The Walden/Disney Narnia movie has been out for a week. My initial reaction is cautious: important scenes were left out, Professor Kirke, who has an important role with not much screen time, is especially cut. The Pevensie actors did an OK job. Hollywood of course turned the battle of Beruna at the end into the Mother of All Battles, and cut other scenes to make room for it. That's what Hollywood understands. The books are chamber music, and the Walden/Disney movie is a symphony -- with parts cut out.

The books are about character and the virtues; see Doris T. Myers C. S. Lewis in Context. Myers is an English professor (now retired, I think) in Colorado, and that is exactly what is required to make sense of Lewis. There is a rumor that Mel Gibson in the making of the Passion had daily Mass said for the cast and crew; something like that would help in making more Narnia movies: pray the Daily Office together, using the Coverdale Psalter, just to get into the spirit of the times Lewis was drawing upon.

The 1988 BBC production was longer (170 minutes vs. 140), and included many scenes that were slighted in the Walden/Disney version. The BBC special effects were live-stage quality, not modern F/X technology, but the actors on the whole had a slightly better understanding of what they were doing. The philosophy lessons in the Professor's study are both included, and extremely well done.

A few weeks ago, I finished Gary Saul Morson's Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time. Preliminary thoughts: Morson does not cover all the problems of narrative and freedom, but the ones he does cover would appear to be very well done.

He knows well that what an act is depends on the narratives that it is fitted into, and we tend to tell the story of acts with their future already in view. That makes it seem as if the actors have no freedom, as if their actions were foreordained and so doomed. That loss of freedom seems inherent in the very form of narrative. Yet how can one escape the limitations of narrative? For narrative is how we make sense of time and human life in time, as Paul Ricoeur discovered. Russian novelists tried to get out of the limitations of the received narrative form of the novel.

The answer is that the limitations of narrative are not quite as constricting as one might think. Dostoevsky doesn't in the end tell us for sure what happened in many parts of his novels; he leaves possibilities open and unresolved, much as an investigator is left uncertain when faced with multiple and contradictory accounts of some event.

Morson is faculty in the department of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University.

The 19th was the feast of Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brébeuf, missionaries to the Huron and Iroquois in what is now Ontario, a story turned into fiction in film in the movie Black Robe, from a novel by Brian Moore.

The Breviary reading is from the diaries of John de Brébeuf. This guy is nuts -- He asks for martyrdom, and martydom was easily given to Jesuit missionaries, brutally and slowly, as the movie tells us. But doesn't he read the Passion texts? Jesus didn't want martyrdom -- but John de Brébeuf does. Yet John the Jesuit is right, in his twisted way: As the biblical lesson for the Common of several martyrs has it, ``Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or ... Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who loved us.''

I suppose that with enough prayer -- as with blessed Chione, see below at the litany of the saints in Gregory Dix -- you do go where St. Paul and those who came after him went; Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brébeuf among them.

The link to the text of Gregory Dix has gone bad; I am told that it will be fixed. In the meantime, here is the best of it. It is reproduced in a dozen or so places on the net: [Correction, 2006-01-15: the text at will not be restored.]

Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy
Dacre Press, and Adam and Charles Black, 1944;
Continuum, 2001, pp. 743-745:

"At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity -- the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and the taking, blessing and giving of a cup of wine and water, as these were first done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before he died. ... He had told his friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning `for the anamnesis' of Him, and they have done it always since. ---- Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a might nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheater; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonization of S. Joan of Arc -- one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei -- the holy common people of God. ... To those who know a little of christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of utterly obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves -- and sins and temptations and prayers -- once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew -- just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled and ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor: -- `here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much'. Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one's life were sure one must have found Jerusalem!"

On Thursday, August 11, Don Jim, Fr. Tucker, posted on the Fence between the West Bank and Israel. (The permalink is bad; you'll have to scroll down to August 11, and the headline, ``The Israeli Wall and Ecumenical Voices -- Bill Cork has a piece up on the widespread Christian protest to Israel's controversial "security fence."'') He linked to Bill Cork, who posted a long series of negative comments by Christian leaders in Israel about the fence separating the West Bank from Israel. While acknowledging that the Fence has reduced the number of terrorist-related deaths, they nevertheless complained that it is an imposition on Palestinians who ``need'' to get to work and other social commitments in Israel. Bill Cork links to an interview with Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis, a somewhat conservative Catholic magazine, in which Hudson spoke with Msgr. Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Jerusalem. Hudson said,

Sambi felt that the ``road map'' formally proposed by Middle East negotiators in May 2003 was a good way to remove the conditions that promote terrorism -- by creating a Palestinian state, most notably. The wall accomplishes just the opposite: ``It is a monument to division and to a future of conflict. It's separating students from the schools, sick people from the centers of health, people from their places of work, faithful from their places of prayer and what is extremely important in the Palestinian society is creating a belief in family relations...and this is disrupting the basis of Palestinian culture.''

This is typical of much complaint against the Fence: the Palestinians want a separate state, but a state implies an international border that can be crossed only at the joint pleasure of the governments on both sides of the border. The Monsignor can't have it both ways, nor can the Palestinians: you can't have a separate state and at the same time demand access by right to the social amenities in Israel.

One wonders what the real motives of the Palestinians are; whether instead of a state of their own, they might prefer simply to eliminate Israel and have all the land for themselves. That is a question for the Palestinians; whether their answers are credible or not is another matter.

Some have criticized the statements by Christian groups; CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, responded to a Luthern statement on the Fence with many corrections. Bill Cork links to a CAMERA ad questioning the Lutheran's stance. Evidently current ELCA discussions of Israel are a hot topic; Cork has lots of coverage. I'm kind of bored with the indignation industry selectively criticizing Israel and then covering itself with perfunctory denunciations of terrorism, so I didn't read it all. The net effect of holding terrorists to a lower standard than that for Israel works to the advantage of terrorists.

In a piece of that name in the Wall Street Journal on the editorial page for August 8, James Schlessinger, former secretary of energy, quoted Michael Crichton to the effect that ``environmentalism has become the religion of Western elites. . . . the burning of fossil fuels ... is the secular counterpart of man's Original Sin.''

Any reader familiar with Merold Westphal's God, Guilt, and Death will immediately recognize the religion of environmentalism as a modern counterpart of the ancient nature religions, what Westphal called ``mimetic'' religion. In a nature religion, your job is to fit into nature naturally, disturbing it as little as possible. What is disapproved of (aka ``sin'') is whatever disturbs nature. The remedies entail restoring natural order. The annual New Year's ``creation'' festival is a ritual way of doing just that.

It is ironic that history of religions should repeat itself thus, or that perennial alternatives to historical religion are still so attractive, but it is not surprising. The Hebrews' complaint to Moses in the desert, ``were there not graves enough in Egypt, that you had to bring us out here into the desert to die?'' could well be glossed as, ``were there not pains enough in nature, that you had to bring us out here into history, where the future is uncertain and we are still responsible?''


Are We Alone?

Bill Spohn died last week, and at his memorial Mass in San Francisco on Monday, there was in the program leaflet a passage Bill had written to friends on an occasion of grief. He may have been quoting Karl Rahner, who was credited. We ask God for answers at such times, to which Bill said, ``The Lord can't give us any answer at those times, but he can and does give himself.'' Even when comforting, that is never entirely comforting in the way we would like: we would like comfort that does not require of us an unconditional surrender, unconditional self-abandoning trust. We find ourselves like the Israelites in the desert, asking Moses, Will God be with us? (John Courtney Murray, The Problem of God). We always ask that.

What's with Cardinal Schönborn? A month ago, he did an opinion piece in the NY Times about ``design'' in biology, ``Finding Design in Nature.'' You now have to pay to read the original at the NYT, but for the time being, there is a re-posting here. The cardinal's use of the term ``design'' is never defined, and there is no background philosophy or science, just back-peddling about what JP2 said.

In colloquial usage outside of art theory, something is ``designed'' if it is an artifact, more especially so if it is a tool or a machine.

This is Paley's fallacy: the idea that anything complex must be designed, and since organisms are more complex than machines, they must be designed. But no one who has read Heidegger could ever mistake an organism for a machine. And I'll bet you dollars to donuts that the Cardinal has read Sein und Zeit well enough to teach it. You can't mistake Dasein (life) for the Zuhanden (tools, machines). As much goes for privative Dasein; Heidegger was neither very clear nor much interested in animals, much less plants.

Ted Peters and Marty Hewlett think that the Cardinal was put up to it by folks at the Discovery Institute, the mother house for intelligent design creationism, and Ted and Marty say they talked to Mark Ryland at the Discovery Institute, and that Ryland urged the Cardinal to write the piece. Schönborn denies parts of Darwinian evolutionary theory: ``Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense -- an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection -- is not.''

I thought that in a Baconian science, you are supposed to talk about material and efficient causes, but final causes are strictly banished to the humanities, and formal causes are restricted to those that allow you to get on with the business of (natural) science. And I'll bet the Cardinal knows Aristotle about causes better than I do, too!

About ``design'' as an analogical term, I'm sure the Cardinal knows the history and philosophy of analogy in theology. Again, better than I do. But if ``design'' is an analogical term, there is no quarrel with evolutionary biology.

At the risk of betraying myself as both ignorant and an insufferable pedant, the question of design appears in Kant's third Critique, and I believe Kant says we cannot know design in nature the way we know it in our own designs. But I don't know the texts well. Again, I'll bet the Cardinal has Kant etched on the back of his eyeballs.

So what gives? ?!

Was the Cardinal shnookered into joining a fight between creationists and biologians, those who would pass off a confused theology of creation as (bad) science and those who would turn evolutionary biology into a counter-religion opposed to biblical religion? There are other options than just William Dembski and Richard Dawkins!


Lenny Moss on Genes

This is not a full book review. Too many academic book reviews ignore much of the argument under review, misrepresent the rest, and then disagree with the misrepresentation. I haven't even finished Lenny Moss's book What Genes Can't Do (MIT Press, 2004). But so far I like it greatly. He is a former cell biologist, now in the philosophy department at Notre Dame, and he evidently reads at least some Continental philosophy. He said Richard Dawkins is doing ``ontotheology'' with his notion of ``selfish genes.'' For those who escaped Heidegger, ontotheology means using some kind of being to explain all the other kinds of being. Traditionally, that being was ``God'' -- scare-quotes because this was very much a philosopher's god, not the God of the Bible, and not, Heidegger said, one that one could dance for or sing to. But it doesn't have to be God. It can be genes.

More seriously, Lenny Moss points out that there are two notions of what a gene is. Greatly (and perhaps over-) simplified, they are genes that code for RNA and proteins, and genes that code for phenotypical traits. The two notions have been held together with only rhetoric. But there is a great deal more than that in the book, including some reflections on Stuart Kauffman's work, which I look forward to with relish. Kauffman is good, but it is not yet clear how far his work can take biology.

How Moss's critique will turn out among philosophers and biologists is yet to be seen, but it's a hell of a lot better than the questions that have preoccupied philosophers of biology for too long now: Can biology really be a science, if it's not physics? Is ``fitness'' a tautology? What to do about creationists? (The reader is warned, this blogger has a manuscript in preparation arguing that creationism is bad theology pretending to be bad science. But this blogger is a philosophical theologian, not a philosopher of biology.)

What would be really juicy would be for philosophers of biology (and then biologists themselves) to become conscious of (and then conscientious about) what their analogical language does in their thinking, how it both enables and also channels their thinking -- and sometimes restricts it. Mathematics can get away with just about anything in its analogical language, and no harm is done. Not so with biology. Using an Aristotelian virtue term like ``fitness'' in biology intrudes religion into science, no matter whether you want to do that or not, and no matter whether the ``religion'' is biblical or not. Some kind of doctrine of providence is not far behind.

Origen, ``Homily on Joshua,'' PG 12 842-843; Hom. 4.1. Breviary, Wednesday in the Tenth week of Ordinary Time, p. 333-334.

Origen is speaking to the recently baptized with texts in Joshua in view, the crossing of the Jordan especially, and then Psalm 114, the great earthquake Psalm that historicizes the wonders of nature:

So you must not think that these events belong only to the past, and that you who now hear the account of them do not experience anything of the kind. It is in you that they all find their spiritual fulfillment. You have recently abandoned the darkness of idolatry, and you now desire to come and hear the divine law. That is your departure from Egypt. When you became a catechumen and began to obey the laws of the Church, you passed through the Red Sea; now at the various stops in the desert, you give time every day to hear the law of God and to see the face of Moses unveiled by the glory of God. But once you come to the baptismal font and, in the presence of the priests and deacons, are initiated into those sacred and august mysteries which only those know who should, then, through the ministry of the priests, you will cross the Jordan and enter the promised land. There Moses will hand you over to Jesus, and he himself will be your guide on your new journey.

Mindful, then, of all the mighty works of God, remembering that he divided the sea for you and held back the waters of the river, you will turn to them and say: Why was it, sea, that you fled? Jordan, why did you turn back? Mountains, why did you skip like rams, and you hills, like young sheep? And the Word of the Lord will reply: The earth is shaken at the face of the Lord, at the face of the God of Jacob, who turns stones into a pool and rock into springs of water.

Exodus typology: the key is that Jesus (Joshua) is the new Israel:

both go down to Egypt,
both pass through water on the way out,
both are tested and fed in the desert,
both cross the Jordan at Jericho to enter the promised land,
both after a period of activity go up to Jerusalem.

The Latin translations spell Jesus and Joshua differently, as we do: Iesu and Iosue, but the Greek spells them the same: Iesous. We have forgotten.

Some of the parallels might not be obvious. Usually, the baptism corresponds to the crossing of the Red Sea, though Origen assigns the Red Sea to the aspirants' entry into the catechumenate. In the Gospels, it corresponds to the baptism. And the going up to Jerusalem? King David, in the antetype, and the Passion in the Gospels.

Typology is a little like a parody, (think Monty Python's Life of Brian): the later editor can arrange things pretty much as he wants to, to make a point about the story he tells, inviting the reader to interpret it in light of the former story, already known to the reader.

The text in Origen shows that Exodus typology was well understood in the first centuries of Christianity. We have forgotten it, because we no longer read the Exodus.

And with the Exodus we have also forgotten how important history is, forgotten that the history was not just the incidental occasion for a deposit of faith, it was the theme of the story from beginning to end. This religion is about history.

I had not realized how recently scholars tumbled to the coherent editing of the Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, i.e., the Deuteronomic History. But Martin Noth figured it out only in the 1940s. Bibledudes has the story! Richard Elliott Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible? , thinks he knows to within two names who the editor of the Deuteronomic History was: Jeremiah or Baruch. You can find a technical argument that the Gospels are structured the way the Torah was in Meredith Kline, ''The Old Testament Origins of the Gospel Genre,'' Westminster Theological Journal 38 (1975) 1-27.

About Psalm 114: in the 1980 Livermore earthquake, the Greenville Fault slipped, a bare three miles from my house. The house began to shake, and after it was all over, my neighbor came across the street for comfort. I recited Psalm 114 to her from memory, in exhilaration. It was not what she had in mind.



Seen on Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway, a web-site devoted to ``Higher Criticism'' -- how the Bible was put together: called ``Bible Dudes,'' Mike Homan at Xavier U in New Orleans and Jeff Geoghegan at BC.

This stuff was mostly discovered 1850-1960 or so, was part of seminary education mid-twentieth century, has become part of undergraduate Bible courses by the 1990s. Maybe it will become common knowledge soon; there's hope!

Fr. Tucker's own blog-post, noted below, April 10, was before the election. His reaction, and his cheering, are here. If I could have just picked a pope, I would not have had the nerve to choose Joseph Ratzinger, and would have chosen someone equally conservative, but less easily demonized by Liberals and dissenters from Catholic moral teaching. As it appears, conjecturally, the Cardinals wanted not just continuity, but also someone with some intellectual clout. Hence Ratzinger.

George Weigel has comments. He suggested that what JP2 did for eastern Europe, B-16 needs to do for western Europe, but their problems are different. Eastern Europe merely needed to be liberated. Western Europe needs to repent. Weigel in effect said that the new Pope's choice of name, Benedict, was a message to western Europe like the doctor's message to a smoker: repent or die. The Church -- like the Benedictines -- will do its best to preserve the seeds of civilization for another day.

Most of the press has just been shills for the Liberal ``disenters.'' But Ratzinger has a paper trail, and a very long one: Here is his Amazon list. The Graduate Theological Union library lists 97 entries for Ratzinger. Dicounting the fact that many are translations, there is still a lot, and the press hasn't done its homework. They have only one song: until two weeks ago, he was the Enforcer. Of what? They would never know.

Don Jim, asking what are the most important problems facing the church today, blogs

First, we need to develop a rigorous philosophical context in which to discuss the need for God and the Church in contemporary society. This philosophy also needs to engender a compelling existential way of talking about the problem, to appeal to the restlessness of the heart and man's search for meaning. I have a feeling that the copious writings of John Paul II may play a role in this.

I don't know what the most important problems are, but Fr. Tucker's comments above are close to my philosophical theologian's heart. Seven hundred years ago, in the thirteenth century, Aquinas's inheritance was biblical, Platonist, and Augustinian. The challenge he faced came from the newly accessible philosophy of Aristotle. Today, our challenge comes from history and historical studies, not first from philosophy, though philosophy as much as theology is struggling to make sense of history. With history come relativity and pluralism.

Historical change bars to us any kind of Platonist absolute truth -- but then Platonism and absolute truth are unbiblical. The Bible is very interested in loyalty and commitment, but has very little to say about any philosophical questions.

With history comes cultural relativity, and cultural change can be exhibited merely from within the pages of the Bible. Examples are left to the reader as an exercise. Relativity -- real relativity, not nihilistic relativism -- means that you really do know the difference between truth and falsity, right and wrong, relative to your own culture and history, your own time and place. Why do you need more?

Pluralism is the face of other cultures and other religions that disagree. The challenge is to be open without giving up the Gospel. Again, the modern philosophical notion that there is only one God is unbiblical. The translation of the Shema in Night Prayer in the Breviary has it right: ``The Lord is our God, the Lord alone'' -- not ``The Lord our God is the only Lord.'' There are other gods, but this one is the God of historical-covenantal religion.

All three phenomena, history, relativity, and pluralism, are facts of life for human creatures. Our challenge is to live within the limits of our creaturehood. Trying to get out of creaturehood is one definition of sin, and seeking a-historical absolutes or putting an end to pluralism certainly qualifies. As Fr. Tucker intuits, these challenges have not yet been well met by philosophical theology. I don't think that history, relativity, and pluralism are the place to begin in a philosophical theology, but they are the face of the challenge to theology today.

Another professor once lamented to me that 40 percent of the members of the Catholic Theological Society of America (or was it the American Catholic Philosophical Association? I forget) are Heideggerians. One can learn things from Heidegger that are hard to find anywhere else, but some parts of Heidegger are simply poisonous. ``A compelling existential way of talking about the problem'' of God would help us greatly. There are some resources in philosophy today, but they are not Platonist, nor are they naturalistic, which makes them generally unintuitive. John Courtney Murray's The Problem of God is very biblical, but has few philosophical solutions.

There are many questions of fact in the Schiavo case, and of those, many are hard to answer, especially so for a bystander not close to the case.

I can't tell whether Michael Schiavo is vile or vilified; there are plausible facts hard to explain on either assumption.

I can't tell whether Terri Schiavo is ``PVS'' or not; that, too, is disputed.

Terri's wishes from hearsay evidence I'm skeptical of, but Florida law allows hearsay evidence.

As I understand it, the questions of fact were evaluated judicially only by Judge Greer, the trier of fact, and that is normal procedure in civil, and, I think, criminal cases in US law. All the appeals courts did was to verify that Florida law and rules of civil procedure were followed, and (in federal courts) that there were no adjudicable federal issues improperly handled in Florida courts.

What follows is an argument that basic moral and legal discriminations appear to have been made badly, regardless of the disputed facts. (Bear in mind that I don't think that being PVS and asking not to be kept alive is grounds for withdrawal of food/water, but Florida law does. This, too, is an issue that does not need to be answered here.) The following would have avoided the hard problems and come to a solution that does not require answering questions that can be answered only with incomplete confidence at best.

        The judge could have ordered that
        (1) tube feeding be stopped, and
        (2) feeding by mouth be started

Given (2), if the Schindlers object to (1),
they have conceded that Terri is PVS.

Given (1), if Michael objects to (2),
he is not trying to let her die,
he is trying to kill her.

If Terri assimilates food and water by mouth, then she lives;
if not, she dies of natural causes but is not killed.

Swallow tests were ambiguous -- It would appear Terri has a compromised intentional swallow reflex or none at all, but still does have the reflex to swallow saliva. But this, too, need not be resolved for above proposal to work.

In emails with two lawyers knowledgeable about the case, it would appear that Judge Greer wanted to bring about Terri's death because she is cognitively disabled; i.e., that her inferred wish not to live with a cognitive deficit should be granted -- by killing her.

That is quite different from withholding extraordinary care, and the difference has been very successfully obfuscated by Michael Schiavo, George Felos, and the euthanasia movement. Judge Greer has sided with them.

The need for obfuscation in the face of the tattered remnants of the inherited moral conscience is why Terri Schiavo is being starved and dehydrated rather than just dispatched with an injection.

That the inherited moral sense has compromised its powers of discrimination is why successful obfuscation is possible.

The moral challenge to caregivers, family, bystanders, and the law is to find a way to NOT be in control of another person's dying.

To be in control of another's dying is to kill.

AB 654, a bill to legalize assisted suicide, has been introduced in the California Legislature by Assemblymembers Patti Berg (D, Santa Rosa - Ukiah) and Lloyd Levine (D, Van Nuys). We have seen this issue before, in Proposition 161 (1992), and Assemblywoman Dione Aroner's bill AB 1592 (2000).

A broad coalition opposes the bill: the California Medical Association, groups representing illegals, the poor, the uninsured, and the disabled, and the Catholic Church. Many of those groups represent voters who are predominantly Democratic, and many of them bristle if you accuse them of being pro-life. This is not just pro-life opposition. The coalition has a web-site, Californians Against Assisted Suicide, with lots of information.

The arguments for the bill are the usual appeal to pity, together with "safeguards." The "safeguards" are not really credible. The provision promised in Assemblymember Berg's constituent newsletter that only the patient may take the medicine has quietly been withdrawn, after I pointed out in a hearing in Sacramento that the ADA mandates that those unable to take the medicine by themselves have a right to be given the lethal medicine by someone else. Given the prior language of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Berg/Levine bill effectively legalizes doctor-administered suicide, or in plain English, euthanasia.

The bill has revealing language in other places: it prohibits people from exercising "undue" influence over a patient to get the patient to ask for a lethal prescription (that would be a felony!), but it says nothing about "due" influence, telling someone that suicide might be a rational option in medically unattractive circumstances. So that safeguard is not only vacuous but provides a loophole wide enough to drive a truck through.

The appeals to pity are usually made on behalf of _other people_, relatives who died ``without dignity.'' In other words, the proponents of the bill would like permission to allow (i.e., invite) their ailing relatives to kill themselves, and they want some moral blessing and legitimation for this move. To quote from the Not Dead Yet web-site,

``People already have the right to refuse unwanted treatment, and suicide is not illegal. What we oppose is a public policy that singles out individuals for legalized killing based on their health status. This violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, and denies us the equal protection of the law.''

Imagine the reaction to a bill that would legalize assisted suicide, but only for Jews. The outcry would be heard way out beyond the orbit of Jupiter! Or imagine the reception a bill would get that would allow only state legislators to get help committing suicide? So why on the basis of health? This is not prejudiced? This is not discrimination against the disabled?

Once the line between accepting death and seeking death is crossed, death is defined as a good that one person may give another, at first only by a doctor's prescription. But no law can contain the giving of a ``good'' by one person to another, as experience in the Netherlands has shown. Experience in Oregon is shrouded in secrecy in the name of patient privacy, and it is only eight years old, and has had unsympathetic scrutiny from euthanasia opponents. It took a lot longer than just eight years for the Dutch practice to degenerate as far as it has (casual euthanasia of very sick patients without even asking the patient's permission).

The proponents of the bill have tried more than once to claim that all opposition comes from the Catholic Church, and that the churches are trying to impose their values on society. But the churches could not do that even if they commanded all the power of the state. The Church's teaching is that we are to be pro-life when life hurts, in all of life, not just when some would like to get rid of inconvenient others in abortion or euthanasia. The churches' opposition to utilitarian homicides is merely the minimum necessary for a society that is civil and not barbaric, the minimum necessary to protect the dignity and right to life of everybody.

When some are thrown to the wolves, everybody is graded in degrees, from life-worthiness to wolf-worthiness, and that is the very opposite of dignity. It would be too inconvenient for proponents of so-called ``assisted suicide'' to contemplate dignity and respect as things that can be given to the dying person by people around him or her.

Some idea of both general ignorance and prejudice is provided by the movie Million Dollar Baby, which ends with a boxing coach (Clint Eastwood) euthanizing (i.e., killing) a quadruplegic boxer (Hilary Swank) who is totally paralyzed and on a ventilator. What the movie doesn't tell us is that it is already perfectly legal to have a ventilator disconnected, and all the disabled boxer had to do was ask. (I know personally of at least one person who asked to have his ventilator disconnected, and his wish was granted as a matter of course.) Under present California law, no one was keeping the boxer alive against her wishes. But the movie goes out of its way to legitimate euthanasia instead, knowing that it can play on public ignorance and sentiment that it is better to be dead than disabled. AB 654, the Berg-Levine bill, would do the same.


Does anyone know where this comes from? It came to me on a postcard, probably in the handwriting of a friend now in a position to laugh but no longer in a position to answer questions; I found it again cleaning out an old desk two weeks ago.

We would learn to pray, Lord,
 yet shrink from coming to terms with you.

Help us to and through Gethsemane,
 be with our wrestling,
 our grappling with destiny and you.

You know well what a horrid place is prayer.

Coax us into this holy line of battered men
 who got through to you
 and found themselves.

Michel Quoist? Similar vintage, palanca from Cursillo, 1970s? The phrases in it don't come up in a google search.


The pontificator said, 2005/01/23,

As you well know, I have become convinced, to paraphrase Richard John Neuhaus, that only Catholicism and Orthodoxy can underwrite catholicism and orthodoxy. This is why I am now inviting Catholic and Orthodox commentators to ``put on their Sunday best'' and to present their very best arguments on behalf of their respective traditions -- not for my sake, though I have found many of your comments personally helpful and stimulating, but for the for the sake of those readers of Pontifications who are struggling with all these issues. You who belong to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches should see yourselves as missionaries. Pontifications is your mission field. We aren't here to win debate points. We are here to discuss substantively, vigorously, reflectively matters directly related to our salvation. Know that your words may persuade, through the grace of God, one or more of our readers to make a life-changing decision -- or not to make such a decision. The wisdom of Chesterton applies to all apologists:

For the convert's sake, it should also be remembered that one foolish word from inside does more harm than a hundred thousand foolish words from outside\u2026. There is many a convert who has reached a stage at which no word from any Protestant or pagan could any longer hold him back. Only the word of a Catholic can keep him from Catholicism.

Thoughts on being received into the Catholic Church in 1988:

Some converts evidently think they have gone to heaven without the trouble of dying -- simply by becoming Roman Catholic. I think that is asking for trouble, and for what it is worth, Fr. James Parker, the administrative assistant for the Pastoral Provision, seems to have been an exception. I knew most of the problems in the Catholic Church before becoming Catholic. Interestingly, someone made a comment to me, that former Anglicans don't miss the BCP so much as the hymnal. That is true: the Breviary and the Missal work pretty much the same way as the BCP, despite differences in typesetting. The hymnal is another matter. I grouse occasionally about music in the Catholic Church (see below, 2004/12/07), but I am still a happy Catholic.

Some (including my Dad, a priest in the Episcopal Church, now of blessed memory) thought I was ``poping,'' changing sides in re-fighting Reformation battles. I don't think I ever convinced him otherwise, but I have never, to my memory, re-fought Reformation battles, from either side.

For me the issue was not the homosexuality that is troubling the Anglican Communion so much today but rather abortion, in the aftermath of 1973 in Roe v. Wade and 1976 in General Convention resolutions that repeatedly went out of their way to say that it is OK to abort people like me (I am disabled). Actually, everybody is people like me, but not everybody looks like me.

In 1984, there was a survey of opinion on abortion in the ECUSA, and I was asked to collate the responses for one of the bishops. I don't remember what I gave him, and in any case, it was privileged. But I had to think about the issue, and condoning abortion was pretty clearly inconsistent with the theology that I had learned, as a happy Anglican, at an Anglican seminary (CDSP). It was a very simple argument, as I made clear in chapter 12, ``Clearings,'' of Elementary Monotheism. (The amazon entry here. Sorry about the price. It's not under my control.) I wrote a critique of the ECUSA documents for that chapter and then omitted it, thinking it too much a personal quarrel, and out of place in a general exposition of some of the basics of radical monotheism. But what is there is quite sufficient.

By contrast and in comparison, homosexuality strikes me as quite complicated, and there is way too much that I do not know for me to publish about it. On the other hand, the ``conservatives'' do seem to me to have an inarticulate sense of something that is very important: gender identity and gender morals and mores are a corporate project, not something one does as an individual. Their response to post-modern sexual morality (and mine, too) is ``that is not a project that I want to be a part of.'' There is not much ethical theory that I know of that can make sense of moral commitments being a corporate project, though this may help some, written, FWIW, by a priest in the Episcopal Church. But I've never taught ethics, and don't know the literature at all well.

One of the recurring considerations in the Pontificator's blog is finding the one true church. That is an inheritance of centuries of Anglican/Roman debates. Long before becoming Catholic, I read Peter Berger's sociology of knowledge, in a tutorial with a Franciscan in the Graduate Theological Union, and I was convinced then, as now, by the arguments about the social construction of reality and the moral hazards of any sacred canopy. I say these things with some trepidation, in light of Chesterton's comments quoted above by Fr. Pontificator, and hope that my remarks will not fend him off but rather serve as a salutary caution. To put it baldly, if God did not have the Catholic Church or the Pope, He would get along just fine, working with only Protestants. He is necessary for us, we are not necessary for him. H. Richard Niebuhr someplace said words to the effect that we imagine that God can't get along without our contributions to the economy of salvation. He can. And whatever may be the many tragedies of the Reformation, the existence of multiple denominations has not been without its blessings: we keep each other honest. Elementary Monotheism (pp. 1:230-231) said about Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, that the Church needs the Synagogue to be ``strong, healthy, and different,'' but the comments there apply about Protestants as well as Jews. The Synagogue exposes Christian religious choices as choices, with all the consequences entailed thereby. That is the work of Christ, and we should be grateful for it, whether from Protestants or Jews.

So I don't entirely share Fr. Pontificator's concerns about finding the one true church. I wanted a church that was seriously pro-life (chapters 3 and 12 of El-Mo), one that is open to critical history and the philosophical questions that it has opened over the last two centuries (Part II of El-Mo). The second desire was my inheritance from Neo-Orthodox theology, I guess. And sacramental theology was tertiary: I am not a liturgist, and though I would not for a moment choose Protestant liturgics over catholic, I couldn't give reasons for the choice that would satisfy me as cogent. Nevertheless, the most important thing in life is to be a part of the Great Thanksgiving, in the words of the rubric in the 1979 BCP. Hence the post about Gregory Dix below, 2004/10/10, the first post to this blog.

Someone once pointed me to Denis de Rougemont's Love in the Western World (1940; 1982, PUP; I have yet to read it; embarrassment!) for the source of our unrealistic expectations of sexual love. FWIW, my small experience with Kurdish refugees in this country attests a culture in which Catholic moral teaching about sex is not even difficult. So I have modest sympathy at best for its home-grown discontents. Something like de Rougemont's instinct may be true also of quests for the one true church. God knows the Catholic Church has enough problems today, and the ones that are all over the press are in my highly opinionated opinion obstructions to dealing with more important problems in theology and philosophy. But that is a story for some other time. The Catholic Church is a big place, theologically, or, ``it takes all kinds to make a church.'' Even me. My observation is that former-Protestant ``converts'' (canon law says we are not converts, being already Christian) to the Catholic Church bring with them much of what they grew up with. Fr. Neuhaus still has much of his Missouri-Synod inheritance. Anglo-Catholics bring their liturgical instincts. Evangelicals bring their own concerns. All bring their own personalities and idiosyncracies.

Or, pluralism is a virtue in biblical religion, even if it does sometimes go beyond the bounds of responsibility. The office of enforcing responsibility is discharged in the Catholic Church by the Pope. Without responsibility, one drifts into Gnosticism or the Perennial Philosophy. But other denominations and rabbinic Judaism have ways of enforcing responsiblity also. On a good day, the several churches do enforce responsibility. On a bad day, even the Catholic Church falls down.

The choice between Catholicism and Orthodoxy was for me about secondary considerations -- either would do. But why pass dozens of Catholic parishes every Sunday on the way to an Orthodox parish further away? I think I have some sort of responsibility to my Christian neighbors that is more important than differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It was a question, ``who are my neighbors?'' (The notion of responsibility comes from H. Richard Niebuhr, half-Lutheran, half-Calvinist, be it noted, and the question ``who are my neighbors'' could almost come out of The Responsible Self verbatim.) But to (partially) retract that point, my impression of Eastern theology is that it is temperamentally different from Western theology in ways that don't exactly put me off, but rather send me back to the old proverb, ``bloom where you're planted.'' And my few contacts with the local Orthodox have been entirely positive: to participate in the congregation at a Russian Orthodox akathist in a small and struggling parish in Marin County was stunningly beautiful. The same might not apply for you. Romantic expectations about either church are probably unrealistic.

Lest it seem that I have adopted H. Richard Niebuhr's low and Protestant ecclesiology, I have not. One, I have never written about ecclesiology, but Niebuhr's loose assumptions were sufficient to solve my problems. And two, If I were to write an ecclesiology, I would have to know considerably more about sociology (among other things) than I do. FWIW, the Catholic Church has enjoyed the reputation of having better sacramental-sociological instincts than Protestants do, and there seems to me to be some truth in that comparison.

And I do know the agony reflected in Fr. Pontificator's blog posts over the past some months. I went through it myself. My friends went through it second-hand just by being around me. My Dad went through a more bitter version of it than I did when I left the Episcopal Church, and that meant more anguish for me. I am grateful to Bishop Swing in San Francisco for offering my Dad pastoral care in his anguish that of necessity I could not comfort from my position.

One should, I suppose, answer a question on the least restrictive and most certain grounds possible, and as every mathematician knows, the least restrictive premises make for the strongest conclusion. I wanted to resolve my problems about social ethics in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s and 1980s without trying to adjudicate Reformation disputes first. And that makes it possible for me to say that I owe debts of gratitude to the Episcopal Church that are beyond calculation, debts that I acknowledge cheerfully, and proudly even; the Anglican Communion is my heritage. At the same time, I have to say,

Why, church of my birth,
why, church of my baptism,
why, church who brought me to the gospel,
why, church who brought the gospel to me,
why, church who taught me that all of life is good,
        not only some of it,
why, church who taught me that all of life is good,
        even when it hurts,
why, church who pray that the way of the cross 
	may be a way of life and peace,
why, church who pray to walk in the way of the Lord's suffering,
        and so to share in his resurrection,
why, church who trust that the instrument of a shameful death is a means of 
        and pray gladly to suffer shame and loss for the sake of Christ,
why, church who pray joyfully to accept present suffering,
        confident of glory to be revealed,

why do you abort people like me?


Unwelcome Good News is out, as of about six weeks ago; published by Wipf and Stock. Amazon does not yet have it. Even Wipf and Stock's site doesn't yet have it. ISBN 1-59244-938-7. Cover picture to follow.