Our ‘confusion extends beyond sexuality’

J.D. Flynn offers some of the best fraternal correction to Fr. James Martin that I’ve read so far:

…there is a difference between choosing not to defy Catholic doctrine and choosing to teach it in its fullness. And the doctrine of the Church extends far beyond issues of sexuality. While Martin may not be teaching error on that subject, his work fails to express, or even take into account, Catholic teaching on a fundamental issue: what it means to be a person at all. The consequence of that failure is confusion.

Consider Fr. Martin’s recent remarks to college presidents at a meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. His speech does not state that homosexual activity should be condoned, or that Church teaching on the matter should change. But it does present a vision of the human person at odds with Catholic teaching, and it urges a set of pastoral practices that will lead to heartbreak and disappointment, not to the freedom of Jesus Christ. …

Every initiative that Fr. Martin recommends in his address—from “Lavender graduations” to “L.G.B.T.-affirming spiritualities, theologies, liturgies and safe spaces”—is designed to affirm the lie that sexual inclination or orientation is, in itself, identity. Fr. Martin seems to be arguing that, to be compassionate, the Church must encourage young people to see themselves as the world sees them: as the sum of their desires, rather than as children of God, beloved sons and daughters of the Father.

Contemporary confusion about sexual orientation today stems from conflating appetite with identity. We are more than the sum of our appetites. And our appetites—however strongly we feel them, however much they have shaped us, however much we have suffered for them—are not often ordered, absent grace, to our flourishing. That confusion extends beyond sexuality; it is the cause of insatiable consumerism, of technology addictions, and even of our nakedly dysfunctional political arena.

The Church believes that knowledge of our true identity as children of God can free us from the slavery of defining ourselves by our appetites, from confusion about who we are and about what will bring us happiness. That is why the Church says that Catholic colleges ought to teach that students are made in the image of God, and that by the grace of God they can live in the freedom of their creation and flourish in this life and the next. That message defies biological or psychological determinism; it defies postmodern inclinations to define reality according to experience; it defies a technocratic culture that says we are what we do.

Our “confusion extends beyond sexuality.” How urgent this message is for the recovery and reform of so much in our culture. We are confused about who we are as human persons, across the entire landscape of issues.

And there’s a subtle and important point that J.D. Flynn is drawing out here; that is, the distinction between expressing the truth in its fullness and expressing truth to a particular degree.

Human rights and the human heart

I’ve got my first piece for Humanize from the Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism out today, where I write that human rights require knowledge of the human heart:

I believe that when it comes to issues of human life we’re generally engaging conflicts that are neither unresolvable nor destined for stalemate. We’re debating issues that matter. We can lose sight of this due to the tendency to throw our hands into the air over the seemingly complex nature of many human life issues, content to “agree to disagree” because “it’s complicated.” For those determined to advance human dignity, liberty, and equality, settling for this false peace is, in fact, a surrender to (at best) a materialist philosophy that prizes autonomy over solidarity, or (at worst) a nihilist relativism that proposes that ultimate reality and truth are unknowable and therefore worthless.

We already see the poisoned fruits of accepting that false peace in the degradation of human rights. Human rights were once a shield for the protection of those most at risk to the whims of those with greater power, but as we lose our sense of human beings as possessors of inherent dignity and worth, we also lose a firm basis for universal human rights. As if experiencing a collective dementia, we look upon the face of the human person without recognizing the priceless good we see. And in our forgetfulness we lose our ethical bearings, too often falling for utopian promises for a future that never arrives.

When we survey the field, we observe this annihilation across the spectrum of human life: at the earliest and most physically vulnerable period when we most require hospitality and love, in the form of abortion; at the latest and most culturally vulnerable period when we most require solidarity and companionship, in the form of euthanasia and suicide; throughout adult life when we require encounter and friendship, through a “throwaway” culture of indifference; and across the spectrum of bioethical issues from eugenics to human trafficking, from attacks on patient and physician conscience rights to misanthropic environmentalism, from ethically indifferent forms of genetic engineering to stem cell research to cloning, and on it goes.

What are we to make of the claims of human rights, amidst all the raw human willfulness and power imbalances that so greatly warp our ability to recognize one another as equals?

Humanize

I joined the Discovery Institute last month as a Research Fellow with their Center on Human Exceptionalism, which exists to affirm and uphold the intrinsic nature of human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley J. Smith, Chair and Senior Fellow of the Center, has just launched Humanize, a blog for news, analysis, and opinion. Wesley writes:

America is living with the ghosts of the 1960s, the ambition of that time as much as its hubris. In equal measure, those qualities shape our ethically and morally haphazard approach to human dignity and human rights, and particularly bioethical issues that have the potential to harm or damage our liberty and equality with one another as human beings.

Humanize will offer news, opinion, and analysis to spark and participate in conversations about all of these issues and more, in the spirit of a time when we believed that we could achieve success in every field with ambition tempered by honor—in short, in a way that both advances science and society and promotes human dignity, liberty, and equality.

As long as we remain fractured across philosophical and intellectual fault lines, issues of human life generally and bioethical issues specifically can only grow more vexing. We’re establishing Humanize with the hope that we can be a home for spirited and robust conversations that address the many ethical or moral issues that currently denigrate human life, as we promote a human-centered wholeness that is the only true hope for a better future.

Humanize is as much about recognizing new frontiers in science, medicine, and biotechnology, as it is about recognizing that there are perennial frontiers in the human heart that must always be addressed in our conscience as much as our law and policy. …

The work we thought we were finishing with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has turned out simply to be a starting point for new frontiers in a timeless conversation on the exceptional importance of being human.

I’ll be contributing to Humanize as often as I’m able.

Extreme optimism and fatalistic pessimism

Peter Theil reviews Ross Douthat’s forthcoming book The Decadent Society, wherein Douthat defines decadence as:

…stagnation and complacency, a dissipation of creative energy, a jaded will merely to muddle through. …

Douthat outlines four aspects of decadence: stagnation (technological and economic mediocrity), sterility (declining birth rates), sclerosis (institutional failure), and repetition (cultural exhaustion). …

Choosing agency over boomer complacency, The Decadent Society sets the stakes for the most urgent public debate of the 2020s: How do we get back to the future? …

A renaissance will require motivational goals. To be motivational, a goal must be both ambitious and achievable. For this reason, I suspect that we should hesitate to put our faith in distant star systems. The fountain of youth and the Tree of Life are not waiting for us in Tau Ceti or on Planet Vulcan in 40 Eridani. We need not be “loyal to the earth” like the atheist Zarathustra, but we would do well to expect our salvation to be worked out in the solar system we have been given.

For technologists, that means pursuing goals that are difficult but possible: cures for cancer and ­Alzheimer’s; compact nuclear ­reactors and fusion power. For statesmen, that means deconstructing the corrupt institutions that have falsely claimed to pursue those goals on our behalf.

It is a paradox of our time that the path to radical progress begins with moderation. Extreme optimism and fatalistic pessimism may seem to be stark opposites, but they both end in apathy.

Douthat is coming to Washington next week for a talk and book signing. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to be there, but I’m going to read the book.

Pursuing goals that are difficult but possible sounds trite as far as advice for a great life, great career, or a national recovery. And yet, this is the way.

‘ They told him what a difference he had made’

Jordan Peterson is in Russia, attempting a recovery from addiction to anti-anxiety drugs. Douglas Murray speaks up for him as his critics seize their opportunity for abuse:

I have known a few remarkable people in my time. The best of them, inevitably, have fans.

You can tell the fans, as the novelist Martin Amis once wrote, because they shake when they meet their heroes.

With Jordan Peterson it wasn’t like that. Walking down any street with him, or sitting next to him in book-signing queues, I saw first-hand what other people heard about.

In the 20 or 30 seconds that people might have him to themselves, they didn’t tell him how much they loved his work.

They told him what a difference he had made to their lives.

A great author is lucky if this is said to them even a few times in their lives. Peterson was told it multiple times every evening.

I’ll never forget a man in his 20s who came over after one event.

While Peterson signed his book, he related that 18 months earlier he had been living in a bedsit, spending his time gaming and smoking too much marijuana.

Today, he said he was married, holding down a job and his wife was expecting their first child.

This, he said, was all because of Peterson. I’ve heard similar stories many times.

A serious and grown-up society would take lessons from such a phenomenon.

Instead of dismissing him, deriding him or trying to catch him out, it would recognise that we live in a society where plenty of people are willing to tell easy untruths but too few people are willing to tell difficult, necessary truths.

It would also realise that underneath the glitz and technology of the modern age, there lies a deep lack of purpose – a chaos – that for young people in particular can be utterly terrifying and which almost no one addresses. Peterson has sought to address that chaos.

Not with grandiose plans but with small, achievable steps. All bolstered by a knowledge and curiosity that was frankly awesome as well as inspiring.

At no point has he held himself out to be a saint. And not once has he suggested that he has all the answers.

But he knows where the answers do not lie. And he knows that we can live lives of deeper meaning and purpose than this shallow and retributive age pretends.

Jordan Peterson is a remarkable man.

But he’s still a man, with all the frailties and failings that condition involves.

“Instead of dismissing him, deriding him or trying to catch him out, it would recognise that we live in a society where plenty of people are willing to tell easy untruths but too few people are willing to tell difficult, necessary truths.”

Querida Amazonia, an exhortation to holiness

Chad Pecknold writes on Pope Francis and Querida Amazonia:

After months of agitation around the Amazonian Synod, the Holy Father’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia was received with relief by many.

Pope Francis simply ignored the radical reforms demanded by rich, bourgeois liberals in Germany.

They funded much of the Amazonian synod, and they wanted results. They wanted exceptions to compulsory priestly celibacy — the Pope gave them none. They wanted the door at least opened to the possibility of female deacons — the Pope told them not to clericalize women. After months of synodal and curial intrigue around the so-called viri probati — the Pope said we need holiness and evangelization instead to bring the Eucharist to the Amazonian peoples.

As one liberal commentator on curial affairs put it, “people are starting to adjust expectations.” There has been a kind of slow-burn realization among agitators that Pope Francis is not the bridge to their shag-carpeted dreams. …

The German response to Querida Amazonia exhibited the same anxieties which preceded it. Thomas Sternberg, the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) — a lay group which advocates for the blessing of same-sex marriage in the Church and which enjoys influence and authority in the national bishops’ conference — expressed his disappointment that Pope Francis “did not find the courage to implement real reforms in the questions of the ordination of married men and the liturgical skills of women, which have been discussed for 50 years.”

“Fifty years!” The disappointment was palpable. President Sternberg wrote: “Our expectations regarding specific steps towards reform, especially with regard to access to the priestly office and the role of women, were very high. We very much regret that Pope Francis did not take a step forward in his letter.” The ZdK president spoke of the Holy Father’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation as if he were paying a bill for a product he never ordered.

Some in Germany have been asking impossible things of Rome since at least the sixteenth century, but now, with their outsized wealth and influence, they apparently must make it known to the Successor of Saint Peter that they are “very disappointed in him.” If it were not for their extreme arrogance, impiety, and presumption, one might almost feel sorry at their deflation.

Kobe Bryant, RIP

Tom Hoffarth and Steve Lowery on the late Kobe Bryant’s faith:

In the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s sudden death along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, it soon became known that Bryant stopped by Queen of Angels, located a couple miles from his Newport Coast home, for a few moments of reflection and prayer, leaving just 10 minutes after that 7 a.m. Mass started to head to John Wayne Airport.

Father Sallot later confirmed to various local news outlets that he had seen Bryant after he had prayed in the chapel.

“We shook hands, I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Father Sallot said. “I was coming in the same door as he was going out … we called that the backhand of grace.”

Though Bryant was well-known for his discipline (Mamba Mentality), cosmopolitan ways (giving interviews in multiple languages) and, most of all, love, admiration, and devotion for his daughters (the trending hashtag #GirlDad among the tributes), the fact that Bryant took his faith so seriously seemed to take many, including those in the media, by surprise.

The media may have first met him as a star in Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania before the Lakers obtained him in a 1996 NBA draft trade, but considering Bryant started living in Milan, Italy, at age 7, since his father, Joe, played seven seasons in the Italian League after his own NBA career ended in 1983, Catholicism seems to have been as natural a part of life as basketball.

Bryant was willing to talk about his faith with anyone willing or wanting to listen. It was there, he said, at both his highest and lowest moments.

“I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”

“If you do the work, if you work hard enough, dreams come true… and if you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father.”

Politics is important, but…

Archbishop Chaput’s successor in Philadelphia will be Archbishop Nelson Perez. Matt Hadro reports on Archbishop Chaput’s retirement:

Chaput reflected on his vocation as bishop to CNA on Thursday, citing St. Augustine as the model of service he has sought to emulate in his ministry.

“Augustine lived simply, never abandoned his people, and never avoided difficult decisions or issues,” Chaput told CNA.

“That didn’t always make him popular. But he served his people sacrificially, as a good father, in a spirit of love. That’s the gold standard for a bishop’s ministry.”

During his episcopal ministry, and especially as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Chaput faced criticism from secular outlets and within the Church for taking “conservative” stands on leading debates in the Church, including statements discouraging Catholic politicians who support abortion from presenting themselves for Communion and opposing efforts to redefine marriage.

His stances led to him being branded as a “culture warrior” and “political.” Yet, he explained to CNA on Thursday, his public stances were required of him as a responsible Catholic leader in the public square.

“Was Augustine ‘political’ for writing City of God? Or for criticizing Roman state corruption and bad officials? Of course not,” Chaput said.

“Politics is a subset of Christian discipleship, and sometimes bishops need to speak and act with conviction in the public square in an unpopular way. That’s always been the case.”

“Politics is important, but it’s not what the Gospel is about,” he said. …

“The history of the Church is not the history of bishops, it’s the history of all of us together working for the glory of God.”

Clock of life

Fulton Sheen gave a talk called “The Approach of Midnight” in the 1970s, imagining the “clock of life”:

“I want you to picture a great and gigantic clock of life. Here is dawn; here is noon; here is dusk; here is midnight. The clock of life at the very beginning of the day is beginning to extinguish life: feticide, the killing of human persons in the womb. That’s the first stroke of the clock.

Then we come to noon: lives in middle age. We’ve already had this strike: six million Jews burned by Hitler. Life at the beginning, life at noon.

Life in the evening. Now euthanasia is recommended: gerocide, the killing of the old. In fact, three American professors in large universities have recommended the killing off of Bangladesh and India, that the rest of us may survive.

Now, what’s going to happen to a world that takes life at dawn, life at noon, life at dusk? We’re eventually going to come to midnight. The United States and Russia have enough nuclear armaments to drop [the equivalent of] ten tons of TNT on every man, woman, and child in the world. That’s the midnight of necrophilism…

It’s not just life at dawn we’re protecting. It’s life at noon; it’s life at dusk; it’s life at midnight…

Go into the world and tell everyone that you meet: there is a life in the womb!”

A consistent life ethic…

A snapshot of the health of American families

Lyman Stone breaks down some of the latest data on American families:

Nearly 4 in 10 children in America are not residing with their own two, married parents (biological or adoptive). This is according to the recently released 2018 American Community Survey, the largest annual social survey carried out in America. As recently as 1960, less than 2 in 10 children lived apart from two married parents, a reality which was approximately stable as far back as 1850. But while the present situation leaves many children bereft of the care, attention, and material benefits of a married household, it’s actually not as bad as it has been in the past: since 2014, the share of children living with two married parents has risen ever-so-slightly, from 61.8% to 62.3% in 2018, and data from early 2019 in the Current Population Survey suggest that 2019 will show further improvement. The period from 2011 to 2019 is the longest period of stability or improvement in children’s living situations since the 1950s. …

Overall, the decline in the share of kids growing up in married, two-parent households seems to have stopped for now, and there’s even been a modest recovery. But much of this change is purely compositional: Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial kids are growing as a share of children thanks to immigration and intermarriage, while African and Native American kids are not. As a result, the nationwide aggregate is improving. But among specific groups, the trends are less optimistic. Particularly for Hispanic and Native American kids, family conditions have deteriorated markedly over the last two decades.

Lyman goes into greater depth in his analysis, but the takeaway from my perspective is that there’s general reason for hope even as I suspect this stability might be a result of our healthy economy as much as any particular set of life choices within American families.