Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Five Quick Takes


Readers may have noticed that I haven't updated much this month. It's been a long one. For one reason and another -- especially the attacks that have been launched against my friends at Spiritual Friendship (and, to a lesser extent, against myself) by Deacon Russell -- I've been positively exhausted. I'm hoping to have a chance to convalesce with some friends early next month, but I will probably be largely away until after that time.

On the subject of Spiritual Friendship, however, Ron Belgau -- a founding member of the blog, who has been invited to address the World Meeting of Families during Pope Francis' imminent visit -- has written a really outstanding piece on the relationship and contrasts between them/ourselves and that of Courage Apostolate, whose outlook and methods are rather different. Belgau writes:
In a 1996 interview, a journalist asked then-Cardinal Ratzinger how many ways there are to God. Ratzinger's response was: 
"As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man's way is an entirely personal one. We have Christ's word: I am the way. In that respect ... everyone who is on the way to God is therefore also in some sense on the way of Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that all the ways are identical ... on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man." 
... [T]he Church has always embraced a variety of approaches to spiritual growth. God gives diverse gifts, and those gifts build up the Body of Christ in diverse ways. The Catholic Church has always recognized this and so welcomed and encouraged different approaches to cultivating our own spiritual growth, sharing the Gospel, and reaching out to those in need.
Read the essay in full here.

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I neither know enough, nor have the strength, to write a piece on the ghastly situation confronting refugees from the war in Syria (though they are by no means fleeing only from Syria). I can, however, provide my readers with this link to Catholic Relief Services, which is providing refugees with housing, food, medical care, and trauma counseling. I urge you to offer your prayers and your resources to God for these people. The United States can do more, and that starts with us, personally, deciding to do more.

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Joseph Prever of Gay, Catholic, and Feeling Fine is blogging again, if you weren't aware! (Though let's be honest, if you read Mudblood Catholic you were probably a Steve Gershom fan already.)

I am very happy about this: Joseph's a good friend and an extremely funny, smart, devoted man, whom I'm glad and privileged to walk alongside. (Admittedly he's further along than I am, but he's never once made me feel bad about it, which is pretty phenomenal, especially since I'm the sort of person apt to resent being passed by other cars on the highway.) He posted this excerpt from an interview with the Catholic World Report last month, conducted after he spoke to Courage's leadership at their conference in July.

And speaking of interviews with funny and intelligent Catholics, if you're familiar with the Eye of the Tiber (a satirical Catholic e-paper, along the lines of the Onion), this dialogue with its creator, S. C. Naoum, is truly delightful. Well, and if you aren't familiar with the Eye, it's still delightful.

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I couldn't think of a fourth thing, so I suggest reading the Evil Overlord List on TVtropes. It's chock-full of excellent advice for when you, personally, become a megalomaniacal villain, complete with lair and minions. A few of my own favorites:
16. I will never utter the sentence, "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know." 
34. I will not turn into a snake. It never helps. 
47. If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I will slay him while he is still a callow youth instead of waiting for him to mature. 
67. No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency. 
85. I will not use any plan in which the final step is horribly complicated, e.g. "Align the 12 Stones of Power on the sacred altar, then activate the medallion at the moment of total eclipse." Instead it will be more along the lines of "Push the button."

Where in this day and age you will find a suitable top hat and mustache wax, dear reader, I leave to you.

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Mass this past Sunday was peculiarly consoling. For whatever reason -- maybe because we're back on to our ordinary schedule, in which the liturgy I attend is at 10 in the morning instead of 9 -- the prayers and texts reached me more than they generally have of late. I thought I'd share some of them here.

I am the saving help of my people, saith the LORD God: out of whatsoever tribulation they shall pray unto me, I will surely help them, and I will be their God for ever and ever. Hear my law, O my people: incline your ears unto the words of my mouth. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that shall abide; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lesson (Wisdom 2.12, 17-20, RSV-CE)
The wicked say: "Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for according to what he says, he will be protected."

Epistle (James 3.16-4.3)
Brethren: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars and dissensions among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Graciously raise up, O Lord, those you renew with this Sacrament, that we may come to possess your redemption both in mystery and in the manner of our life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Contempt of Conscience

You've probably heard of the Kim Davis case by now. And, if you haven't, congratulations on being the first person to reach Mars.

Who's a geek now, Steve?

Anyway, in case you do happen to be reading from the red planet, Kim Davis is a county clerk from Kentucky who has been jailed for contempt of court, after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Since the Obergefell vs Hodges ruling in June, a number of counties have entirely stopped issuing marriage licenses in order to avoid issuing them to same-sex couples; Rowan County, where Davis worked, among them. Last month a federal court ordered that marriage licenses must be issued; when Davis continued to refuse, she was imprisoned. (The plaintiffs -- two gay couples, two straight couples, and the ACLU -- had asked only that she be fined, but the judge in question dismissed this as ineffectual, on the grounds that the fine would be paid for her by supporters.)

Most of the people that I've seen talk about the case on social media have been on the side of the courts: admittedly, when she originally took the job, she had no way of knowing that it would later come to require of her that she transgress her conscience; but that's what the law does require now, and if she refuses to do that then she ought to resign. It's easy to see the strength of such an argument. Nor is it without precedent; St Thomas More chose to resign in silent protest when Henry VIII defied the Church by repudiating Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn.

And Davis' own defense -- that she has divine and biblical sanction for her actions -- is a dubious one. That is, there is no reason to suppose that her beliefs are insincere in any way, but one can hardly maintain that those religious beliefs are relevant to civil law; the separation of church and state is enshrined in the First Amendment (not phrased in those words precisely, but it really doesn't matter; what's at stake is the substance of it), and to obtrude a solely religious basis for a political act is, in consequence, dodgy, especially as a state official.

The Catholic Church takes a slightly different angle in its objections to gay marriage. Its contention is not that gay marriage contravenes the Bible's definition of marriage, but that the natural character of marriage, apart from any question of divine revelation, is directed toward bringing children into the world. And this is certainly how most societies in most places and times have viewed marriage, which is partly why polygamy, divorce on grounds of barrenness, and the keeping of concubines have so often been culturally acceptable. (We may, of course, regard this general witness of humanity as inadequate to change our own minds, but whatever that witness is worth, this is its testimony.) Hence, a gay union, because it can't produce children, is regarded as not being a marriage ipso facto. It certainly doesn't follow from this that no legal recognition could or should be given to gay unions; only that the specific kind of recognition accorded to marriage should be unique.

If this, rather than marriage as found in Scripture, were Davis' position, she'd be in a much stronger position -- for in that case, she would be not refusing to obey a law because it conflicted with her religious faith, but refusing to obey a law because she thought it was unjust. As things are, she does seem (in my view) to be blurring the categories of civil and religious obligations, and resignation would probably have been a neater and more conscientious solution. It's partly for this reason that, though I am a fervent defender of religious liberty, I don't see this as essentially a question of religious liberty, because I don't think the nature of marriage is a specially religious question in the first place.

But, though I disagree strongly with the grounds on which she made her decision, I'm not writing this to criticize Kim Davis' actions. I'm writing to praise her.

By obeying her conscience and peaceably accepting imprisonment, Davis has entered the high tradition of civil disobedience. Indeed, refusal to comply with a law and accepting the penalty for your refusal is civil disobedience in a nutshell. Gandhi, one of the great sages of that tradition, taught with great care and emphasis that the thing that makes passive or civil resistance righteous is precisely this decision to accept the consequences, to suffer in oneself rather than inflicting suffering on others by violence -- and, incidentally, pointed out also that if a person is mistaken in their views, civil disobedience has the advantage of causing only themselves to suffer for the mistake. Martin Luther King followed the same teaching, influenced by students of Gandhi and Christian pacifists.

I would, also, pose a question to those who criticize her for failing to do her job. Without wishing to cast any doubt on the sincerity of your beliefs, have you ever gone as far as she has in standing up for what you believe? Could you go to prison in defense of gay marriage? What, in fact, did you do for gay marriage, aside from some Facebook likes and a drunken rant to a friend after your poli-sci midterm?

Kim Davis (probably)

And the members of this tradition are frequently found guilty of contempt of court, because they consider themselves answerable to something else: their consciences.* I have nothing but respect and support for that. I for one would far rather be found in contempt of court, than know within myself that I am guilty of contempt of conscience. To carry that knowledge with you, sleeping and waking -- no. And while an individual may be mistaken about right and wrong, that's true of courts too. Unjust laws, and for that matter unjust judges, have existed at least as long as history -- that was kind of the point of the gay rights movement, wasn't it? Law itself is worthless unless it embodies justice; justice is superior to all law; and justice is known, not by legal fact or precedent, but by the inner witness of the soul as tutored by the intellect. A person can be persuaded that their beliefs are incorrect, and therefore change them. But as long as they do hold those beliefs, obedience to them is what makes for a clear or a guilty conscience.

People will say that Kim Davis is no MLK. Certainly not. And, yes, her own track record on marriage is by no means a perfect one.** But we do not earn the right to obey our consciences by being saints already, or even mere heroes. Obeying your conscience is what raises you to heroism. I think that Davis' decision to follow the path of civil disobedience in this case, even though I disagree with her grounds for doing so, ennobles her.

*All of the civil resisters that I know of have also been religious; their obedience to their consciences has been inviolable to them because they believe that conscience is, in Newman's phrase, the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. While this trend is certainly present, I don't know that it's necessary to civil disobedience. I see no reason why an atheist or an agnostic couldn't make a good civil resister. Furthermore, insofar as these acts are a testimony to conscience and an urge to others to heed their own consciences, I don't believe that civil disobedience involves us in the mixed-up premises that Kim Davis has espoused.

**She has been married four times (twice to the same man). A good deal of chaff has been blown up over this fact. I'd point out a few things in response: first, that her experience of religious conversion only took place in 2011, so that her zeal on matters marital may well be a recent and comparatively unsoiled thing; second, that we are not privy to the nature and circumstances of her marriages (or not that I'm aware), which could possibly be innocent or at least very pardonable, and that presuming the worst of others is an ugly way to behave; and third, that having a poor moral history oneself is not a good reason to transgress one's principles further merely because it would be consistent.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Stranger Within Thy Gates

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus XIX.xxxiii-xxxiv

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.

—Exodus XX.xx

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Watching the charismatic train-wreck that is Trump's campaign for the presidency was funny at first, though its persistence has begun to make it edge into the nauseating. His remarks, both off-the-cuff and considered, about immigration have been peculiarly sickening; and coming from a Caucasian, one cannot help feeling that it is in questionable taste to complain of the ill-effects of foreigners coming into our land and taking our shit.

The ongoing debate over immigration—by which (let us be frank) we mean immigration from Latin America into the United States—seems to me to be both muddled and a little pathetic. I'd like to lay out a few things that seem to me to be essential principles for the Christian to have in mind, in order to arrive at a just, intelligent, and charitable opinion on the subject. Some are perennial ideas; others are based in the facts of American life as it now is.

1. Nations exist to serve people, not people to serve nations. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in The Weight of Glory, on the Christian view, every human person will outlive every nation, culture, class, and ethnicity; and we, unlike the societies we form, are each individually made in the image and likeness of God. Any political policy, of whatever kind, must be grounded in this fact if it is to have any claim to consistency with Christianity. That isn't to say that practical compromises can't ever be made; but they must be compromises starting from this defined point, not a dismissal of the principle as false or unimportant. No law can be justly made that promotes the state's rights at the expense of human rights; and, as St Augustine said, an unjust law has no force -- not even if it is enforced.

2. More specifically, nations exist to serve their own people. No nation has ever been given a charge from God to take care of all other nations and peoples—unless we adopt Dante's view, that the Roman people were divinely chosen to provide for all humanity temporally, as the Jews were chosen to provide the eternal Savior; however, this view is (outside its MediƦval context) not an obvious one, and not one that has successfully recommended itself to the conscience of Christendom.1 That aside, every community, nations included, is only responsible to its own people and their well-being, not to the general welfare of the whole earth. No authority could take on such a task, unless it were an authority that were drawn from the whole earth and had competence to address all its problems. And individual nations, in serving their own people, do also have the right to protect their borders.

3. Every person has the right to life, and accordingly the right to pursue the means of life. The deranged assertions of Donald Trump's page on immigration reform notwithstanding, the truth is that most of the people who come into this country on any kind of permanent basis are doing it to find work. Central and South America have never been as comfortable or prosperous as the United States or Canada (partly perhaps because of their longer history of colonialism). There are criminals who dart back and forth across the border, certainly, but the notion of Latinos creeping over the Rio Grande en masse for rapine and pillage is farcical, and the claim that the Mexican government has been ‘export[ing] the crime and poverty in their own country’ into the US, as if crime and poverty could be shipped north like bananas, is worthy of a bad stand-up comedy routine. The reason that long-term immigrants come north is to find work, resources, safety—in short, a future—that they can't get in their home countries. And historically, America has always been the place for that; most if not all of us are descended, at least partly, from downtrodden Europeans who decided that an unknown future across the Atlantic was better than starving for food and dignity alike at home.

4. Middle- and upper-class American life depends on the abundant and underpaid work of illegal immigrants. It was right and necessary to abolish slavery legally, and we did that a century and a half ago. What we have thus far failed to do is abolish the thing. People can caterwaul about illegal immigrants taking our jobs if they like, but most immigrants are taking jobs that Americans mostly don't want, or consider ourselves too good for; harvesting vegetables and fruit, for example. Like agricultural workers throughout American history—indentured servants in the first century of European settlement, slaves from Africa and the Caribbean in the eighteenth and nineteenth, and migrants legal and illegal since the Civil War—they are a disenfranchised population. They can't vote, becoming a citizen (or even a permanent resident) is stupidly hard, they're paid less than minimum wage2 to do their jobs, the work isn't reliable (varying by season and location), and if they stand up for themselves in any way, they risk being reported to INS3 and kicked out of the country; and all of this is just the ones who work in agriculture. But all of this isn't slavery because we don't call it that.

Don't believe me? Imagine that six, or seven, or eight out of every ten agricultural workers went on strike. That's how many are here without the documentation and interview processes for getting here legally, on account of those processes taking a couple of years and thousands of dollars that they don't have, and can be rejected over utterly Byzantine details. Try putting food on the table—try buying food—when there are only a quarter as many available in the grocery store of everything not Cheez Whiz (which, with a certain generosity of spirit, may be regarded as food).

5. The Scriptures are full of the injunction to love the alien within our gates and treat him as our equal. It may be said, reasonably enough, that this injunction was addressed specially to Israel as God's elect. However, if we propose either to regard America as a Christian nation or to let our politics be formed by our faith, it's an injunction we have to take to heart, because it lays out how God wanted an earthly society to work when it was based directly on His revelation. We cannot dismiss that and then proceed to claim Christian authority for any other political idea we espouse.

Does any of this mean that a believer must approve of breaking the law? Well, I think we have first to inquire whether the law is just and wise. If it is both, then no, we shouldn't approve of lawbreaking; if the law in question fails in either way, or both, pay no further attention to it. What is right ought to be the pattern of life for the Christian, and the pattern of law for the statesman; if, and to the extent that, laws interfere with what is right, it is the laws that are at fault, not rightness.

It's hardly a secret that I think our policies on immigration are both unjust and stupid. Biting the hands that feed us is neither good tactics nor good morals, and will eventually lead to judgment. But I certainly admit that a person of sense and good will, considering the facts, could come to a different conclusion about what the fairest, most practical solution is to the problem. What we must cure ourselves of, however, is the perennial temptation in politics to surrender to mere cynical pragmatism. Doing what's practical is good, if by practical we mean beneficial to the greatest number of people; all too often, we mean only beneficial to our own group's advantage. It would be better that America should be smashed to pieces than that, serving it, a man should damn himself.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

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1This is not to say that there is nothing to be said for Dante's view, especially if we add that his conception of Roman election was one of the supremacy of the Roman idea of the rule of law, not a nationalistic (still less a racial) notion. It might be pointed out that one of Dante's own arguments in the De Monarchia—namely, that God Himself chose to be born under the dominion of the Roman Empire, submitting His human nature to its authority, and even offering answers to Pilate as much as to the Sanhedrin while entirely ignoring Herod—may seem frivolous to a modern reader, but is curiously hard to get round when you start thinking about it.
2Minimum wage, remember, not necessarily being even a living wage itself.
3Immigration and Naturalization Services, whose primary occupation is of course to prevent naturalization by deporting immigrants.