that can not include the physical. I don't necessarily think you're trying to exclude the physical, but in terms of physical realizations, intercourse, aside from a man actually and literally laying down his life for his wife, does seem like it's pretty up there. There are of course other things.

Obsessing over sexual ethics obscures the reality of marriage, and applying the logic of "consentual sex" analogously to marriage adds fuel to the fire.

It's already been obscured. Everyone from Puritans and prudes to libertines and liberals have obscured it. Any husband who's ever beaten his wife or molested his children has obscured it. What the Catholic ethics people are attempting to do might add fuel to the fire. I don't care if it does. But if so their fire will be a cleansing fire, not a further obscurantist fire. I think the caution you've suggested already about not making sex the ultimate goal of marriage is a good one, especially given the counterexamples from the Church's Tradition. But for better or for worse, we live in a world where marriage has been obscured. If everything were clear, if everyone acted in the interest of Love, I think we could talk about an absorption of consent by Love in a similar vein to Wojtyla's talk of absorption of shame by Love--it's not that those things disappear or are not necessary, but that for a given relationship they no longer need to be discussed, at least not so directly, because both persons, acting in the interest of Love, will automatically practice them. If you in your marriage have reached that point, then I applaud that. Do I think some of the feminist movement and sexual ethicists have potential to do more damage in that area of obscuring, or even that they have? Yeah, but good Christian men who go home and do un-Christian things to their households have helped to create the reality that everyone has to wrestle with, which is that we're not yet at a point where Love can really be said to be absorbing anything.

Aside from the fact that agreeing to marriage is not the same thing as agreeing to use each other for pleasure, it should also be remembered that a married couple owes each other what's called the "marriage debt" which I'm sure would be horrifying to those who believe in "consentual sex" (though it should be remembered that men owe it to women as much as women to men).

I don't particularly like to use the language of debt with respect to sexuality. I do of course endorse the language of mutual ownership, but the fact remains the Love does not force. Paul's admonition on the subject--"do not deprive each other except by mutual consent for prayer and fasting" (not verbatim) seems to indicate that if there is that ideal, that if they're not setting aside a time for prayer and fasting, the marriage should indeed have a sex life. If a marriage has none, from a Catholic perspective, something is wrong. I agree; in that case something would be at the least seriously wrong. However, I don't think this justifies the use of coercion

You quote Cho as saying she has several times said yes to sex she actually didn't want to have.

For the record, I don't think that anyone, including Cho, really considers those instances of rape. When I read her testimony, I considered them to be instances of having sex for reasons that were at least less than ideal, if not actually wrong (either on her part and/or someone else's), and would have been less than ideal even if she'd been married.

Maybe by developing a more rigorous language of consent this could be somewhat limited, but if people are being asked to make this sort of decision on the spot the grey area is never going to go away.

A small emotional gray area (perhaps a small doubt of whether one wants to) can be taken along with an explicit willing for something to happen, as safely constituting consent in my book. The larger gray area is if coercion--verbal or alcoholic--is in any way present. So yeah, I'll agree that a small emotional gray is likely to be eliminated.

In fact, it is the sexual revolution that has created this grey area. When sex is restricted to marriage, there is no such "did she really want it... really?" type grey area.

I think we could easily imagine a scenario like Cho's more violent experience happening in a marital context. Doesn't mean it necessarily happens often, but it definitely doesn't close the question of whether a wife perpetually wants it, or perpetually wills it. It just might mean she's decided, oddly enough, to will something else, because it's less effort than going through with the deeper will, which is just "not tonight." And I think we could pretty easily imagine such a scenario having happened anytime in the middle ages just like it might happen today.

This will not go away unless sex outside of marriage on the whole is condemned. "Consentual sex" cannot solve this problem.

Agreed! But it's a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition. And in the meantime, until we have a cultural conversion with respect to sexuality, we're going to want to be able, if we can, to speak as Christians to less-than-Christian conditions. I definitely agree that until everyone is really asking themselves what Love requires--and until everyone has the proper understanding of what, at its basic level, that Love is--our problems, our sad necessity to even talk about what consent means (again, recall, in an ideal world, we wouldn't need to construct a meaning for it, because said need would be absorbed by person who relate to each other in Love)...Until we convert, until we are in a sort of societal sense, resurrected, it's not going to go away. I do condemn sex outside of marriage. But that doesn't mean I desire to see that sin compounded by other sins which are either qualitatively or quantitatively worse. It would be great if the old culture were be baptized and transformed into the new creation. But that's going to take time, and in the meantime, that old culture is going to need bandages.

It is in fact feminism and the sexual revolution which have in the first place made "date rape" and other such difficult middle grounds between consent and violent rape possible,

Great, but feminism didn't do that on its own. Coercion and un-Loving pressure are middle grounds that, while they don't necessarily constitute rape, were definitely there before. The question of date rape is a slightly different one to me, but I'm willing to bet that a number of other movements besides Feminism helped make it happen. Aside from whatever faulty teaching members of the Church--as opposed to the Church's teaching office--may have passed down, again we have the Puritans who, rightly or wrongly, are known for having overestimated the value of sexual shame, and the Libertines who are known for having done pretty much the opposite. I don't necessarily discount the idea that the feminist movement may have exacerbated some of the problems of society, or that said problems include complications relating to our idea of consent, of what it means to 'will' a sex act to happen.

and they will only go away when we reject feminism and the sexual revolution.

I am not ready to agree to this for all definitions of 'feminism,' but for all historically reasonable (that is, not deliberately redeemed by some Christian youth movement) meanings of 'sexual revolution' I would call this a necessary but not sufficient condition. We must invite God, to paraphrase an older Graham Kendrick tune: "Search [us], try [us], consume all our darkness." It's possible that somewhere along the line the Christian tradition began contributing to the confusion; certainly many of us in action, even if not in theory. That's part of the reason I think theory is important, why it's important to build a model of human sexuality that cautions us against coercion, even if it means re-phrasing (not re-interpreting, or mis-construing) our old ideas about what the Pauline injunction to regular physical unity actually means. I prefer to use less abusable language, language prone to--if anything--persuasion as opposed to coercion. I suspect the exact boundaries and lines that each couple must adhere to in order to respond to Love's demands will vary by the context of relationship, but as a general guideline I am more comfortable with the language of "should" than with the language of debt, and it is my belief that while either might be strictly compatible, one is much more likely to lead to bad practice--to moral untruth--than the other. I don't dispute that many couples take the phrasing of 'marriage debt' seriously and interpret it in a way which is not, in the context of their relationship, subject to abuse. And even a "should"--even a "debt," for that matter, has limits on proper method. At the risk of being overly subjective, something about a husband or a wife using the notion of a "debt" (or even a "should," but "should" seems less subject to this problem) doesn't strike me as a very resurrected situation for a marriage to be in. Neither does the notion of a celibate marriage, with few exceptions. It seems like the "should" might be more properly applied to what the two persons will in the first place, so that their wills in the matter move further and further in line with one another and so that neither ever tries--at least not badgeringly--to convince the other on the matter.* Let me be clear: I don't want to or will to excise the Pauline injunction from the Tradition. It can't be done. But I do not consider myself or any other Christian to be bound to the phrasing of "marriage debt," particularly, but not exclusively, due to the baggage it carries today and the abuse it has had over the years as a tool for abuse.

If we are Catholic, why should we draw or understanding of the proper ordering of gender within society from a bunch of largely atheist revolutionaries who have sought to destroy the norms of marriage, when the saints have already taught on the subject?

I'm not sure who precisely you're concerned about. My concern is to figure out where this movement might highlight moral truths that aren't--for whatever reason--talked about as much within the church. I have no desire to rewrite our narratives to match their goals. I do have a desire to see what the truth is in their results, and allow that truth to give further nuance to how I as a Christian construct my response to things, in particular my response to sexuality. But I guarantee you, I have no interest in rewriting the essential Christian narrative of sexuality and/or gender to include perspectives which aren't Christian. I have an interest in moral truth, no matter what its immediate source, and in seeing what the interaction is between that Truth, and our starting points. I have no interest in drawing my ultimate understanding of those things from anything other than an understanding of ourselves as creatures of God in light of the Resurrection.

And do the Saints discuss the subject of marital rape? Of childhood abuse? If so, those aren't exactly the popular or discussed passages. And if nobody's really putting it out there that the Saints have talked about this, and nobody's talking about what they've said, then (as far as me hearing what they've said goes) it doesn't do much to just say "the Saints have talked about this." This isn't just about gender and the basic meanings and contemplations of humans as sexual beings who are creatures of God. This is about how, building on that understanding, our specific conceptualizations of what a right relationship looks like influences our understanding of everything else. I guarantee you, in my mind, the feminist movement comes out substantially less than Good in the eyes of God. But that doesn't mean they haven't walked in shoes we've never walked in (female shoes, to start with) or experienced things we've never experienced (speaking only for myself without intending to imply anything about anyone else who gets involved in this conversation, I have never been abused)...and it doesn't mean--that feminists--even if they may have furthered the obfuscation of sexuality--have nothing valuable to say that can help us get out of the hole of obfuscation of sex that we've gotten into. Just like everyone else has nuances to contribute. Ultimately I do believe the constructions lending themselves most to proper service of Truth will come from the Catholic fold, and that the proper starting points are parts of the Catholic Truth that Christ preached and left to the early Church. That, by the way, goes for every area of life, including but not limited to human sexuality.

I see no reason, unless we are trying to impress the world by saying "don't worry, I'm not so crazy. I can be a feminist too." But why should we be trying to impress the world?

Hopefully, if we're trying to impress the world at all, it's by letting our light shine before it, so that it might see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. Don't get me wrong; I have problems with trying to be agreeable, and that's personal stuff that I need to work on for the sake of my relationship with God. It goes, by the way, with whoever I'm talking with, "conservative" or "liberal." But allow me to be very clear about this, lest anyone think otherwise:

I would gladly cast off any label other than Christian, and even that, if I felt it stood in the way of my commitment to Christ and to the Truth.

That said, nobody has yet applied the feminist label to me, and they're not likely to do so. I confess to erring on the side of dialog here (as I usually do), if I am indeed erring. Erring on the other side, however, might result in ignoring legitimate concerns of their movement, and that won't profit myself, the Church, or Christ at all, however, and it might do just the opposite; it might give credence to the view that Christianity that doesn't listen to those who are downtrodden and left-out. Some people are going to view us that way anyway, and that's their problem. But I'm going to do whatever is in my power to strip them of the stupid excuses they feel that 'religion' has given the to ignore it. Sometimes that duty will require me to speak up and correct, to declare what I believe is the wrongness of the world. Sometimes that duty requires me to listen.

My explicit statement in this matter of modern feminist thought, and in all others, is to claim a Catholic--not pre, post or simply modern, not Thomist or personalist, or anything else--Catholicism, in which I am hungry for the Eucharist, for Love, and for Truth and Justice, and with that as my banner and guide, spiritual home and philosophical home-base, to brave the postmodern wilderness and--if God can make me holy enough--help to convert that wilderness into something that looks more like the Kingdom of God.

* I see nothing prima facie wrong with the idea of persuasion on the part of either partner. The exact question of where coercion comes in is a good one, and I'm not sure a single line can be drawn that will be applicable to every individual marriage, because--as with many things--even the two persons and who they are will create a different context of relationship.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Yes Means Yes: Initial Impressions

Yes Means Yes is a book of essays written by feminists which attempts to provide a remedy to some of the underlying assumptions and models of sexuality and persons that can provide cultural sanction for the practice of rape, especially in the united states. The essays aren't necessarily confined strictly to that objective, but everything discussed is at least of tangential relevance to that critique. All citations here are from the 2008 edition (for a visual description, the one with the red, black and yellow cover,) and will be given in the format of ("Essay," Section writer, page number), thereafter (Last name, page number).

This is the first of what will hopefully be many blog posts in which I am giving my theological and personal reactions, from where I come from as a Christian, to the issues and ideas raised by this book. This post just has some initial impressions.

Hopefully I can present a charitable enough picture of what this book has to say that whoever reads this will be able to make a good decision about whether or not to read it for yourselves. I don't necessarily recommend that every Christian I know read this book; many conservatives and even a few liberals would term it crass and crude in places, and rightly so; so I urge persons who are contemplating reading this book and think they might be offended to ask themselves first if being offended will help them grow, or just make them miss the point. And, among many other things, the book is quite obviously about sex. So use your discernment there.

That said, there's a lot of stuff I like in what I've read so far. Now I definitely don't share my religious framework with a lot of these writers, and (as a consequence) there are many things in the book that are problematic from a Catholic perspective. But many of the critiques of the culture, at their core, ring true, and (when I think about them) strike me as stupid just like they strike the secular feminist movement. One thing, right off, just in case there's any misconception at allI do not believe these women are man-haters, and neither should you. They are not. However, I believe that a number of the assumptions that they make and a few of the resulting assertions are problematic from a Christian and, especially, Catholic perspective.

So I'm going to start with my worst initial impression, then move on to the good ones, which have arisen from the book as well as from discussions with the friend who lent it to me.

The idea contained in the first proper essay gave me my worst impression of the book. It was the idea that "an improved response to rape requires a broad-based approach, and involves challenging the entire right-wing agenda: the wars on sex, on women's bodies, on the poor, on people of color." ("Offensive Feminism," Jill Filipovic, 25) The part of that sentence I object to is probably obvious. I think it's safely said that at the least the "[war] on women's bodies" includes attempts to restrict access to abortion; I'm not sure what exactly these people would think of people like me who willingly converted to a religious perspective which, to some degree, teaches activism not just against abortion but also contraception. Now my friend has pointed out that the emphasis on autonomy signified in this passage can be limited by a religious perspective. I believe this; my issue with Filipovic's assertion stands. I realize that my religious perspective means that, for the movement which spawned this book, whatever response I make is likely to be a lower and less-improved response.

There's one other big impression that I had reading this which should be mentioned, because it's going to show up again. Earlier in her opening essay, Filipovic sates that "feminism and anti-rape activism challenge the dominant narrative that women's bodies aren't their own, they insist that sex is about consent and enjoyment, not violence and harm, and they attack a power structure that sees women as victims and men as predators" (Filipovic, 20). I'll sign my name to this sentence, depending on how we interpret that first "and". Do we mean activism that is feminist and anti-rape, or just activism that is either feminist or anti-rape? I kind of hope she means and, not or. If she means or, Christian challenges to rape must by definition be excluded from anti-rape activism on the basis of belief in a Creatorship of God which extends to ownership (even if persons also own themselves), to say nothing of what Christianity teaches about the point of sex.

Let's assume I can sign my name to that sentence, though, and move on to the deeper issue brought up, which is a dichotomy that Filipovic makes between sex being "about consent and enjoyment, not violence and harm." No matter what the secular feminist response to sex is, the Christian response can't be either of those. Obviously we can't seriously advocate, as Christians, a sexual model that promotes violence and harm. But we also can't speak about it just as a thing about consent and enjoyment. For the Christian tradition consent is a necessary condition for the morality of such an act, but it is not sufficient. Enjoyment certainly is a good bonus of sex, but it's not the point; in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant sexual ethics it is subordinate to unity, in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ethics subordinate to unity and to procreation. Some of the older (and more disgustingly spread, even if somehow not disgusting) models of sex have massive potential to aid and abet violence and harm that can be done to women. So what model should we be working for in Christian theology?

But let's get back to the consent piece, because it brings me to the first thing I really like and one of the big themes I've come to embrace from this movement.

The introduction to the book is a testimonial of a woman (comedian Margaret Cho) whose first time having sex was with a man who didn't quite get a no from her. But he didn't get a yes, either. Cho's description of the event should appall we who call ourselves Christians: "Before I knew it, he was on top of me. Then he was inside me. No ceremony, no foreplay, no warning, no consent. It never came up" ("Foreword," Margaret Cho, 2). Cho goes on to describe the various times and reasons that she has had "sex I have said yes to, and sometimes even initiated--that I didn't want to have" (Cho, 3).

As a key part of their solution to these problems of female sexuality, rape, and pressures to have sex, the Yes Means Yes movement has, appropriately enough, suggested that "if we established a model of enthusiastic consent instead of just 'no means no,' it would be a lot harder for men to get away with rape. It would be a lot harder to argue that there's a 'gray area'" (Filipovic, 21). This is the idea that I'm pretty enthused about, the idea of establishing a model of consent that is more active than passive.

There are a host of other little observations that are made in this book that I agree with. One essay, "An Immodest Proposal," asks the question of what the world would look like if women took more initiative in a sexual sense. Obviously my stipulations about the proper and moral context of this initiative differ from that of secular feminism, but within a marital framework, if we truly consider the husband and wife equal in dignity, regardless of whether we're complementarians or egalitarians, is there any good reason not to treat the two as having an equal weight not only in consenting to their bodily union, which the serious thinkers on the subject in the Christian tradition has already taken seriously, but also in initiating it, in asking for that special bodily intimacy? (If anyone thinks they have one, they're free to tell me. I'll respond as best as I can.) Another essay, entitled "Beyond Yes or No," talks about an improvement of communication between partners about what they do and don't like and enjoy as far as sex goes. Again, I have reservations with endorsing the same contexts for such things as the author of that essay, and I definitely don't endorse everything that they do as legitimate sexual practice, consent or no consent. But, in such a degree as a given practice is actually in-line with our dignity as persons and Divine intentions for sexuality, I don't see anything wrong with a husband and wife actually discussing what they like and don't like. Even the most conservative Christians shouldn't balk at this--Karol Wojtyla devoted the entire last chapter of Love and Responsibility to biological discussion and talked of the desire to satisfy the other person in terms of pleasure--not as a replacement of unity, but as an outcome desired by Love in a marital context.

Those are a lot of initial impressions, I know. I hope to continue posting these things; in the future they're going to be on an essay-by-essay basis. Look for more on the themes of the Christian response to sexuality, the 'commodity' model of sexuality that the feminist movement much despises (and with good reason), and places where I think Christianity plays nice--or doesn't--with secular feminism. Pray for me in this endeavor!

[This post has been edited to fix a horrific typo I noticed just now, after several years.]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Unanswerable Question about Waiting Till Marriage

Is sex better if you wait 'till you're married?

My intuition says "no, at least not necessarily." And I've heard assertions of 'yes' and of 'no'--a little of both have come from Christians. But nobody really has the ability to say yes or no, because nobody is really capable of losing their virginity twice. Nobody has the capability of trying married sex both (a) having had sex before, and (b) not having had sex before. It's actually logically impossible to pull off.

A close second, hypothetically, would be this:
(1) Get some consenting volunteers to run an experiment.
(2) Have a way of inducing amnesia which is guaranteed to extend to past sexual experiences.
(3) Have lost whatever part of your conscience it is that would have prevented you from carrying out this experiment.

Now in seriousness, this question is, of course, largely irrelevant for Christians who take it seriously to be a command to wait--who cares if it's better or even worse in terms of pleasure, if it is commanded? But I still found it kind of a funny little thing that despite the bold assertions of yes and no, it is practically impossible to get a reliable answer.