I spoke at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church in Naperville, IL on Feb. 25, 2014 on the subject of difficult questions modern Catholics face. Topics included suffering, hell, marriage, contraception, abortion.
Right-click here to download an MP3 of the talk. (40:21 minutes)
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Sketches by Leonardo da Vinci of child in the womb, ca 1510-1512 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)
This past January 23, 2014, the New York Times ran an opinion from Notre Dame professor Gary Gutting. Claiming to base his argument on Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Gutting cites "reason" and argues that the Pope should announce a "revision of the absolute ban on abortion."
FALSE PREMISE FROM THE START
The opening sentence of Gutting's opinion reveals an inaccurate understanding of what the Church means by moral dogma. Gutting writes:
Pope Francis has raised expectations of a turn away from the dogmatic intransigence that has long cast a pall over the religious life of many Roman Catholics.A "dogma," is the Church's term for the highest degree of certitude of a revealed "truth" in the order of faith or morals. Dr. Ludwig Ott describes dogma in his classic Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (which is used in seminaries, as I understand):
By dogma in the strict sense is understood a truth immediately (formally) revealed by God which has been proposed by the Teaching Authority of the Church to be believed as such. (Ott, p. 4)A dogma is a divinely revealed "truth." Compare this to Gutting's opening line which speaks of the supposed "pall" cast by a Church with "dogmatic intransigence." To put this in context of what a dogma is, Gutting expresses displeasure that the Church refuses to budge on truth.
To put this in another perspective, imagine a college professor criticizing someone else for refusing to budge on the number 4 as the answer to 2+2. It is nonsensical. Neither Pope Francis nor the Church can change truth. Truth can't change.
Whether or not someone wants to recognize the Church's capacity to have passed on a revealed truth is not the point here. The Church believes it. It is thus silly for Gutting to ask the Church to declare what she believes to be an immutable truth untrue.
DISMISSAL OF POPE'S WORDS IN EVANGELII GAUDIUM
In founding his argument, Gutting quotes the bold portions of the below excerpt from Pope Francis:
Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”. ... Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 213-214)Even though Pope Francis said "the Church cannot be expected to change her position," Gutting proceeds to say:
I want to explore the possibility, however, that the pope might be open to significant revision of the absolute ban on abortion by asking what happens if we take seriously his claim that “reason alone is sufficient” to adjudicate this issue.He proceeds to offer what he claims is an argument for abortion based on "reason." But as we will see, his assertions are not reasonable.
GUTTING: THE UNBORN ARE ONLY "POTENTIALLY HUMAN"
After assuring his readers he is opposed to late-term abortions, Gutting then states, "an embryo or fetus is at least potentially human..." He also says killing someone includes taking away a human future and that the "same is true when you kill a potential human being." The problem with his argument from the onset is that there is no such thing as a "potential human being." This is Dr. Gutting's "dogma" and his reason for making the claim is irrational.
This is the logical fallacy of "confirming the consequent," the idea of running ahead with a claim when it's basis is flawed or absent. We'll see Gutting later posit arbitrary and unfounded criteria that supposedly demarcates the threshold between "potential" and "actual" human.
HOW GUTTING CLAIMS ABORTION CAN BE "MORAL"He commits the same fallacy of "confirming the consequent" again a few sentences later: "[T]he 'inviolable value of each human life' does not imply that no abortion can be moral." Actually, it does. If every human life is inviolable, then to deliberately kill any human life is a violation, i.e. immoral. To deny this is to deny some part of the premise that "every" life is inviolably "valuable."
So how does Gutting justify this claim that abortion could still sometimes be moral? He says:
It is hard to claim that a rape victim has a moral duty to bring to term a pregnancy forced on her by rape, even if we assume that there is a fully human person present from the moment of conception.¹There are at least a couple fallacies of argument at work in this sentence. One is the appeal to emotion. Since a rape victim is truly a victim who deserves love, whose situation abrades any sensible person's heart, we are led to believe that termination of her baby is made moral by her situation. Yet, this ignores the premise he granted, that "every human life is inviolable." He actually ignores that premise even though he granted it a moment earlier. The Church's reason for teaching the immorality of abortion is that it kills an innocent human being. Gutting could have made the same appeal to emotion to the innocent baby who neither is responsible for the rape, but he simply choses to forgo such thought in this essay.
The second fallacy of argument in his appeal to the situation of rape is something similar to the "fallacy of equivocation." In this fallacy, two different concepts are confused for one another. The emwombed person is a person regardless of the mode of conception, regardless if love or a cruel act of injustice were involved. The intrinsic value of a human being is not dependent on how he or she came into being. Following Gutting's logic, the equation goes as follows: Conception good = valuable person (with caveats described herein); Conception bad = valueless person. What is especially vexing here is that Gutting proceeds to say that a raped woman who gives birth still exhibits "heroic generosity." Why? If the emwombed entity is valueless enough to make abortion "moral" in this situation, as Gutting argues, what would be heroic about bringing forth something valueless? He can only make the statement if there is value in the enwombed person, otherwise bringing the child forth wouldn't be "generous."
GUTTING: BIOLOGICALLY HUMAN IS NOT ENOUGH
Once again commmitting the fallacy of "confirming the consequent," Gutting writes:
Other exceptions to the condemnation of abortion arise once we realize that an early-stage embryo may be biologically human but still lack the main features — consciousness, self-awareness, an interest in the future — that underlie most moral considerations. An organism may be human by purely biological criteria, but still merely potentially human in the full moral sense. ... there’s no reason to think that we are obliged to preserve the life of a potential human at the price of enormous suffering by actual humans.This paragraph is especially vexing. He is willing to admit that a biological analysis will demonstrate that a human life is present in the womb. I won't delve too long into the irony that the Church, which is often misconstrued as an enemy of science, is validated on this issue by science. A human being is in constant development from conception to death. To cite a point in the timeline as a change in "humanity" is to fail to recognize the fluid continuity of development from the nascent stage to the end. It's not just a toe growing and then suddenly the ingredients for the rest are added at some point. Humanity is inscribed from start to finish, as even science will show by genetic analysis. Throughout the decades, the effort among abortion supporters to identify a threshold of when true life begins has only proven to be a carousel of inconsistency from person to person, from state to state, and includes thresholds from the first trimester, up to, and including, post-birth. I don't want to say their incoherence is the deciding factor in the error, but is evidence of unreasoned subjectivity at work. And certainly none admit to the continuity of valued humanity, developing from conception.
But let's look at what Dr. Gutting has offered as criteria of human value.
Gutting says, "consciousness, self-awareness, [and] an interest in the future" are the factors in determining whether or not it's "moral" to abort that which is in the mother's womb. According to whom are these the benchmark factors of being a "fully moral human" (since he would concede that "biological" humanity is present)? He shows no cause for so-called "actual" humanity to be contingent on these attributes. Regardless, if we were to go forth with this reasoning, it would be okay to kill anyone unconscious. This is also a call to justify the murder of anyone with severe mental handicap. This logic actually undermines his entire claim to be against "late-term" abortion because such an infant might not have "an interest in the future."
If we were to go forth with his above concluding statement, more problems arise. He argues in favor of terminating so-called "potential humans" (a concept he fails to demonstrate even exists) on the grounds that another person will be spared "suffering." Imagine if terminating another person would be "moral" if you could be spared suffering. You can kill someone who calls you bad names. You could justify killing someone ahead of you in line for a promotion. You could kill someone who snores a lot. Etc... etc... After all, if one person's suffering trumps another person's right to life, an argument might be plausibly made to morally kill anyone.
GUTTING APPEALS TO SUPPOSED "HYPOCRISY"
A final argument Gutting advances goes as follows:
[N]ot even pro-life advocates consistently act on their belief that any embryo has full moral standing. As the philosopher Peter Smith has noted, they do not, for example, support major research efforts to prevent the miscarriages or spontaneous abortions (many so early that they aren’t ordinarily detected) that occur in about 30 percent of pregnancies. If 30 percent of infants died for unknown reasons, we would all see this as a medical crisis and spend billions on research to prevent these deaths. The fact that pro-life advocates do not support an all-out effort to prevent spontaneous abortions indicates that they themselves recognize a morally relevant difference between embryos and human beings with full moral standing.There are at least three problems with this line of thinking in order to justify abortion, which is Gutting's intent in this essay. First, the conclusion of this paragraph is nonsensical. No one is committing an act of murder when a miscarriage occurs. In the eyes of Catholic pro-lifers, the stakes of sin, heaven, and hell trump temporal difficulties. In Church theology, having a miscarriage isn't potentially going to be the reason someone goes to hell, whereas the sinful taking of another human life certainly could be. Christ died for sin because this world does not ultimately have the final word. So it would not be hypocritical for someone to focus on something that was fatal and sinful versus something fatal.
But second, many pro-lifers are advocates of all kinds of health and medical issues, organizers of women's health research, fundraisers, Catholic hospitals, and a plethora of similar causes and efforts. What standard or evidence is Gutting using to deny that there is not "major research effort" spent on such research? He offers none here.
And third, let's assume––hypothecially now––that Gutting were correct and pro-lifers were hypocrites. All that would prove is that pro-lifers were hypocrites. Whether or not there are hypocrite pro-lifers has no bearing whatsoever on whether fertilized eggs are human lives nor whether 2+2 is still 4. If his goal is to get to the truth of whether an enwombed entity is a human being, the hypocritical behavior of this or that person is completely immaterial.
POPE FRANCIS ADDRESSES NOTRE DAME
As if on cue, delegates from Notre Dame visited Pope Francis on January 30, just one week after Gutting's opinion published. Addressing them, Pope Francis stated:
This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. (Pope Francis, Address to Notre Dame delegation, January 30, 2014)Dr. Gutting will not receive a papal declaration that abortion is "moral." Because it isn't, and the Church is powerless to change truth. And Gutting did not, as he claims in his opinion, use "reason" to demonstrate otherwise.
Gutting did ask for prayers at the end of his essay, and I encourage anyone to oblige that request with sincerity.
¹No doubt, the situation of pregnancy and rape is difficult, as even Pope Francis articulated later in paragraph 214 of his exhortation. The Church would agree that such a woman is heroic largely for the very reason that she dignifies the intrinsic value and life of her child. Testimonials of women surviving rape with regard to life and abortions, as well as testimonials of those children born of this violation can be read at Silent No More, Live Action News, and other places. See those sites also for victim resources. Guttng also appeals later in this paragraph briefly to a 1971 philosophical argument attempting to analogize a woman impregnated by rape to kidnapping someone and attaching their kidneys to a dependent innocent. A review of the flaws in that analogy can be seen in a variety of places including at Human Life Review or Madison Catholic Herald.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
How to Talk to a Skeptic (2013) by Donald J. Johnson is an outstanding, tidy resource for any Christian looking to sharpen and/or develop sound evangelization skills. I give it 9.5 out of 10 stars.
This book is timely in an era of Christian history in which the ideas of God and Church and morality are regularly affronted in popular media, governments, and other channels. Johnson's 273-page book is a fast, articulate, and coherent plan for interacting with persons who express varying degrees of skepticism toward God and Christianity.
Each chapter is organized by different topics dealing with criticisms of Christianity such as the ideas of heaven and hell, relativism, Scripture, human experience, morality, and more. In each chapter, he presents both sides of the argument. What makes this book powerful, is that Johnson compares Christianity not as a religion versus those who are un-religious. Rather, he compares Christianity as a "worldview" and its capacity to make sense of reality versus competing worldviews. He makes the case that Christianity offers the single best worldview in light of reality.
Johnson's portrayal of the skeptic's view is consistently charitable, quoting at length various competing viewpoints. As president of Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries, he also hosts The Don Johnson Show on radio from which he quotes a number of skeptical callers and is able to present common viewpoints and patterns in skeptical thought.
He covers several arguments from pop atheists like Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens. Although these skeptics are known for specious or bombastic approaches toward religion, you will not find any reverse-halo bias in Johnson's book. Where these atheists raise valid concerns, Johnson acknowledges their point.
One aspect that especially makes How to Talk to a Skeptic valuable is that it sticks to a fundamental principle in analyzing reality. Johnson examines ideas in terms of right/wrong, true/false. At one point, he even cites one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes, one I have quoted more than once on this blog, when pertaining to human thought. In Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, a veteran devil trains an apprentice devil on how to get a human subject to deceive himself. The veteran devil speaks of getting subjects to avoid thinking in terms of "'true' and 'false'" and that "Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church." In sticking to the right/wrong, true/false principal, Johnson is able to make numerous, unshakable points and avoid fallacies of argument. This is the case both when he defends the Christian position and when he prompts the skeptic to analyze his own.
The book is also fraught with footnotes and resources for further information useful to the cause of a Christian seeking to defend and present the value of the faith to others. Although this book does not focus on Catholicism specifically, Johnson quotes regularly from Catholic sources, and the book itself is extremely useful for Catholics and all Christians.
Any skeptic should, at the very least, when faced with the presentation in this book, recognize that Christianity is not some "blind" faith in the absence of evidence. Rather, at one point, Johnson even notes, "Christianity welcomes an examination of the evidence. Indeed, it relies on it!"
Monday, December 23, 2013
The Marriage Feast at Cana by Juan de Flandes, 1500 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)
1. CAUSES MORAL HARM
All other harms of extra-marital sex should be supplementary to the moral harm done. The moral detriment to the individual can never be altered by any future technology or medicine. To recognize the moral quality of the sexual act, one not even need to be overtly religious, although, certainly Jesus Christ spoke to the proper order of marriage between the "male and female" and as it was "in the beginning" (i.e. Adam and Eve). (Matt. 19:4,8)1
But as was discussed in a prior post, What did the Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, the very nature of the human body supports the idea that one man and woman belong together in the sexual order. One example is that a female egg naturally closes itself to receiving sperm from more than one father.
This is further fortified when we recognize the body's release of certain chemicals, which will be further addressed below, that tend toward attachment or even "addiction" to the recipient of a person's sexual attention. In other words, the body itself wants to move toward monogamous permanence when engaged in sexual activity.
These kinds of things are what belong to the natural law. For example, if someone came up to you and punched you for no reason, you would would rightly cry foul, that it was a violation of some kind to be struck unjustly. If you were at a restaurant and laid your wallet on the table for a moment and someone snatched it, you would rightly cry foul, as they took something that belonged to you. These examples speak to the sensibilities we have that human beings possess certain dignity and that it is morally wrong to violate that dignity.
In the same way, the various signposts of sexual activity toward committed, one-man, one-woman relationships communicate proper use of our human gifts, including our sexual faculties. Outside that committed relationship, persons engaged in sexual activity violate their own humanity and that of anyone else involved in the activity, whether or not they "feel" violated at that moment.
As I said, one needn't even be "religious" to draw such conclusions. But, certainly, if Jesus Christ is truly God, rose from the dead as witnesses attest, and taught his disciples about eternity for those living in accord with his teaching and damnation for those opposed, then the issue of proper sexuality is paramount.
2. COMPROMISES JUDGMENT
As stated above and in a prior post, during sexual activity, various chemicals are released by the body, such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins, which cause attachment to the recipient of sexual attention.
A clear example of this, even in secular studies, is seen when examining pornographic addictions. When someone is looking at pornography, the chemical releases present tend toward attaching that person to physical imagery. This is one of the great harms of porn addiction, that it compromises a person's ability to see the beauty in a real person beyond the surface.
In a similar way, when these chemicals are released in the body outside of a committed relationship, the involved persons will tend toward that other person due to the physical bond they have exchanged. However, when those individuals move toward a decision for or against marriage with their partner, they may well make a decision induced more by chemicals rather than an objective analysis of their compatibility. This is not to say no couple that engaged in pre-marital sex could have a lasting, monogamous, or happy marriage. The point is rather to say how that potential is compromised by pre-marital sex.
The data supporting this is plenty. For example:
Dissolution rates are substantially higher among those who initiate sexual activity before marriage...and who cohabitated before marriage.2
[M]arriages formed after cohabitation are rated as less stable and result in more divorces than marriages not preceded by living together. Cohabitation thus "does not seem to serve very well the function of a trial marriage... (Popenoe, 1993)."3
After marriage it was about 3.3 times more likely that a woman who had cohabited would have a secondary sex partner. ... If a woman has a previous history of multiple sex partners, the likelihood of her having a secondary sex partner during her current relationship greatly increases. This is particularly true for married women.4Study results also indicate that out of divorced women, 81.8% had engaged in pre-marital sex as opposed to 17.8% who remained abstinent and did not cohabitate.5 Studies also indicate that once the number of sexual partners a person has exceeds one, so does the risk for marital failure.6 Divorces can be a detriment not only to the couple, but to any children who may suffer the consequences of the dissolution.
You can see the pattern here that the virgin bride and groom have the statistically and significantly superior advantage for a successful marriage. Reason alone communicates that this is so because the virgin bride and groom have not developed those physical attachments to another person that could otherwise cloud their appraisal of a lasting mate. To boot, there are numerous testimonials and studies indicating that sexual activity is more fulfilling when exercised in marriage alone.
3. PREVENTS DISEASE
It does not take a great intellectual leap to realize that sexually transmitted diseases (or infections; i.e. STIs) are significantly reduced in persons who are abstinent. They are likewise reduced in a permanently monogamous relationship, i.e. marriage. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, "The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your overall exposure risks."
Secular culture responds to this with the promotion of various contraceptives. However, this "solution" does not only not always solve the STI problem, but can perpetuate and even foster the other chemical and moral problems described. Contraceptives also instill a mentality toward the sexual partner that tend to objectify that person. A man who is closed to conception with a woman and contracepts with her will view her differently than if he had to consider her as a mother and a partner with whom to raise a child. One tends toward objectification, the other considers her more completely. (For resources on contraceptive information and on child regulation in accord with Catholic teaching, see some of the resources below.)
4. HARMS SOCIETY
In reviewing all of the above detriments of pre-marital sexual activity, we can see how this would harm society at large. Working our way back up the list, if extra-marital sexual activity contributes to the spread of STIs, persons facilitating or engaging in that behavior are contributing to that spread. And a variety of STIs are currently on the rise despite all the medical remedies and solutions which foster promiscuity.
As well, if greater pre-marital sexual activity clouds one's judgment toward identifying a marriage partner, then those persons have in some way contributed to the normalization of that behavior, and hence, the resulting marriage failures and STIs.
And finally, the moral decay resulting in the spread of pre-marital sexual behavior, supported by the emotional and physical data, literally de-humanizes us. That is one reason why proponents of abstinence before marriage invite everyone to embrace the beauty of reserving the sexual faculties for the marriage bed. The more individuals who embrace sexuality exclusive to marriage grows the pool of available mates with that disposition, and in turn, will result in more solid marriages. Such a movement could also help current practitioners of abstinence, who have the call and self-giving disposition to serve a spouse, in finding a suitable mate they may otherwise have difficulty finding.
Those who may not have practiced abstinence outside of marriage should not be discouraged by the data. It's never too late to practice a moral virtue. Such persons could be considered particular kinds of heroes of society, along side those who already practice abstinence, by embracing a virtue against what the pressures of a sexually addicted society might impose. See also the previous post, On Reconciliation: Can virginity be restored?
Even if such a person has already married, it is never to late to encourage others to practice proper use of the sexual faculties, teaching their children or others. Plus, simply learning about humanity can help married couples "see" each other for the unique beauty instilled in each other, and the unique value and societal pillar extant in the stable foundation of a family.
Effects of Cohabitation Research Summary
Premarital sex and greater risk of divorce
What does the Church teach about Birth Control?
The Harms of Contraception
What a Woman Should Know about Contraceptives
Edit 12/25/13 to add: Catholic.com forums discussion of good NFP resources
1Some writers and commentators like to talk about a confusing message in the Bible, going so far as to say the Bible endorses polygamy or divorce. Yet there is are no such passages making such moral definitions. Typically, those who claim the Bible supports polygamy will point to examples of characters in Scripture practicing it and interpret that as a moral endorsement, which does not automatically follow. This is especially so when one realizes that the events and figures of the Old Testament are often an inferior form to that which is to come in the New Testament. This is basic Christian typology. Something in the OT reflecting the natural law, like thou shall not kill, remains in the moral order. The behavior of any individual may or may not be proper.
2(Heaton, Tim B., Factors Contributing to Increasing Marital Stability in the United States, Brigham Young University, 2002)
3 (Smith, Tom W. American Sexual Behavior: Trends, Socio-Demographic Differences, and Risk Behavior. National Opinion Research Center University of Chicago. March 2006)
4(Forste, Renata and Tanfer, Koray. Sexual Exclusivity Among Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Women. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 1. (Feb. 1996) p. 43, 46)
5Teachman, Jay. Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, And the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women. Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (May 2003): 444–455
6The National Survey of Family Growth. 1995. Cited at The Wintery Knight.