Hating the Near and Loving the Far

Tuesday, March 15, AD 2011

At the risk of being all-books-all-the-time around here, (and really, if one is going to run risks, that’s not a bad one to run, is it?) I can’t this. I’ve been working through a lot of analysis at work lately, which involves long periods of sitting at my desk alone wrestling with Excel and Access, and to help stay on task I’ve been listening to John Cleese reading C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. It’s probably been ten years since I read Screwtape, and I’d forgotten how quotable it is.

These two sections particularly struck me. The first about the tactic of getting the temptee to focus on loving those he doesn’t actually know, while disliking those he actually interacts with on a daily basis.

[from Screwtape Letter #6]

As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian or anti-Christian periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can of course be encourage to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes, but it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He’s never met in real life. They are lay figures modeled on what he gets from the newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing. And of all humans, the English are, in this respect, the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door. Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence as well as some malice in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remove circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real, and the benevolence large imaginary.

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One Response to Hating the Near and Loving the Far

  • My wife and I got those recordings when they first came out and played them over and over. John Cleese was a stroke of genius to fill the role of Screwtape, and I regard the Screwtape Letters to be magnificently insightful as to the war between good and evil fought out in the soul of every man.

Ash Wednesday: God Wills It!

Wednesday, March 9, AD 2011

Lent is a time for confronting evil, especially the evil within us.  Today is Ash Wednesday.  The origins of the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday is lost in the mists of Church history.  The first pope to mention Ash Wednesday, although the custom was very old by his time, was Pope Urban II.  At the Council of Clermont in 1095, the same Council at which the Pope issued his world altering call for the First Crusade, the Council handed down this decree (among others):  10-11. No layman shall eat meat after the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday until Easter. No cleric shall eat meat from Quinquagesima Sunday until Easter.

That the first pope to mention Ash Wednesday was the same pope who launched the First Crusade is very appropriate.  Although even many Catholics may not realize this today, from first to last the Crusades were a penitential rite for the remission of sins.  One of the foremost modern historian of the Crusades, Thomas Madden, notes this:

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt. They were keenly aware of their sinfulness and eager to undertake the hardships of the Crusade as a penitential act of charity and love. Europe is littered with thousands of medieval charters attesting to these sentiments, charters in which these men still speak to us today if we will listen. Of course, they were not opposed to capturing booty if it could be had. But the truth is that the Crusades were notoriously bad for plunder. A few people got rich, but the vast majority returned with nothing.

Pope Urban II was clear on this point in calling for the first Crusades when he reminded the chivalry of Europe of their manifold sins and called them to repentance through the Crusade:

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6 Responses to Ash Wednesday: God Wills It!

  • Medieval penances included Crusades and pilgrimages. See St. Bernard de Clairvaux’ endorsement of the Knights Templars.

    Christendom suffered 400 years of Islamic invasions, massacres and rapines. Then in 1095, in defense of itself and of its “children,” Christendom launched the First Crusade.

    One cannot easily reconcile 21st century “human dignity/peace/justice/secularism” with 11th century Faith and piety.

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  • Deus le volt

    Its interesting that you say the crowds shouted these words.

    Many commentators today claim that it was the Pope who uttered these words, and use that as one of the bases for attacking the Crusades – even many Catholics think this, and is now promoted by liberal teachers and scholars that the Crusades were an evil attack on ‘poor peaceful (gag) muslims’.

    I have even had to explain to people in our RCIA group – not just the candidates – how wrong this understanding is.

  • Popular ignorance of the Crusades Don is never to be underestimated. Most people are simply ignorant of the fact that Islam and Christianity had been at war for more than four centuries by the time of the First Crusade and that Islam was almost always the aggressor.

  • The Timeline
    630 Two years before Muhammad’s death of a fever, he launched the Tabuk Crusade, in which he led 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantine Christians.
    632-634 Caliph Abu Bakr reconquer sometimes conquer for the first time the polytheists of Arabia. The Arab polytheists had to convert to Islam or die.
    633 Khalid al-Walid, the Sword of Allah for his ferocity, conquers the city of Ullays along the Euphrates River (in today’s Iraq). Khalid captures and beheads so many that a nearby canal, into which the blood flowed, was called Blood Canal (Tabari 11:24 / 2034-35).
    634 At the Battle of Yarmuk in Syria the Muslim Crusaders defeat the Byzantines. .
    635 Muslim Crusaders besiege and conquer Damascus
    636 Muslim Crusaders defeat Byzantines decisively at Battle of Yarmuk.
    637 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iraq at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah
    638 Muslim Crusaders conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
    638-650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iran, except along Caspian Sea.
    639-642 Muslim Crusaders conquer Egypt.
    641 Muslim Crusaders control Syria and Palestine.
    643-707 Muslim Crusaders conquer North Africa.
    644-650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sind.
    673-678 Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire
    691 Dome of the Rock is completed in Jerusalem, only six decades after Muhammad’s death.
    710-713 Muslim Crusaders conquer the lower Indus Valley.
    711-713 Muslim Crusaders conquer Spain and impose the kingdom of Andalus.
    732 The Muslim Crusaders stopped at the Battle of Poitiers; that is, Franks (France) halt Arab advance
    756 Foundation of Umayyid amirate in Cordova, Spain, setting up an independent kingdom from Abbasids
    785 Foundation of the Great Mosque of Cordova
    807 Caliph Harun al-Rashid orders the destruction of non-Muslim prayer houses and of the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem
    809 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sardinia, Italy
    813 Christians in Palestine are attacked; many flee the country
    831 Muslim Crusaders capture Palermo, Italy; raids in Southern Italy
    850 Caliph al-Matawakkil orders the destruction of non-Muslim houses of prayer
    837-901 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sicily, raid Corsica, Italy, France
    909 Rise of the Fatimid Caliphate in Tunisia; these Muslim Crusaders occupy Sicily, Sardinia
    928-969 Byzantine military revival, they retake old territories, such as Cyprus (964) and Tarsus (969)
    937 The Ikhshid, a particularly harsh Muslim ruler, writes to Emperor Romanus, boasting of his control over the holy places
    937 The Church of the Resurrection (known as Church of Holy Sepulcher in Latin West) is burned down by Muslims; more churches in Jerusalem are attacked
    966 Anti-Christian riots in Jerusalem
    969 Fatimids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Egypt and found Cairo
    c. 970 Seljuks enter conquered Islamic territories from the East
    973 Israel and southern Syria are again conquered by the Fatimids
    1003 First persecutions by al-Hakim; the Church of St. Mark in Fustat, Egypt, is destroyed
    1009 Destruction of the Church of the Resurrection by al-Hakim (see 937)
    1012 Beginning of al-Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians
    1015 Earthquake in Palestine; the dome of the Dome of the Rock collapses
    1048 Reconstruction of the Church of the Resurrection completed
    1055 Confiscation of property of Church of the Resurrection
    1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks (Muslim Crusaders) defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia
    1071 Turks (Muslim Crusaders) invade Palestine
    1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Turks (Muslim Crusaders)
    1075 Seljuks (Muslim Crusaders) capture Nicea (Iznik) and make it their capital in Anatolia
    1076 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) conquer western Ghana
    1085 Toledo is taken back by Christian armies
    1086 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) send help to Andalus, Battle of Zallaca
    1090-1091 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) occupy all of Andalus except Saragossa and Balearic Islands
    1094 Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus I asks western Christendom for help against Seljuk invasions of his territory; Seljuks are Muslim Turkish family of eastern origins; see 970
    1095 Pope Urban II preaches first Crusade; they capture Jerusalem in 1099

    So it is only after four centuries of Islamic invasions Western Christendom launches its first Crusades.

  • “630 Two years before Muhammad’s death of a fever, he launched the Tabuk Crusade, in which he led 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantine Christians.” Muhammed did not launch a crusade, he launched a jihad.
    “634 At the Battle of Yarmuk in Syria the Muslim Crusaders defeat the Byzantines.” The jihadists are properly identified in the first sentence, then improperly identified as crusaders in the rest of the post. Otherwise a very good time line.

Personal Sin, Shared Reparation

Monday, April 19, AD 2010

Mark Shea has an interesting post at National Catholic Register in which he answers a reader question which goes in part:

One of the priests at our parish spoke about the pedophile scandals and how we should confess our sins (and he said it like that – sounding like it implied we should as a group ask for forgiveness as Catholics for these terrible crimes) and seek forgiveness for allowing this to happen. Even though I think that these are horrible, awful, abominable events, and pray for both those who have been damaged by these sins, and as difficult as it is, those people who committed these sins, don’t exactly feel responsible for doing this myself so am having a hard time wrapping my head around repentance for the sins of others. I have sinned in a multitude of other ways but do I need to carry the burden of other people’s sins as well? Do I need to ask forgiveness for this myself? Are we supposed to ask forgiveness as Catholics even though we individually didn’t have anything to do with it?

Mark’s reply is worth reading in its entirety, but I think the key passage is:

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3 Responses to Personal Sin, Shared Reparation

  • “even though most of us hold no personal culpability in the sins themselves”

    I agree to that to a certain extent. But these Priest that offended came of a culture and society on many levels we endorsed or were silent about befor they even entered the Church. That is one reason why I sometimes find the timeline of abuse cases interesting. What was happening then that caused this

  • I had an physically abusive father and one of physiological tricks is to make the innocent feel guilty or responsible. It’s all your fault, why would anyone want this apart of their family? I believed that my sins is what contributed to the passion of Christ but false witness to my guilt would be a sin that convicted

  • Very good piece.

    I would go a step further though, because I am sure that more people knew about the abuses than we let on. I read a chilling account of an old monsignor warning a parish dad not to let his son on a fishing trip with Fr. Newpriest. The father explained to his disappointed son, “Father does bad things to little boys.” Neither the father nor the monsignor did anything actually to stop the priest though! I also know from the anecdotes of relatives that there have been priests that people – even many people in the parish – “felt weird” about, or thought they were “off” somehow. Of course, I do not expect people to go to the police over such intuitions… Still, it makes one wonder.

    I grew up and was an altar boy in a parish with a priest who is currently serving time in prison for child sexual abuse. He is serving time because, among other reasons, our bishop handled the case well. He never touched me, or any of my friends as far as I know, and I do not feel personally responsible for his sins.

    But I do feel responsible for having prayed so little for priests – even though I know that they are under constant spiritual siege, more so than most of us. I feel somewhat responsible for not having believed a friend of mine when we were kids and he told me that an older boy in the neighborhood invited him to sinful activity. I do feel responsible for being so materialistic, so hedonistic, so lax. I wonder whether, for all my ranting, I don’t bring down the body of Christ more than build it up.

    We have a lot of spiritual housecleaning to do here in the House of God – and that’s each of us, not just our bishops.

Moral Choice and Probability

Wednesday, April 7, AD 2010

As part of the ongoing discussion about sin, free will and structures of sin, I’d like to take the risk of tossing out a question which has fascinated me for some years. After all, I don’t think I’ve been called a heretic in a good thirty minutes, so I might as well be adventurous.

Question: Does free will mean that it is possible for someone to be sinless throughout his life?

It seems to me that the answer is that in a certain theoretical sense: Yes. But in any practical or probable sense: Absolutely no.

Free will means that in any given moral situation, we are capable of doing the right thing. We could choose rightly, or wrongly. However, in practical reality, we are often far more disposed to do wrong than to do right. We are also often unclear or deceived as to what the right thing to do is. And we are faced with moral choices constantly, many of which we react to instinctually, without really thinking. (And in this regard, our fallen instincts are often selfish and otherwise sinful.)

So it seems to me that while theoretically in every single moral choice situation it is possible for a person to do the right thing — from a point of view of probability it is so improbably as to be virtually indistinguishable from impossible for someone to actually remain sinless through his own will.

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9 Responses to Moral Choice and Probability

  • Your post is in agreement with many Church Fathers. I believe it was St. John Chrysostom who said that “is it possible for a man (aside from being marked with Original Sin) to be sinless, however I have never met nor know of any man who is, in fact, free from conscious sin. Furthermore, it is possible that God could create a man (just as he did for Mary) without even Original Sin, for some holy purpose of His, but who this would be, or if such a person has or ever will exist, is beyond my knowledge, but I’m of the opinion that this will never happen in the entirety of human history.”

  • DC, just to be sure I’m not misinterpreting your last line there, you’re not asking if someone could hypothetically avoid sin for an entire lifetime purely out of his own free will and with no divine assistance, i.e., grace, correct? If that is your question, I can’t even imagine that being remotely possible, unless we were to deny the effects of concupiscence on our mortal conscience. But if you mean that one could hypothetically avoid all sin with the help of divine grace, then yes, I’d have to agree w/ many theologians and Church Fathers much smarter than I by responding that it’s remotely possible, but infinitesimally likely. 🙂

  • Kevin,

    I’m a bit perplexed as to how to answer your question. I think I’d say that my position would be that it is true either way, but that it’s even more unlikely without God’s grace.

    But then, it depends what you mean by with God’s grace. After all, God is the Good, and so in some sense whenever we know what the good is to do the good, we are recognizing God.

    But leaving that aside, I guess I’d do the math like this: If we are free, it is possible in every case to do the right thing. However, it’s often hard to know what the right thing is, and it’s also often hard to resist temptation. Both of these are even harder (sometimes very much harder) without the graces of baptism and the sacramental life of the Church.

    So I guess I’d say, it’s approaching the limit of impossibility either way, but it’s approaching it a lot more without grace.

    That said, I would believe steadfastly that this would never actually happen without an incredible act of God on the level of his preservation of Our Lady from sin.

    What fascinates me about it is thus the sum of possibilities adding up to an impossibility.

  • As I noted in Joe’s thread, the general theological consensus has long been that without grace, sin is inevitable; while we reject the Protestant conception of the total depravity of human nature, we do hold that we are sufficiently deformed by original sin and concupiscence that without grace, sin is inevitable.

    And as I noted with Joe’s post, I’m not sure if this is agreement or not with Darwin’s… I imagine that further conversation will tease this out more.

  • Chris,

    That’s the thing that’s mystifying me a bit. I would 100% agree that in realistic terms sin is inevitable for the soul deformed by original sin. (Indeed, I’d say it’s virtually inevitable for the baptized soul in a state of grace, given the stretch of time of a lifetime.)

    I guess my hold up is a probabilistic one, in that it seems to me that if we have free will, there is in every opportunity to sin (even for the unbaptized soul lacking God’s grace) a finite (though perhaps very small) chance of the person doing the right thing. And if in ever choice there is a finite chance of acting rightly, there must be some level of probability (though arguably so low as to approach the limit of impossibility) that someone in this state could avoid sin every time.

    And yet, when looking at the person rather than the choices, it seems clear to me that no person (excepting obviously Christ who was God and the Virgin Mary who was preserved from original sin and was also of heroic virtue personally) is ever going to actually avoid sin every time.

    It strikes me as logically possible (though very, very improbable), yet personally — as in, looked at in terms of the personal, human experience — impossible (not even very, very improbable, but impossible).

    Is that sufficiently confusing?

  • Some pious traditions hold that a few saints (in addition to Our Lady) lived their lives without ever committing mortal sin, at least. St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph spring to mind, and I believe it’s held that they committed no venial sins even.

    But I’m not sure probability is the best approach to this question. After all, most moral quandaries are not binary choices between right and wrong; often there are multiple goods held in balance, and some choices are better or worse, more or less virtuous, more or less sinful.

    We have several obstacles: first, our finitude, in that we do not know fully what the best good is in every concrete situation; second, original sin, which further damages our ability to know and will the good; third, the additional damage of the sins of the world, which add temptation and distort the goods we could and should pursue; and finally, any single personal sin adds to the damage of original sin, and makes good moral choices more difficult to make in the future.

  • Robert, to your first ‘graph, the question isn’t whether or not avoiding sin is possible, but whether or not avoiding sin *without grace* is possible… St. John the Baptist was certainly graced when he was in the womb of his mother; we don’t have explicit proof that St. Joseph was similarly graced, but it seems only likely.

  • You might want to come at the question from the angle of the age of reason, and capacity for judgement. Do we say that an infant commits sin? A retarded person? Someone sleeping, or drunk?

    Technically, an unborn child violates the fourth and fifth commandments when it kicks its mother. Striking a parent is grave matter. But it doesn’t in any meaningful way constitute a sin. We generally say that someone under the age of seven lacks the ability to make moral decisions, but anyone who’s been around a young child knows that they act with some amount of knowledge and consent.

  • I didn’t really flesh out that comment. Reading it now, it comes off as incoherent. I just wanted to put some of the ideas out there that someone else could take up.

Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16

Tuesday, April 6, AD 2010

In light of the fascinating discussion of personal and social sin kicked off most recently by Darwin here (make sure and read the comments) and followed up by Joe here, I thought it would be worth posting article 16 of John Paul the Great’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, entitled “Personal and Social Sin”. It’s obviously very pertinent, yet unless I missed it, no one has referenced it yet. The actual text is below the break. As the reader will note, one point relevant to the discussion here is that sin properly speaking is an act on the part of an individual person. Yet while social sin is such only in an analogous sense, JPII makes clear that it does describe something real. Now, on to the text.

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6 Responses to Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16

  • Great stuff. I would add the pertinent section of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

    117. The mystery of sin is composed of a twofold wound, which the sinner opens in his own side and in the relationship with his neighbour. That is why we can speak of personal and social sin. Every sin is personal under a certain aspect; under another, every sin is social, insofar as and because it also has social consequences. In its true sense, sin is always an act of the person, because it is the free act of an individual person and not properly speaking of a group or community. The character of social sin can unquestionably be ascribed to every sin, taking into account the fact that “by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others”[226]. It is not, however, legitimate or acceptable to understand social sin in a way that, more or less consciously, leads to a weakening or the virtual cancellation of the personal component by admitting only social guilt and responsibility. At the bottom of every situation of sin there is always the individual who sins.

    118. Certain sins, moreover, constitute by their very object a direct assault on one’s neighbour. Such sins in particular are known as social sins. Social sin is every sin committed against the justice due in relations between individuals, between the individual and the community, and also between the community and the individual. Social too is every sin against the rights of the human person, starting with the right to life, including that of life in the womb, and every sin against the physical integrity of the individual; every sin against the freedom of others, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and worship him; and every sin against the dignity and honour of one’s neighbour. Every sin against the common good and its demands, in the whole broad area of rights and duties of citizens, is also social sin. In the end, social sin is that sin that “refers to the relationships between the various human communities. These relationships are not always in accordance with the plan of God, who intends that there be justice in the world and freedom and peace between individuals, groups and peoples”[227].

    119. The consequences of sin perpetuate the structures of sin. These are rooted in personal sin and, therefore, are always connected to concrete acts of the individuals who commit them, consolidate them and make it difficult to remove them. It is thus that they grow stronger, spread and become sources of other sins, conditioning human conduct[228]. These are obstacles and conditioning that go well beyond the actions and brief life span of the individual and interfere also in the process of the development of peoples, the delay and slow pace of which must be judged in this light[229]. The actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God and the good of neighbour, as well as the structures arising from such behaviour, appear to fall into two categories today: “on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others. In order to characterize better each of these attitudes, one can add the expression: ‘at any price”'[230].

  • I agree that this is good stuff. I would only want to point to a couple problematic or confusing parts, toward the end.

    The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.

    I’d say persons rather than individuals. In other words, there is no “system” or “situation” apart from human persons.

    A situation-or likewise an institution, a structure, society itself-is not in itself the subject of moral acts. Hence a situation cannot in itself be good or bad.

    The last sentence undermines everything he said about the “culture of death.” Is a “situation” in which abortion is considered birth control NOT “bad”?

    At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.

    Notice all he aid was that systemic change does not complete the job. He did not say that the way to change structures of sin or sinful “situations” is merely to “change hearts,” which is the nonsense we hear from politically conservative Catholics.

  • (A complaint about the title “JP the Great” would be off-topic, and I don’t want to ruin the potential thread, but I hope I get the chance to rail against that some time.)

  • Thank you for the authoritative reference. I suspect Darwin agrees with all of what Pope John Paul II writes here. Sin is a personal act with individual and social consequences.

  • Thanks, Chris. What John Paul II says here clarifies things for me a lot, especially in regards to the correct use of the terminology of “social sin”.

    It sounds like in my original post what I was attempting to address was not a dichotomy of “social sin” versus “personal sin”, but rather an offshoot of what John Paul II says in his fourth paragraph from the last in regards to those who assign virtually all blame to structures of sin and none to the person acting. Further, I’d say what I was attempting to address was a side-issue of this tendency to place huge emphasis on structures of sin over personal will, which is the tendency to ridicule the important of focusing on avoiding ones own sins and instead place primary moral weight on whether one is correctly alligned on combating structures of sin in the wider society. Essentially, dismissing most sins one is capable of committing oneself as unimportant and instead chosing to focus almost exclusively on whether ones advocacy is in the right place.

    I think if I re-wrote the post I would drop the term “social sin” entirely and focus on the primary point of how advocacy and aligning oneself with large just causes can not be a substitute for pursuing virtue in one’s own life.

  • Darwin,

    I think that approach would be best! Our enemy here is fatalism, determinism, and any other theory that deprives man of free will and moral culpability.

    For all of the ranting and raving some people do here about our “Calvinism” (in addition to our “Americanism”, “individualism”, “liberalism” and the like), I sure see a lot of Protestant-sounding opposition to the concept of personal sin.

All Morality is Personal

Monday, April 5, AD 2010

One hears, at times, frustration expressed that too many Catholics think only in terms of “personal morality” or “personal piety” and that insufficient attention is paid to social or political sin. Certainly, the results of an average Catholic’s examination of conscience might seem paltry on the stage of political activism. How can people worry about paltry wrongs such as, “I lied,” “I took the Lord’s name in vain,” or “I indulged in lustful thoughts,” when there are third world workers being cheated out of their just wages, the environment being destroyed, racism being perpetuated, nuclear weapons being built and imperialist wars being fought? Isn’t it time that we stopped obsessing over these small issues of lying and swearing and sex in order to concentrate on the massive, societal evils that afflict our country and our planet?

This line of thinking strikes me as, in the end, an approach no less dangerous than that of the Pharisee who was so notoriously contrasted with the publican. Why? Because while there are unquestionably social evils that afflict us at a wider level (though there is certainly room for debate as to the precise nature and cause of social evils, I don’t think there’s any question that such things do exist) morality must, in the end, be examined at the level of individual actions. And for us, that means our actions. Societies do not perform sins, people do. While it may make sense to talk about some pervasive evil such as racism as being a “social sin”, racism does not in fact consists of “society” being racist but rather of a number of individual people within a society behaving in a racist fashion. If workers are being treated badly or paid unjust wages, it is not because society does this, but because a certain number of individual people choose to commit those acts.

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48 Responses to All Morality is Personal

  • All sin is personal in the end analysis- even social sin is just a heap of personal sins compounded into a massive pile of unjust conditions. I see the way clear by treating sin with the old Catholic both/and approach. I keep assessing my personal life habits through examination of conscience and having ongoing deep conversations with my wife where we kind of offer each other a little check up- on matters where we might be singling or collectively falling short of the Christ mark. It could be in the way we vent or “joke” about people we have some issue(s) with, or in the way we respond to a movie showing vigilante justice, especially when child killers/rapists are brutally dealt with- we try not to feed our own violent tendencies on such things.

    As far as the Big Issue stuff- first we consider our own incompleteness and sinfulness the first Big Issue- and then we know that we have to be praying and if possible providing some kind of material support to the various Just Causes out in the world. I don’t think that as a Catholic layperson we can choose one path or the other in dealing with personal sins and sins in the political realm- I see both as being on the same Way of Christ. Christ cares if my thoughts stray into lust or violent anger, and He cares about unborn children being aborted, or innocent humans being killed in avoidable conflicts, and on and on and on. We have to keep trying on the Mind of Christ and use the Church as our guide in our personal piety and by way of the Church’s social doctrine.

  • Great reflection. You’re right to point out that all sin is personal. There’s no such thing as social sin.

    I would only add that there are evil social structures that immerse men and women in an environment that is an ongoing occasion of sin: our culture leads us to lie, swear, and fornicate. This is the culture of death – the culture that seduces men and women into lying, swearing, fornicating, and aborting.

    While it is easy to fall into self-righteousness, it is also easy to fall prey to the culture. I would go further – the culture of death enslaves us as part of sin’s enslavement of the heart.

  • Societies do not perform sins, people do. While it may make sense to talk about some pervasive evil such as racism as being a “social sin”, racism does not in fact consists of “society” being racist but rather of a number of individual people within a society behaving in a racist fashion.

    What makes social sin different from personal sin is that adverse impact occurs with our knowledge and ultimately our consent. Certainly remote cooperation with can be justified. One has to clothe their family. That someone in a far flung place has been mistreated in producing that good does remove the immediacy issue. I certainly understand (and ultimately agree with you) that we shouldn’t go to the extreme of caring more about remote evils than our more immediate sins. However, I would be cautious of treating culture and society as an imposition against us, rather than a thing of which we are a part. Certainly these things can be difficult to change, but they do change. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the way our society looks at race, gender roles, homosexuality, religious belief, and marriage have changed significantly over the past 100, 250, and 500 years.

  • Darwin,

    Are you trying to stir the pot ? 🙂

    Back when we had a discussion on Liberation Theology, I wrote the following:

    “One does not need to re-write Catholic teachings and tradition to fight for justice. That is the false assumption. It is just as false as whatever previous notions reigned about the apoliticism of Christianity. It is not possible to “render” the Gospels “as innocuous as a lap dog”, nor is it an appropriate response to sex them up with revolutionary rhetoric, with the notion that “the system must be smashed.”

    It is hearts that must be converted, and wills brought into alignment with God’s. The plain and absolute truth is that every soul won for Christ, truly won, truly comprehending of its moral obligations, is of far greater value to any eventual social transformation than any of the theorizing we engage in on this forum or anywhere else.

    A soul humble and contrite before God – that is all we need. Everything else will follow from that, everything. And without it, nothing is possible. Absolutely nothing.”

    I see no distinction whatsoever between “personal” and “social” morality.

    In my reading of history, throughout most of it, up until technologically advanced times, morality was a public matter not because people enjoyed oppressing one another, but because personal behavior affected society in an immediate and direct way.

    “Personal” immorality leads directly to public harms. Multiplied many times over, they begin to have a multi-generational effect. Then the very foundations of society are threatened. In my recent post, which I hope you will read:


    I talk about the social effects of abortion (which could be modified and extended to all forms of sexual deviancy) on marriage, family, and community – and indeed, all of civilization. In addition to the example of the Soviet Union – in which an atheist doctrine was the state religion and abortion on demand was subsidized by the state, resulting in a demographic crisis from which Russia and Eastern Europe have not recovered – I could have also used the example of China, which due to sex-selective abortion will face a gender imbalance with all sorts of harmful repercussions; and this problem affects many other countries as well.

    What happens with “justice advocates” today is that they are often – not always! – but often influenced by Marxism. They may not have ever studied Marxism or know a thing about it, but the Marxist mentality pervades among political activists, especially on college campuses.

    They might reject 99% of Marxist thought but if they retain the 1% that distorts the social nature of man into man as an almost entirely exclusive product of social conditions (and genetics, but it amounts to the same thing), then they are still within its orbit, for it is foundational.

    The Christian conception of social sin, as I find it in the Bible, in Church tradition, is that individual sins lead to social sins – and that social sins in turn further exacerbate individual sin. Throughout Scripture God condemns entire societies. Through the prophets he denounces the collective social sins of the Israelites. The Book of Wisdom speaks of unclean, sinful generations. Christ himself speaks of generational sin. And the early Christians lived in tightly-knit communities in order to live holy lives. Individual struggles against sin are incredibly difficult – which is precisely why sin is so widespread and positively embraced today.

    Though everyone cautions against reading modern ideas into ancient literature, and for good reason, in some cases we can, with care, try to understand what the ancients meant by referring to timeless aspects of humanity. When they speak of “generations”, and of generational sin, I believe they are also speaking of social sins.

    And it was these sins that Christ came to address. Matthew 25 makes this clear. Matt. 25, in turn, was prefigured in God’s message to Israel through the Prophets. Social sin does exist, collective sin, generational sin – call it what you will – and it is our obligation to address it. But it can only be addressed by those who are living, acting, working, and worshiping in a certain way – and not by any random group of college activists or bloggers.

    Sorry to ramble. But when I ramble like this it means you’ve raised an issue I’ve been thinking about, and ought to write more about in the future 🙂 So thanks!

  • Joe,

    I definitely read your post — though I haven’t had the chance to comment on it yet, in part because it set off a similarly long and rambling reaction in my mind since it was very much along a line of thinking that I’ve been on lately. 🙂 Also, see below…

    Some clarifications (to all):

    – I think I should be clear, in using the term “personal morality” I do not at all want to associate my thinking here with the “it’s just my morality” kind of approach which is found in things like “personally opposed” reasoning. I meant it simply in the sense of morality applied to a single person and relating to the actions (sinful or virtuous) of that person. So when I say there is no social sin, but only personal sin, I mean that any sin is the result of the moral action of a person, however influenced or surrounded he may be by other sinners acting similarly. There is no instance in which society as a group or abstract force sins — no where the individual person committing an act is not sinning, yet at the same time what he is doing is (when done by thousands or millions of people in a society) somehow a component part of a social sin.

    – Something I’d meant to work in but somehow never got around do is that I think one of the reasons we, in our modern, democratic society, are particularly prone to seeing advocacy as a primary moral action is that we’ve become uncomfortable with the idea that the majority of us are in fact relatively powerless in society. The idea that you and I actually have practically no say on third world pay or whether the CIA tortures people makes us feel powerless, and so we assign excessive moral importance to advocacy or “raising awareness”. (This isn’t to say people shouldn’t speak out on those issues, but rather that we should not consider our advocacy efforts to trump the moral actions that we ourselves control.) While I don’t think we should lapse into total subservience, I do think there’s a sense in which we morally bite off more than we can chew when we try to make ourselves responsible for everything that happens in our country or in the world economy. There’s a history in Christianity of talking about how much more is expected of those with great power and/or wealth (camel, needle, etc.), and I don’t think we necessarily do ourselves a service when we try to make ourselves morally responsible for a lot of things we don’t actually have much of any control over. Why voluntarily put a needle’s eye between us and God if you’re not actually one of the rich and powerful?

  • Well written sir. I hope all Catholics can agree with what you write here because it is orthodox.

    I agree with Nate and I think to speak of “social sin” is to make a mistake.

    My rather simple understanding of Christian social morality is this: There are bad societies, good societies, and societies somewhere in between those two extremes. Bad societies make it easy for people to commit sins, and good societies make it easy for people to do good.

  • The most effective thing Satan ever did was to convince Christians that “there is no such thing as social sin.”

  • For the love of God, original sin is social sin.

  • Tim Shipe is on the right track with his both/and (i.e. CATHOLIC) approach to sin. Social sin and personal sin are not opposed. They are two dimensions of the same reality.

  • Finally – The obscuring of the reality of social sin — though it predates the rise of liberalism — serves the liberal individualist viewpoints of many of this blog’s contributors quite well.

  • Michael,

    If you want to write a coherent response to anything I wrote here, please do feel free. All of the other comments have been interesting and helped to shine some more light upon the truth — I’m not sure what your four brief forays are even getting at.

  • Darwin – They are points that are quite simple, actually. Perhaps my claim at 6:57 has you frowning so hard that the simplicity of the previous comments has slipped by you?

  • There are no liberal individualists here.

  • Michael,

    The reason I said your comments were incoherent is that you did not make any arguments, did not actually criticize anything the post said, did not offer any explanation of what (if the post is wrong) you do think is true, etc. You sputtered, rather indignantly, and threw a few key words around without actually saying much of anything.

    Though as I think about it, one of your comments did bring up a very interesting issue, though you failed to actually articulate any argument, in regards to Original Sin.

    You say “original sin is social sin”. Now, in the sense that I was using the terms, it seems pretty clear that this is actually not the case. In the Genesis account, Original Sin is a rupture in the relationship between God and humanity which results from the actions of two specific people: first Eve, then Adam. Each of them sins as a person, each chooses do act contrary to God’s will. There is no “society” which commits original sin, nor am I aware of any sense in which the Church has ever taught that we, humanity, as a society have “committed” original sin. Rather, when we are born into the human race we are born with the stain of Adam and Eve’s sin upon us. (I suppose one could attempt to throw out the entire Genesis account and claim that it’s a metaphor for some sort of “social sin” committed by society as a whole rather than by individual persons, but I’m not at all clear that would be an acceptable interpretation of the scriptures or the doctrine. Even as someone who treads the outer edge of orthodox thinking in keeping an open mind on the issue of polygenism, it seems clear that original sin, whatever it was, was a sin committed by individual human persons which ruptured the relationship between us and God — not some sort of amorphous group sin.)

    Which is the interesting point: While every sin clearly is the action of a person (thus my title claim, “All Morality is Personal”), it can be the case that many people share the guilt for a sin or sins.

    All of us, as humans, share the guilt of the sin of our first parents. And yet the sin itself was clearly committed by them, not us. This is because sin destroys relationships. The relationship between us and God, and the relationships between us and other persons. And because we human beings are social creatures, the destruction of relationship by one person can have effects on other people, even ones who did not share in committing the original wrong or wrongs. At a personal level, we see this in familial quarrels — children share in the estrangements between branches of a family caused by their parents and if they want to bridge those estrangements they need to actively work to heal them. We can also see situations in which an entire group is stained with the guilt of a set of sins, even though some of them are not guilty of any of the sinful acts. Two somewhat cliched but highly illustrative examples would be the guilt that the US as a whole assumed in its acceptance of slavery — a guilt shared even by non-slaveholders and abolitionists, which took (and in some ways still takes) active work to expiate/heal — and the guilt which continental Europe and Germany in particular assumed through the holocaust — one which similarly required and requires active work to heal even on the part of those who did not commit any actual sins of commission or omission in support of it. Joe also points out some good examples of societal guilt in the Old Testament and in Christ’s words.

    The relationship between the sins the persons commit and the wider guilt which those in some way connected to them sometimes share in is certainly an interesting question — but I’m not sure that it impinges directly on what I was attempting to address here, which is the sense in which a focus on condemning sins of others under the title of “social sin” can be dangerous when it allows us to ignore the “small” sins which we ourselves are the perpetrators of.

  • There are no liberal individualists here.

    That’s funny. Read this post again.

    Perhaps, Darwin, the problem has more to do with your misunderstanding of what some theologians mean when they use the term social sin. You, and other bloggers here, seem to get a lot of posts ranting about theological concepts that you don’t seem to know much about. Liberation theologians, for example, are never talking about “amorphous group sin.” They are talking about very concrete sins with both personal and social dimensions. (It is in fact so-called “traditionalist” [shorthand: pre-VII] Catholicism that speaks of sin amorphously despite the fact that it focuses exclusively on “personal” sin.) Nor are they “condemning sins of others under the title of ‘social sin.'” They condemn social sins in which we all participate and for which we are all in one way or another responsible.

    Also, the fact that I made some assertions — as opposed to arguments — in my previous comments does not make those comments “incoherent.” You seemed to have understood those comments just fine. I’ll simply assume this was a poor choice of words on your part and leave it at that. No apology necessary.

  • “You, and other bloggers here, seem to get a lot of posts ranting about theological concepts that you don’t seem to know much about.”

    Yes, of course, how could it be forgotten – anyone who hasn’t attended the Michael Iafrate school of theology must not know what they are talking about, including the current and previous Pope.

    Just be sure to tell us when and where the conclave to elect you Pope Gustavo I is taking place so we know where not to be.

  • Michael,

    While it’s fun to simply say, “Read XYZ again,” it can sometimes help to actually express what it is that you expect someone to get out of that, and why. So if you’re going to tell Joe to re-read my post in order to get liberal individualism out of it which neither he nor I see, perhaps you might actually explain in what sense you find specific arguments or assertions the post makes to be liberal and individualist.

    It’s true that your comments had a certain coherence as assertions — however I labeled them as incoherent in the context (my dear boy, you must learn to read in context) of the conversation ongoing.

    For instance, you said, For the love of God, original sin is social sin. As a sentence, this has a degree of coherence, but given the sense in which I used the term “social sin” in the post, it makes no context in response to the post. At best, it’s a non sequitor. Or alternatively you say: The most effective thing Satan ever did was to convince Christians that “there is no such thing as social sin.” This may or may not be true, but since you make no effort to explain why it is true or what you mean by “social sin” in this case, it doesn’t mean anything in context.

    Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m using the term “social sin” in some sense other than a technical theological sense of which I’m unaware. This post was written entirely in response to popular writing that I’ve read dealing with “social sins” such as environmental destruction, unjust wages, etc. and the tendency (which I have observed in some people) to devote their entire moral energies to denouncing these “social sins” by which they seem really to mean “sins which everyone else is committing but which I am so virtuous as to denounce loudly” while at the same time belittling as “pietism” the traditional Catholic approach of actually, well, you know: focusing on avoiding the sins which one commits oneself.

    If I’m doing massive violence to a precise and well understood body of theological terminology in this post, I would certainly invite you to explain to me a better way to express what I’m describing. Some good ways to do this might begin, “When people in my particular brand of theology talk about ‘social sin’, what we actually mean is…” or “I think that what you are describing as ‘social sin’ is actually what we theologians would denounce as…”

  • Darwin – How are environmental destruction and unjust wages “amorphous”?

    Joe – As usual, your approach is ridicule rather than anything substantive.

  • Michael,

    Actually, my point in the post was specifically that such sins are not amorphous “group sins” but rather personal. They are sins committed by specific persons who choose to do something which is wrong.

    In the post I said:

    I think the instinct to think of the large scale problems as social rather than personal moral problems is that in many cases the social problems that people find themselves most concerned about involve actions that they are fairly remote from. Say, for instance, one reads about a clothing plant in China in which managers routinely lock workers in for 16-20 hour shifts, forcing them to work overtime in order to meet production quotas without their consent and without paying them for the additional hours worked. I don’t think it would be controversial to say that those factory owners and shift supervisors are acting wrongly — they they are far away from us and our ability to change their behavior is minimal.

    My argument was instead with people assigning excess weight to their advocacy or “solidarity” actions which are in fact remote to the real sin — especially when they allow themselves to excuse their own real actions because their advocacy efforts are “more important:

    And yet, people are often uncomfortable with admitting that there is little they can do about some evil that is being committed. And so, moral weight is assigned to another set of activities which surround the issue. Do you advocate against low wages and seek to raise awareness? Are you in solidarity with the oppressed? Do you buy local, or buy fair trade, or live sustainably? Do you denounce “the system”? Do you vote for change?

    I do not want to argue that people should not engage in advocacy on issues they believe to be important. Helping other people to understand what is right is a moral action, and as citizens in a polity we also have a civic responsibility to persuade our fellow citizens to support policies which will be to the common good of us all. So I would certainly encourage people to engage in political advocacy on those issues they believe to be most pressing (whether that issue is abortion, unjust wages, immigration, human trafficking, etc.) But at the same time it seems to me important for us to remember that our most basic moral responsibility is for our own personal actions, not for advocacy we engage in or groups we join.

    Thus the concern about focusing on the sins of others rather than one’s own:

    Given that most of us do not have it within our personal power to mistreat third world workers, declare war, torture terror suspects or destroy wetlands, a heavy focus on issues such as these necessarily means focusing on the sins committed by others rather than the sins we ourselves commit. However un-exciting admissions such as “I gossiped about the guy in the next cube behind his back” or “I lied” or “I was short tempered with my kids” might be, if those are the sins we actually have the chance to do something about it is important that they be our primary focus in our moral life. When we focus on sins which are more distant to us to the exclusion of our own, we risk turning morality into an enemies list — a danger which is the same whether that list is populated with “torture advocates”, “economic imperialists” or “baby killers”. If he can convince us to focus, in this way, on the sins of others while allowing our own to fester (after all, they are so insignificant compared to the great injustices in the world!) the great tempter scores a victory, not a defeat.

    [emphasis mysteriously added by WordPress formatting]

  • Darwin – certainly the Church has spoken of ‘social sin’, in exactly the sense that Michael has used. Using your definition of ‘social sin’, however, I’d rightly say there’s no such thing.

    As Pope Benedict wrote in Spe Salvi – no one sins alone, and no one is saved alone. I think an argument about definitions of ‘social sin’ are beside the point.

  • A good example of social sin might be Obamacare. A system put in place by a multitude of personal lies, distortions and betrayals that furthers abortion.

  • Nate,

    I think you’re right that this is a terminology issue. Another title I’d considered was “Advocacy Does Not Trump Morality”. I don’t know if this would have prevented the misunderstanding or not.

    My point here is not to assault a theological concept of “social sin” — about which I am certainly not an expert — but rather to talk about the temptation I think we all face (whether advocating against abortion or against torture or against unjust wages) to see our area of advocacy of being more important than “personal sin” or “piety” because it’s dealing with “bigger issues”. It seems to me that this is a temptation which advocates often face — not because advocacy is a bad thing in and of itself, but because the tempter can use even virtue as a foothold for temptation if that virtue becomes entangled with pride. And advocacy always involves a flirtation with pride since it is only a step away from, “Good people like me advocate against the evil committed by bad people like them.”

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  • “Social sin does not exist… unless you mean abortion or Obamacare.”

  • Phillip,

    No, I don’t think Obamacare would be an example of “social sin” — though it is poorly crafted legislation which will, among other things, be used to help support abortion.

  • Yes, it is a terminology issue. You don’t understand how the term is used by the church and in academic theology. You refer to “popular writing” for examples but do not cite anything specific.

    You point may not have been to dwell on the question of what “social sin” is, but in making your argument you said some silly things about the idea of social sin.

  • Michael,

    If you have an interest in the truth of the matter, I would assume that you can successfully overlook the term used and address the issue. There’s been enough verbiage spilled at this point I think its eminently clear what I’m saying, and (while you’re certainly welcome to explain to me what term I should be using instead of “social sin” here, and I would be happy to adopt a more correct term) I don’t think it ought to be a stretch for you to address the topic itself and help clear up any “silly ideas” which have been floated rather than continually harping on the terminology used.

  • Michael are all your machinations here to simply note that all sin has a social dimension, i.e. has social consequences? If so, why wouldn’t you just say that? No one here would dispute that all sin has a social dimension. “No man is an island”

  • Michael,

    As usual, you resort to academic snobbery. Anyone who isn’t acquainted with your academic circles obviously can’t know what they are talking about.

    I wonder how many graduate seminars the apostles had to attend before Jesus thought they were worth his time? Oh wait…

    If you want to introduce academic terms into the debate, fine. Explain what you mean, and don’t insult people’s intelligence.

    If you’re here to talk down to people, don’t be surprised if ridicule is all you ever get from me. People who act ridiculous are by definition worthy of ridicule.

    The way you act here, I wouldn’t be surprised if some conservative was paying you to write and act the way you do.

  • Nate,

    While I respect your opinion, I think it would best to withhold from informing us about what the Church says about social sin until you have a serious look at what it says about free will and moral responsibility.

    At NO point does the Church argue, or accept, the idea that sin does not have a personal dimension; a sin is “social” to the extent that it affects others. There can be no sin without choice. So the Church speaks of the social effects of sin, but NEVER reduces the cause of sin to social structures.

  • Joe, you’re making some big assumptions about what I have and haven’t looked at. 🙂

  • Joe, I don’t know if you’ll get a chance to read this – this post is somewhat buried. I hope you do!

    I have never claimed that sin does not have a personal dimension. I have never claimed that people do not makes personal choices to sin. I have claimed, however, that original sin enslaves people to sin. My controversial position, I think, is in identifying original sin as social rather than personal.

    I’m not saying people are not personally responsible for their sins. I’m only saying that their sins are caused by the systemic reality of original sin.

    In short, if we want to blame someone for something, we should blame them less for their most obvious sins and more for their less obvious sin – that of rejecting the grace of Christ which would have brought them into a new life of supernatural virtue.

  • Nate,

    First you said,

    “evil social structures force men and women to sin”

    This means that they have no choice – that there is no personal dimension.

    Then you said,

    “I think original sin makes it impossible to obey the natural law without the grace of (I want to say Christ, but I mean Christ as we receive him on earth – his Body, the Church).”

    But this too is false. What of the pre-Christian patriarchs and prophets? What of Noah, who God spared from the flood, or Abraham, who he made a covenant with? You might make the argument, I suppose, that God bestowed grace upon them; in my reading of the text, however, God chooses these men because of their righteousness. What is the source of their righteousness? We are never really told. They simply listened when God spoke, they remained faithful to God and obeyed him when others did not.

    Are we to believe that, first, God gave them grace while not giving it to others in an arbitrary fashion, and then singled them out for behavior that they really had almost no role in? No. They made a personal choice to hear and obey God, who then bestowed his blessings and protection upon them.

    So it is not “impossible” to obey the natural law or even divine commands without Christ. Additionally, the Church would not have the doctrine it does about salvation outside of the Church. If it is possible to be saved outside of the Church, then that possibility has to rest upon some other criteria, which is obedience to natural law, or the Noahide laws.

    You say now:

    “I’m not saying people are not personally responsible for their sins.”

    But when you use words such as “force”, “cause”, “impossible” – you remove the personal dimension. I do understand, however, that you are trying to work things out, that you aren’t set in stone. That’s why I tell you to go back and look. It is why I quoted both the Bible and the Catechism for you over at Vox Nova.

    “I’m only saying that their sins are caused by the systemic reality of original sin.”

    Not directly. The origin of sin is the individual human will, the heart, as Christ tells the apostles. Original sin removes many of the gifts God originally bestowed upon man, and adds additional burdens – but it does not remove our free will.

    It is not a mechanistic force that “causes” anything, but rather a condition, a tendency towards sin.

    “In short, if we want to blame someone for something, we should blame them less for their most obvious sins and more for their less obvious sin – that of rejecting the grace of Christ which would have brought them into a new life of supernatural virtue.”

    I think you make a mistake in reducing this to a problem of “blame.” We have a Christian mandate to evangelize and to admonish sin. Now, I’ll grant that if we are talking about non-believers, then only focusing on the “obvious sins” would be like treating the symptom instead of the disease.

    Among fellow Christians, we tend to take their acceptance of Christ as a given – as well we ought, in most cases – and so there is nothing left but the “obvious sin” to admonish. The early Christians were not shy about this; they reprimanded, corrected, scolded, and shunned.

    But this is not about “blame.” If you feel as if you are being “blamed” when someone points out an error, or if you feel as if your are “blaming” when you do so for others, then that is a separate problem. It is an incorrect view of what Christians are called to do.

  • As usual, you resort to academic snobbery. Anyone who isn’t acquainted with your academic circles obviously can’t know what they are talking about.

    I wonder how many graduate seminars the apostles had to attend before Jesus thought they were worth his time? Oh wait…

    The proof is in what you and Darwin say, not in whatever degrees you have. You seem to feel perpetually threatened by the work that I do and you lash out at that fact at every opportunity.

    If you’re here to talk down to people, don’t be surprised if ridicule is all you ever get from me. People who act ridiculous are by definition worthy of ridicule.

    Perhaps you should reflect, then, on your personal, individual, and private tendency to sin when you ridicule others, for whatever reason.

    The way you act here, I wouldn’t be surprised if some conservative was paying you to write and act the way you do.

    Not a bad idea.

    While I respect your opinion, I think it would best to withhold from informing us about what the Church says about social sin until you have a serious look at what it says about free will and moral responsibility.

    What was that you were saying about snobbery and talking down to people?

    “evil social structures force men and women to sin”

    This means that they have no choice – that there is no personal dimension.

    You seem to have a Pelagian view that we can avoid sin by our own “choice.” And there is too a personal dimension in what Nate is saying.

    Nate is not saying we don’t have free will. As I read him, he is simply pointing to the fact that personal sin is rooted in systemic realities, or what I’d call social sin. This is more in keeping with scripture, the church fathers, and with the teaching of the church. As opposed to your liberal priority-of-the-individual approach.

  • I’m happy that you replied, Joe, and grateful. Yet I find it difficult to engage with you. I feel that you aren’t trying to understand me, and that you’re quick to judge the meaning of my words. Basically, I think we’d get further if you asked more questions. A lot of what I write can be ambiguous and abstract, so I can see why this is difficult.

    I want to write more, but I have to run and clock out. Peace, and blessings!

  • As usual, you resort to academic snobbery. Anyone who isn’t acquainted with your academic circles obviously can’t know what they are talking about.

    It isn’t “academic snobbery” to point to the problems in Darwin’s assertions about what “peace and justice” Catholics mean when they refer to “social sin.”

    You are merely using the anti-intellectual biases of your audience to gain you points and to put down others (who didn’t even invoke academia in the first place) while at the same time invoking your own masters work in political science when you feel like it.

  • Nate,

    I can only understand you through the words you use.

    What I don’t understand is how you can simultaneously say that I am not “trying” to understand you, while admitting that you can see why it would be “difficult” to understand you. Perhaps I have been trying, only to be met with the difficulties of which you speak.

    How many other people take the time to copy and paste your exact words and reply to them directly? I’m one of the few people I know who does take the time, because I do want to understand.

    My problem is with your language. “Cause”, “force”, “impossible” – this is the lexicon of determinism, the denial of the will. My only question is, if this is not what you mean, then why use these words?

    This is my argument, as clearly as I know how to make it:

    1. Either we have free will or we don’t (these are mutual exclusives).

    2. If we do, then the use of these words to describe human behavior is false.

    3. If we don’t, then they are correct.

    4. The position of the Catholic Church, to which I always assume we are both attempting to remain faithful to, is that human beings are created by God with free will. (CCC 1704, 1711, 1731)It is a property of our soul, of our spiritual essence – it is what it means to be made “in the image of God.”

    Through original sin, we lose many of the original graces God grants us, but we do not lose our freedom. (CCC 405-408)

    5. Ergo, to describe or explain human behavior with deterministic language is false. It is also false to speak of human freedom as if it were entirely arbitrary and unlimited. It would be better to use the language of freedom within objective parameters – to speak of probabilities, influences, and tendencies.

    I understand that part of the problem is that we now have a discussion that is spread out over four posts, three here, and one at Vox Nova. So it is possible for me to miss certain things you say, and vice-versa.

  • Well explained Joe.


    If you have problems with Joe understanding your words which you say are abstract, then explain yourself better.

  • If conservatives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved if only individuals would “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” then it is also true that progressives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved completely through systemic or institutional change. (Joe is correct that language such as “forced” and “impossible” imply this bias.) The former viewpoint denies our reality as social beings, and the latter viewpoint denies our free will. Fortunately, the Church in her wisdom appreciates both perspectives (see Chris Burgwald’s post).

  • If conservatives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved if only individuals would “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” then it is also true that progressives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved completely through systemic or institutional change.

    Except, we have a clear example of the former — in this very post and in Joe’s view. Which “progressives” are guilty of the thing you criticize them for? Name some “progressives” who think institutional change is the answer and that it takes priority over personal conversion. No, not everyone is guilty of the dualisms that you impose on them.

  • I guess Michael that if one says that personal sin is the result of social structures that are distinct from Original Sin, we will disagree. I suspect that the Church does not hold with your teaching and is more in line with Joe.

  • Michael (and Joe),

    I don’t want to have to start deleting comments on the thread, so please do not allow argument to move into a sand-kicking match.

    It isn’t “academic snobbery” to point to the problems in Darwin’s assertions about what “peace and justice” Catholics mean when they refer to “social sin.”

    I’m not clear that I made any assertions about what “peace and justice” Catholics mean when they refer to “social sin”. Rather, I wrote about how it’s problematic when anyone allows himself to consider his advocacy in regards to social sin to be so important as to effectively absolve him from responsibility for “little stuff” like the sins he personally commits.

    I used the term “social sin” to talk about large problems within society such as unjust wages, abortion or racism — and in this regard it seems I was incorrectly using the term “social sin” in that by this it seems that theologians mean what economists would call “perverse incentives” rather than some kind of group sin. That said, I don’t think that my mis-use of terminology in any way detracts from what I was actually talking about, which was that in advocacy there is always a temptation to consider one’s advocacy against the sins of others (and the structures of sin they create) is so important that one doesn’t need to worry about “little” things such as one’s own personal actions.

    You seem to have a Pelagian view that we can avoid sin by our own “choice.” And there is too a personal dimension in what Nate is saying.

    Nate is not saying we don’t have free will. As I read him, he is simply pointing to the fact that personal sin is rooted in systemic realities, or what I’d call social sin. This is more in keeping with scripture, the church fathers, and with the teaching of the church. As opposed to your liberal priority-of-the-individual approach.

    I think you’re right that Nate doesn’t think that we don’t have free will, but some of his ways of phrasing his point make it sound somewhat as if he is saying that. I don’t think anyone is trying to indulge in a heresy hunt. Nate is actually a very pleasant and honest person to discuss things with. (ahem…) But I don’t see that it’s a problem for Joe to work on the terminology question. Nor does what Joe says seem any more Pelagian than the quote from John Paul II which was posted and discussed yesterday.

    Not everyone you don’t like is being a liberal individualist all the time.

  • Michael I,

    You said to Darwin,

    “You don’t understand how the term is used by the church and in academic theology.”

    You then tried to deny it by saying,

    “to put down others (who didn’t even invoke academia in the first place)”

    You did it, “in the first place.”

    I mention my own degrees when it is relevant. But that isn’t the issue – I NEVER make claims that a person is improperly using a term from an academic standpoint without explaining WHAT THAT TERM MEANS.

    Without that explanation, your invocation of academia is nothing but an act of snobbery. No one is impressed. Now run along.

  • By the way, for everyone else – Nate and all – I am going to make some of these thoughts into another blog post, because this discussion is too good to be lost in a com-box debate.

  • Joe, my feelings about your not engaging me were incorrect, and I see now that you’ve spent a good deal of time trying to understand what I’m saying. I really appreciate your efforts, and as Phillip says, I will try very hard to be more lucid! Let the discussion continue! 🙂

  • Michael,

    Except, we have a clear example of the former — in this very post and in Joe’s view.

    I’m not clear where in the post or in Joe’s comments on it you’re seeing conservatives assuming that social ills can be solved if only individuals would “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” . Could you provide a quote?

  • Okay, guys. At the risk of spoiling a perfectly good flamewar, I’m going to leave any comments which are about Michael (including the four by Michael about Michael) in moderation. (Much as I enjoyed the part about my well known reputation for bullying around the Catholic blogsphere…)

    I’d be happy to provide venue for discussion of the topic introduced by the post, but given that we have one digression about Michael and a second one about what I apparently said about “peace and justice Catholics” (a phrase that doesn’t appear in the post) and things seem to be getting rather acrimonious, I think it’s time to put the lid down.


  • You are a bully Darwin. I’ve witnessed you challenge people’s assertions many times. If someone asserts something it is necessarily true, and your challenging it serves no purpose but to make the person feel they have to justify themselves and this makes them feel uncomfortable. Bully!

Now Showing: The Tudors

Wednesday, March 3, AD 2010

The following is a column posted by Brad Miner of The Catholic Thing on Monday, March 1, 2010 A.D.:

John Timothy McNicholas, Cincinnati’s archbishop from 1925 until 1950, went to a New York convention in 1933 and heard the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Amleto Cicognani (future Vatican Secretary of State), rail against Hollywood’s “massacre” of American moral innocence and call for the “purification of cinema.” McNicholas took the message to heart and founded the Catholic Legion of Decency (CLOD). As TIME magazine reported in 1934, the organization’s mission was simple: the faithful should stay “away from all motion pictures except those which do not offend decency and Christian morality.” So popular did the Legion’s campaign become that Jews and Protestants joined the crusade, and the organization was quickly rechristened the National Legion of Decency.

The Legion’s descriptions of films were exclusively condemnatory; calling only for protests about and boycotts of films deemed impure. And some of the films CLOD listed have been subsequently delisted by its successor, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting. For instance, “Finishing School,” a Thirties production starring Billie Burke, Ginger Rogers, and the too-often ignored Frances Dee, was condemned by CLOD as portraying an “attempted seduction and an accomplished seduction. . . . Protest. . . . Protest. . .” Today, the USCCB rating of the film is A-III, in essence: It’s a quality movie. Go ahead and watch it – you’re grown-ups.

Archbishop McNicholas

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5 Responses to Now Showing: The Tudors

  • Note how that classic film depicted Henry’s adultery. Wolsey: “He’s been to play in the muck again. He’s been with Mistress Anne Boelyn.” Those lines convey the reality of the situation so much better than any nude scene could. The current porn fixation of contemporary films is not only a moral evil, but it is a degradation of the art.

  • There is a place for nudity, not for sex.

    And the sex scenes in The Tudors as well as most of the nude scenes (if not all), are gratuitous to say the least.

    Though I enjoy viewing The Tudors, I stopped after a while. It certainly could have done very well without the sex and nudity and played on the History Channel instead of the porn site that is Showtime.

  • An honest question: If the sex depicted doesn’t glorify the immoral, why can’t the depiction be moral?

  • RR,

    Excellent point.

    But if the sex were allowed, does it have to show full frontal nudity for BOTH sexes?

    Plus the act of watching simulated sex is an occurrence of sin.

    Offense Against Chastity:

    CCC 2354 – Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

    The Sixth Commandment: You Shall Not Commit Adultery. (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18.)

  • Tito you are right. Here are other relevant sections of the Catechism.

    2521 Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

    2522 Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

    2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.

    2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.

    2525 Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint. Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion.

Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

Friday, January 15, AD 2010

“Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don’t want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (…stammering) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A charming sentiment from Martha Coakley running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  For this gem, I award Ms. Coakley the second American Catholic Know-Nothing Award.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

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7 Responses to Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

  • If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

    I wouldn’t be so sure, Don. Massachusetts is like some inverted parallel universe where right is wrong and wrong is right – stupid is wise and wise is stupid. There’s no other way you can explain the electoral history. Ted Kennedy was a living saint in MA while in the real world he was a scoundrel. And lets not mention the legacy of Barney Frank too!

  • I assume Ms. Coakley was referring to situations in which devout, pro-life Catholics would be working in emergency rooms where they might be called upon to administer emergency contraception to rape victims.

    For her to say who should or should not be permitted to work under those conditions is, of course, the height of arrogance. This combined with her other recent statements and actions also makes me wish I could vote against her on Tuesday. (We Illinois residents, however, will have to settle for voting against Mark Kirk, the pro-abort RINO running for Obama’s old Senate seat, in the Feb. 2 primary… but I digress) I am definitely rooting for her opponent!

    However, allow me to play devil’s advocate here and suggest there MAY be a grain of truth in what Ms. Coakley said — what devout Catholic today would WANT to accept a job where they KNOW they are likely to be asked to do things that are against their conscience?

    If I were interested in pharmacy or medicine I would have to think very, very long and hard about taking a job in a retail pharmacy, an acute care hospital, a student health center on a secular college campus, or any environment where I knew contraceptives or abortafacients would be distributed. That would make about as much sense as, say, a Jew signing up to work in a meat packing plant that processes pork, or a Muslim applying for a job in a restaurant that also requires them to tend bar occasionally or regularly.

    It’s one thing if a pro-life Catholic who went into the pharmacy or medical field years ago and was never confronted with this issue before is suddenly confronted with it and forced to choose between his/her job and his conscience when the employer could easily have found someone else to do the objectionable task. And I presume there are still plenty of other doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. available in just about any hospital to take over morally objectionable tasks like administering emergency contraception so it’s not as if the entire operation of the hospital, etc. will come to a screeching halt.

    However, it seems to me to be a bit disengenuous to apply for and accept a job and then say “Oh, by the way, I’m not going to perform this part of my job.” If the employer does find a way to excuse you from performing the objectionable part of your job, that’s good and they should be allowed to do so; but ultimately, should they (employers) be FORCED to do so?

    I realize that what I’m suggesting means that pro-life Catholics may find their employment prospects in pharmacy or medical fields pretty limited and perhaps eventually nonexistent, which is regrettable. It would be much better, of course, if medical employers didn’t make these kind of demands, but as long as they do so, maybe faithful Catholics really should think twice about working in emergency rooms.

  • Elaine, I couldn’t disagree more, the First Amendment doesn’t say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; except for Catholics”.

    I understand what you are saying as a matter of prudence, but exceptions for religious reasons are made every day for a myriad of beliefs (i.e. wearing head scarfs etc). If Catholics capitulate on conscience issues then the secular society will see that as a sign of weakness and run roughshod over them.

    What Catholics DO need however is a truly Catholic Health care system that practices what it preaches – something that has and remains harder and harder to find as Catholic hospitals sell their souls to secular society in mergers & acquisitions. Fortunately God is raising up leaders in this area like:

    The Tepeyac Family Center

    Divine Mercy Pharmacy

    Maybe such efforts like this should be the focus of the USCCB instead of funding groups like ACORN and issuing “Catholic Climate Covenants”

  • JB: The establishment clause has nothing to do with any issue related to abortion, since the evil of abortion falls not under the category of revealed precept but natural law. According even to Catholic teaching, a Catholic wouldn’t have to bring religion into the equation to refuse distributing the morning after pill.

  • Rick,

    I wouldn’t be so sure, Don. Massachusetts is like some inverted parallel universe where right is wrong and wrong is right – stupid is wise and wise is stupid

    Very succinct!

  • Meet the new junior senator from Massachusetts!

  • I don’t know about that one, Zach. Every article and op-ed I’ve read today sounds like “doom-and-gloom” for Coakley, including among the liberal Left. They sound as if their daggers are out for her and that they’ve all but given up on her potential to win–there isn’t a bus big enough for her to be thrown under, from the way they are reading the tea leaves. We can only hope Brown pulls the upset and puts the nail in the coffin of the atrocious HCR bills now being constructed behind closed doors!

Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

Monday, December 7, AD 2009

17 Responses to Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

  • Leftist Catholics rightly identify Christ as the savior of human beings, body and soul alike. What they fail to understand is the consequences of Original Sin for the body, and the limitations on human life imposed by sin and finitude. They wrongly think that if everyone on Earth was a Saint, there would be no more suffering. Leftist Catholics think that there are no limits to human progress, which is to say they are very modern.

  • Some Leftist Catholics remind me of the Zealots who thought to bring about the Kingdom of God through the sword. A communist dictatorship though is a funny sort of Kingdom of God.

  • Such words for the “Catholic Left.” Then what is wrong with the “Catholic Right,” I wonder? Or does the “Right” comprise of the Catholics who “get it?”

  • Selective interpretation of the social teaching of the Church… which ultimately stems from liberalism as Leo XIII and Pius XI understood it.

  • In regard to the Catholic Right Eric, I can’t think of a comparable attempt by Catholic conservatives to trojan horse a body of doctrine completely inimical to Catholicism into the Church as has been the ongoing effort of some Catholics on the Left to baptize Marx. The nearest parallel I can think of predates the French Revolution with the unfortunate throne and altar doctrine of many clerics, although at least they could make the argument that the states they sought to wed the Church with were not anti-Catholic. In the case of Marxism, its overwhelming anti-Christian praxis should have innoculated Catholics from it without the necessity of papal intervention, but such was not the case.

  • Tito,

    No. 🙂

  • I think there’s a pretty strong throne and altar doctrine on the Catholic Right today, at least in the U.S., where the throne takes the form of military power.

    A case could also be made for a “‘Shut up, your Excellencies,’ he explained” doctrine, which denigrates the role of the bishops, individually and especially collectively, in developing social policies.

  • I read the Pope’s document carefully.

    Now I’m perplexed:

    1. Exactly what is objectionable in what he said?

    2. Has the Pope not condemned, in this very document, the arms buildup and the disgrace of military solutions? He only appears as a right winger if you’re looking from the vantage point of an extreme left wing ideologue.

    Maybe a few here ought to put down their Che Guevara coffee mugs read it again. The Holy Father is spot on.

    It is simply a fact of history that collectivist movements have enslaved the very people they promised to liberate.

    I am frankly a little more than concerned at the prideful inability of many leftists to acknowledge this fact of history, nay, the desire to whitewash this disgrace from history.

  • Who here is attacking the Pope?

  • MI,

    They participated and got deeply involved with Marxist governments. Dissidents such as Jesuit “Father” Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua who was involved with the Communist government then.

  • I’m always amused when people, especially conservatives who decry the tactic in others, appoint themselves the experts of All Things Liberal.

    I don’t think that Acts 4:32 is a bad things for which to strive. Certainly better than cuddling up to Pinochet or Cheney.

  • I’d rather cuddle up to Cheney than Karl Marx or Joseph Stalin any day of the week.

  • The early Christians quickly abandoned common ownership as completely unworkable Todd. Outside of monasteries and convents it has only been revived by Christians for short periods, usually with dire results. The Pilgrims tried it, and almost starved to death. William Bradford, the governor of the colony relates what happened next:

    “All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

    The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

  • Michael I.,

    Donald will delete it at his leisure.

    For the time being I’m just amusing myself by reading your comments, thanks!

Just An Observation

Monday, February 16, AD 2009

Wyoming recently has passed legislation that “bans” smoking in public places (except for a list of particular establishments where smoking is still permitted, and except for any county or municipality that doesn’t want to participate in the ban).  There once was hope of increasing the “sin tax” on chewing tobacco.  Elsewhere in the nation, we have had strong campaigns to reduce smoking for sake of health and public expenditure.  Now the campaigns are shifting gears and targeting refined sugars, transfats, and calorie-laden meals.

I understand, to an extent, why people are so concerned about how many times we vist McDonald’s, or much fat is in that bag of potato chips, or whether or not we buy “Biggie”-sized soft drinks.  As we continue to pay for insurance, either private or governmental, the effects are clear.  Bad health practices lead to increase in expenses.  Yet what I find odd is how the whole matter is couched almost as a moral dilemma, a moral crusade.  Isn’t just unhealthy to partake of deep-fat-fried potatoes–it is an abomination that should be punished.

Now, I seem to remember a certain gentlemen who came around saying something like: “Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?”

Is it just me, or is our society unwittingly attempting a reversion back to the Old Covenant (though we’ll pick different foods to declare “unclean”)?

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11 Responses to Just An Observation

  • Worst of all, bacon is unclean under both regimes.

  • OH NO!! That means I’m going going to have to make my Bacon Explosion (http://www.bbqaddicts.com/blog/recipes/bacon-explosion/) in secret!

  • We live in an odd era. Having extra-martial sex? No big deal (don’t forget that condom). Eating a Big Mac – for shame, do you know how many fat grams are in that thing? Abort your child – no problem. Light up a cigarette within 50 feet of non-smokers and you’re a pariah. (I am an ex-smoker and don’t like when people light up around me either, mainly because it makes me want to have one.)

    When health becomes a religion, well, it follows that government officials decree “clean” and “unclean” foods. Maybe we’ll see a return to the “Scarlet Letter.” Instead of punishing people for adultery, the New Puritans will make them stand on the street corner with contraband twinkies or chocolate bars sticking out of their mouths.

  • Bill, my heart went into palpitations just looking at the finished product! Yikes! I can’t wait to try it…

  • A soon-to-retire gent that I take the evening train with just returned from a two-week trip to Alaska. He and his wife went there and put an offer in on a house because, in his words, We just want to be left alone and the states in the Northeast don’t seem to understand that”

    I understand.

  • I am firmly of the conviction that all bars ought to be smoke-filled and that there ought to be a two smoke minimum for certain establishments. I want a state to pass that law!

  • Donna V.

    Perhaps not a scarlet letter, but some golden arches will be the badge of dishonor. Then they will be “boiled in their own pudding,” and buried with a steak on their heart.

  • S.B,

    I saw that Mark Shea had linked to that on his blog, and that started me thinking. The observation comment comes out of that article, but I felt was enough of its own thought that it stood alone without the trace back. Perhaps I was wrong.

  • This may sound a bit shocking coming from an otherwise conservative Catholic who’s never intentionally inhaled anything for amusement (other than helium balloons), but if we’re going to crack down on alcohol, tobacco and fattening food to the point where they are almost illegal, why not treat marijuana the same way — legalize it, but tax and regulate it to death, don’t allow it to be smoked in public places, and save the “war on drugs” for the really dangerous stuff like crack, heroin, and meth.

    Yes, pot is mind-altering but so is alcohol and that’s legal. From what I understand it’s not any more addictive or harmful to one’s physical health than tobacco, and that’s legal too. From a moral point of view I don’t see where a pothead is that different from an alcoholic or chain smoker. No material thing or substance is evil in and of itself; it only becomes so when misused.