Waugh on Chastity

The following quote is from Evelyn Waugh’s Labels: A Mediterranean Journal, the first book in Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writings, which collection I received as a gift:

What a lot of nonsense people will talk about sex repression. In many cases an enforced and unrationalised celibacy does give rise to those morbid conditions which supply the material for the jollier passages in Sunday newspapers. But in healthier psychological organisms, a sublimated sex motive may account for a vast proportion of the beneficial activities of man; copulation is not the only laudable expression of the procreative urge—certainly not copulation in which the procreative motive has been laboriously frustrated. The Christian values of charity and chastity have from old time an indissouble alliance—but all this is hardly to the point. (42-43)

Also from Labels:

Now, one of the arts of successful authorship is preventing the reading public from forgetting one’s name in between the times when they are reading one’s books. It is all very puzzling because, as far as I can see, there are only two respectable reasons for reading a book written by someone else; one is that you are being paid to review it, and the other that you are continually meeting the author and it seems rude not to know about him.


Responses by Some U.S. Bishops to the Immigration and Refugee E.O.

Archbishop Chaput, “Persons First: Refugees, immigrants, and executive orders”: “There are few embodiments of the weak more needy or compelling than refugees. This is why the Church in the United States has reacted so strongly, so negatively — and so properly — to President Trump’s executive orders of January 28” (h/t Brandon McGinley)

Archbishop Gomez (linked in Archbishop Chaput, “Persons First…”), “On the Executive Orders”: “And I repeat, as I have said before: the most constructive and compassionate thing our government can do right now is to stop the deportations and the threat of deportations for those who are not violent criminals.”

Cardinal Dolan, “Moral Lessons for President Trump and Gov. Cuomo”: “President Trump’s impetuous and terribly unfair executive order closing the historically open door of America to certain immigrants, just because of their country of origin, cheapens their human dignity, and, in many cases, places their lives and future in danger. It is contrary to the teachings of the Bible Christians and Jews cherish, and at odds with the celebrated reputation for hospitality the nation we love enjoys.” (h/t Kev_jg)

Bishop Rhoades, “Statement of Bishop Rhoades on Executive Order on Refugees”: “Clearly our government has a responsibility to protect the safety and security of the United States. Certainly we must be vigilant lest terrorists infiltrate the refugee population. But, as many attest, including our Church agencies involved in refugee settlement, ‘the U.S. is already using a thorough vetting process for refugees, especially for those from Syria and surrounding countries’ (Sean Callahan, CRS President). Fear should not lead us to forsake the innocent, of whatever nation or religion, whose lives are in danger.” (Seen shared on Facebook)

Archbishop Cupich, “Statement of Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, on the Executive Order on Refugees and Migrants”: “It is time to put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity. ‘If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.’ Pope Francis issued these challenging words to Congress in 2015, and followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.'” h/t Matthew Sitman

There are more here (seen shared on Twitter). (I saw all the above independently of looking at this link, but it also complies the above and more—though not the statement by Bishop Rhoades or the article by Cardinal Dolan).



Unknowing Rather Than Incorrectness

I recently finished Denys Turner’s Faith, Reason, and the Existence of God. More on it later, I hope. But one aspect of it dovetailed with a conversation I recently had about the knowledge of God, and I want to draw out how. The below is informed by Turner and I am generally writing from (what I take to be) his account of things, though sometimes I may have put things less strongly than he would. And of course, I might have Turner wrong as matter of interpretation, in which case I would welcome correction. With that said:

There is (depending on what is meant) a distinction between saying “I am wrong about God in some way” and “I do not know what I mean when I talk about God.” The former, in the sense I mean here, posits that some proposition held about God is not true, or some attribute is incorrectly assigned to Him. The second means there is some proposition held about God or some property predicated of him, the meaning of which escapes our understanding. In the first case, then, the proposition in question does not hold about God, plain and simple; it is false. In the second case, it does hold, but we don’t know how it holds (that is, it is true by analogy).

Take, for example, the statement “God is good.” The negation—”God is not good”—could mean “God lacks goodness” or, more strongly put, that”God is evil.” Turner says that the negation “God is not good” when it means “God is evil” is a negation that involves “literal falsehood.”

However, it could also mean “God is good, but how He is good is beyond our understanding, for He is not good in the way creatures are.” In this latter case, it is not that we thought God had goodness but it turns out He doesn’t. Rather, it is that He is too good for us to understand—it is not a lack, but an excess of goodness which results in the negation “God is not good.” This would be a theologically warranted negation, as opposed to the negation involving literal falsity.

To take the clearest case, one may, as part of the apophatic “process,” negate the statement “God exists,” if by this one means to deny that God exists in the way creatures do (and thus in the way our term “exists” is normally used). But this does not mean that the “God does not exist” of this process is saying the same thing as the “God does not exist” of atheism is. And as in the case of “God is good” or “God exists,” so, analogously, in all cases of propositions about or predicates of God.

For Turner, as he reads Pseudo-Dionysius, ultimately the point of apophaticism is not the denial, but the failure of language that we experience when speaking of God, by virtue of God’s being beyond both all affirmations and all denials (in other words, the theological negation “God is not good” is not itself the apophatic failure of language, for that failure consists not in denial but in God’s being beyond denial, as well as His being beyond affirmation).

Now, if what you mean by saying “I am wrong about God” is theological negation, then I think it is not useful to put it that way—certainly in our intellectual context, but perhaps even generally. Because to our ears, at the least, the statement “I am [or everyone is] wrong about God” carries with it the sense not of theological negation, but of literal negation. That is, it carries with it the equivalent of saying “God is not good” means “God is evil.”

Christianity is true, not false. The Creed is true, not false. And insofar as I affirm the creed, I am right, not wrong. Moreover, other religions, in so far as they deny truths that Christianity affirms, are false—literally false, in the sense I used above (which is not to say they contain no truth, or that grace cannot be given to non-Christians). And all of this is compatible with the idea that we do not know what God is in His essence. Turner quotes the first bit (“by…unknown”) of the following quote from St. Thomas, as I believe does Herbert McCabe, OP, a major influence on Turner:

Although by the revelation of grace in this life we cannot know of God “what He is,” and thus are united to Him as to one unknown; still we know Him more fully according as many and more excellent of His effects are demonstrated to us, and according as we attribute to Him some things known by divine revelation, to which natural reason cannot reach, as, for instance, that God is Three and One.

I find it helpful to say that we do not know what God is in Himself, and that we don’t fully grasp the way He exists, the way He is good, the way He is love, the way He is Creator, the way He is wisdom. That we are united to God as to the unknown, in that sense. I find this helpful because it reminds me that God is greater than I can understand, that His will is better than I can understand, that his providence is wiser than I can understand, and that one does not have to understand these things to be united to Him.

But I would not say that any of that implies the truth of the statement “I am [everyone is] wrong about God.”

[I am indebted to Frater Urban Hannon for recommending Turner to me, and I am sure my reading of Turner, and what I have written here, is influenced by communications with Frater Hannon]

Friendship and the Holy Spirit

In chapter seven of Saint Thomas Aquinas Vol. 2: Spiritual MasterFr. Torrell complies a number of quotes from St. Thomas about how the Holy Spirit makes us friends of God—all taken, I believe, from SCG IV. What’s remarkable is how St. Thomas takes some feature of natural friendship between human persons and then shows that applies to man’s friendship with God, established by the Holy Spirit. The texts therefore tell us something both about natural friendship and about our life with God.

Here’s one example of this (Torrell quotes this on pg. 170 but the translation here is not taken from Torrell, but from the version here):

It also belongs to friendship that a man delight in the presence of his friend, and rejoice in his words and deeds: also that he find in him consolation in all his troubles: hence it is especially to our friends that we have recourse for comfort in time of sorrow. Since then the Holy Ghost makes us to be friends of God, and causes Him to live in us, and us in Him, as we have proved, it follows that it is through the Holy Ghost that we rejoice in God, and are comforted in all the hardships and afflictions of the world. Hence it is said (Ps. l. 14): Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with thy[1] perfect Spirit, and (Rom. xiv. 7): The Kingdom of God . . . is justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and (Acts ix. 31): The church had peace . . . and was edified, walking in the fear of the Lord, and was filled with the consolation of the Holy Ghost. For this reason our Lord calls the Holy Ghost by the name of Paraclete or Consoler (Jo. xiv. 26): But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, etc.

Christ Our Brother

“As to the consequences of this predestination, Paul adds: ‘In order that he would be the eldest of many brothers.’ Just as God wanted to communicate his nature to others in making them participate in likeness to his goodness, so that he is not only Good, but the author of goods, so too the Son of God wanted to communicate the conformity of his filiation, so that he would not be an only child but the Firstborn of the sons. Thus, he who is unique in his eternal generation, according to John (1:18) ‘The only Son who is in the bosom of the Father,’ becomes through the communication of grace ‘the Firstborn of many sons’: ‘He who is the Firstborn among the dead, the Prince of the kings of the earth’ (Apoc. 1:5).

We are thus the brothers of Christ, as much by the fact that he has communicated to us the likeness of his filiation, as we say here, as by the fact that he assumed similarity to our nature, according to the epistle to the Hebrews (2:17): ‘He had to become like his brothers in all things.'” -St. Thomas, In ad Rom. VIII, lect. 6, nn. 703-6, as quoted in Saint Thomas Aquinas Vol. 2 Spiritual Master by Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P. trans. Robert Royal, pg. 144. (the citation from Romans in Torrell comes after a longer quote passage, so presumably the nn. range given above is too expansive).

President Trump

That Donald Trump will be president is appalling. However, it is easy to forget in the shock what it would have meant if Clinton had won. Some would have been relieved, but it would also have been appalling. As Douthat pointed out, her presidency would have been sane, normal, mainstream from the perspective of the elites, but the elites are capable of including what is in fact terrible in the realm of the sane.

In other words, whatever horror, outrage, sadness, someone may be feeling because Trump won—we should already have been feeling that and we should have felt it if Clinton won too (at the least, to an important degree).

Judging by Twitter, etc there are people who are seeing their role now as one of opposition to whatever bad things President Trump may do or reach for. This is obviously right. The complementary truth is that our role should already have been oppositional and it should have been so no matter who won.

There is, of course, a purely policy level here. Americans on both sides of the aisle will see themselves as the dedicated opponents of this presidency at the level of policy (or, better, at the level of “politics” in the modern sense). In that domain, I for one have felt somewhat hopeful about the clarifying effect this outcome may have on things

But it is much more than that. Trump’s victory is not the only darkness revealed more visibly to us last night (an apocalyptic night, in that sense). Colorado passed assisted suicide. This is following on DC’s decision on Nov. 1st to give “initial approval” to the same. Our culture is dark in many ways (which is not necessarily to imply that is not light in many ways, too).

We ourselves are dark in many ways. The opposition to evil must be first the opposition to our failings. It seems to me that at least one dimension of this is an awareness of our fallibility in a way that inspires humility before the mistakes, errors, or sins of others. If you think it was morally illicit for someone to vote for Donald Trump, that’s included here. This, for example, is not the tone to take.

That Donald Trump won the presidency on the birthday of Dorothy Day (though past midnight) is extremely and tragically fitting symbolism. That pairing stands as a kind of prophetic monument against what happened last night. I think we would do well to study her life and work and the Catholic Worker movement as we go forward.

Finally, all things fall under Providence, even our politics. Julian of Norwich:

“And our blessed Lord answered most compassionately and in a very friendly way, and showed me that Adam’s sin was the greatest harm that ever was done, or ever shall be, until the end of the world; and he also showed me that this is publicly acknowledged through all Holy Church on earth. Furthermore, he taught me that I should consider the glorious atonement; for this atonement is incomparably more pleasing to God and more glorious in saving mankind than Adam’s sin was ever harmful.
So what our blessed Lord’s teaching means is that we should take heed of the following: ‘Since I have turned the greatest possible harm into good, it is my will that you should know from this that I shall turn all lesser evil into good.'”

I’m With Neither

I will not be voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I’m unsure exactly what I will do on election day, but I’ve talked about writing in Michael Maturen and Juan Muñoz of the American Solidarity Party.

I may be wrong or unsound at various turns in this post, and am entirely willing to receive correction if so. It’s also not a holistic assessment of all the various intellectual routes you could go down in pursuing these questions.

That being said, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are, considered in themselves, individuals who should be president. I don’t mean relative to each other; I’m mean relative to what we should expect of an executive leader of a country.

The reasons for saying this should be obvious, even though there are enthusiasts for both candidates. If one wants to see reasons laid out against them, Ross Douthat has a pair of pieces that are worth reading.

By linking to Douthat’s cases, I do not mean necessarily to imply total agreement with them. He omits Clinton’s stance on abortion from his column on her; I would give that pride of place. Of course, he’s not writing that piece for committed pro-lifers, but to leave abortion out of the picture with Clinton is to leave out the gravest and most weighty reason Clinton should not be president—not relative to Trump, but considered in herself.

There are people who will vote Trump for pro-life reasons. I will return to an angle of this below. But I don’t think this changes the basic assessment above. You may think abortion gives you a reason to vote Trump, but that does not change his basic unsuitability for the office (relative again, not to Clinton, but to what we should expect of its occupant).

Suppose someone concedes all, or some, of this. Could one nevertheless licitly vote for either of these candidates, from the standpoint of Catholic moral teaching? I don’t feel qualified to get into the details of this one way or the other. As a friend pointed out to me in the past, the U.S. Bishops tell us:

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil

I am not prepared to offer an analysis of how that might apply in this particular case, when it comes to the licitness of a vote for either candidate. However, I would make two points.

First, you cannot vote for a candidate because of his or her political support for a grave evil. See here again the U.S. Bishops—and note that abortion is not considered the only such grave evil:

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an
intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

See also Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, before he was Pope:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

Second, even if a vote for either or both of these candidates is licit, there is no absolute moral duty to vote. In the right context, abstaining from voting is within the range of permitted options. Again the Bishops:

When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

I am prepared to enter into a detailed analysis of how that might apply in this case. I just note that Catholic moral teaching on voting allows abstention in the right context.* (My assumption here is that the conditional “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act” does not ultimately mean it has be on the same issue, though that is the case that this quote, as I read it, is addressing. I assume two candidates could hold a position that promoted an intrinsically evil act in two different domains of law or policy—e.g. one was pro-choice but anti-euthanasia and the other was pro-life and pro-euthanasia—and that would fall under the spirit of this conditional)

All that being said, here are two points that I think should enter into consideration.

First, about abortion. In this election in particular, since we have been given Trump and Clinton, even a single-issue voter on abortion (as I have considered myself to be, given the realities of U.S. politics) has to make a holistic assessment of the candidates on offer, not only about how they will govern on the abortion issue, but also with reference to their character and their trustworthiness, their other positions, and the cost of voting for a candidate to the long-term health of the pro-life movement.

The point I am about to make is not original; Matthew Lee Anderson and Pascal Emmanuel Gobry have both versions of it and the credit goes to them for it. I am not sure how it relates to Catholic moral teaching on voting, given that the U.S. Bishops call abstention from voting  an “extraordinary” step. So I am of course open to correction if this is in any way at odds with such teaching.

However, it seems to me that to be a real political force, one actually capable of exerting pressure on politicians and of having its priorities honored, the pro-life movement has to vote as a relatively coherent bloc, and it has to draw lines somewhere. At some point, even if only in theory, it has to be able to judge that a candidate, even one that professes to be in some way more pro-life than his or her own opponent, is not pro-life enough, and withhold its support. If the movement is not willing to do this, if it will always support the “more pro-life candidate” no matter how reduced a candidate’s pro-life credentials are, then it is only asking for candidates to give it more and more lip-service and deliver less and less real commitment to its priorities.

As a general matter, it can be painful or seem wrong to withhold support, giving up up on a hoped-for short-term gain in favor of the long-term political strength of the movement. But it seems to me that this is how successful movements must, at least under certain conditions, be willing to behave. And so a relevant question for abortion-focused voters is whether a pro-life vote for Trump participates in a logic that degrades the bargaining power of the pro-life movement.

Second, America would be a better place if a genuine Christian Democratic Party was within the Overton window. If I am permitted morally to vote for a third party this election season, then writing in a party seeking to expand the Overton window in this way seems well worth considering.

*In response to a comment: I’m not considering abstaining, but I made the assumption that if it is permissible (under the right circumstances), so is voting for a better but electorally insignificant third party.