A Small Church? John 6 and Archbishop Chaput.

Recently, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently gave a stirring and magnificent talk on the state of Catholicism in America, the assimilation of Catholics into modern American commercial culture, and the subsequent “silent apostasy” of many American Catholics who have become too comfortable in the world to change it (1).  He urged that fear of losing members (for the Church is neither a club nor a business) should never make the Church afraid to proclaim the gospel and that if consequence of this is a smaller, lighter, more faithful Church, then so be it.


Chaput referenced 13th century image of Mary punching the devil in the face.  So much for dialogue.  image from: google.com

To this reasonable suggestion, some have responded with horror and over-wrought hand-wringing.  Michael Sean Winters of the National catholic Reporter (2). He accused Chaput of Phariseeism, of not caring about losing members, and of denying his own need for God’s mercy (though how would MSW know that?) among other things.  Yet, in his criticism of the Archbishop, Winters shows seems to have forgotten about the example of Jesus Himself in the Bread of Life discourse.

For a brief moment early in his ministry, Jesus was overwhelmingly popular.  He had just fed 5000 men, as well as women and children, with miraculous bread and the crowds began to wonder if they had found a king who would keep their bellies full and their backs free of the dreaded imperial eagle of Rome.  And so they came by the crowds to hear this hoped for bread-king.  In the Bread of Life discourse (John 22:6-59), Jesus declared Himself the “bread come down from heaven” and that man could not have life within him unless he ate of the flesh and drank of the blood of the Son of Man.  Many of his hearers, however, drew back from these shocking words.  Jesus doubled down: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you shall not have life within you.  Even many of his disciples murmured, hesitated- Jesus doubled down again, The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life, but some of you believe not.

And that was too much.  A Messiah who gave bread- all well and good; As Fulton Sheen has commented, Caesar gave bread.  A Messiah who gave Himself?  Never.  From that day Jesus lost the crowds and even many of his disciples; scripture says, “After this, many of his disciples went back and followed him no more (Emphasis mine).”  He was a bread-king, but not the kind of bread-king for which the crowds had hoped!  And so they left.  Multiple times, the crowds and his disciples asked for clarification, giving Our Lord a chance to back off, to change His words, and multiple times, He refused to do so, knowing it would cost Him most of his followers.  He was left with only a few and, not fearing to lose them either, merely turned and asked “do you want to leave to?”  They did not, and left with only a dozen and perhaps no more, Jesus proceeded to transform the world.

Perhaps it was with that passage in mind that Archbishop Chaput said: “Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.”  Chaput never said, (as Winters dishonestly claims) that he does not care about those lost, but that we do need to speak the truth, clearly, honestly, and without fear of the consequences, even if it means many who call themselves disciples went back and followed Him no more.  To say this is not Phariseeism, unless Christ was a Pharisee.  But it is faithfulness, which is required regardless of the cost.

Modern Superstition and Trusting the Rich

Donald Trump’s candidacy has been instructive for a number of reasons, albeit regrettable for many others.  It has shown how a loud and colorful personality, promising to make Germany  America great again can quickly gain the allegiance and more, faith, of desperate crowds who will ignore any charge against him because of the faith they have placed in him.  There are books to be written on this subject, but only one small but instructive point concerns us here: the growing faith in the rich.

One of Donald Trump’s key arguments on the campaign trail is that people should trust him because he is rich.  Because he is rich, he cannot be bought and hence is more trustworthy.  Leaving aside the question of whether a person who buys influence, favors, and people is more trustworthy than a person who sells them, what is so interesting here is that we are being asked to trust the rich because they are rich.  Money (supposedly) makes a person trustworthy.  Poverty makes him unreliable.  Money equals virtue and poverty, vice.  This is not a new idea.  G.K. Chesterton wrote about it 100 years ago: “You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed” (Orthodoxy, chapter 7). It was as ridiculous then as it is now, but what is so interesting is how the idea is suddenly seen as widely convincing today just when the influence of Christianity seems to be fading- and there is more than coincidence in this.

Why should nations with proud democratic traditions and governments and nations (America at least) founded on the notion that all men are created equal suddenly appear so ripe for aristocracy?   Why should they suddenly be so ready to submit themselves to rule by the rich believing that only the rich can be trusted to rule?  In the last hours of its decay, the Roman republic did the same thing, as mobs threw power to a patrician strongman railing against corruption and promising to look out for them, but why should American be prepared to do the same?  What makes a nation with America’s history and democracy be suddenly willing to adopt and adopt loudly the position that the poor cannot be trusted, that we must throw ourselves on the rule of the rich?

For G.K Chesterton (and me), it was the decline of Christianity.  For only Christianity provided any consistent bulwark against this superstitious faith in the rich.

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man….if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy (Ibid).

Some of the rich may be trustworthy and some may not, just as some of the poor may be trustworthy and others not, but no man is more trustworthy because he is rich or less so because he is not.  This is a pagan superstition and hence a modern one, but according to Christianity, greater danger lies in riches than in poverty.  As Chesterton remarked:

There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor  (ibid).

But this is why modern America can believe the myth that Trump’s wealth makes him reliable.  Because belief in Christianity is on the decline, such superstitions are on the rise; it can hardly be otherwise.  Man needs a savior and if he cannot have a divine one, then he must have a human one.  Whether such a savior can save anything, bring hope and change, or make America great again, is another, more doubtful question.

  1. Note: I find that Mark Shea already beat me to this passage in Chesterton and its applicationhere: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2015/07/the-prophet-chesterton-on-donald-trump.html

The Real Me and Transgenderism

The Obama administration has recently attempted to coerce schools into allowing biological boys and girls to use restrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex if they believe themselves to be transgender.  The coercion is so sudden and taken without public comment or study that one imagines there must be overwhelming evidence that transgenderism is the next frontier in the civil rights struggle and that people believing themselves to be transgendered must be a group comparable to African Americans in the era of Jim Crow, unable to use bathrooms with everybody else.  But there is not such evidence.  Indeed, the lack of evidence has led Johns Hopkins to stop offering gender reassignment surgery (1). For their are a host of questions raised by the claim that some people are transgender.

At heart, a person who believes they are transgender believes that they are a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body.  The body and the mind appear to be in conflict; the biological fact is that a person’s body (to take an example) is male, but the person’s mind believes that he is really female.  If the body and the mind are at cross purposes in this way, then one of the two is in error, but how to decide which?  Transgender advocates, and the present administration, seem to have assumed that the mind must be correct and the body wrong, but why?  Why should we assume that the mind is sound and the body wrong?  Why should it not be the other way around.  Why should we not come to the opposite conclusion: that in a biological male who believes he is female, it is actually is mind that has gone wrong.  If a man believed that he was a wolf trapped in a man’s body, presumably, the assumption would be that his mind is disordered, not that he should be fed particularly raw steaks.  If a man believes that he is a woman, why should the assumption be that the body must be changed; why not consider it a mental disorder in need of correction?

More still, it is unclear what it means to be a man trapped in a woman’s body.  It seems to imply that the body is not part of the person.  The real me is not my body and is actually entirely independent of my body; the body is just something that I, the real I happen to have, an accessory.  Hence, if the real me is a female who just happens to have a male body, then I can dismiss it and get a new accessory.  But then who is this real me?  What is this real me inside my body that is totally independent of my body?  My soul?  No Christian could believe that since Christianity requires the belief that man is a unified whole, I am neither my body nor my soul, but both.  The soul is the form of my body and the two form a united whole.  But then transgender advocates do not base their claims on Christianity anyway, so the real me must be mean something else.  Could it mean the soul in some other sense?  Maybe, but transgender advocates never say this; given their tendency to be secular, this is probably an argument that many would shy away from.  And even if this were the position of some, ie, a biological male believes that he is a female soul trapped in a man’s body, this raised a host of questions and problems: how did the female soul get there?  What is the relation between the female soul and the body?  This also turns the body into the accessory or property of the soul, which is the real me.  Hence, rape would become a mere property crime (an offence against my property, the body I happen to inhabit) and the government could extra a kidney in taxation (because it can tax my property and my body is my property).

Neither of these options are likely palatable to the transgender advocate anyway, so what else might such a person claim?  That the real him is his brain?  Ie, that he is a female brain trapped in a male’s body?  None have said so explicitly, for this is no better than the other options.  First, the brain is part of the body, so this appears plainly contradictory to say that one has a male body but a female brain.  Second, given the role of the brain is shaping the body by directing the body’s growth, release of hormones, it is not scientifically plausible that a female brain could be trapped in a male body.  Third, this view has the same drawbacks (as Alexander Pruss has pointed out on another subject), as the view that I am my soul.  If I am my brain and just possess the rest of my body, rape is still a property crime, the government could confiscate a kidney via its power to tax, and my wife has never kissed me (only my body, which is not me, only the property of me).

There is no account of how one can be a man trapped in a woman’s body that makes sense either scientifically or rationally.  There is, however, a very simple account of how a mental disorder could cause a person to believe he is a woman if he is really a man.  And to this disorder, we should respond, not by changing the body, but by treating the mind.

(1). http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/06/15145/ and


(2). A fair question is that in spite of no plausible account of transgendering and no evidence in support of the claim that one can really be a woman trapped in a man’s body, why is it so strongly defended?  The answer is probably an implied connection to homosexuality.  If it can be a mental disorder for a man to believe that he is a woman, then this is not very far from the claim that it is a disorder for a man to be sexually attracted to other men.  But this is a subject for another post.

Breeding Like Rabbits? Procreation in the Medieval and Modern View

In the early Sixteenth Century, Henry VIII of England was a man with a very old and very normal problem: he wanted to change his woman. In the view of marriage common to the European nobility, the purpose of wives was to produce heirs and useful political alliances– not much better than the crude language of one of Thomas Kyd’s characters, “wives are made but to bed and feed.” Unfortunately, Henry’s first wife, who was really his only wife, had proved unable to produce any heirs. Since she had failed to serve her purpose, Henry tried to dismiss her and find a wife who could give him the heir he wanted. For him and his aristocratic brethren, this was the purpose of marriage: the production of children (and useful alliances). Since this was the overriding purpose of marriage, if a marriage failed to produce children, they tried to take this as sufficient reason to end the marriage.

The medieval Church, which supposedly thought the sole purpose of marriage was children might have been expected to agree with Henry and countless other similar nobles who also sought divorces for dynastic reasons. Yet, strangely, they did not, even when it was clearly in their political interest to do so. Hence, Pope Innocent III refused a divorce to King Phillip Augustus (II) of France, even thought Phillip was easily the most powerful monarch in early thirteenth-century Europe and Innocent was desperate for his support. As Henry VIII was refused his divorce, so was Phillip refused his.

This is of more than historical interest. It is often charged against the Catholic Church today that it considers the sole point of marriage to be children, hence contraception is forbidden and the Church expects people to, as the crude saying goes, “breed like rabbits.” While the modern world has moved on, the Church stays behind, convinced that the main purpose of marriage is to have as many children as possible.

Yet if this is so, it is strange that it be so. Strange that the same Church that is said to be obsessed with procreation still forbids divorce even if no children are possible. And it is strange too that the same Church forbids artificial reproductive technologies (though not natural ones), which are designed to increase the likelihood that a marriage produce children. Why should this be so, if it regards children as the sole point? Why should the medieval Church have forbidden childless couples to divorce if children were the key point of marriage?

There are two answers of course. The first is that it was never the Church that was obsessed with children, but the secular world. Pope Clement VII was not obsessed with children, but Henry VIII was: so obsessed, in fact, that he started his own church, declaring himself “supreme head of the Church in England” in order to give himself a divorce in an attempt to have the heirs he sought.

The second reason is this: the Church does not regard children as the main purpose of marriage. Rather, in the Middle Ages, as now, it saw the main purpose of marriage as the holiness of the spouses. Marriage was a sacrament, a physical sign of spiritual realities and channel of divine grace. In particular, marriage was as sign of the union between God, Jesus Christ, and His Church. Hence, while the purpose of marriage was not children, marriage was to be open to children; if either spouse was infertile, this was unfortunate, but it did not justify ending the marriage since its primary purpose, the sanctification of the spouses, remained. Hence, while a Catholic marriage will welcome children and not act actively against them, it will not be obsessed with them and may have many or few as circumstances allow.

The secular world, however, is obsessed with children either getting them (as was Henry VIII) through artificial means, or avoiding them through artificial means (whether contraception or abortion). This obsession reflects not a great love of children, but a great love of self, since the children become either tools of adult gratification or else obstacles to it. Where marriage can reflect no higher spiritual realities, people become their own gods and their own centers. If marriage cannot have a higher purpose, it must have a lower one. Fulton Sheen said that if love burns not upward in ascent, then it burns downward to destroy. The destruction falls on all society, the consequences evident in the world today.

Rhetoric, Reason, and Truth

In ancient Greece, a group of philosophers, the sophists, made a name for themselves for their skill in debate. The took the position, a position shared by so many in the modern world, that no objective truth existed. Instead, truth was merely subjective. Because truth was subjective, debate did not have the purpose of finding truth, but of simply convincing others to adopt one’s views without regard to whether or not those views were true. Hence, the sophists would teach others to debate both sides of an issue with equal effectiveness since neither side was more (or less) true than the other. In their world, one without truth, the side of an issue one adopted would be based on the slick arguments used, the appeals to emotion, persuasiveness of the case to a particular person etc. But one never chose a side of an issue or course of action because it was true- it was not.

Against the sophists, rose the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who created rules of logic, including the syllogism, as well as a list of fallacies that invalidated an argument. Hence, a claim that “you only think that because you are a man,” or “you only think that because you were raised to think it,” would be rejected as fallacious irrelevancies to the question of whether or not a claim was true. In this view, logic and reason, not rhetoric or slick talk would determine the truth value of a particular claim.

Yet, in the ancient world, Aristotle (as well as his teacher Plato) formed a distinct minority. It awaited the Middle Ages for his views to be spread to society at large. In one of those strange accidents or twists that makes history so interesting, the twelfth century rediscovered Aristotle’s works in the universities that were just beginning to form and spread throughout Europe. Harmonized with Christianity by Thomas Aquinas, logic became the language of the universities that formed the basis of the modern university system. While Aristotle had invented it, it took until the Christian Middle Ages for Aristotle to really catch on as “The Philosopher,” “the master of them that know” in the words of Dante.

Maybe such reason and logic could never really have flourished in a pagan world. Maybe the reason it took until the Christian Middle Ages to really take over lay in that Christianity offered a basis for the logical explanation of the world that pagan antiquity never really could. In the Christian conception, the universe was the product of a divine mind, a greatest conceivable being (in the language of Anselm). Hence the universe was an orderly place reflecting the order, reason, and love that had made it. Consequently, the universe could be explored rationally. No one in the ancient world thought Zeus or any other god particularly rational—at any rate, the ancient gods were creatures and not creators, anyway. More commonly, the universe was simply regarded as the product of chance, appearing for no reason, according to no plan. Hence it was not especially likely to be a rational place; far more likely were it to be non-rational and random. Logic and reason simply had more basis to flourish in a Christian society—and so they did.

Possibly this is why logic and reason are on the decline in the modern world. As the world grows increasingly pagan, the world appears as a cosmic accident, a chance event. Why then, should it be a rational place? Why should reason be able to tell us anything about it? Instead of reason and logic, debates in the public sphere often seem to be a matter of emotion, of slick and clever sound bites. The sophists have returned and they have all the force of the modern media, newscasters, social media, and twitter behind them. One might hope the universities, with their medieval basis, would be an exception, but as they secularize, they too are less places of rational and free inquiry and more places where students are taught a particular viewpoint (the pagan one). Arguing now means insults and personal attacks rather than the cool analysis of a particular issue. This has been particularly evident perhaps in recent debates over same-sex marriage. Opponents of it are not reasoned with; they are merely insulted, called names, and dismissed with no more than a few cheap cliches. In an increasingly secular world, perhaps this is unsurprising, but it is still nonetheless regrettable.

Trans-gendering and What Makes a Human

Recently a former Olympian athlete and c-level pseudo-reality star has announced his attempt to turn himself from a man into a woman through the use of plastic surgery, copious amounts of make-up, and photo-shop. Lauded for his courage by both ESPN and the White House (who seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word), the result has been a showering of attention and adulation by most of society in general and the media in particular. Reasons to oppose the attempted transition, such as those given by John Hopkins Psychiatrist Dr. Paul McHugh, are easily ignored by simply dismissing the author as an old white guy.


Nonetheless, lost in the excitement of a man trying to turn himself into a woman has been real discussion of what it means to be a man or a woman, and how personal identity is determined. And this is largely a question of world-view. A human being is either a body and a soul, a body alone, or a soul alone. As far as I can tell, these account for all the possibilities. Which of these is true will determine how one should view trans-gendering.

The Platonist Option

For the ancient philosopher Plato, man was essentially a soul. This view was popular in the late antique world and held as well by Descartes in the Early-Modern. While, in this material world, man appeared as body and soul, the body was merely the prison of the soul, a deadly weight on the soul from which the soul hoped to escape. For Plato, the whole material world was simply a lesser copy of the more real, better, and higher world of forms and the soul hoped to escape from its prison to that world. Hence, in this world-view the real essence of the person was the soul. The body was unnecessary and, indeed, undesirable.

The Medieval Option

This may also be called the Aristotelian or the Thomistic option (from the Catholic Philosopher Thomas Aquinas). In the Medieval option, popular after the revival of Aristotle, the student of Plato, man was made up of body and soul, but this union made the complete man. Aristotle broke with his teacher; for him the body was not the mere prison of the soul or real man. Rather, the body and the soul together made the man. A corpse was not a man- that was a body without a soul; but so too a ghost is not a complete man- that would be a soul without a body. For the medievals, the soul was the form, or blueprint, of the body. The soul gave the body the form it took and the union of the two, soul and body, made for the complete person.

The Materialist Option

Also a very old option, though some historically informed moderns think this a new one, the materialist option holds that the soul does not exist and that man is simply matter. It was the position, the best I can tell, of Lucretius and the Epicureans, as well as many moderns. This holds that only the material world exists and hence man is only matter, a body with no sort of soul at all.

World-view and trans-gendering

A logically coherent account of trans-gendering is obviously impossible on the medieval view of man. The trans-gendering person is essentially claiming that he is a man trapped in a woman’s body. That regardless of what his body is, the real him, the inner him is a woman. On the medieval view of man, this is simply impossible. The soul is the form of the body and so a conflict between body and soul is impossible.

What about the materialist option, so popular today? On this view man is only a body. But if man is only matter, then this seems to make the concept of trans-gendering implausible. If man is only a body, if he is his body, then he can hardly have a real self inside. There is no inside or outside, there is only his body, which he is. For a materialist to claim that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body thus seems logically incoherent. (2)

This leaves only the Platonist view where man is a soul trapped in the prison of the body. Man is his soul and the body simply a sort of instrument that man uses. Here, a man could claim that the real him, the inner him, is actually a woman and is trapped in a male body. Hence, this view seems to the only one on which trans-gendering has the potential to succeed (3). It would require that a person accept that souls are gendered (hence a female soul trapped in a male body).  The view of souls as gendered would probably not be a problem for a Christian, but might be difficult for a modern person who typically holds gender to be a social construct. It would also require the trans-gendering advocate to explain how a female soul came to be trapped in a male body in the first place (4).

Unfortunately for the trans-gendering advocate, the Platonist view has gone well out of fashion in the modern world. This is largely because of increasing influence of materialism, but Platonic style dualism faces formidable philosophical obstacles of its own. If a person is only a soul using a body (the soul is the real him), then as Pruss points out, the government, which has the right to tax my property, could take a kidney by the power of taxation. A man has never kissed his wife (only her body, which is not the real her), and rape becomes a mere property crime (5).

Ultimately then, it seems there is really no world-view that allows for a logically coherent account of trans-gendering. The most promising possibility is platonic dualism, but that seems to face over-riding obstacles; why trans-gendering remains so popular anyway is a separate question for another time.

(1) http://cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/johns-hopkins-psychiatrist-transgender-mental-disorder-sex-change

(2) The only alternative for the trans-gendering materialist that I can think of is to claim that is a female brain trapped in a male body, but this doesn’t seem to work either. First, it seems to suppose a strong distinction between brain and body that isn’t possible on the materialist view. The brain is simply part of the body. Indeed, according the a standard view, the brain is the central operating system/computer of the body; given this, it is not easy to see how there could be the huge gap between brain and body required by trans-gendering proponents. Furthermore, if the brain acts on the body, and Bruce Jenner has a female brain, then his brain should be affecting the body, ie, we should see some outward signs like estrogen imbalance or other. My thanks to Erick Chastain for pointing this out to me.

(3) http://direct.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=3225

Much of the idea for these remarks came from Fr. Robert Baron, here, who pointed out the Gnostic implications of the standard trans-gender advocate.

(4) Which could only lead to further absurdities like the idea of divine error or pre-existence of souls floating around and erroneously entering the wrong body.

(5) Some of these given by Pruss here: http://uffl.org/vol12/pruss12.pdf

Losing Battles and Jack the Giant Killer

Not long ago,  I read another writer mocked for fighting what he was told was a losing battle.  The question concerned same-sex marriage, whether or not society, through coercive government power, ought to redefine marriage to include romantic relationships by members of the same sex. But, overall, it is not the specific question of same-sex marriage that concerns us, but the principle.  The writer opposed the redefinition, was told that society had already decided, that he was fighting a losing battle, and that he may as well give up.  This idea is sometimes expressed too in the claim that one shouldn’t be on the “wrong side of history.”  In brief, get on the bus or get crushed beneath it.

As a moral principle or motivation of human action, this is logically absurd- a simple case of bandwagoning at its ugliest.  Everyone else is doing this, supporting this, or thinking this way and, for that reason and that reason alone, we ought to as well.  It is simply a textbook case of the ad populum fallacy, that is, determining which side is right simply by appeal to the majority.  The question, however, is never if a man is on the winning or losing side, but if he is on the right or wrong one.

The “avoid the losing side,” principle, though, is even worse.  Not only logically fallacious, the principle represents sheer moral cowardice.   A man doesn’t fight because he is on the winning side, but because he is on the right side; and he fights to find out if the right side will be the winning side.  To fight on a side simply because it is stronger or winning is like a child on the schoolyard following a bully as a lackey just so he will win and be safe.  This is distasteful in a child, but contemptible in an adult.

One thinks of G.K. Chesterton’s remarks on Jack the Giant Killer (1).  The old fairy tales keep a truth forgotten by the modern world.  The giant probably considered himself on the right side of history; his was the direction history was moving in because he had power to make it so.  Certainly he would have laughed at any suggestion that he was not on the winning side.  And he probably saw Jack as a very small and backward person who was himself on the wrong side of history, which is to say, on the wrong side of the giant.  But, as Chesterton says, Jack didn’t care whether the giant was very large,  only whether or not he was very right or very wrong.  Modern nonsense stories sometimes praise a man for his courage in being on the right side of some progressive movement or other; but that is absurd.  What courage is possible if a man is simply on the side that history is moving in anyway?  What courage is there is being on the side of the giant?  But Jack was not on the winning side or the strong side.  He was on the weak side.  And so he was on the brave side.  Figuring out which side is going to be the winning side and then joining it, that is, being on the right side of history or avoiding a losing battle requires no courage at all.  As Chesterton remarked:

The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in time of doubt, to be strong… To be in the weakest camp is to be in the strongest school. Nor can I imagine anything that would do humanity more good than the advent of a race of Supermen, for them to fight like dragons. If the Superman is better than we, of course we need not fight him; but in that case, why not call him the Saint? But if he is merely stronger (whether physically, mentally, or morally stronger, I do not care a farthing), then he ought to have to reckon with us at least for all the strength we have. It we are weaker than he, that is no reason why we should be weaker than ourselves. If we are not tall enough to touch the giant’s knees, that is no reason why we should become shorter by falling on our own (1).

More historically, another boy once fought another giant.  And like Jack, that boy cared nothing for whether he was fighting a losing battle or if he was on the right side of history.  The giant laughed at him, ridiculed him, despised him, and held him in contempt.  But with only a slingshot and a small, round stone, the boy felled the giant and cut off his head (1 Samuel 17).  The losing battle turned into victory unforeseen, unless perhaps by a few who might have known their fairy tales.  It might be the same today.  Same-sex marriage might be supported by all the force of powerful lobbies, coercive government power, and the might of the modern media, but such a giant could hardly matter to Jack.

Finally, there is a special reason that a Christian need never be afraid of a losing battle.  Because according to their chief story, a certain peasant carpenter once also fought a losing battle against a corrupt and powerful empire.  He fought too against corrupt religious authorities whose task it was to defy the world, but had accommodated themselves to it.  As Fulton Sheen has remarked, his battle was fought not with five stones, but with 5 wounds, and when hung from a tree by his enemies, his losing battle seemed lost.  History was on the side of the powerful, the strong, the might and imperial eagle of Rome.  But his was another victory unforeseen, as His losing battle was won, crucifixion ending in Resurrection.  And centuries later, when the world’s greatest empire fell to the Germanic barbarians, His Church outlived the empire, as it has outlived kings and empires ever since.  Losing battles can be still worth fighting, Giants still need to be slain, and there is still a place in the modern world for Jack.

(1) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/470/470-h/470-h.htm#chap05

Heretics, Chapter 5.

New Job Ad: New San Francisco Archbishop Wanted

Recently, 100 wealthy, “prominent,” “catholics” in San Francisco took out an expensive ad in a local paper to write an open letter to Pope Francis. They protested against their current bishop’s attempt to keep Catholic schools Catholic by ensuring that faculty not contradict Church teaching. These very important “catholics” asked the Pope to remove Archbishop Cordileone and to send them a new bishop who was more in keeping with their values. As a helpful move for them, I have drawn up the following job ad that they can use to find a new archbishop “in keeping with [their values].”

Wanted: The catholic, pseudo-catholic, non-catholic, secular, and free-thought community of San Francisco seeks a dynamic individual who can fill the soon to be vacant office of Archbishop of San Francisco. Expecting the current faithful bishop to be removed any day by Pope Francis, we seek a candidate who can begin employment almost immediately. At San Francisco, the new archbishop will find a community that is welcoming, open-minded, diverse, and tolerant of everyone who agrees with its positions.

Position Duties and Responsibility: The new bishop will be required to lead San Francisco into the twenty-first century. He will best be able to do this by strictly following the advice of the hiring committee of 100 prominent “catholics.” He will consult with them and other progressive elements within and without the Church on all important decisions, deferring to their judgment like a good shepherd ought. He should not be too rigid on Church doctrine, instead being merciful and evincing a willingness to bend with the times, tailoring Catholic teachings to the desires and wishes of those he will be leading from behind. He will not attempt to teach faithful Catholic teaching on any matters of doctrine or morality and especially on matters of sexual morality. He shall never preach Christ as God, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins.  He should never mention the word “sin.” After all, who is he to judge. Above all, he should never, never try to challenge Catholics spiritually, for as Jesus said: “my teachings are just vague guidelines, give them up when it becomes convenient to do so, and change with the times.” (#thingsjesusneversaid.)

Minimum Qualifications:

– Candidate should be pretty sure that he was baptized in some Christian denomination as a child or adult.

– evince a willingness to be faithless to the Church’s tradition and Magisterium.

– have read at least one article and skimmed one blog post about religion in Huffington Post or Salon. Or at least looked at the title and posted a comment on it.

Preferred Qualifications:

– Makes a sincere effort to attend mass on Christmas and Easter at least some of the time as long as nothing better comes up.

– be a member in good standing of at least one pro-abortion lobbying group and one pro-homosexuality lobbying group.

– preferably not be catholic. An episcopalian, woman priest, married to another woman would be strongly preferred.

Application Procedures:

Please submit the following documents via twitter, facebook, or email to importantpseudocatholics@gmail.com:

cover letter: explaining candidates willingness to defy Church teaching and bend to the whims of modern society.

statement of dissent: explaining when the candidate first began to dissent from Church teaching and detailing his journey of faithlessness.

CV: detailing past jobs and experience that show candidate’s faithlessness to Church teaching and highlight his willingness to disobey papal authority.

Three letters of recommendation from an approved source, including: Huffpo, ACLU, Barack Obama, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Rainbow Coalition, Jon Stewart or other late night comic.

That’s So Medieval: The “Backward” Middle Ages

If anyone wishes, for any reason, to annoy a medieval historian, a good practice is for him to exclaim, in a voice of loud disgust of some undesirable event, person, or idea, “that’s so medieval!” Similarly, the medieval historian Mark Gregory Pegg is particularly fond of a quotation from (I think) W.H. Auden suggesting that a good way to end a conversation is to mention the words “Middle Ages,” effective because this will kill any interest in further discussion. Who, after all, could be interested in so backward an age? The prominence of this expression as a term of derision indicating backwardness (in the moral sense of the term), bears witness not only to a poor understanding of the Middle Ages, but a poor understanding of modernity.

In this view, the Middle Ages had nothing worthwhile to offer, nothing of interest to the modern man who has heroically thrown off the chains of his past barbarism and is busy tweeting his way into modernity. The Middle Ages don’t even deserve their own name; they are simply a “middle age,” a boring (or terrible) in-between period, a dark age between the splendor and civilization of classical antiquity, the glories of Greece and Rome and the Enlightenment of the Modern World. They are a time best forgotten about and ignored, a time that modern man has moved beyond, out of darkness into light, progress, and modernity.

This rests, of course, on an evolutionary way of seeing the world. Evolution might simply mean, as Chesterton put it, that a creature called an ape over time turned slowly into a creature called a man. This does not describe a moral process, simply a scientific one of biological change in a species over time. And yet, since Darwin, the evolutionary view has described not only the development of animal species, but the moral development of human society as well. Human society is progressing, not only biologically, but morally. It become more technologically advanced, tolerant, and moral moving either toward the inevitable or always distant (in different versions of the story) Utopia. Anything undesirable in society can simply be dismissed as a remnant of the medieval past. And so temporal backwardness comes to imply moral backwardness.

Such a view is flattering certainly. A man can look at the past in derision, applauding himself, assuming the he is a better person merely because he happened to be born at a later time of day. It is also convenient. A man need make no effort to better himself; the sheer passage of time guarantees it. Ideological opponents can be dismissed simply by being backward, medieval, or “on the wrong side of history.” Their views thus need not be rationally refuted or given a fair hearing, they can simply be ignored, shouted down, and perhaps even turned over to the inquisition for questioning. It is also thoroughly absurd; a man might as well assume that he is more moral at 5pm than he was at 9 am. Perhaps he is, but if so, the sheer passage of time will not bring it about. And he might not grow more moral, he might even grow worse.

In some respects, perhaps the modern age has grown worse despite its claims of progress. The modern age has seen world wars, slavery, and genocide on a mass scale. The Middle Ages had no equivalent of a world war and practically no slavery, while genocide was a discovery of the modern world. The Middle Ages persecuted Jews, modernity tried (and may be trying now) to wipe them out. Not so in the Middle Ages– they were too backward. Modern man may praise himself for having eliminated slavery, but he eliminated a vice of his own making.

The modern man is precisely in the position of a man who inherits a house in good condition, proceeds to knock a series of holes in the walls, fixes them after a time, congratulates himself on repairing them, and then criticizes the backwardness of his father for the condition in which he received the house. And at any rate, slavery was abolished by the backward people, the ones who didn’t care about the effect of abolition on economic progress. They had a silly old-fashioned idea in the dignity of man- an idea even more backward than the Middle Ages- but perhaps too backward for modernity.