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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Linky Links

St. Peter Damien's list of seven minor sins or defects, contrasted with the seven major sins, posted by Brandon:
As we know, there are seven principal vices from which all other infectious forms of vice derive, namely: pride, avarice, vainglory, anger, envy, lust, spiritual torpor. These, moreover, since they are the cause and origin of all evils, are known to have the same number of effects, namely, the seven mortal sins, that is, adultery, murder, theft, perjury, false witness, plunder, and blasphemy. in each of these the death of the soul is so clear and certain that if anyone should die guilty of any of them, he could not possibly avoid the sentence of eternal damnation. There are also seven slight or minor sins into which not only the sinner but also every upright man falls daily, even though he might appear to stand at the very peak of perfection. These, accordingly, are sins of thought, ignorance, inconstancy, necessity, infirmity, forgetfulness, surprise. Because of these, surely we always fail our everyday living, and so against the wounds of sin we need some daily remedy for their cure.
 (Emphasis added.)

I was trying to slot up the seven faults with the seven principal vices and the seven deadly sins, but Peter Damien doesn't seem to have adhered to an order here. Pride is the first vice on his list; adultery the first sin; thought the first fault. Now of course you can link pride to adultery, and both to faults of thought. You could link avarice to murder to ignorance, to use the second item in each set.

I could imagine a random fictional situation generator in which you had to make up a story based on some combination of these things. Here, I've picked out the first item in each list my eye landed on:

Principal vice: envy
Deadly sin: perjury
Fault: surprise

Surprise seems like a strange choice for a fault. Perhaps it means something like shock? Something that jolts your soul enough that you fall?

Perhaps Peter comes home from work one day to see neighbor Randy, a bland fellow who never does anything interesting, dancing with glee in his driveway. "Come see what I just bought!" Randy crows, and hauls Peter down the driveway. There, behind Randy's house, is a gleaming Ferrari. "I just got a promotion! The boss finally noticed my hard work!" says Randy.

Peter, totally unprepared for this bit of news from dull old Randy, can't help thinking, "Why him? Why not me? Why should boring Randy get a promotion and this great car while I'm stuck at the grindstone?" Peter begins to eye Randy's car morning and night as it comes and goes, wondering what it would be like to drive that beauty. He ought to have a car like that. He ought to have that car. Randy doesn't deserve it.

...And I'm not feeling clever enough right now to piece out the details that lead to Peter swearing something false against Randy in court, but someone inclined to legal drama could come up with a compelling story.

The point of this exercise is that sin A doesn't always spring directly from vice B. The heart has reasons of which reason knows not. One can commit adultery impelled by lust, but also by pride, vainglory, or anger. (The epic novel Kristin Lavransdatter contains a dramatic example of this last.)


NCR ran a frivolous article entitled "The priesthood is being crucified on the cross of celibacy". Father Fox fisks it here.
On July 15, Father Peter Daly, a retired pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, penned an article for the National Catholic Reporter (sic) with the astonishing headline, “The priesthood is being crucified on the cross of celibacy.” Well, that sounds just terrible, doesn't it? The priesthood being associated with the Cross! Wherever might the Church have gotten such an idea? Father Daly can't figure it out.

Upon reflection, I'm not surprised that Father Daly and his beloved N"C"R can't fathom a priesthood associated with the Cross; they find it scandalous for the life of any Christian to be cruciform, at least as pertains to sex and desire. Chastity? No contraception? Sex only in marriage -- once -- between a man and a woman? Horrors!

Father followed up his first effort with another column a week later, but it is more of the same fallacies, non-sequiturs and evidence-free assertions. What a mess! Let’s take a look at the first article.

NCR also features as a jumping off point for Amy Welborn's excellent essay about a failing of modern journalism -- the ability to write an article entirely from one's desk, using Google as your source, without interviewing anyone connected with the story or visiting the locale, and using catchphrases to signal to your audience how they should feel about a person or a situation.
Earlier this month, the National Catholic Reporter ran a series of article on EWTN, written by Heidi Schlumpf. It made a blip, generated some commentary and then was gone, like almost everything else that’s written and published these days. Truth be told, despite being three lengthy articles long, there was nothing new in it, mostly because Schlumpf didn’t actually come down here to poke around and do research, but simply pulled from the public record, watched TV, collated things everyone already knows, and packaged it a la Catholic Left – which is decorated with pearls for the reader to clutch in horror as she reads, which of course happen to be the same pearls a writer from the Catholic Right would flourish with pride.

It was, in a way, typical 21st century “reporting” – which less to do with ideology, and more to do with the ease of accessing a certain level of information through the internet, a level which gives the impression of depth, but really isn’t. In other words – anyone with a computer and a keyboard could have written these stories from anywhere.

A far more interesting story could be told from actually venturing down here to Scary Alabama, staying awhile, poking around, talking to employees and (probably more importantly) ex-employees and some of the hundred of Catholics living down here with connections of one sort or another to “the Network” as it’s referred to- or even reaching out across the country to people who’ve been involved with programming.

I’m not saying I “know anything” worth scooping on, because I don’t. I know a few people associated with EWTN, the chairman’s daughter was in my son’s high school graduating class, but honestly, I wouldn’t know the man if he crashed into me on the street. I just know that the history of EWTN is complex and more than a little fraught – because it’s a human organization, and that’s what human organizations are like. Fraught.

No, what I want to speak briefly to – besides the shallow reporting ironically enabled by the internet – is the issue of what we miss when we’re blinkered by ideology. Just two points.

Amy Welborn again, reading The Long Sunday, a memoir about an English man's religious upbringing. She notes that personal witness is often the crucial gateway to a child's religious conscience, though it can't be the totality. This is necessary reading for catechists as another year of classes approaches.
As you read The Long Sunday, it seems clear that Fletcher never reached a point of trying to evaluate the worth of the religious tradition in which he was raised based on any deep evaluation of its truth claims. His assessment of whether or not what he had been taught was “true” was based entirely (at least in his telling) on

Whether or not those who professed the faith behaved in ways consistent with the teachings
Whether or not those who professed the faith lived as if they actually believed it mattered and was as life-defining as they claimed
Whether or not certain claims related to human behavior seemed true to him – that is, were outsiders really “bad” or unhappy? Were the believers, who made him memorize Scripture verses about joy – joyful?
So it wasn’t – does God exist, did Jesus exist, what did Jesus teach, did Jesus rise from the dead, is the Wesleyan tradition faithful to what Jesus taught?

But you know – Fletcher’s youthful criteria – your behavior will tell me if this stuff is true, all right – are probably far more common than the second set of deeper questions. We all know it – we know how human failure and hypocrisy impacts spiritual witness.

Which is why a faith formation and experience built on the “power” of personal witness and the strength and vibrancy and enthusiasm of human beings and their communities is flawed and maybe even doomed.

Join us because we’re an awesome, vibrant community where you’ll find faith and joy and peace in our awesome, vibrant community!

It’s a conundrum, a complex dynamic, and even a dance of sorts. What does Acts tell us that people noticed about the early Christians? What got their attention? The preaching? Not really. It was more: See how these Christians love one another.

As Fletcher’s experience tells us – the witness matters, deeply. Who among us hasn’t been drawn closer to faith because of another person’s sacrifice, patience or joy?

But, as the broad and deep experience of two thousand years of Catholic living has also told us – human beings will fail. Human beings will let you down. Every saint, every wise spiritual writer works hard to diminish their own role in any spiritual endeavor, beginning with Paul himself: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So a healthy, whole Christian tradition, based on solid ground, always reminds us of the objective reality – God and God’s Word – that our human actions only faintly echo and weakly point to.

Simcha Fisher on The Contraceptive Mentality, and what it's not:

Tellingly, in both cases, [Pope John Paul II is] contrasting the contraceptive mentality with obedience to Church teaching. He’s not using “contraceptive mentality” to mean “using NFP for less-than-dire reasons” or “using NFP selfishly.” That simply isn’t in the text. He’s not talking about NFP at all, or about people who are trying to follow Church teaching. He’s talking about people who are rejecting Church teaching with their behavior by literally using contraception.

He’s saying, “When we reject the Church’s teaching on contraception, i.e., by using contraception, bad things happen. The family is weakened. Marriages break up. We start killing babies.” And so on. That’s how he used the phrase that he invented.

The phrase “contraceptive mentality” also turns up in one more document, also in 1995, in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality from the Pontifical Council on the Family. It’s in a passage warning parents to make sure that nobody teaches your kids to fear and despise virginity and babies, and it uses the phrase: “the contraceptive mentality, that is, the ‘anti-life’ mentality”

So that’s what the phrase means: it means the mentality which teaches you to use contraception, which also teaches you to be promiscuous, to not value love, marriage, family, and fidelity, and to have abortions. It means rejecting Church teaching and being anti-life. It’s not about your NFP attitude, it’s about literal contraception and the bad things that go along with literal contraception.

An article in the Guardian maintains that the greatest obstacle to women's creativity is a lack of time to themselves.
A few months ago, as I struggled to carve out time in my crowded days for writing, a colleague suggested I read a book about the daily rituals of great artists. But instead of offering me the inspiration I’d hoped for, what struck me most about these creative geniuses – mostly men – was not their schedules and daily routines, but those of the women in their lives.

Their wives protected them from interruptions; their housekeepers and maids brought them breakfast and coffee at odd hours; their nannies kept their children out of their hair. Martha Freud not only laid out Sigmund’s clothes every morning, she even put the toothpaste on his toothbrush. Marcel Proust’s housekeeper, Celeste, not only brought him his daily coffee, croissants, newspapers and mail on a silver tray, but was always on hand whenever he wanted to chat, sometimes for hours. Some women are mentioned only for what they put up with, like Karl Marx’s wife – unnamed in the book – who lived in squalor with the surviving three of their six children while he spent his days writing at the British Museum.

Gustav Mahler married a promising young composer named Alma, then forbade her from composing, saying there could be only one in the family. Instead, she was expected to keep the house utterly silent for him. After his midday swim, he’d whistle for Alma to join him on long, silent walks while he composed in his head. She’d sit for hours on a branch or in the grass, not daring to disturb him. “There’s such a struggle going on in me!” Alma wrote in her diary. “And a miserable longing for someone who thinks OF ME, who helps me to find MYSELF! I’ve sunk to the level of a housekeeper!”

Unlike the male artists, who moved through life as if unfettered time to themselves were a birthright, the days and life trajectories of the handful of female artists featured in the book were often limited by the expectations and duties of home and care. George Sand always worked late at night, a practice that started when she was a teenager and needed to take care of her grandmother. Starting out, Francine Prose’s writing day was defined by the departure and return of her children on the school bus. Alice Munro wrote in the “slivers” of time she could find between housekeeping and childrearing. And Maya Angelou got away from the pull of home by leaving it altogether, checking herself into an unadorned hotel room to think, read and write.

Even Anthony Trollope, who famously wrote 2,000 words before 8am every morning, most likely learned the habit from his mother, who began writing at age 53 to support her sick husband and their six children. She rose at 4am and finished work in time to serve the family breakfast.
Darwin responds with a counterpart from the male creative perspective:
One of the things that strikes me about the specific male artists that the author provides the most description of, such as Mahler, is that his described behavior isn't just taking advantage of gender roles, it's being an incredibly lousy human being.

Having an equitable division of spousal tasks isn't going to get someone the kind of time Mahler got here. Even not having children or a spouse is not going to provide that much time. You'd need the combination of: 
1) Being independently wealthy
2) Having servants
3) Being willing to treat your loved ones like trash 
And honestly is art worth that? And even if it is: Would most people, even granted such indulgence, produce anything as good as Mahler did? 
So yeah, to the extent people are the victims of unfair divisions of labor, that's worth fixing in its own right. But it seems to me that even given that, there is not the time on hand for non-wealthy, non-jerk people to have the kind of total indulgence described here, and so the question is more how to produce art in scraps of time than how to get imagined great swaths of it that someone else must be getting.
Related: Carol Goodman examines how Jane Austen found the time to write. (h/t Brandon)
But where and when did she manage to do this writing—in a corner at a tiny table in between household chores as her nephew has claimed? As Claire Tomalin has pointed out, it would have been difficult for Jane to have physically managed the revision of an entire manuscript at such a little table (Tomalin 218-9). Nor would such acrobatic maneuverings have been necessary. At Chawton, Jane’s household chores were restricted to making the morning tea and toast and keeping the key to the wine cupboard, certainly not onerous chores and ones—with their access to caffeine and alcohol—any writer might choose.

It was also part of Jane’s routine to rise early and go downstairs to practice her piano. Perhaps like many a writer with a 9 to 5 job, she used those morning hours before the house had risen to write. Claire Tomalin writes that Jane was “privileged with a general exemption from domestic chores … almost as a man was privileged” (Tomalin 213). Or as a writer is privileged. Surely Jane would have been sensible of the encouragement and confidence that such privilege implied.

So what does one need to write?

A stable environment with space and time allotted to the task, freedom from onerous responsibilities and financial worries, and a few people who believe in and encourage you.

Perhaps most importantly, the writer herself needs to believe that her writing deserves a place in the world outside the corners and margins of the drawing room.


bearing said...

I would just like to say that I feel that access to toast has been slighted here.

MrsDarwin said...

Especially in the days when making toast required more skill than just dropping sliced bread in a machine with a timer.

Brandon said...

Huh; despite being the one who originally posted it, I just noticed that St. Peter doesn't have gluttony on his list of vices. (St. Gregory the Great, who is the source of the lists, held that the chief vices were pride and her seven generals. People have usually tried to put pride on the list of seven, though, as St. Peter does here; but the later practice is always to substitute pride for vainglory. St. Peter instead drops gluttony. I wonder if he includes gluttony under avarice or lust?)

I think your interpretation of the minor fault of surprise is probably right -- sometimes we do wrong not out of malice or vice but simply because we were unprepared for something, just like sometimes we do wrong because we honestly forgot something that we shouldn't have. It can be a moral failure, but rather than fully deliberate, it's partly just due to human limitations.

mrsdarwin said...

Aw man, I'm ashamed to say I didn't even notice that gluttony wasn't on the list, but I can certainly attest that surprise is often a trigger for gluttony -- whether it's the surprise of bad news, or just the surprise of finding a bag of chips in the pantry when you didn't expect it.

Agnes said...

"thought, ignorance, inconstancy, necessity, infirmity, forgetfulness, surprise"
This seems so strange to me that I am wondering how St. Peter Damien actually meant some of these words. I can't attach any intentional aspect to "thought" or "surprise" - in my usual interpretation they are completely morally neutral. I can interpret the others as defects or sins: ignorance is wrong when there is a lack of pursuing knowledge, necessity can be used as an excuse to do morally wrong, and while forgetfulness is a natural human trait, one is used to the fact that we simply must not forget our important obligations or deadlines etc., infirmity may be the literal lack of firmness rather than sickness; also, infirmity/weakness of the body is something we ought to try to overcome at least to a reasonable degree. The wrongness of inconstancy seems to be obvious to me. I understand your reasoning that surprise perhaps increases the temptation or weakens our resistance conpared to cases when we have time to think the situation through, but still, it's rather what do we do with the surprise what matters.

There is a lot of food for thought in this post. I want to comment on only one thing more: the personal witness. The personal witness is only convincing of the Christian teaching if it points towards God himself, rather than towards the human side, where all the vibrant and powerful feelings of joy and peace and community belong. They are accidental, in their best form accessory gifts of God rather than the cornerstone of Christianity.