Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Westvleteren: Monks' Moderation and Beer Lovers Collide

The Trappist monks at St. Sixtus monastery have taken vows against riches, sex and eating red meat. They speak only when necessary. But you can call them on their beer phone.

Monks have been brewing Westvleteren beer at this remote spot near the French border since 1839. Their brew, offered in strengths up to 10.2% alcohol by volume, is among the most highly prized in the world. In bars from Brussels to Boston, and online, it sells for more than $15 for an 11-ounce bottle -- 10 times what the monks ask -- if you can get it.

For the 26 monks at St. Sixtus, however, success has brought a spiritual hangover as they fight to keep an insatiable market in tune with their life of contemplation.

The monks are doing their best to resist getting bigger. They don't advertise and don't put labels on their bottles. They haven't increased production since 1946. They sell only from their front gate. You have to make an appointment and there's a limit: two, 24-bottle cases a month. Because scarcity has created a high-priced gray market online, the monks search the net for resellers and try to get them to stop.

"We sell beer to live, and not vice versa," says Brother Joris, the white-robed brewery director. Beer lovers, however, seem to live for Westvleteren.
Other Trappist monasteries famous for their brewing (most noteably the monks of Scourmont who brew Chimay) have scaled their brewing operations to meet demand, using the resulting profits for the betterment of the monastery and surrounding town. The monks of St. Sixtus monastery in Westvleteren, however, continue to make just 60,000 cases of beer per year, regardless of demand. This has been enough to automate their production line (it now takes only two monks to brew the beer) and finance the monastery, and that's all they care to do.

The rest of the world is not so immune to materialism, and there's a brisk though unofficial distribution market, with people buying their two monthly cases and then reselling at healthy profits. The monks have tried consistently to stop this, asking distributors to simply let those who want to drink the beer come to the gate, and stop re-selling the beer without permission. Most stop, a few have remained stubborn, and the monks have had to file government complaints against them.

Through all this, the monks continue to try to make beer according to the model they've followed since the French Revolution took away all other means of support from the monastery: by making something their local community wants and selling it at a fair price. The idea of building a world distrubution market for their work couldn't interest them less.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How Should Christians Deal With "Bad Books"

There's been a fair amount of discussion in certain quarters recently about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, due to the fact that the movie of The Golden Compass will be coming out this holiday season. (It seems to underline that those who organize boycotts and such aren't exactly great readers when books usually don't get noticed unless they either run #1 on the NY Times best seller list or are made into movies.)

JulieD of Happy Catholic (who managed to read a good 10x as many books as I do each year) has links to some of the better discussion on the topic. (more here) Julie remarks:
Now that the movie is coming out, we are seeing the usual email chains from concerned Christians saying things like, "I'm going to tell everyone about this movie. I hope it totally bombs because we were all paying attention!"

First of all, I don't think that works. Secondly, it draws more attention to the movie than if everyone had just not said anything. Third, of course, it just adds to that mythos of closed-minded, stupid Christians as the norm.
Amen to that one.

I've never quite "got" the movie/book boycott thing. If you think a movie is going to be lousy, you generally won't go see it. If you think you won't like a book, you don't buy it. If you feel strongly about it, you might then go and tell your friends why you don't want to see the movie/buy the book. If you're got persuasive reasons, they may well do the same, and after a while bad buzz begins to build. "Yeah, I dunno. A couple different people all said that movie sounded dumb." That sort of collective judgement can really slow down sales.

A "boycott" on the other hand is designed to generate a very different sort of news. "Group X seems really worked up about that movie, like it's some big threat. I wonder what it's like." "Maybe we should go watch that movie so we can 'understand both sides'." There's just no upside that I can see. If you think a movie is lousy (and if you can articulate a slightly more comprehensive reason than "It's anti-Christian" -- a complaint general enough it makes people curious) then tell people so. But creating a media event out of your outrage is generally only going to help the other side. (Imagine if people from the pro-Iraq side of the political spectrum had attempted a boycott campaign against Lions For Lambs rather than just passing on the word: "It sounds like an overly talky piece of political propaganda." People might have watched it...)

I think that we Christians would do ourselves some favors if could stick to categorizing and dismissing things rather than working up a publicity-hogging fuss about them.

In a wider sense, I'm not entirely sure what to think about all the fuss. I haven't read His Dark Materials, and what I've heard about it doesn't make me particularly interested to do so. And yet, some of the "how will we protect children from this" talk strikes me as a bit overblown.

By age 11-12 or so when I started reading fiction voraciously, I quickly went through most of the books suitable to my age which we had around the house (which means several hundred) and started rooting around the public library stacks for science fiction and fantasy. By 13 I'd exhausted everything that looked interesting in the YA section and moved on to the adult SF/F section.

Since my parents had been (and were still to the extent that time allowed) big genre readers, they at least knew of a lot of what I was reading, and they provided some guidelines. "Nothing by Marion Zimmer Bradley" was one rule, and after sampling a few pages of Mists of Avalon I had no urge to violate it. "No Heinlein written after (and including) Stranger In A Strange Land" was another. Another was, "If there's graphic sex, stop reading." Odd as it may sound to the more suspicious parent, this was followed pretty consistently as well.

Now, the science fiction and fantasy genres are not, generally, very friendly to Christianity. There's an awful lot of SF that takes the "religion is just superstition" angle, and much fantasy is heavy into neo-pagan/new age ideas. "Soft SF" often manages to combine the worst of both: holding that organized religion is all superstition while engaging in airy thoughts on the "spirits" of planets and the "universe coming to know itself" and such.

Honestly, though, a strong family Catholic culture left me pretty-well teflon coated to this kind of stuff. I discussed various things that came up in books with my parents, but they didn't necessarily have to make an effort to "read this book with your child and discuss what it means in a Christian context".

We spent a fair amount of time around the house talking about what everything meant in a Christian context, and so worrying about what one particular YA novel meant didn't exactly come on the radar. I had my own increasingly clear ideas on how the world worked and what life was about, and rather than making sudden about-faces whenever I ran into a book with a new point of view, I tended to judge books by how "true" they rang when compared to my own mostly-formed worldview.

So when it comes to "protecting" children from "dangerous books", I don't think the main job of a Christian parent is to scrupulously search for hidden anti-Christian messages in every book your child wants to get out from the library. (If your child is up to snuff, you won't have time.) What's more important is to make sure your child has, by the time he or she is ready to start reading widely, a coherent and distinctly Christian worldview.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What's your name?

Celebrities' Real Names: for all of you who really wanted to know that John Wayne's real name was Marion Morrison.

H/T: Ayyyy!

Top 100 Films Meme, Part II

I'll bite on Darwin's Top 100 Films Meme.

1) Your favorite five movies that are on the list.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Bringing Up Baby

Honorable Mention: Ben-Hur (a sentimental favorite 'cause I watched it over and over again as a youngster)

2) Five movies on the list you didn't like at all.

Annie Hall
Doctor Zhivago
The Graduate

3) Five movies on the list you haven't seen but want to.

All About Eve
Birth of a Nation
Duck Soup
The Jazz Singer
Schindler's List -- maybe.

(I would remind Darwin that we have seen, and liked, Double Indemnity.)

4) Five movies on the list you haven't seen and have no interest in seeing.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Raging Bull
Clockwork Orange

5) Your favorite five movies that aren't on the list.

The Thin Man
Fellowship of the Ring
The Incredibles
This Is Spinal Tap

Top 100 Films Meme

I have a co-worker who is semi-obsessed with the American Film Institute list of the top 100 films. He's been working through the whole list on NetFlix and, when a movie is mentioned, invariably asks, "But is that one of the top 100 films?"

This same co-worker recently watched Princess Bride for the first time and announced it to be "the dumbest, shallowest movie I've ever seen." As support for this, he pointed out that it was not on the top 100 films list.

Your authors here enjoy a good movie as much as the next fellow, though our chances to watch movies are drastically curtailed these days. (Most good movies are either unsuitable or uninteresting to the girls at this age, and starting a movie at 9pm or later when the kids are sound asleep is usually such a tiring prospect that we just pick up our books and head for bed.) Still, I don't have the respect for critical authority that my co-worker does, and so I'm going to stoop to creating a meme for all and sundry.

Go to the AFI Top 100 list and pick:

1) Your favorite five movies that are on the list.
The Third Man
Schindler's List

2) Five movies on the list you didn't like at all.
The Graduate (like the closing song, found the movie pointless)
E.T. (which I've always found curiously annoying)
Annie Hall (a few bits of good writing, but Woodie Allen was so annoying)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Forest Gump

3) Five movies on the list you haven't seen but want to.
Double Indemnity
Casablanca (how I've missed this all these years I'm not sure...)
To Kill a Mockingbird
Bridge on the River Kwai
One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest

4) Five movies on the list you haven't seen and have no interest in seeing.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Midnight Cowboy
Some Like It Hot

5) Your favoritve five movies that aren't on the list.
Lion in Winter
O Brother Where Art Thou
Gosford Park
Man for all Seasons

Tagging: JulieD, Matthew Lickona, John Farrell

Hope Springs Eternal

Rick Lugari sends me news of a not-so-upstanding young man who tried to make a million dollars -- and is being charged with forgery. It seems that this con man, like the more musical Harold Hill, does not know the territory.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sterilizing for a Greener Planet

Jay Anderson links to an article from the UK Daily Mail about women (and their boyfriends/husbands) who get sterilized because their environmental convictions lead them to the belief that adding more people to the world's population would be selfish and destructive.
Finally, eight years ago, Toni got her way.

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to "protect the planet".

Incredibly, instead of mourning the loss of a family that never was, her boyfriend (now husband) presented her with a congratulations card.

While some might think it strange to celebrate the reversal of nature and denial of motherhood, Toni relishes her decision with an almost religious zeal.

"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet," says Toni, 35.

"Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population."

While most parents view their children as the ultimate miracle of nature, Toni seems to see them as a sinister threat to the future.
I've run into milder forms this myself, from "replacement only" people who consider having more than two children to be a crime against future humanity. I suppose this is only taking things one step farther.

The ironic thing in all this is that in elevating the world's ecosystem to something so sacred that it must feel no impact from humans, such extreme environmentalists turn humans into an exception from the rules that govern other species. Most species, if provided with vast unused resources, will reproduce in order to exploit them as rapidly as possible. If later the species population runs out of resources, famine reduces the population back down to sustainable levels.
Humans, having the intellectual capacity for forsight and not liking the idea of maxing out resources and experiencing a major dying-off, wisely wish to avoid consuming resources in this sort of unthinking fashion. We seek both to avoid a situation in which resources suddenly run out, and to avoid turning the regions we inhabit into unpleasant places.

And yet, this idea that we should actively seek to erase our impact on the world by erasing (or vastly reducing) ourselves as a species seems to deny the physical part of our nature. As well as being thinking creatures, we are also a species, and for what do species exist other than to be fruitful and multiply?

Voting and the Heap Paradox

One feels foolish basing a post around a comment made on another blog since it is just this sort of ingrown quality which often gives online discourse a bad name. And yet, it's hard to resist at times, so I'm about to indulge myself. Last week I ran across a comment made by this fellow, on this post, which ran as follows:

What I say is that a person’s individual vote doesn’t matter, in the sense where “matter” refers to having any effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. It does of course matter in terms of what it does to the person voting.
The interesting thing about this is not, I think, the author's wider claim that voting is merely a training ground for moral relativism (which I find both uncompelling and uninteresting), but rather that it seems like an interesting variation on what is called the "heap paradox".

The heap paradox is as follows. Say you have one grain of sand. You add another grain of sand to it. Do you now have a heap? No. You add yet another grain of sand. Do you have a heap of sand now? No. And yet, if you continue adding grains of sand you will eventually find that you have a heap of sand. Similarly, if you have a heap of sand and you remove one grain, you still have a whole heap; you don't have heap-1.

A heap is, thus, an entity with a definition which is not strictly quantitative, and yet relies on having at least some minimum (though unspecified) number of constituents. There is no specific number of grains of sand which clearly marks the borderline of "heap" and yet it is nonetheless clear that some numbers do constitute a heap (126,452) and others do not (6).

Some similar things seem to be at play in regards to voting. Clearly, in most elections the margin of victory is sufficiently large that if any one person, or any dozen or hundred or thousand had not voted, the outcome would have been the same. But imagine we have an election in which the results are one million votes for candidate A and one million and one votes for candidate B. Whose vote decided the election?

Well, no one vote did. If I voted for candidate B, one could say that without my vote he would not have won, but it is not my vote in specific that decided the issue, because if any one of the million other voters who cast a vote for B had not voted, he not have won. Thus, A was defeated by one vote, and yet no one voter cast that vote, A was defeated by the sum of the actions of all two million and one voters who voted.

Thus, it is in a certain sense true that no person's individual vote has "any effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election", in that no specific vote is "the deciding vote" in an election. Except in the sense of being chronologically the last vote cast, not single vote ever is a deciding vote.

And yet, clearly, if some given number (varying depending on the closeness of the election results) of voters had not voted, or had voted differently, the outcome of the election would have been different. It seems non-sensical to say that the casting of any one vote has no effect, when the sum of several of these "no effect" events could be "effect". It we take "no effect" to be 0 and "effect" to be 1, then if we say that individual votes have no effect we are suggesting that 0+0+0+0+0+0=1

Thus, while it is in a certain sense true that an individual person's vote does not matter, it is true in a sense which arguably doesn't matter. Because while it's true that the vote itself is not by itself decisive, the cumulative (and at times even the individual) effect of not making votes is in fact quite decisive. To suggest that it doesn't matter if you vote because your vote will not "matter" in the above sense makes no more sense than to claim that one can have a heap of sand without actually having any sand grains.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When Daddy Gets Bored During Read-alouds

It's been raining for the last two days here in central Texas, much to the dismay of yours truly, who wanted to spend the long weekend finishing up the playhouse out back. (Half the rafters are up, but that's sure not enough to keep the rain out.)

We went to the library yesterday, so this afternoon saw me sitting down with a stack of picture books and the girls -- who until offered read-alouds had been been fighting tooth and claw. By book four in the stack Daddy was getting a bit bored, as displayed by inside parent jokes like this, directed at MrsDarwin across the room:
(from The Fire Cat by Esther Averill)
Darwin: "He picked her up and took her gently..."
MrsDarwin: "Hey, now."
Darwin: "...down to Mrs. Goodkind. Mrs. Goodkind thanked Pickles."
Yes, when the fire cat rescuing a kitten from a tree becomes innuendo, it's time for Daddy to head back to the office.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

All Quiet on the Darwin Front

Well, so far no more monkeys are sick, nor is either one of us. This seems like a good sign. (Though mom and dad could still use another catch-up night of sleep.)

Work should have me running in rapid circles through up until the holiday (though hopefully not during the holiday) since there is a lot of pricing analysis to do in order to make sure we have all the right things on sale the right amount for the holiday weekend, while not losing all sorts of money.

After that, I'm hoping to do some heavy duty relaxing, reading and working on the playhouse. So while we may end up posting once or twice, things are going to be pretty quiet till next week.

I hope that all of you in here in the States have a great Thanksgiving, and those of you not, feel free to over-eat on Thursday as a sign of international unity.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As the Stomach Turns

A child vomiting at half-hour intervals all night: tired parents the next morning.

The same thing happening two nights later: mildly delirious parents the next morning.

Anticipating that the third child will be sick all night tonight: wild-eyed parents decending into madness.

On the plus side: now there's lots of clean laundry.

Digital Camera Bleg

The Darwin family is hesitantly getting ready to step into the modern age by buying our first digital camera. (It's a lot easier to comparison shop the holiday sales online when part of your job is analysing the prices for all major players on consumer electronics.)

Question for those of you who for whom this brave new world is already old hat: Do you need a SD memory card reader in order to get the pictures from the card onto your computer, or can you just use the USB connection from the camera to the computer to move pictures off the card and onto your hard drive? (the camera itself has a certain amount of memory, but it looks like with high resolution it would only be a couple dozen pictures, so I'm thinking a 2GB card would be a good move.)

Here's the prospective new family member.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ten Bits of Latin Every Catholic Should Know

I was kicking around earlier the idea of there being certain key phrases that all Catholics should know (as in recognize and know the meaning of) in Latin. I've been wondering what the most important phrases for all Catholics to know in our universal language would be -- not that it's my business to decide these things, but hey, we all have a few spare braincells on the weekend.

Now, I've been known to throw up some "everyone should know" lists that others found deeply unrealistic. So let me preface this by saying I do not have all of these memorized in Latin (or exactly memorized in English) nor am I suggesting that everyone should. What I'm thinking of here is the sort of liturgical half-memorization which allows you to repeat a phrase along with everyone else or anticipate what the priest is going to say next. With the longer mass parts especially, I think the goal would to be know what you're saying or hearing, and be able to follow the basic meaning phrase by phrase.

A few key words to keep in mind:

Deus (Dei, Deum, Deo -- Latin endings change according the purpose of the word in the sentence) means God
Dominus (-i, -um, -o) means Lord

1) The sign of the cross: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

2) Dominus vobiscum. R: Et cum spitiru tuo. (and varients thereon such as Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum - may the peace of the Lord be with you always)

This exchange of "The Lord be with you", R: "And with your spirit" is used throughout the mass, and is a great catchphrase for Catholics to know.

3) The Gloria -- this may look dauntingly long, but with the knowledge that -mus indicates a verb in the first person plural and that "te" means "you", you can figure nearly the entire thing out with cognates. It's a good part of the mass to know because it's one of the standard parts of any sung mass. (Also, not the translational problem with our current liturgical version in regards to the second line.)

Gloria in excelsis Deo -- Glory to God in the highest
et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. -- and on earth peace to men of good will
Laudamus te, -- we praise you
benedicimus te, adoramus te, -- we bless you, we adore you
glorificamus te, -- we glorify you
gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, -- thanks we give to you because of your great glory
Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, -- Lord God, King of the heavens,
Deus Pater omnipotens, -- God the Father omnipotent
Domine Fili Unigenite, Iesu Christe, -- and to the Lord, only-beggotten Son, Jesus Christ,
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, -- Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; -- you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. -- you who take away the sings of the world, recieve our petition.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis. -- You who sit at the right-hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, -- Because you alone are holy, you alone, Lord,
tu solus Altissimus, -- you alone are the Most High,
Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu: in gloria Dei Patris. -- Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit: in the glory of God the Father.

4) The Sanctus is another standard mass part, and it has the distinction of being one of those sections which preserves pre-Latin liturgical language in the Roman Rite (Sabaoth and Hosanna from Hebrew via Greek).

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth. -- Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. -- heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in excelsis. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. -- Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in excelsis. -- Hosanna in the highest.

5) The Agnus Dei/Lamb of God: The third standard Latin sung mass part (the Kyrie I'm not counting since it's in Greek), this one is short and easy.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis. -- Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis. -- Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: dona nobis pacem. -- Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.

6) The Our Father -- an essential part of the mass, the divine office and personal devotion, the prayer that Our Lord taught us is a good one to know in Latin.

Pater noster, qui es in caelis: -- Our Father, you who are in heaven:
sanctificetur nomen tuum; -- may your name be holy;
adveniat regnum tuum; -- may your kingdom come;
fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra. -- may your will be done, just as in heaven, so on earth.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie; -- Our daily bread give to us today;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra, -- and forgive us our debts (sins)
sicutet nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris; -- just as we forgive our debtors (those who have wronged us);
et ne nos inducas in tentationem; -- and do not lead us into temptation;
sed libera nos a malo. -- but free us from evil.

7) The Confiteor

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti et vobis, fratres, -- I confess to God omnipotent and to you, brothers,
quia peccavi nimis -- that I have sinned excessively
cogitatione, verbo, opere et omissione: -- in thought, in word, in deed and in omission:

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. -- through my fault, through my fault, through my greatest fault

Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, -- Therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-virgin
omnes Angelos et Sanctos, -- all the angels and saints
et vos, fratres, orare pro me -- and you, brothers, to pray for me
ad Dominum Deum nostrum. -- to our Lord God.

8) The elevation of the host and chalice

ACCIPITE ET MANDUCATE EX HOC OMNES: -- Receive and eat (lit: chew) from this, all [of you]:
HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM, -- This is truly my body,
QUOD PRO VOBIS TRADETUR. -- which for you is offered up.

ACCIPITE ET BIBITE EX EO OMNES: -- Receive and drink from this, all [of you]:
HIC EST ENIM CALIX SANGUINIS MEI -- This is truly the cup of my blood
NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI, -- of the new and eternal testament,
QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS EFFUNDETUR -- which for you and for many is poured forth
IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM. -- for the remission of sins.

HOC FACITE IN MEAM COMMEMORATIONEM. -- Do this in my remembrance.

In addition to mass parts, it seems like there are some passages of the Vulgate so famous that one should recognize the phrases. These are the first that occurred to me:

9) Genesis 1:1

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. -- In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

10) John 1:1-5

1 In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. -- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.
2 Hoc erat in principio apud Deum. -- This was in the beginning with God.
3 Omnia per ipsum facta sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est; -- All things through this same one were made, and without this one nothing would have been made that was made;
4 in ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum, -- in this one was life, and this life was the light of men
5 et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt. -- and the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand him.

Conspicuous ommissions: The Creed and the Hail Mary. I left these out because it seems to me that there's a great value to reciting the creed in the vernacular (these are definitions we should all have memorized) and the Hail Mary because I think of its main place being the rosary, which seems to me a devotion more suited to the vernacular than Latin.

Natural Law and the Hostile Audience

It is at times claimed that Catholic bloggers exist in a sort of echo chamber, where they can vent their views in completely undiplomatic terms to the cheers of those who already agree with them. I've no doubt there is some of this, though since I tend to restrict my reading to what interests me, I don't run into much.

However, sometimes you run into something so clearly an exception to this that it deserves to be singled out for praise. David of Cosmos Liturgy Sex writes about an experience I suspect many of us would rather bow out of: providing a brief exposition on Catholic teaching on sexuality to a campus PRIDE group, as part of an evening on presentations by various campus religious/ethical groups (as the token voice against the lifestyle decisions of the audience). His account of the event is a good example of how politely and simply presenting Church teaching through natural law can help even a potentially hostile audience to at least understand where Catholics are coming from.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Matthew Lickona's New Diggs

Apparently Matthew Lickona's old Godsbody blog is experiencing technical difficulties, but there's a new way to get your Lickona fix: The Godsbody Pledge

And you'll have to visit that to find out what the pledge is, and how this picture ties into it.

God, Cause and Free Will

An interesting exchange has been going on down in the Problem of Sin post in regards to the relation between God's will and our actions. Sapientiae amator says:
Two points: first, regarding the statement that God holds all creatures in existence. This is true, but more than this, he is the cause of every existing thing. This does not include merely substantial creatures, but also every other kind of being. In other words, it is not enough to say that God causes me to exist and then I go out and do stuff that God does not cause. This is because my actions are also beings, and therefore must reduce to him as first cause just as much as I myself, as a being, must reduce to him as first cause. When I snap my fingers, God is the cause of that act just as he is the cause of me. The same applies to every act, even acts of sin. What we can say about those is that insofar as they are evil, they are not beings, since evil is a privation of being; but no act is purely an evil. It always has some actuality, some being, to it, and must therefore be produced by God. So God is the cause of acts even of sin, although not insofar as they are sins but insofar as they are beings.

The second point is really more of a question, and is the more important. It appears that your reason for rejecting the above idea is that it would seemingly remove free will. I don't see why this is the case. That is, it would only followed if freedom included in its very definition the fact of not being caused by another. It's not clear to me that this is necessary in order for an act to be free. To give an example, are the acts of fictional characters free? It seems that they are, despite the fact that they are products of the author. God stands to us as an author to his characters--even though he "writes" the story of the universe, we the characters are nevertheless free and responsible for our actions.
And Anothercoward adds:
sapientiae - so far, I'm sold. But what of choice? It's one thing to say that God upholds us and upholds our actions ... but does God uphold us in such a way that we freely choose absent the compulsion of His determinism between options/possibilities/good+evil?

In other words, we know that God is not compelled to do anything. Yet when dealing with this topic, we get very dangerously close to ignoring that fact. And as an extension, I think we forget that whatever we are, we are in His image. And I do believe that extends to the nature of the compulsion of will - that God has created us to be (largely) free in our decisions - which means that before there are decisions/actions, there are very real possibilities to choose between. Now God being unimaginably perfect and perceptive, it's hard to imagine how that works - but I think it's more difficult to imagine that it's beyond Him, particularly given all that the faith teaches.
All this may seem a bit abstruse, but although your average joe may not think of these questions in these terms, I think there is a great deal of real relevance to this kind of discussion. One of the things I find whenever I talk religion with my Evangelical co-workers is that the relationship between free will, God's knowledge and power, sin and salvation is still very much an debated question among Christianity as a whole, although from a Catholic point of view it may at times seem like an issue which is settled except for a few scholastic fine points.

Now, I confess, when we start to talk about whether actions are beings, we're starting to get out of my accustomed depth. I'm pretty sure I read a bit about this view back in college, but as it's not necessarily the way I think about things myself, I'm rusty.

If we think of our actions as beings (or whatever they are -- they're clearly something) then I think we must think of our own wills as their primary cause. (I did some thinking and reading and eventually decided I'm not up enough on Aristotelian/Thomistic causality to try to couch this in those terms, so be aware I'm specifically not doing that. If a real Aristotelian or Thomist has a moment, perhaps he can do us that service.) Since God created each of us, and hold us in existence, and created us with the ability to make decisions freely, he must be the ultimate cause of our actions, to the extent that God keeps in existence through his will creatures who do whatever it is that we do. (I'm intrigued by the notion of fictional character's having free will, though in a certain sense I'm not sure what it means. I would say, though, that I think a good author "allows" characters to behave as people naturally would in the situations they are placed in, while poor authors "force" characters to go through the motions like puppets.)

However, the sense in which we say God is the cause of our actions is not, I would tend to think, the sense in which we normally use "cause" in everyday conversation, simply because God does not will us to sin -- definitionally, since sin is acting contrary to God's will. This is where I seem to run into problems talking to some Evangelicals -- some of them see it as impossible to act contrary to God's will, saying that since God is all powerful, clearly nothing could happen that is contrary to his will.

This is where I clearly part company with those who see the Problem of Sin as, well... a problem. It seems to me not out of keeping with God's omnipotence to see him as creating beings (in his image) that have the free will to either act in accordance to his will, or act otherwise. (In that sense, I don't see how you could have free will and yet not be capable of sinning, though obviously you could have free will and always use your will correctly and not sin.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Coming Soon to Your TV

With the screenwriters on strike, Geoffrey Chaucer has decided to cross the picket lines and see if he can make it in holywood. Here's one of his concepts:
Sectes in the Borough: This hot and explicit showe wil handle religious dissent yn a more free and open way than evere bifor. Carrie Baxter is an underground writer of Lollard tractes in Norwich and the oonly thynge she loveth moore than questioning the validitie of the institucional church is her III best freendes: sexie Samantha, who seduceth many a preeste, intellectuale Charlotte, who speketh out ayeinst women being unable to preche, and Miranda Kempe, who receiveth visiouns from God. Thei meet every week to rede of the Bible in Ynglisshe and talke smacke about pilgrymage sites. Carrie is alwey resistinge the temptaciouns to submit to the orthodoxie of the Church, personifyed by Archbishop Thomas Arundel, whom she clepeth “Mr. Big.” (Paraventure for a cabel network, by cause main-streme audiences aren not redi for frank depicciouns of heretical practice?)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New English Translation of the Mass

Zenit provides an interview with the chair of ICEL about the upcoming (slowly) new translation of the mass. One section that struck me as particularly interesting was this one about one of the phrases that I'm sure some will assail as "awkward" in the new translation:
Q: Can you comment on some of the principal differences between the translation of the 2002 Roman Missal, and that of the one translated more than 30 years ago?

Bishop Roche: When the present English missal was published back in the 1970s, it was readily accepted by the bishops of the day that the translation would need to be revisited, because the translation had been done speedily in order to supply an English text, as quickly as possible, for the revised liturgy.

The new English translation of the now third edition of the Latin "Missale Romanum" will be a fuller and therefore a more faithful translation. We have endeavored to ensure a nobility of language as well as faithfulness to the Latin words and to the origins of the prayers themselves. A great deal more time and expertise, from a very wide range of scholars as well as bishops, has been employed producing the new translation.

So, for example, the new English texts will show more clearly the relationship between the liturgical texts and their scriptural origins. Let me give you an example in order to demonstrate this as well as the painstaking scholarship that goes into the translation of a text.

Sometimes at Mass we hear the priest greet us with these words: "The grace and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all." ICEL is proposing this: "Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Some will wonder "why make such a trivial change, what difference does it make?" Well, that greeting, "Grace to you and peace from God, Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," comes eight times in those exact words, in the letters of St. Paul. Outside the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the phrase, "Grace to you and peace," occurs in the First and Second letters of St. Peter and in the Book of Revelation. It is a slightly odd form, "Grace to you and peace from God," with the two nouns, "grace" and "peace," and the "to you" between them.

Wouldn't it be more natural to say, "Grace and peace to you?" I think it probably would be. But the fact that it occurs so often in the New Testament, no less than 11 times, suggests that that distinctive form of words has been a greeting among the Christian people from the very earliest times.

And you know the way it is sometimes, when you greet somebody or somebody greets you, the way they greet you tells you what sort of person they are, where they come from, from where they belong. Sometimes it's a secret sign, maybe a handshake or a wink. Or it might be a particular way of speaking, like "G'day sport." If you hear someone speak to you that way you would assume that the person came from Australia.

Well that slightly quirky form of words, "Grace to you and peace" seems to be an indication from the earliest times of the way Christians have greeted each other. The Greek, as well as the Latin, translation keeps that same word order: "Grace to you and peace."

Even Martin Luther, one of the first translators of the Bible into the vernacular in modern times, kept that order of words, "Grace to you and peace." And in the King James Version, produced for the Church of England, your find the same: "Grace to you and peace." It's the same in the Douay Bible, the Catholic version that was made in the 16th century: "Grace to you and peace." Then if you come up to more recent times, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, those two also have that form of the words, "Grace to you and peace."

So across 2,000 years, translators have thought it wise to preserve that distinctive pattern, the distinctive word order, that distinctively Christian greeting, "Grace to you and peace." ICEL is proposing that this word order continue to be used in the Christian assembly, 2,000 years on. It puts us in touch with a very early stratum of Christian tradition.

There are lots of other examples, too: e.g., "The Lord be with you. And with your spirit" (Galatians 6:18; 2 Timothy 4:22); "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29); and "Blessed are those called to the banquet of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9).
This is an interesting explanation of something that I probably would have reacted to by thinking, "Okay, getting a little over excited about word-by-word literalism here, guys."

Now, to me it seems like if you want to preserve a precise wording as a identity-phrase we might to better to use the universal language of the Church and say, "Gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo," but hey, that's just me.

While I think there are definite advantages to having much of the mass in the language of the people, I think it would be a great universalizing factor if certain phrases (maybe only a half dozen) were known in Latin by all Catholics world wide. For instance, while I appreciate the accuracy of the "Peace be with you" "And with your spirit" exchange which is in the new translation, it seems like "Pax vobiscum" "Et cum spiritu tuo" would be a great universal exchange for everyone to know. (So if you're at world youth day and meet this really hot girl who unfortunately is Hungarian and doesn't speak English, you can get a smile and reply out of her by saying, 'Pax vobiscum.' This may not be my sort of problem anymore, but I'm sure there are some nice Catholic boys out there who need some help.)

Or more seriously, it seems like it would be a beautiful all liturgies everywhere in the world contained the:

And the similar key lines for the chalice. While there's a beauty to the idea of these words being spoken in many languages, all over the world, while participating in the same sacrifice, there's also a certain appeal to the universality of knowing that every Catholic, everywhere in the world would hear the same words -- and that no one can ever feel a stranger to this most sacred moment in the mass. (As opposed to the tri-lingual, quad-lingual and penti-lingual masses one occasionally gets on major holy days that leave everyone feeling left out.)

Imagine a World...

Patrick of Orthonormal Basis weighs in on the discussions of the Problem of Evil which have gone on in scattered fashion over the last several weeks. Seeing this last night, I formed a virtuous intention to sit down the next morning and compose some words in reply, only to find this morning that Scott Carson has already done so at some length. This initially raised the question of whether I should bother to add anything more to the conversation, since it has been established that Scott's writing is Genius-level. However, after reading Scott's entry, I'm going to go ahead and stick my oar in as well, since I think what I was going to say took something of a different tack.

Patrick is addressing specifically the question of sin, rather than of suffering in general, and he says:
I do want to expand, though, on something which Dr. Liccione remarks and which I think others have missed: that the free will of created beings is not a defense against the problem of evil, because we could have been created to freely choose the good. Liccione writes that our free will might have been circumscribed to choose between good alternatives, rather than between good and evil; I assert something stronger- that we could have been equipped with the full range of free will (whatever that is supposed to mean) and yet created such as to always freely choose the good.

If it is logically possible for a being with free will to always choose the good (as Christians generally affirm), and if an omniscient, omnipotent God knows in the act of creation whether a free-willed being will in fact do so, then it is perfectly possible for such a God to create a being who always freely chooses the good (and in fact Catholics believe that their God has done so- ever heard of Mary?). It is thus possible for such a God to create a cosmos full of freely innocent beings, rather than freely fallen beings.

So arguing that God allows moral evil out of respect for free will is a red herring, since respect for free will does not preclude a universe without sin....
It seems to me that Patrick is perhaps touching on several different ideas here, though perhaps I am reading too much in to a small number of words.

On first pass, it seems that Patrick is suggesting that, given that it is a logical possibility that a being with free will choose the good in any given situation, and thus given that a being with free will may choose the good every single time, that therefore God, being omniscient, could foresee whether any given creature he was about to create would ever sin, and only create the ones that wouldn't.

This strikes me as running afoul of the classic "how does God's omniscience square with our free will" question, as well as casting God in the role of Oedipus' father: Uh, oh. Prophesies look bad on this kid. Please put him out for the wolves before he does anything wrong. (A reader of mythology will know that whether you are Priam or Laius or some other mythological character, exposing the child who is prophesied to bring problems is not the best solution.)

Basically the question is, if we posit this view of God pausing before each person is created to foresee whether that person will sin, how exactly does he know without that person making those choices? If God's knowledge is predictory (is that a word?) then that suggests a deterministic view of the human person -- that given enough knowledge one can predict every choice the human person will make. And that would seem to violate the idea of free will.

If, on the other hand, we take my preferred view that God, being eternal, exists in a sort of Eternal Now and thus knows all things past and future because he experiences all things as present (and thus, experiences all the actions I choose in my life from conception to birth through life to death and judgement in a single instant) then the idea of God foreseeing whether a person would sin and then not creating him if he would ceases to make any sort of sense. That would suggest a situation in which God sees a person sin, and thus retroactively uncreates him. (Every crime a capital crime in that world.)

But perhaps there is some other conception of God's omniscience that I'm not taking into account?

Writing this, I'm struck again by how unappealing the idea of a world in which we don't suffer is. This is rather counter-intuitive, so perhaps it merits another post to try to look into that a little more.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In Which I Find No Rational Explanation

Darwin had a long-standing plan to take an overnight trip to Houston last Friday. The young ladies wept copiously at learning that Daddy was abandoning us for an entire night, which sobbing could only be soothed by my setting up the ancient tv/vcr on a dresser in my room and digging out an old videotape of Bringing Up Baby. Screwball comedy, it seems, is easily accessible to the under-six set, especially if it features a leopard, a dog, and a brontosaurus skeleton.

I didn't have the heart to disturb the pile of sleeping girls at the end of the movie, so I made room for myself on the edge. I slept lightly all night, thanks to kicks, murmurs, and the stupid cat crying to be let back in at 3 AM (at which point I made sure that yes, I had locked all the doors). At dawn, fed up with baby's hand grubbing up my sleeve, I detached her and made my way downstairs. Our staircase is the repository for all sorts of items in transition: any clothes found downstairs are thrown on the landing or draped over the banister, and the second stair is usually reserved for a stack of old newspapers awaiting the trip to the garage (all of two feet away). I'd been unusually virtuous a day or two before and had finally packed up the three-foot pile of newspaper in the garage to haul down to the recycling bin at church, so as I passed the newspaper sitting neatly on the edge of the stair I paused to see what section I'd missed.

And there, in my cheerful, sun-lit kitchen, I stood transfixed as I gazed down at that morning's paper.

I was the first one up; I would have noticed if one of the girls had gotten out of bed and gone outside to get the newspaper (which she would have thrown, wrapped, on the living room floor, not opened and placed tidily on the stair). It had not come bundled in with the Friday paper, because I got the Friday paper myself. All the downstairs windows were shut and the doors were locked -- and who would break into a house to bring in the paper? And if someone did enter the house, how would he know that we put our paper on the stair, especially since I'd taken away the pile that normally sits there? I don't recall if it was there at 3:00, when I let the cat in, but I relocked the back door, and we keep our back gate locked so that the girls won't run into the front yard. I asked Darwin if he'd brought in a paper Friday evening, but he had not.

Can anyone give me a rational explanation for how Saturday's newspaper turned up on my stair before anyone had been out of the house Saturday morning?

Is the Church Indifferent to Science?

Science writer and blogger John Farrell wrote a very solid article dealing with the relationship between the Catholic Church and science, and asking whether the former had become too indifferent to the latter in recent years. In an ironic twist, none of the Catholic magazines were interested in the article, but his misfortune has become our fortune, because John has turned it into a blog post and made it available to us all on his blog.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Be a Drink Snob for Under $10: Drink Beer

Call it pride or call it an appreciation for The Good and The Beautiful, but I'm always a sucker for a certain snort of snobbery. Not the "Oh dear, my boy, you mustn't be seen reading that. Not done at all, my boy," sort of snobbery, but simply the desire to seek that that which is best whenever possible.

Of course, one area in which seeking out that best can be particularly pleasurable is when it comes to drink, as our Savior showed when he felt it necessary not only to assure that the wedding feast did not run out of wine, but that they were provided with the best. However, seeking the best can be an expensive proposition when it comes to drink. While there's much very drinkable wine in the ten-dollar-a-bottle set these days (and that's what we drink here at Darwin manor) to get into what's really considered the best wine, you're often looking at spending over a hundred dollars a bottle.

Scotch and brandy both suffer from similar price challenges, though at least a bottle can be expected to last you months rather than just one evening. Still, putting down $60+ for a bottle of Scotch is something I'd feel bad about when it came to totally up accounts, and don't even ask about brandy: prices for Cognac start high and simply go higher.

However, there is thankfully, one area in which you can treat yourself to the very best that the world has to offer without spending more than ten dollars a bottle, and that is the world of beer. That noble and nourishing drink made of malted grain is not only the working man's drink, but the very best examples of the brewer's art are available at working man's prices.

Everyone has his own favorites, but I'm going to cover a few of the highlights of beer snobbery -- at least to my own mind and palette.

Trappist Ales:
Simply the best beers on the planet, to my mind, are brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium and the Netherlands. The most easy to find is Chimay, which offers three varieties of beer: Red, White and Blue.

Chimay is sometimes found in roughly standard-size beer bottles (as show above with the traditional Chimay chalice) but you're much better off looking for the 750ml (wine bottle) size. These retail for $7-9 and are the right size for two to share and enjoy a great deal.

Chimay Red is a Belgian "double" style -- a brown, malty beer about 6% alcohol with hints of fruit and spice in the background. Chimay White (shown) is a Belgian "triple" style, a strong, straw-to-amber-colored ale which has some sweetness still in it, and a yeasty, estery, spicey blend of tastes. (Beer snobs do not use nearly as much weird terminology as wine snobs, but the "estery" quality of a beer is hard to describe any other way. Some have described these as being "banana-like" which somehow fits, though it's nothing like the taste of real bananas.) Chimay Blue is a Grand Cru style ale, very strong, dark (not like a stout, but very, very dark brown) with yeast, spice, malt and a port-like aged taste all rolled into one powerful whole.

The beers brewed by the other trappist monasteries are harder to find, but equally good. "Trappist" is a legally controlled term in regards to beer. Only beers actually brewed in the monastery by the monks can be labeled as such. Any beer you see that says "Trappist" (not "trappist-style", which some unscrupulous American brewers have tried) is going to be something very special.

Orval, shown below, is another of the Trappist brews.

Abbey Ales and Belgian-Style Ales
As monks have become harder to come by (and high quality brewing has come to require more expensive equipment) many of the monasteries scattered throughout Belgium which used to brew beer have licensed their traditional recipes (or even just their names) to local commercial breweries. These, and other beers simply brewed in similar styles, for the vast constallation of abbey ales, most of which are very much worth your attention. The standard Belgian styles of "double" and "triple" are often represented here, as are other more unusual types. Maredsous is one such:

Here too, most beers are available in both standard size and 750ml bottles -- the larger bottles are generally a better deal price-wise and keep longer, plus it's a great excuse to share a beer with a friend. (Friends don't let friends drink alone, right?)

Also worth noting is the wide variety of Belgian-style beers brewed throughout the world. The stand-out among these is the Unibroue brewery of Quebec. Their beers are relatively easy to find and I have yet to try one that isn't good.
German Beer
Belgium is certainly the place for exotic beers, but one can't do a list of top brews without mentioning Germany. Lagers are not necessarily wholly to my taste, but I'm very much partial to the dopple-bocks: dark, strong lagers with a strong malt profile. Best among these are Celebrator and Salvatore. The latter of these comes from the Pauliner brewery, which has good to outstanding beers available in every German style.

British Ales
And finally, how could one forget British beer? The "real ale" movement in Britain was one of the inspirations for the craft beer and homebrewing renaissance in the US. My personal favorite among the British breweries is Samuel Smith:
Home of the Taddy Porter and an excellent Oatmeal Stout, perhaps the finest Samuel Smith offering is their Imperial Stout.

What about Irish beer, you may be asking? Well... Traitor to my blood that I am, I don't have any Irish favorites right now. So far as I can tell, the Irish market is pretty dominated by Guinness and Murphey's, both of which are good, but neither one of which strikes me as quite in the league of the ones I've listed off here. However, I'd be very happy to be wrong on this. If you know about the great Irish beer I need to seek out, let me know!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Story Arc

When I was reading and reviewing Eifelheim a few months back, I ran across a critical review on Amazon which essentially said (of the modern section of the plot): "Oh come on. What are the chances that a historian and physicist would both happen to come on such oddly relevant problems at the same time, and happen to be a couple so they could run into each other and figure it out? That's not realistic."

As I thought about it, it struck me that in a sense this underlines how stories are like life, and how they are not like life.

In traditional form, a story begins with some sort of inciting incident, and tracks a character or cast of characters through a set of unfolding events which result in conflict and change. While the inciting incident, conflict, change, resolution arc is in some ways stylized (and all good writers break the rules sometimes in some ways) it actually allows us to see something more clearly in books which actually is at work in life as well. Often things we do, or things that happen to us, have far reaching consequences that continue have effects over a period of time until the conflict results in change and/or resolution.

Some years ago, there was a time when I went out to a bar after work with a bunch of "the boys" for a happy hour. I found myself down at one end of the bar with a guy (we'll call him "Tom") whose second wife had just left him. Tom was drinking fast, and I hadn't had much to eat all day, so between the two of us we were unknowingly headed towards an in Shiner veritas situation. (For those not living in Texas, Shiner Bock is the local beer of choice -- and rather better than the national mass-market brews.)

On his second beer, Tom started talking about his marriage that had just ended. His second wife had been ten years younger than him, which made her my age, though I didn't point that out. Things done, things not done, paths taken and not. Tales could, I'm sure, be told of any marriage. These, however, were now told from the standpoint of its ending, all seen in light of that fact.

After a while he paused, and there was silence for a while. Then he started again.

"You know, but thought I was always making it easy on her, giving her everything she wanted. Back when we were engaged she got pregnant. That seemed like it would make everything harder, so we had an abortion. We never did have any kids." A moment of silence. "I'd really hoped we'd have kids, but we were never ready."

He finished his third beer. "Yeah, a lot of things could have been different."

Tom was facing the end of a story, and trying to figure out how it had started. Trying to figure out where the complications had been, where people had changed, and why. Not because there was much that he could do about it at this point, but because human minds want to know, want to come to some sort of understanding of why the world works the way it does.

That's why we write stories -- in an attempt to distill reality down to a dram that makes some sort of sense. And by making sense of it, to understand and say something about what the world is and how it works.

Very often, stories only make sense in retrospect -- if then. Only after the conflict and change have occurred do we see what the inciting incident was, and even then we seldom know at what point the die was cast, at which point we moved from complication to falling action.

Which is why two thousand years ago (and again on every mass altar) God made man stretched out his hands between heaven and earth -- and between past and future -- and cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

That Problem of Evil Thing

Scott Carson has a pair of posts that deal with the problem of evil, the second part being here, in specific answer to a commenter. SF Matheson refers to the first of these, and has some good thoughts of his own, over at Quintessence of Dust.

All three of these posts are thoughtful and worth reading, and it's on a topic which I often feel myself to be peculiarly ill-suited to address. You see, perhaps I'm a terrible, heartless sort of person, but the "problem of evil" doesn't necessarily bother me much. Sure, there are things that have happened in my life that I have desperately wished, as I saw them coming or once reality sprung them on me, would not come to pass. I'm sure all of us have experienced things we wish hadn't happened, and have heard about things elsewhere in the world that we wish were not the case.

And yet, I must say I don't quite get the mentality which sits back and demands, "Why didn't God step in and stop this, if there is a God? Why does God let children starve in Africa? Why does God let people get leprosy? Why does God let children be born to families that can't afford to feed them? Why does God let hurricanes wipe out people's homes?" And so on, and on.

I guess the idea of God as super-nanny who steps in and fixes everying, "Oh, I'm sorry, did that tsunami knock your house over, I'll put it back together." "Oh, did you have a car accident and crush your leg? Okay, here it is back." very attractive. In fact, I actually find it rather repulsive.

According to Christian belief we are each possessed of an immortal soul which is capable of living forever in union with God, should we so choose to do. (Or living forever in howling solitude, should we choose that instead.) We are made in the likeness of God.

So I guess for me the rather obvious answer to the question, "Why are we allowed to suffer?" is: "Because God respects us."

But given the volume of writing on the topic, I'm not exactly the common man in this respect. So go read the linked article, they're really good.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I gave to the diocese, and all I got was this lousy video

The diocese of Austin just held its annual Catholic Services Appeal. Every diocese has something like this -- a pledge-based appeal that covers seminary costs, pensions for retired priests, and general diocesan ministries that aren't funded by regular collections. This is a worthy cause, of course, and we support it every year because it's the right thing to do.

You'd almost think, however, that the diocese thought that the Catholic Services Appeal was, well, stupid. Otherwise, why would they subject 125 parishes to the blandest, most inane publicity videos year after year? The bishop gives a good pitch, but it's hard to drum up enthusiasm when the P.R. engine is undermining your message. For instance: apparently the production team was unaware that there is any music extant that specifically conveys the idea "Catholic". Even secular filmmakers know that there is "religious" music that can inspire feelings of piety or awe. Chant, anyone? Organ music? A hymn? No, the whole video is underscored with new-agey guitar tracks -- music that means nothing except "I'm stuck in this damn elevator". And one does not feel inspired to donate to an elevator; no, one marks the seconds until one is released from the purgatorial onslaught of muzak.

Aesthetics are not the issue in considering how much to give, but surely a quality video isn't that much to ask for, especially as the diocese assigns each parish a not-insignificant goal.

(Digression: Recall the baptism scene at the end of The Godfather, which is juxtaposed with the brutal murders of the enemies of the Corleone family. The aesthetic quality of the Catholic church -- the dim, stain-lit interior, the richness of the decor and of the vestments, the ancient ritual of a soul being cleansed from original sin -- made Michael Corleone's corruption all the more evident. Remove those elements of beauty and antiquity and, while the moral implications of the murders remain, the visceral impact would be effectively slashed.)

I searched the website of the Diocese of Austin to post this piece of shill for you, our readers, but apparently the powers-that-be are ashamed enough of it that it's nowhere to be found. But at least we can breathe a sigh of relief until the elevator doors start to close on us next year.

Medieval Religion Bleg

Quick call for book suggestions:

A protestant co-worker of mine has "gotten into" medieval history, however he's got a major blind spot in regards to medieval religion, probably as a result of reading only stuff written by other evangelicals. What he seems to have gleaned from what he's read is: "People still had a very undeveloped idea of God in the middle-ages, probably because they couldn't read the Bible and their services were all in Latin, which they didn't understand. So they saw God as an angry, vengeful God and thought they had to buy him off by giving money and land to the Church. Around the year 1000, people were all giving all their possessions to the Church because they thought the world was going to end, and when it didn't, they realized that the Church owned half of Europe but there was nothing they could do about it till the Reformation."

Needless to say, lots of work to do here. (I should clarify, he's a nice guy, and not anti-Catholic, he's just been doing some bad reading.)

I'm wondering if anyone knows a fairly basic (something like History of Christendom would be too long and too detailed -- under 500 pages would be great) book about Christianity in the middle ages hopefully covering fairly: the major (new and old) religious orders, major theological/spiritual trends, popular piety movements, major heresies, and hopefully also a bit on the medieval Christian experience at different levels of society. Profiles of important saints would also be good, I would think, since that gives and idea of what the ideal was.

Ideally, something which is fair to Catholicism without being so obviously a Catholic drum beater (think Belloc in his more bellicose moments) that it would scare off a good Evangelical (preacher's son and all).


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Battle of the Lectionaries

Dr. Blosser writes on Pertinacious Papist about the new (new as in current missal) lectionary, working off an article in Latin Mass by Peter A. Kwasniewski, which he makes available in its entirety here.

I've seen several articles go at the topic of the lectionary before, but this is a fairly typical example, and I think it's important to look at it for the same reason that Dr. Blosser does, though my motivation is, perhaps, equal and opposite. Dr. Blosser says:
It is commonly assumed by intelligent Catholics that, whatever the disasters of the post-Vatican II era (usually associated with its "implementation") one of the strongest suits of the Conciliar reforms was the revised lectionary. The renewed emphasis on Scripture in the post-Conciliar era, so it is often said, has been one of the great achievements of the Council.
Kwasniewski's project is thus one of attacking at the point of strength, rather than weakness. The tactic is essentially, "If you thought the increased number of readings was one of the greatest strengths of the new liturgy, what leg will you have to stand on now?"

And indeed, I would tend to say (as one moderately fond of the new missal) that the move from two readings to three and to a longer cycle of readings is one of the things I appreciate very much about the current missal. The other would be the emphasis on The Word in relation to the rest of the liturgy: the fact that priests are specifically encourage to proclaim the words of the mass clearly, to be heard, and that the Eucharistic Rite is spoken out loud, rather than so quietly that it usually can't be heard -- as is the general practice (though I'm not clear if it's strictly required) in celebrating the old missal.

So I think that Kwasniewski's arguments about the new lectionary deserve to be answered -- insufficient creature though I may be to attempt such a thing. But here goes...

Kwasniewski's first complaint is on a the failure to sufficiently link the readings and proper chants (most ordinary mass-goers will not be familiar with these, as most parishes replace them with hymns pretty much all of the time) with the feast of the day. He opens with an anecdote:
One year, a friend and I had the blessing of attending two celebrations of the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, for in the old calendar her feast is October 3rd, and in the new calendar, October 1st.... [I]n the Novus Ordo celebration (which was, I might add, just about as Oratorian as could be, complete with a schola singing the chant), it was hard not to notice how absolutely unsuitable the readings were; they were simply the "readings for the day." The readings from Baruch had to do with the wickedness of the cities who reject God; the reading from the Gospel was "Woe to you, Tyre and Sidon." Admitting that a preacher with Origen's exegetical ingenuity could make any Scripture passage illustrate any mystery he pleased, the ordinary layman is left asking: Does this really have much to do with Thérèse? In the old rite, the readings always linked up with the saint whose feast was being celebrated. In the other Mass I attended, the Epistle was Isaiah 66:12-14 ("As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you"), and the Gospel was Matthew 18:1-4 ("Amen I say to you, unless you convert and become like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven"). The abandonment of the inner unity of Scripture and feastday is one of the greatest disasters of the new rite. It makes the prayers, the readings, and the sacrifice seem like three different things, when they ought to be clearly woven together, as in the old rite, making one seamless garment.

But there was something more, and worse: the proper chants for her feastday, in the new Graduale Romanum, are, in some cases (like the Alleluia verse) irrelevant, and in other cases barely relevant -- that is, bearing no special relation to Saint Thérèse.
In the interests of space, I'll only include two of the pieces that he compares, though I've tried to pick the ones that seem most relevant to his argument. Consult the full version of the article to see more.
New Missal:
Introit (Ps. 30:7-8,2) -- I however have hoped in the Lord: I shall exult and rejoice in Thy mercy, because Thou hast looked upon my humility. V: In Thee, O Lord, I have put my hope, I shall not be confounded for ever; in Thy justice free me. I however have hoped in the Lord: I shall exult and rejoice in Thy mercy, because Thou hast looked upon my humility.

Gradual (Ps. 26:4) -- One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord. V. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and be protected by His holy temple.

Alleluia (Ps. 116:1) -- Praise the Lord, all ye nations, and rejoice in Him, all ye peoples. Alleluia.

Old Missal:
Introit (Cant. 4:8-9) -- Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come; thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart. V. (Ps. 112:1) Praise the Lord, ye children; praise ye the name of the Lord. Glory be. Come from Libanus, my spouse, etc.

Gradual (Mt. 11:25) -- I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. V. (Ps. 70.5) [Thou hast been] my hope, O Lord, from my youth.

Alleluia (Ecclus. 39:17-19) -- Bud forth as the rose planted by the brooks of waters: Give ye a sweet odor as frankincense. Send forth flowers as the lily, and yield a smell, and bring forth leaves in grace, and praise with canticles and bless the Lord in His works. Alleluia.
Kwasniewski's analysis is that,
Comparing the two sets of propers, I ask: Is this an example of liturgical progress, of a "successful" reform? The Novus Ordo propers are vague and generic, ready for application to any female saint; the Tridentine propers are majestic, poetic, and exactly apropos to the Little Flower.
I'm not sure the case is nearly so open and shut as Kwasniewski claims. Certainly, the Alleluia in the old missal focuses on the rose as a metaphor, and since Therese is called the "Little Flower" and the results of her intercession are commonly called "roses" that certainly is a nice piece of concordance usage. The alleluia in the new missal does not seem particularly relevant. However, the introit and gradual in the new missal both seem fairly relevant to St. Therese's emphasis on humility, and to her desire to enter the convent at a very young age. The gradual in the old missal seems quite relevant with its talk of revealing to the "little ones" that which is hidden from the wise, but the relevance of the introit seems looser.

But I think there's a bigger question to look at here. Since the proper chants are taken from the sacred scriptures, and since the canon was closed long before the vast majority of saints were born, clearly the verses available from Psalms, and elsewhere are only relevant to the saints in a certain metaphoric, after-the-fact fashion. Certainly, we celebrate the saint whose feast day it is though the mass, but it seems to me that it is not the saint's mass, per se. The mass is always the celebration of Christ's coming into the world, both as Word and as Sacrificial Lamb, and of his suffering for us on the cross. In that sense, while we commemorate St. Therese at mass on her feast day, and the prayers specific to that day's mass are chosen to reflect that commemoration, we are not doing so because the mass that day is about her, but because those prayers reflect the eternal Christian virtues which St. Therese modelled for us, and which she found, like us, in the God's Word and the other ancient prayers, beliefs, practices and sacraments of the Church.

In that sense, while it seems to me important to pick the propers specific to a saint's feast day with care, it is not necessarily something to get deeply worked up about. But Kwasniewski now moves on to more general points, and so must we. Having discussed what he sees as a lack of suitability in the proper chants chosen for feast days in the new missal, Kwasniewski now discusses what he sees as wrong with the organization of the new lectionary in more general terms. First he lays down some general principles. There are worth looking at in detail since they tell us a great deal about his understanding of the liturgy and the place of the scriptures within it.
A first principle for lovers of liturgical tradition is that the cycle of feasts of our Lord, our Lady, and the saints must take precedence over a cycle of Scripture readings. There is no liturgy in existence that privileges a rationalistically-conceived march through books of the Old and New Testaments. All liturgies, Eastern and Western, look to the mysteries of Christ and of His Mother, and to the lives and virtues of that bright "cloud of witnesses" who incarnate, so to speak, the reality of Jesus again and again throughout history. Recitation of the text of Scripture is made decisively subordinate to the historical embodiment of Scripture's message in holy persons. The readings serve, in other words, to frame, adorn, and bring to light the face of Christ and the faces of all His imitators.
No wonder the author and I do not see eye to eye on some things, for it seems to me that he has this very nearly upside down. Rather than saying that, "Recitation of the text of Scripture is made decisively subordinate to the historical embodiment of Scripture's message in holy persons." I would say that it is through the example of the saints that we come to more fully understand God's Word, which is our mutual object as Christians. We thus do not need to "subordinate" our choices of scripture to the saints, so much as to with the saints reflect on the meaning of the scriptures.

Certainly, a "rationalistically-conceived march through books" is not ideal -- there are sections of scripture that are of far more clear and universal applicability to our lives than others. (One notes that readings from Numbers and Kings and some of the other geneology/history/soap opera books do not generally occur.) But at the same time, the tradition of having a specific cycle of readings is an ancient one. I think there's a proper balance to be struck between having readings proper to major holy days and feast days (Easter, Christmas, Corpus Christi, Annunciation, Assumption, Christ the King, Exhaltation of the Cross, Feast of the Holy Family, etc.) and allowing the calendar to become so clogged up with reading which are supposedly specific to the saint of the day that we lose the overall structure of the cycle of readings itself.

For instance, great doctor of the Church though he is, is there any particular gospel or other reading that must necessarily be read on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas? Or St. Augustine? Or St. Theresa of Avilla? These are truly great saints, and yet as saints they drank deep from the entirety of the scriptures. Is it necessarily appropriate to set aside the cycle of readings of reading "specific" to them when in all reality none of the readings in the canon are actually "about" them, and they themselves studied the scriptures as a whole?

As it happens, this balance between stucture and specific feast days is at the center of conflicting feelings over the old Divine Office. On the one hand, I love the one week psalter and stable day hours of the pre-St. Pius X Divine Office. On the other hand, the office prior to 1910 was so clogged with special feasts that one virtually never actually covered one week psalter as laid out in one week.
The use of Scripture is iconic, not homiletic. We are not being lectured at, but rather summoned to worship, to bow down before mysteries. The readings are to function as verbal incense, not verbose information. That is why a relatively narrow selection of Scripture passages, and usually shorter rather than longer ones, is perfectly adequate and even preferable for the sacred liturgy. Not all passages are equally suited to the purpose of the liturgy per se. With all due respect to the inspired word of God, probably only about 10 percent of the Bible is liturgically suitable. The other 90 percent is fertile ground for lectio divina, the practice that all of us should be engaged upon in some of the hours when we're not at Mass.
I've heard variations on this argument before and (especially in regards to the Gospels -- and the New Testament in general) it never ceases to bother me. While I would certainly not say it is a defect of the old missal to contain only the readings that it does, I similarly cannot take it as a defect of the new one that it does contain more. Consider some of the gospels that we have now that we did not have before. The woman caught in adultery springs to mind. How is that "not liturgically suitable"? Too confusing? Too ambiguous? Then how is it that the parable of the dishonest servant is considered suitable in the old missal?

Kwasniewski goes on to lay down what he sees as the three basic problems with the new lectionary, in light of the above general principles:
First, the guiding principles were Cartesian, that is to say, mathematical order, a technical completeness (we have to "get through" the Scriptures), and a typically materialistic disregard for the organic unity of the soul-body complex which is the liturgy -- its soul being the Eucharistic sacrifice-sacrament, the dual motion of offering to the Father and receiving in communion, while its body is the surrounding prayers, readings, and chants.
This strikes me as a case of someone reading this impression into something which someone coming to it cold would not get. Yes, if you dearly love the old missal and are simply offended in principle by the idea of expanding the lectionary (or if you believe from the writings of those on the post-conciliar liturgical committees that they had rationalistic/Cartesian bents) you might look at the arrangement and number of readings and say, "See, this stems from a Cartesian need for mathematical order." But if you simply listen to, read, and pray the new cycle of readings, you won't find yourself thinking all of a sudden, "Wait a minute, what a rationalistic and Cartesian set of readings this is! I'm shocked!" The author is simply playing the same game as the progressive who looks at the old missal and says, "See, it's full of despair and superstition," when in fact it's simply that the progressive thinks of "medieval" things as despairing and superstitious, and thus reads those characteristics into the old missal. Neither game is a good one to play. Both missals provide us with beautiful and necessary scriptural readings, whatever the personal hang-ups of those who picked them may or may not have been.
Second, there is the basic human problem of having more than one year's worth of readings. A single year is a natural period of time; it is healthy, pedagogically superior, and deeply consoling to come back, year after year, to the same readings for a given Sunday or weekday. This has been my experience. You get to know the Sunday readings especially; they become bone of your bone. You start to think of Sundays in terms of their readings, chants, and prayers, which stick in the mind all the more firmly because they are both spoken or chanted and read in the missal you are holding (more senses engaged). In this way the traditional Western liturgy shows its affinity to the Eastern liturgies, which go so far as to name Sundays after their Gospels or after some particular dogma emphasized. In the old days, the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost had a distinctive identity: Protector noster was the introit, you knew its melody, and the whole Mass grew to be familiar, like a much-loved garden or a trail through the woods. Nowadays, who knows what the "tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time" is about! It's anyone's guess.
This is probably the most-used complaint against the new lectionary, and I do certainly appreciate the value of having a single natural cycle. (I do, after all, find the old Divine Office interesting for that reason.) But I think that people rather over-play it. In all honesty, I doubt that you could have gone up to someone in 1930 and said, "So what is the gospel and general theme for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time?" and got any sort of a clear answer. People don't think of things in terms of "fifteen weeks after Easter we have the Sunday with gospel X". Rather, people think in terms of "the Sunday we hear about the dishonest steward" or "the Sunday with the prodigal son". This remains the case with the new cycle, except that we get to hear more readings. Having been attending mass for nearly ten three year cycles now, if you name just about any incident in the gospels I can retell it for you fairly exactly, and maybe get a few lines exactly. And since I think the gospels are pretty all much all very important, I consider it a very good thing that a layman who goes to church every Sunday will eventually have virtually the whole of the four gospels at hand, or at least in the middle reaches of his memory.

I appreciate the stability of the old missal, but I can't see the three year cycle as a bad thing by any means, and I'd lean towards considering it superior in this respect.
Third, the men who chose the readings were a committee of "experts," biblical scholars with sociological leanings, who should be distrusted when it comes to spiritual matters. The only reverent way of augmenting a missal would be to entrust to contemplative monks the task of proposing new readings and propers for certain saints' feasts, for the weekdays of Advent, and so on -- to entrust it to traditional Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, whose daily bread (after the Eucharist) is lectio divina, whose every thought is permeated by the words, the rhythms, the doctrine of Sacred Scripture. For these men and women, Scripture is not a "project," a book to be divided and conquered; it is their food and drink. Feeling the spiritual weight of what they read, they would be able to recommend readings that are most fitting for a given saint, or for the ferial days in Advent and Paschaltide.
It's been pointed out elsewhere in the blogsphere that an expert writing an article criticizing other experts for being experts is perhaps a slightly circular argument, but I actually do rather like this idea of entrusting the revision of the liturgy to those who make it their life's work to celebrate liturgy throughout every day. Maybe if that approach had been taken we'd have an even better cycle of readings than we do today. However, that does not necessarily mean that the one we have is bad.

Being of a conservative sensibility, it seems to me that too much was attempted too fast in the years directly after Vatican II. Widespread confusion resulted, and we are still paying the price for that. But although things certainly could have been done better (both from an implementation perspective, and in not making so many changes, and so quickly) we now have had this missal for some forty years. A blink of an eye on the timescale of the Church, certainly, but long enough that many of us have known nothing else in our time as Catholics. The very last thing we should want to do at this point is suggest sudden changes, or to pummel the missal which is the spiritual daily bread of most of the world's Catholics.

I'm glad that the old missal has finally been fully liberated by the recent motu proprio, and I hope that the trend towards more solemn celebration of the new missal continues. In time, I would hope that there will be a blending of elements of the old that we have lost (and missed) into the new. But if that is to happen, the arguments present by lovers of the old must be a little better than what we see here. To present unsupported (and in some cases rather subjective and debatable) principles and then move on to make sweeping pronouncements on the basis of those principles is not to make an argument, it is to make noise.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Young Republicans

While engaged in intense discussions with a rebellious youngster over the weekend, a memory wafted up of my own rather small days. I was seven when my family bought its first house -- to general sighs of relief since three kids with one on the way begins to get tight in a two bedroom apartment.

After much thought, I brought my parents my current savings (perhaps twelve dollars -- a great sum when your weekly allowance is $0.50) and announced that I wanted to help out the family by paying for my room in the new house.

My parents thanked me gravely but suggested that I keep the money for my own purposes. I insisted, and eventually they brought forward the argument that houses were actually very expensive, and so the twelve dollars wouldn't pay for a whole room. (It wasn't really going to be my room, since all three of us were to share a bedroom, but as the oldest I considered the others mere visitors or interlopers.)

Not to be deterred, I countered by asking if I could buy a closet or maybe just a corner. Since I persisted the money was eventually accepted, and I asked if I could look over the corners when we visited the house so I could pick out which one would be mine.

However, the next time I had a falling out with my parents (which with seven year old's is likely to happen over the smallest -- indeed usually only the smallest -- pretext) it came out that I had it in my head that, having bought myself a corner of the house, I would thus have parental-level authority in that corner and could do whatever I liked there and could not be punished when taking refuge there.

At that point it was explained that the entire house belonged to the family, and in the family mommy and daddy ruled without rival. My money was returned, and I was cast out into the darkness of non-property-ownership for another twenty years.

How shocked my freedom-loving little mind would have been to know that even when you do buy your own house, there are legally instituted busy-bodies called homeowners associations watching like hawks to see if you haven't mowed your own lawn, built a playhouse than can be seen over the back fence, or otherwise treated your own property as if it was... your own. But that's another topic.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Image Conscious

Green has been fashionable the last couple years, but like any popular piety the green revolution has brought in plenty of opportunity for hypocrisy as well. Enter the Lexus LS 600h L hybrid, the ideal ride for he who wants to stand apart and pray, "God, I give thanks that I am not like other men: greedy, wasteful, emitting more than my share of carbon dioxide."

Today's Wall Street Journal reviews this wonder of luxury and green technology (subscription only):
The biggest con running in the auto industry right now is the notion that hybrids represent some sort of quantum leap in green transportation. Not only is this patently untrue -- hybrid technology is actually decades old -- but it shamelessly plays to the hypocrisy of our society. If we really wanted to save the planet, instead of buying hybrids we would start walking. Or riding bikes. Maybe a few more of us would try public transportation. How about starting with slowing down to the speed limit on the freeway?

But let's be honest: Most Americans aren't willing to change to conserve energy. Even lifestyle choices like driving a small car, carpooling and living in the vicinity of where we work are largely anathema, which is why I'm not the least bit shocked by the Lexus LS 600h L.

This is a hybrid limousine with a base sticker price of $104,765, meaning that it's the perfect way for a captain of industry to show the little people that he, too, will sacrifice nothing in his attempt to demonstrate to the world that he sort of cares about the environment. (And of course he does, as these days there are profits to be made by selling all manner of "green" products, whether they have any tangible environmental benefit or not.)

Toyota is bullish on the LS 600h L's "Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle" rating, the EPA's tightest standard for gasoline-powered vehicles. Of course that standard has nothing to do with carbon-dioxide emissions, which are strictly tied to fuel economy. And with an EPA combined rating of just 21 mpg, this 16.9-foot, two-and-a-half-ton sedan isn't doing a lot to combat global warming. It will get two miles per gallon more than the nonhybrid LS 460 L on which it is based, a car that costs $33,000 less.

Cost-benefit analysis clearly doesn't figure into the allure. We did the math: The hybrid version will save its owner enough on gas to break even after only 2.1 million miles.... [emphasis added]
So for a mere 100k, you can have all the fuel economy of our family's roomy Town & Country minivan, and rather less economy than my fifteen year old Toyota Camry.

Glancing around through other recent car models, this new "green" entry has exactly the same EPA fuel efficiency rating as the current BMW 525 (not exactly a light eater in the gasoline department) and 25% less fuel efficiency than a standard Toyota Camry.

What exactly is the point, other than having "Hybrid" emblazoned on your rear end?