22 February 2007

Too Improbable to be a Coincidence

An improbable coincidence: Anglican Communion leaders meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to flesh out the issue of Gene Robinson's election and various other conservative/gay issues AND also in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Sex attacks are blamed on bat demons.

The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Appropriately, today is the Fest of the Chair if st. Peter. Pope B16 explains his case for apostolic authority. Mix well with Döllinger.

Döllinger's Response to the First Vatican Council

In 1869, the writing was on the wall. Everyone knew that the First Vatican Council was going to railroad in papal infallibility/primacy. Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger responded. I present to you: The Pope and the Council.

21 February 2007

Tattoos, Future Saints, and Cats

There is an interesting article over at Commonweal Magazine about a Schizophrenic man and Audrey Santo, a woman who is seemingly an up-and-coming saint.

The article talks some about tattoos and Catholicism...surprisingly thorough article on the Bible and body modification.

Sidenote: Cats are banned in the Vatican.

19 February 2007

Rendering Unto Caesar—An Update

An update to the question of Nancy Pelosi's Catholicity.

Rendering Unto Caesar—Catholicism, Politics, Law and Democracy.

The John Frumm Cargo Cult

I've always wanted to go down to the courthouse and legally change my name to John Frumm so that I can acquire a passport reflecting this new "fact." Then I would go visit the John Frumm cargo cult at Sulphur Bay on the island of Tanna in the country of Vanuatu. I could be their God. I think it would be a uniquely terrifying experience fraught with peril and risk. What if I don't reach their cargo-related expectations?

From the BBC article:

About 20% of Tanna's population of 30,000 follow the teachings of one of the world's last remaining cargo cults.

Other islanders can barely disguise their contempt for it.

A Christian youth worker told me how he thought the cult was childish. "It's like a baby playing games," he insisted. "Those people are holding on to a dream that will never come true," he said.


I put this view to Rutha, who's married to Chief Isaac's son. She was unfazed.

"I don't care what they think," she says gently without a hint of displeasure. "John is our Jesus and he will come back."

At the risk of being blasphemous, it could be said that the difference between Christians and John Frumm'ers is not that significant. John Frumm brings Ammo and Medicine, Jesus brings Judgment and Salvation.

So Which Church Dislikes Gays More?

In a wacky game of trans-Atlantic sexual-moral switch-around, Anglican Communion conservatives are snubbing their U.S. Episcopalian siblings (via not sharing in communion, the most deadly of religious weapons) while in England the Catholic Church is providing legit Masses for gays and lesbians (no more hiding out in the Anglican Church and pretending to be in a real house of God) and the U.S. Catholics are having a helluva time coming out with a position on "persons with homosexual inclinations" that doesn't somehow piss everyone off.

16 February 2007

EWTN's Secret Simulacrum

Something never felt right about watching Mass on EWTN. First off, it is not in a cathedral, nor is it even in a regular parish church. Instead it takes place in what looks to be something like a chapel. Secondly, everyone is very old and very bored and very small in number. Now this may not seem very strange until you consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, EWTN had a choice in where to broadcast the Mass from. Why not some lively, trend-setting Brooklyn parish? Why not St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

Thirdly—and this is the oddest feature of EWTN's broadcast Masses—are the cameras on robotic arms maneuvering around in Terminator-like fashion panning the "crowd" and zooming in on the Host. With a little imagination, the whole spectacle is not at all like a Mass, but a spectacle. At least two robot-cameras are on each wall, so in almost every scene, you can see the other camera slowly taking in every holy pixel with its beady little glass eye.

The homily is boring and unfailingly orthodox and the priest who gives it does not seem to be particularly enthused—and neither do those in the congregation. So out of the myriad of parishes that EWTN might have been able to install cameras in for a vicarious Eucharist—which is a perfectly fine idea, I might add—they choose this one?! Or maybe no pastors consented because the producers were too insistent on just how “cool” it would be to have roving cameras on electric cranes moving to-and-fro on the wall like animatronic snakes?

But wait! Not only is it not a cathedral, nor is it even a parish church, nor a mere chapel, but a studio set in Alabama. Could anything be tackier? I might as well be watching Peter Popoff! The whole charade is nothing more than a poorly designed would-be ruse. Am I supposed to feel awe when the celebrant holds up the Host against a backdrop of off-white wood paneling and cheap cotton tapestries?

But maybe that’s just how they do it down in Alabama.

And You Say Eternal Life is a *Good* Thing?

Eternal life sounds more like a curse than a reward. For all the times the prospect is mentioned in the Good Book, it's irritating that the idea isn't fleshed out a bit more. Granted, life eternal may be more of an abstract concept of a divine and other-worldly hereafter, but I would argue that the phrase was chosen because it was a pretty good approximation of what is being signified.

Given self-awareness, are boredom and misery inevitable as time approaches infinity? This is the heart of the matter.

So what is being signified? Western philosophy has come up with a number of different approaches to what exactly "eternal" time means, and we will now focus on two general models. One conception, popular in Christian thought, is of eternity as a "non-successive, [and] therefore non-temporal mode of experience" in which one has a "life of infinite duration...."[1] But there is a tension between thinking of the eternal afterlife as a "duration"—no matter how qualified—and Boethius' portrait of time. Good old Boethius envisioned eternal time as an all-embracing present. Instead of past, present, and future, the mode of eternity encompasses and subsumes tense.

A second common conception is "eternity as lack of temporal beginning and end, but not lack of duration."[2] Proponents of this model generally are concerned about how a model of eternity like Boethius' or even Augustine's affect God's relationship with human beings. All tied up with the issue of eternity are other concerns like the immutability of God, divine perfection, and contingency...let's save these for another time.

This second interpretation seems to be closer to what the Greek means. (I'm no Classics professor, but I know how to use lexicons and dictionaries.) Of the 45 instances of the word "eternal" in the King James Version of the New Testament, 42 instances were the translation of the Greek word αιωνιος (aiōnios, "perpetual (also used of past time, or past and future as well)...eternal, for ever, everlasting..."[3]). But this may only be semantics. The precise intentions of the authors will always be somewhat of a mystery to us. Be that as it may, it *is* clear that it's unlikely that "eternal"/αιωνιος was employed by the authors of Scripture in any way as sophisticated as Boethius'.

There is a point in Sartre's "No Exit" in which the protagonist, Garcin, realizes what makes Hell just so bad. The valet is showing Garcin into his room in Hell and Garcin notices that there are no beds. He asks the valet if anyone sleeps in Hell and is told that no one ever does. Garcin thinks a minute and says, "So it comes to this; one doesn't need rest. Why bother about sleep if one isn't sleepy? That stands to reason, doesn't it? Wait a minute, there's a snag somewhere; something disagreeable. Why, now, should it be disagreeable? ...Ah, I see; it's life without a break."[4] Garcin wishes only to blink his eyes once more. Existence becomes a Sisyphean task.

I find it strange that, even though properly a mystery, our ultimate reward is left so vague. The closest Jesus gets to an elaboration is in Luke 18:29 (RSV)--"'Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.'"

But life eternal is not about material things in the present, but about new life through Christ...but is this the problem or the solution? Nietzsche cried foul at the (especially) Christian "ascetic ideal" of Pearl of Great Price over against Will to (this-worldly) Power. Mortality gives us urgency and, ironically enough, vitality. If this life is all we have, this mortal coil is anything but trivial.

Is our fear of non-existence, of being erased, so intense and all-consuming that we would rather be sick to death of life? When Odysseus traveled to Hades, he saw the late Achilles. Trying to cheer him up, Odysseus remarks that, for Achilles, "Death should have lost its sting." Achilles reproaches his old friend: "Do not speak soothingly to me of death, Odysseus. I should choose to serve as the serf of another, rather than to be lord over the dead."[4] Swift-footed Achilles, a serf! But maybe this tale tells us more than the fact that death is agony. In a sacrifice one gives the gods what is most valuable and precious. What could be more precious than the gift of will? In sacrificing the will--the will to be in control of one's own destiny, to be free, to seize the day--the die is cast; there is no do-over. Surely, with so terrible a sacrifice the gods will not turn a deaf ear. "How can I be denied when I have denied *myself* for the benefit of the gods?"

Imagine the most pleasant, most desirable environment for the enduring afterlife. Jamming with Hendrix and Joplin, eating all you want without getting fat (can't!), no pain or worrying. Everything is ideal. But as time continues, even Ambrosia starts to taste like cardboard. In *Groundhog Day*, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) only has everlasting life for a couple years, but gets so sick with the predictability and sameness of each repeating day that he kills himself several times, though it does him no good. (Side note: Phil's everlasting life is a strange kind of the type: a possibly eternal temporal period "between" the present and the finite duration of time before death, possibly followed by a definitely eternal period of time. Wow!) So would Hell really be any worse?

The whole eternal-life/eternal-hellfire construct is so dualistic and misguided as to cause suspicion and so naively simplistic that one ends up being completely disgusted by *both* possibilities. The best one can hope for is to be eaten up by the void from whence we came.

[1] "Eternity and the Afterlife," D. P. Walker. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 27. (1964), pp. 241-250.
[2] "Eternity," Anthony C. Thiselton. A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion.
[3] Strong's New Testament Greek Lexicon.
[4] The Odyssey, 11:480; 11:486.

13 February 2007

Bovine Electricity Source

Rumen, a product of cow digestions, seems to produce a great deal of electricity.

Pat's Diet Shake

Pat Robertson has his own diet shake. This is such a Protestant thing to do. It boggles my mind how millions of people give any truck to his insane ideology, assassination exhortations, or his “Weight Loss Challenge.”

Check out the commercial.



Today I stumbled across a fact that surprised me: England outlawed torture in 1640. But I suppose it isn't that surprising as they are complicit in the U.S. government's torture of "enemy combatants."

A map of countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture shows that the vast majority (142) of countries, England and the U.S. included, have ratified the convention.

The definition of torture according to the convention is:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

I don't see any gray area here.

06 February 2007

The Question of Pelosi's Catholicness

Nancy Pelosi is being criticized for the supposed incongruence between her self-professed "conservative Catholic" faith and her voting record.

Fr. John Malloy wrote an open letter to Pelosi in which he writes:

You are simply not in sync with the Catholic Church. Until you change your non-Catholic positions, you should stop calling yourself Catholic. Your record shows that you support embryonic stem cell research, Planned Parenthood, contraception, family planning funding, allowing minors to have an abortion without parental consent, and are against making it a crime to harm a fetus, etc. etc.

The fact that you favor married priests and women priests certainly would not classify you as conservative....

Fr. Malloy quotes Pelosi in his letter as saying, "God has given us a free will. We’re all responsible for our actions. If you don’t want an abortion, you don’t believe in it, [then] don’t have one. But don’t tell somebody else what they can do in terms of honoring their responsibilities."

This conception of private vs. public duty and obligation bears a striking resemblance to Jimmy Carter's give-unto-Caesar-what-is-his-and-give-unto-God-what-is-God's religio-political sentiment but somewhat less fleshed out as Mario Cuomo's view of his role as governor with respect to abrotion (in 1984, there was a confrontation between N.Y. Cardinal John O'Connor over Cuomo's refusal to veto a bill permitting a state fund for abortions).

Fr. Malloy continues:

Do we not elect politicians to make laws that help people honor their responsibilities, such as protecting life itself? Can politicians not tell someone else not to kill? If you can kill a baby in the womb, Nancy, why not outside of it? Oh wait, you are in favor of partial birth abortion, so-called because the baby sticks out of the “mother” about halfway, while the “doctor” sucks out the baby's brain. That seems comparable to the choice the Nazis made killing six million Jews. (Italics mine.)

Fr. Malloy's math does not compute with me. 6,000,000 murdered Jews is commensurately evil to the "murder" of one "baby"?

Of course the obvious choice would be to vote and legislate against abortion if her entire constituency, or even a sizable majority thereof, assumed a priori along with Fr. Malloy that life begins at conception.

The fact is that, as of 1999, 48.5% of Catholics believe that the individual has "the final say" in making the choice to have, or not to have, an abortion. 27.8% of those Catholics surveyed in the same poll said that both Church leaders and the individual together had the final say. 53.4% said that a person could be a good Catholic without obeying the Church hierarchy's teaching on abortion. 64.1% of Catholics polled supported the idea of women priests. 71.8% believe that it is possible to be a good Catholic without obeying the Church's teaching on birth control. The majority of Catholics at least somewhat support the idea of a married priesthood.

Michael Hurley of the Catholic Accountability Project responds to the controversy:

The resounding silence of the "Pro-Life" camp, the Catholic Bishops and clergy in the face of daily horrendous violence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine is a scandal beyond belief. Massacre of innocent civilians, women and children, use of cluster bombs to kill, dismember and mutilate, and now even torture, continue without a murmur of protest or discernable [sic] concern.

He certainly has a point. Why doesn't EWTN, always so in line with Church teaching, include issues like torture, indefinite imprisonment, "rendition," war, slave-trafficking, etc. under its banner of the Fight for "Life"? Why don't "orthodox" pro-lifer Catholics speak out against anything besides abortion and, when convenient, euthanasia?

Fr. Malloy seems to be in the same camp as that peculiar brand of conservative Catholic who sees anything less than complete conformance with Vatican doctrine as apostasy. The irony is that this religious creature may be in line with Rome, but is anything but indicative of the "actual" Church, that is, parishioners and everyday believers.

Note The Tablet has recently had a discussion regarding this very issue.