A Critical Commentary on an Unfortunate Article

On April 11, 2022, Catholic World Report published an article entitled “The queer perspective and flawed anthropology of Eve Tushnet”, written by someone with the pseudonym of David Laidlaw. I was very disappointed that they would publish such an article, for it was probably the worst article I have ever read on CWR. I admire Eve Tushnet tremendously and I think her two books, Gay and Catholic and Tenderness are very important today, especially for Catholics who have same-sex attraction and want to be faithful to Catholic teaching. I wrote the following initially as a response to a friend of mine who was impressed with his article and sent it to me to read, and I posted this at the urging of another friend who shares my disappointment with Laidlaw’s article. What follows are my responses to the various points he makes in his article. DL of course refers to David Laidlaw, while DD refers to myself as Deacon Doug.

DL: In Tushnet’s eyes, the Church has not been a loving Mother to those she calls “gay Christians,” but rather a “mistress who holds us in contempt and punishes us mercilessly, arbitrarily, and forbids us even to speak what we’ve experienced at her hands.” She wrote her book, she says, with the goal of “alleviating suffering caused by injustice or silence and showing” to her readers “the beauty of the life Christ offers”; she wants to help them to “rejoice that [God] knows [them] as [they] truly are.”

DD: And who can doubt it? The Church has not led the way, but has allowed the culture to lead the way out of the “closet of shame”, and only then has the Church qualified the thinking that has come out of that lead. Cardinal Ratzinger’s wise pastoral counsel with respect to the care of persons with a homosexual orientation did not come out of a vacuum, but out of a need to address pastoral issues in this area. The reason is that people, Catholics included, have a difficult time distinguishing between reverence for persons with same sex orientation and an attitude of permissiveness with respect to homosexual actions. They either condemn the person along with the action, or they accept the person along with the action. The latter describes the culture, the former describes the approach that many Catholics/Christians have adopted in the past.

DL: As a repentant man who lived for a time under the deception that I was a “gay child of God,” I find Tushnet’s views mystifying and her harsh words about the Church unfounded.

DD: I don’t.

DL: No doubt there have been some in the Church, who have, in the name of the Church, engaged in what the Catechism would call “unjust discrimination” towards people confused about their sexual identity.

DD: My only question at this point is “What then are you arguing about?” She’s right. 

DL: Yet as an institution, both in her teachings and in her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, the Church is not the cruel mistress Tushnet depicts.

DD: Firstly, this, I believe, is a dubious distinction. The institution is made up of members. What’s the institution without the members? If the members are blind, uncaring, and harsh, then the institution is blind, uncaring, and harsh. As for the Church’s teachings and her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, Eve embraces that teaching, lives it, and is herself an example of that ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ. 

DL: Tushnet claims each example she gives of suffering represent “thousands and thousands” of people, who she says have had their “lives distorted by shame and despair” and “false conceptions of God” at the hands of the Church.

DD: That’s not a lot of people, considering the world’s population. So to me it does not sound like she’s exaggerating. 

DL: And yet Tushnet gives no objective evidence to justify her claims; her examples are all anecdotal.

DD: Does David Laidlaw have anything other than anecdotals? Did he expect a rigorous, double blinded peer reviewed statistical analysis? It is unlikely that her experiences as a gay Catholic as well as with those with whom she is in contact, given the fact that she is gay and Catholic, are unrepresentative. When we read about spiritual direction from people like Jean Pierre de Caussade or Dom Hubert Van Zeller or St. John of the Cross, all of their examples are purely anecdotal.

DL: Many of her stories are sensationalist. For example, Tushnet speaks of children who were beat up by their father after coming out. I don’t doubt that this happened to someone Tushnet knows, but arguing that this has happened to “thousands and thousands” is irresponsible and an exercise in catastrophism.

DD: I don’t recall her ever saying that thousands and thousands were beaten up by their fathers after coming out, nor am I able to find such a notion after a thorough search of her book. She does mention that there are “thousands upon thousands” like the young woman she spoke with from Texas who, after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, informed her that “every single day–literally—her classmates said that gay people were going to hell.” Eve writes: “She was able, in spite of the counter witness by the Christians all around her, to see the pattern in the Bible of God’s protection and love of oppressed people. She began to see the Bible as a text of liberation, one meant for her even though she wasn’t straight. I don’t know how she was able to see through the lies of Christian homophobia. Was it strength of will or mental toughness? Was it the grace of God? Whatever it was, she kept going to church, she survived to adulthood, she came out of the closet, and that’s how I met her. But there were thousands upon thousands like her whom I will never meet because they dropped out of church–or out of life.” She does indeed speak of thousands upon thousands of lives distorted by shame and despair, by false conceptions of God, and finally, “thousands upon thousands of churches where the best that gay people can hope for it total silence about our futures”. 

DL: I have been involved for decades in ministries for people who left the gay lifestyle, and I have never met anyone who was beat up by their father for coming out—though I’ve met men who were beat up by their fathers for other things; being beat up by deadbeat fathers is certainly not limited to children who come out. Nor can this be blamed on the Church.

DD: No one is suggesting that beating is limited to those who come out, but the fact that David Laidlaw has never met anyone who was so threatened for coming out does not mean that no one was actually threatened or beaten by their fathers for coming out. And she certainly does not assert that thousands were threatened by their fathers or actually beaten up for being gay. What we read is an item in the first chapter entitled “The Gay Christian Drinking Game”, which she describes as “an exercise in gallows humor” consisting of a series of stories or things that happened to gay Christians she knows, people who accepted their church’s sexual ethic and sought to be obedient to it. Take a drink if “your dad threatened to beat you up for being gay. Or really did it.” It seems to me that David Laidlaw is a reader with an agenda.

DL: Sadly, included in Tushnet’s list of sufferings visited upon “gay Christians” are many things which helped people like me leave the gay lifestyle behind. For example, Tushnet considers it a form of suffering when priests in the confessional say, “You’re not gay. You’re a beloved child of God.” 

DD: Which is certainly well-meaning, but rather silly: “No, Father, I’m gay and a beloved child of God”.

DL: In Tushnet’s eyes, this message is “that those two are opposite things.” For those who have fully converted to Catholicism and accepted all of the demands of chastity,

DD: As Eve Tushnet has done, which is why David Laidlaw should not be writing this article that unjustly trashes a book that is doing a tremendous amount of good. “Do not check your own players into the boards nor slash them with your stick nor trip them up on the ice” is pretty good advice, probably too basic for the average hockey player. The few who are too dense to understand these suggestions and who continue to slash their own teammates should be benched until they come to their senses. 

DL: …which include both sexual abstinence outside of marriage as well as accepting what the Church teaches us about our sexual identity, those in the Church who told us our identity was as a beloved son or daughter of God helped us to follow the words of St. Paul who urges all of us to be transformed through the renewal of our minds by putting off the old man, which for us necessarily includes rejecting the world’s understanding of sexual identities.

DD: I don’t quite know what he means here. If someone is gay, they’re gay. Indeed, they are “priest, prophet and king” by virtue of their baptism, but they are still gay; baptism does not change that. I am heterosexual male; that is an identity. That does not exhaust who I am, but “who I am” also includes the fact that I am a Catholic Deacon–that’s an identity–, and I am Canadian, which is also an identity. 

DL: Additionally, Tushnet unfortunately holds scornful views of the ministries and books which helped us to find healing for the wounds which led to our homosexual desires, such as the books of Leanne Payne.

DD: She does no such thing. If the books of Leanne Payne helped David Laidlaw, then that’s wonderful, but she does not directly address the books or methods of Leanne Payne.

DL: The majority of the suffering described in the pages of Tushnet’s book could only be considered a form of suffering if the Church’s anthropology was somehow flawed.

DD: This sounds philosophically profound, but I suspect it is mere pretension; for I have yet to see how Laidlaw’s article points to anything that has to do with “anthropology”, let alone a flawed one.

DL: Page after page of the “suffering” outlined by Tushnet is the result of her not believing or accepting what the Church teaches her and other “gay Christians” regarding their sexual identity.

DD: Perhaps I have missed something, but Eve Tushnet does believe and accept Church teaching regarding sexual ethics and our identity in Christ. So I have no idea what Laidlaw is talking about here.

DL: Thus it is self-inflicted.

DD: I can get up and preach a sermon on homosexuality, pontificate on the Church’s teaching about how marriage is only between a man and a woman, that any sex outside of that is mortally sinful, and that sodomy is a perversion that merits damnation, and refer to homosexuals as sodomites (as one Canadian Catholic editor I know often did–which is why a lawsuit was launched against his magazine, a lawsuit that appeared to a number of us as justified), and in doing so I can hurt a lot of Catholics who have a homosexual orientation and who are trying to find their way in the Church. Can I just dismiss that suffering as “self-inflicted”? 

DL: The story of the Rich Young Ruler is helpful here. Though he went away sad upon hearing the Lord tell him that he needed to sell all he had and give the money to the poor, the sorrow he felt as a result was not the fault of Christ. So too with most of the complaints Tushnet levels against the Church.

DD: I’ll remember to use this comparison any time my words cause offence–I’ll be able to say anything in whatever way I want to say it.

DL: As a loving Mother, the Church says people such as Eve and I should be treated with “sensitivity, compassion, and respect.” Where legitimate forms of “unjust discrimination” or suffering have taken place at the hands of people in the Church, the Church must repent, and in Tushnet’s long list of grievances, there are, to be fair to her book, some examples of this sort of suffering.

DD: Just some, however!  Not many. One or two perhaps?   

DL: Most, however are examples of what the late Alice von Hildebrand would call “illegitimate suffering”, which she defines as “sufferings which are consequences of our false and sinful attitudes. God does not give his grace for such self-inflicted sufferings–this is why they are unbearable.”

DD: My question is: “How would David Laidlaw know that, unless he knows each of the persons who have suffered?” How does he know their situation? How does he know that the source of the suffering is not the pastoral incompetence of a priest, an Evangelical minister, or the cruelty and ignorance of one’s religious classmates?

DL: No wonder Tushnet and other “gay Catholics” see the Church as a cruel mistress. By choosing to embrace the false sexual identities of the world, they shut themselves off from the grace of God in that area of their life.

DD: It is astounding to me that Laidlaw could suggest that Eve Tushnet has shut herself off from the grace of God. I am beginning to believe that he did not actually read her book in its entirety. 

DL: Thus, they feel unbearably aggrieved when the Church doesn’t agree with them.

DD: But no, Eve Tushnet agrees with the Church and she even urged me to emphasize “trusting the Church” in a talk I prepared for Niagara University students. She did not think I needed to spend so much time with philosophical arguments about sexual ethics, because most people find them difficult to follow, so her point was to exhort the students to “trust the Church”.  

DL: This seems to explain the disdain Tushnet has for the bishops’ teachings regarding homosexuality.

DD: But she does not disdain the teaching on homosexuality. That is why I like her so much–she is gay, but lives according to that teaching. The only thing she seems to disdain in the Church are pastorally incompetent clergy who have as much tact and common sense as your average door nob. 

DL: In her first book, she wrote of being “furious with bishops who say dumb things about gay people,” describing how their statements on homosexuality “asymptotically approach…understanding at the speed of a dying snail.”

DD: One of the best lines in the book. 

DL: In her new book, she says part of her goal is to “revive gay people’s trust in God—a trust our shepherds have too often damaged or even killed, but which our tender and good Shepherd can restore to life.”

DD: A case in point re: understanding that moves as slow as a dying snail: that God “cannot bless sin” (March, 2021). Although this is true, it was probably not the most pastorally prudent thing to say at this time, for gay Catholics who are faithful to Church teaching on sexuality and marriage know that God cannot and does not bless sin. However, a little more effort is all it would have taken to think of a more creative and more thoughtful response that might appeal to those who have same sex attraction and are looking to the Church for something they can’t quite put their finger on, something along the lines of celibate covenant friendship perhaps.

DL: Unfortunately, “gay Christians” like Tushnet have always seemed like lost sheep to me, who, once found, tell the shepherd who finds them that they really aren’t lost, since they think they know better than the shepherd where and how they will flourish.

DD: This is horribly unjust. It is just wrong. 

DL: Tushnet’s disdainful view of the bishops is not surprising,

DD: She doesn’t have a disdainful view of bishops, anymore than Catholic traditionalists have a disdainful view of popes–given their past criticisms and doubts about some of the things Pope Francis has said.

DL: …when you consider this stunning statement in Tenderness:

I enjoy being gay. I love the communities my experience has given me; I love spending time with other gay people, especially other gay Christians. I love the insights this marginal, outsider experience offers—the queer perspective on contemporary American and Christian life. I love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. The world is full of beautiful ladies! What a joy. What a gift to notice it.

DD: Why, I have to wonder, is that stunning? I too love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. That is not necessarily lust. The world is full of beautiful women, and it is a gift to notice and appreciate them. She is a lesbian woman who practices sexual renunciation, so when she says she loves being gay, she does not mean that she loves engaging in same sex sexual acts, nor fantasizing about them. Rather, she loves who she is. If Christ can, why can’t she?

DL: This is dumbfounding to me and to every other man or woman I know who has repented from their past life lived as gay men and women.

DD: What I find particularly dumbfounding is Laidlaw’s tendency to confuse “looking at a person lustfully” with “noticing and appreciating the beauty of a woman”. We repent of actions; a person does not repent of an orientation that they did not choose. Snails pace once again, it seems.

DL: We are under no illusions that “being gay” is in anyway good, as the 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person makes clear when it speaks against those who give homosexuality “an overly benign interpretation,” or who view the homosexual condition as “neutral, or even good.” Tushnet told her readers in her first book that the 1986 Letter sadly isn’t “a jewel in the Church’s crown,” and said of the words quoted above that they are “especially unilluminating.” This is no surprise, coming from someone who claims to enjoy being gay so much.

DD: The text that Laidlaw refers to is the following:

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”

Although the use of the word “disorder” is unfortunate–for most people associate “disorder” with “personality disorder” and other terms from abnormal psychology–, the very fact that Eve Tushnet exhorts people to chastity clearly shows that she does not believe that the homosexual orientation is an orientation to a moral good. But she enjoys being who she is, which includes being a baptized member of Christ, as well as being gay, which permits a greater empathy for gay Catholics and a greater ability to offer them good counsel. She does not surrender to the temptation to enter into gay sexual activity, but she does enjoy being who she is and the opportunities and avenues that her orientation has opened up for her. 

DL: For those of us who have repented of our “love of being gay,” 

DD: David Laidlaw, it seems to me, is sneaky and devious. He did not repent of his love of being gay, unless “love of being gay” included love of same sex sexual acts and the gay lifestyle. For Eve Tushnet, “love of being gay” does not include love of same sex sexual acts. He should know that if he read her book.

DL: …we believe that the reason those words of liberating truth are unilluminating to Tushnet is because she appears blinded by her affection and attachment to the land of Sodom.

DD: It is nothing less than astounding to me that he would say such a thing. The arrogance of his rhetoric is jaw dropping. I don’t believe he would have said such a thing without a pseudonym to hide behind. 

DL: She is stuck, like Lot’s wife, looking back with fondness at that sterile and unfruitful land, not realizing that it is nothing but the valley of the shadow of death.

DD: Further evidence of foolishness disguised as orthodoxy. 

DL: And yet from this stuck place, Tushnet, both in this book and in her first book (as well as at her blog and in other writings), sees herself as having a more global vision than the Church for what “gay people” really need from the Church.

She sees her experience as pioneering, exceptional, and unique, frequently saying of herself that when she entered the Church, “I didn’t know any other gay people who were willing to accept the Church’s sexual ethic. I didn’t even know of anybody like that.” (This is hard to take seriously, since the Courage Apostolate would have been on her radar with a quick Google search.) From that point on, her life seems to have been consumed with trying to fit her love of being gay within the Church—and believing that her time outside the Church as a lesbian helps her point the way forward for the Church.

From this position as a self-appointed expert on what she calls on her blog, “Gay Catholic What Not,” she frequently makes magisterial statements, such as in this book, when she states, “it’s typically easier for a gay person who grows up outside the Church to know God’s love than for a gay person who had a Catholic upbringing,” and contends that “[t]he children of the Church, who should be the most confident in God’s love, the ones who know best what God is like, are instead the ones who grow up uncertain of God’s love and afraid that there’s no place for them in the Church.”

DD: Unfortunately, what she says here is true and continues to be so.

DL: One wonders on what basis she makes these rather broad claims,

DD: Experience. Listening to gay people who are Catholic as well as those who are not Catholic. 

DL: …but I think it stems from her choosing to still remain “on the margins” of her chosen queer life, instead of fully entering into the beauty of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and chastity. If she doesn’t see the Church as honoring the ways she wants to live out her “lesbianism,” 

DD: The Church does not have any teaching on how one should live out one’s lesbianism. It’s not that rich in detail. For the most part, it outlines what not to do, but it is rather silent on what gay Catholics can do, other than what every other Catholic is doing. That’s why people like Eve Tushnet are so important.

DL: …then she’ll naturally see the Church as a hindrance to anyone else who grows up in the Church with homosexual desires. This, I think explains the following question she poses, which I found sad and absurd:

What if gay people were safer in our churches than in the secular world? What if we could find more ways to give and receive love within the Church than we do outside it? If this seems impossible, it only shows how far we have strayed from the path the Lord has called us to walk.

DD: Who can disagree with that?

DL: Tushnet, alas, due to her own professed love of “being gay” is blind to the truth that those she calls “gay people” are already safer in the Church than they are in the secular world.

DD: On one level, they are safer, but many of them might not necessarily “feel” that. They have to “feel safe”, and Church documents tend not to have the capacity to generate feelings of safety. That comes from people. And if they don’t “feel safe”, they won’t believe that they are safe, and they’ll leave.

DL: Those of us who have shed the false identity of being LGBTQ have found what she seems to be so desperately looking for: there are indeed more ways to give and receive love within the Church than exist outside of it.

The problem for Tushnet is that she wants to express her love as some holy form of “lesbian” love within the Church, whereas converts, such as myself, have learned that anything that is “LGBTQ love” is always a perverted and distorted form of love.

DD: What’s LGBTQ love? Eve Tushnet talks about Christ’s love, not LGBTQ love. She knows she’s gay, that hasn’t changed, she understands that she is attracted to women, not men, and she chooses not to act upon that, but she allows that orientation to permit her to see the beauty of woman among other things, just as I, a married heterosexual male, allow my orientation to permit me to see the beauty of women, while renouncing any inclination to actually have sex with them. 

DL: That Tushnet isn’t able to see what we’ve found just shows how far she has strayed from the path the Lord has called her to walk. She needs to leave the halfway house she’s constructed of the Church on the outskirts of Sodom and Gomorrah, slough off the old man, and rejoice that God knows her as she truly is: a woman, whose sexual identity is created for motherhood, not lesbianism.

DD: I believe she knows her biological identity as a woman, capable of conceiving a child, thus capable of being a mother. But is Laidlaw suggesting that conversion to Christ automatically brings with it a conversion of one’s orientation?

DL: If Eve Tushnet doesn’t see God’s tenderness in that noble calling, then she cannot, I believe, possibly be relied upon to reveal God’s tenderness to anyone else.

DD: She has never said anything against the noble calling of motherhood. Of course she sees it. She counsels young pregnant women at a crisis pregnancy centre not to abort their babies, but to keep them and embrace the noble call of motherhood. 

It is just not the case that if an article is conservative and Catholic, then it must be a good article and worthy of publication. Unfortunately, some editors believe so, which is why many bad but conservative articles are published by otherwise half decent journals. Moreover, I can’t help thinking that to write an article of this nature behind a pseudonym is cowardly.

A Thought on Cognitive Systematicity

D. McManaman

After sending my brother an interview with Victor Davis Hanson on the situation in the Ukraine, my brother replied by saying: “So far I don’t find it anywhere near as enlightening as Mearsheimer” (Professor John Joseph Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He is an American political scientist and international relations scholar, and he belongs to the realist school of thought).

This is the problem I have with this political commentary (i.e., Mearsheimer, Col McGregor, Hanson, Tucker Carlson, etc), and it goes back to the criteria for what is true versus the definition of truth. I can read someone, a theologian, scripture scholar, economist, historian, whatever, and I can find it very enlightening, and the exhilaration that goes with that is wonderful. But here is the problem: what is false may feel just as exhilarating, interesting and fascinating as reading what is true. In fact, reading what is “true” may at times feel less exhilarating. I remember reading Patrick Woods and Technocracy Rising (which I now dismiss as nonsense) and watching him on video–I was at a local and run down coffee shop that has now been turned into a Starbucks, unfortunately, and I remember sitting there with a coffee and headphones and really enjoying that video series, feeling super enlightened, fascinated, exhilarated, etc. I know that were I to listen to that now, I wouldn’t feel anything, except perhaps like I was drinking a cold cup of coffee. This is the difficulty: truth is conformity with what actually is in reality; that’s its definition. Unfortunately, we don’t have direct access to reality in all its complexity and details, and uncovering it is a matter of induction, or plausible reasoning. Hence, all we have is the criteria for truth, and the criteria are the parameters of cognitive systematicity: completeness (comprehensiveness, avoidance of gaps or missing components, unity and integrity as a genuine whole that embraces and integrates all its needed parts); cohesiveness, consonance, functional regularity, functional simplicity and economy, and functional efficacy. We see these criteria at work especially in biblical studies.  

The difficulty–and people like Nicholas Rescher see this well–is that “all that is true will have these properties”, but “not everything that has these properties is true” (just as “all men are animals”, but it is not necessarily the case that “all animals are men”). Given the information we (or specific individuals) have at this time, the most consistent, efficient, consonant, complete and cohesive answer or conclusion may turn out to be false with the addition of a new piece of data, that is, new information–scientists know this experience well. When we discover that with this new piece of information, the case that was being built up in favor of a very specific conclusion turns out to be false, we will notice that this does not undo the experience we had earlier on, namely, the exhilarating experience of being “enlightened”, of being apparently on the right track, of being apparently “right”. Being wrong felt the exact same way as being right. Hence, being wrong can feel exactly the same way as being right. In fact, it often does feel the same way. More to the point, the cause of the exhilaration and fascination was not the fact that what we were hearing or learning was in accordance with reality (truth), rather, it was caused by the internal consistency, coherence, harmony, regularity and economy of what we were hearing, or learning. We often assume that we have enough information, until suddenly a new piece of data is discovered that upsets the applecart of our previously held theory, contention, conclusion, etc. 

So, it is very much like art and the experience of the beautiful. I can stand before a beautiful piece of art, a painting, and experience delight, fascination, exhilaration, etc., but that is due to the harmony and integrity of the work, which are properties of the beautiful. But we cannot speak of the “truth” of a work of art. We can’t say that Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is more true than Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, for example. Truth participates in beauty, but truth has the added feature of being related to the real and measured by the real. 

So any one of us can listen to Mearsheimer, or whoever, and experience the feeling of being enlightened, but we really have no idea whether or not what he says is actually true (in conformity with the real). This is especially the case when what he, or whoever, says coincides with what, deep down, we want to be true. 

The Lord Delights in You

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_367homily1.16.2022ordinarytime2.html

Deacon D. McManaman

“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken, ‘ but you shall be called ‘My Delight, ‘ for the LORD delights in you.”

            There is no doubt that in this reading, the Lord is addressing Israel, who is His bride. However, the deeper and ultimate meaning of these verses is that they address each individual human person, each one created in the image and likeness of God. We know this from the gospels, for Christ healed individual persons. This is what has been so difficult for human beings throughout history to understand. We tend to see ourselves as members of a larger group, and of course we are, but the problem is that the group can and often does overshadow the concrete person; for the person does not exist for the group, rather, the group exists for the person (just as man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man). The group as a whole is not a person, but you are a person. Christ, who is the Second Person of the Trinity of Persons, came to redeem the human person, and if you were the only person who needed to be redeemed, Christ would have come for you and you alone.

            On one of my pastoral visits to a local elementary school, a young grade 5 girl said to me that she was told by her parents that, with respect to this pandemic, “God is taking a vacation”. Although there is something hopeful in this claim–insofar as vacations come to an end and the vacationer returns and takes care of outstanding business–, it is a rather dangerous claim to make, for God does not leave us alone even for an instant. In fact, you and I have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and children above all need to understand that. It is not possible for a limited human being to give undivided attention to more than one person at the same time, but God can give each individual person His undivided attention simultaneously and perpetually, because God is unlimited. 

            It is remarkable to consider what it means that we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence; for it means He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, that is, as if you are the only one for Him to love. It is as if everything in the universe was created ultimately for you alone, that all this exists to sustain and serve you, i.e., the environment, the law of gravity and all the other laws of physics, the cycles, and the entire order of nature, etc. In fact, if you or I really knew how much God loves us, we would die of joy. And this life is precisely about learning to be loved like that. This means allowing myself to be loved like that, for you and I tend not to allow that for ourselves because we have a very uncompromising and narrow sense of justice for ourselves and thus don’t see ourselves as deserving of that love, so we choose not to open ourselves to it. But His love for us is not a matter of justice–of course, no one deserves to be loved like that–rather, His love is a matter of pure gift. 

            The Lord delights in you, completely attentive to you at every instant of your existence. He does not delight in you because you are so talented and have achieved so much–that’s the love of this world; this world loves you by virtue of your gifts and talents or is indifferent to you by virtue of your lack of them. God, on the other hand, loves you because you are His, you are in His image and likeness; He sees you in Himself, and Himself in you.  

            It is so important to get a handle on this. It is difficult to do so because the culture in which we live does not see the value of the individual person, or as Berdyaev would have put it, the privileges of the nobility have not been extended to all mankind, which would raise all to the level of nobility, “since human dignity was first recognized for the aristocracy” (See his The Fate of Man in the Modern World). We continue to think in terms of the group–general democratization rather than general aristocratization–, and we value others on the basis of how useful they are to the group as a whole. We award students for their contribution to the group, for their achievements, which reflect well on the group, the school, the school board, etc., and whose talents promise to serve society well in the future. But in terms of the person himself or herself, we still don’t quite get it; for we still have legalized abortion. Medical schools are permeated with a pro-abortion/pro-choice mentality. The developing child in the womb is simply not recognized as “person”.

            Upon conversion, however, when a person becomes a new creation in Christ, when he is awakened to the knowledge of how much he is loved by God, that God really does pay undivided attention to him at every moment of his existence and is loved as if he or she is the only one that exists, it is then that he or she begins to notice the person, is awakened to the absolute and intrinsic value and dignity of the person–for we only see in others what we see in ourselves. It is at that point that morality suddenly becomes easy. To have a moral discussion with people today can be very difficult; they can become upset rather quickly. It is generally true that morality is painful for most people. But after a true conversion experience, it is no longer painful, and moral science becomes a “no brainer”. The problem is there are a lot of people in the Church, who regularly come to Mass, but who still have yet to convert. These are the people who write letters to the bishop when moral matters are preached in a way consistent with the teachings of the Church, but which upsets them nonetheless. Such people want religion without conversion. It’s not that they are nasty or horrible people; they just have not been awakened to the “personhood” of others, because they haven’t been awakened to their own personhood through an acute awareness of the divine gaze upon them. The purpose of this life is to come to know the delight that the Lord has for you personally and to allow yourself to be moved by that love. 

Thoughts on Systems, Being, and the Superconscious

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_366thoughts.html

Douglas P. McManaman

There are many avenues one may take to demonstrate the existence of God. As our starting point for this discussion, let’s consider systems. There are all sorts of systems in the world: complex and non-complex–it does not matter what particular system we consider. But let us ask: “What is the most certain thing we can say about systems?” We can say, without a doubt, that a system is composed of simpler units. A system is a multiplicity of some kind, and so it is made up of parts. Moreover, a system depends upon the behavior of its parts. Emergent properties, for example, depend upon the interactions of the parts of the system (i.e., a swarm of bees, traffic, the market, etc.). Most systems are composed of parts which are in turn smaller systems, and these too are composed of parts or smaller units, which in turn are often systems unto themselves.

Now if the system, whatever system we are talking about, depends upon its smaller units, which may in turn be systems, we can determine with certainty that there cannot be an infinite number of smaller units upon which a larger system depends.  How do we know this? We can employ the same reasoning (reductio ad absurdum) used to show that not everything can be “relative”–in the most general sense of that term.  

What is relative depends upon something outside itself, in relation to which we understand it. For example, ‘John is tall’ is relative; for there is no “absolute” tall, only ‘relative’ tall. In other words, John is tall “in relation to” something other than John, namely the national average, or the class average, or the team average, etc. Without that “in relation to”, it is impossible to come to a determinate or definite understanding of the claim: ‘John is tall’. So, let’s call a relative claim (like ‘John is tall’) the “final term” of a series. We both know John and we both agree that John is tall, because we both understand that in relation to which the claim is true, i.e., the national average (let’s say John is 7’,2”). The final term of a series will, if it is truly relative, depend on the term that is immediately prior, whatever that is.  Let’s label the final term Z, and its predecessor Y, and Y’s predecessor X. In order to understand that Z is relative, I must at the same time know that Z is relative ‘in relation to’ Y. If I did not understand Z “in relation to” Y, if my understanding of Z did not depend upon anything outside itself, then Z would be understood “through itself” (per se), rather than ‘in relation to’ something other than Z, such as Y, and thus Z would not be relative. So, my understanding of Z depends upon my understanding of Y–if Z is truly relative. But we are testing the claim that everything is relative, so we have to maintain that even Y is relative, and thus my understanding of Y depends upon my understanding of X, whatever that turns out to be. Since everything is relative (or so we believe at this point), my understanding of X depends upon my understanding of W. So, in order to understand, here and now, Z, I must here and now understand Y, X, and W simultaneously–otherwise my understanding of Z is “indeterminate” (without “term” or end, that is, indefinite). Indefinite understanding, however, is unachieved. But I truly do understand that John is tall, and I understand that it is a relative claim (He’s not absolutely tall, but only in relation to the societal average, or the team average, etc.). This means I understand, here and now, all the factors that are conditions for my understanding of the claim: “John is tall” (i.e., Y, X, W, etc.). 

There cannot be an infinite series of “relatives” upon which my understanding of Z depends. If there were, I would never achieve a definitive understanding of Z, which is a claim that is relative. My understanding would depend upon an indeterminate (or infinite) number of factors, and so my understanding would be perpetually indeterminate, indefinite, without term or end. Hence, not everything is relative, and thus there is something that is “absolute”.  We need not know what that is. All we know for certain is that an infinite series of relatives is impossible. 

Similarly, not everything can be a system. In other words, not everything can be a unit that is constituted by a multiplicity of smaller units–if the system depends upon those smaller units (as atoms depend upon subatomic particles, for example, or a society depends upon people, or a body depends upon cells, etc.); otherwise, the system that is constituted by an actually infinite number of smaller systems would never achieve the status of a determined system. Hence, there are units that are non-systems. These non-systems are one and indivisible. 

This is what led the first atomists to say that the one indivisible unit (atomai = uncuttable) is being in its truest sense. The atomists claimed that the reality that we perceive outside of us is not being per se, but appearance, the result of the interactions of true beings or ‘atoms’. We need not get into atomism at this point–for there are definite problems with it. But what is important is their insight that being is one and indivisible. They borrowed that from Parmenides.  Here’s how it works.

“Is” is one and indivisible. A circle, for example, is not indivisible–it can be divided into two (i.e., halves). By dividing the single quantity, which is the circle, it becomes multiple. Whatever has quantity is divisible, even if only logically divisible. But “is” or “being” in its most general sense has no parts. What is it that is outside of “is” or “being”?  The answer is “non-is”, or non-being, or what amounts to the same thing: nothing. In other words, what is “outside” of my hand? A possible answer is “my leg”, for example. My leg is not my hand. This part is outside of that part, or “is not” that part. But “being” or “is” cannot be a “part”. The reason is that outside of ‘is’ is non-is, or nothing. So “being” is one and indivisible. In sum, there is nothing outside of being. There is something outside of this or that circle, or this or that system, but there is nothing outside of “is” considered as such. Hence, being is not a quantity.

An infinite series of multiple units, in the here and now, that go to make up systems, which in turn make up larger systems, etc., is impossible; for no definite system would result. Multiplicity is eventually reduced to a single indivisible unit. What is that unit? This single unit is either at the bottom of the system, or at the top of the system. In other words, the unit determines the system to be, but it does so either from below and proceeds upwards or from the top and proceeds downwards. The single determines the multiple, which is to say that being determines the potential. The reductionist habit of mind tends to see the direction as proceeding from below and up towards the top. But that would seem to imply that the result, namely reality as it appears to us, is not being per se. 

So, let’s consider what it means to proceed from the top downwards. A being can be a system. For example, the human being is a complex system. But system describes “what” a thing is. Thus, system as system is not being, because being is one and undivided, and so the system must be determined by being. That by virtue of which a system is (or exists), cannot be a system. Hence, system does not explain being; rather, being explains system, at least ultimately. It is the act of existing (esse) of the system that accounts for the very existence of the system–as long as the system we are talking about is a single being–a swarm of bees or even a beehive, for example, is a complex system, but it is not a single being. “I”, on the other hand, am a single being and I experience myself as such. 

A multiplicity of beings, however, does require explanation, unless those beings contain within themselves the sufficient reason or explanation for their own being. As long as there is a distinction between “what” a thing is (system or not) and its very existence, that thing is contingent and does not contain within itself the sufficient reason for its existence. Whatever being contains the sufficient reason for its own being within itself will be “Being Itself” (its nature is “to be”), and thus absolutely One–there cannot be two beings that are “is” pure and simple. 

At the very foundation of reality is a single, indivisible One. The relationship between this One and everything else is something for later, but at this point, let it be said that multiplicity cannot go on forever, just as “relativity” cannot constitute an infinite regress. 

Subjectivity

I am conscious of the fact that I know things outside of me (objects). When I close my eyes, I am also conscious of the fact that I am imagining or remembering things that are not me; these are objects of internal sensation. I know, but I also know that I know, or know that I am knowing things other than me. And so, my knowledge is twofold. I certainly know, albeit imperfectly, the object before me (objective knowledge), but I also know un-objectively, or subjectively, that is, I know myself as subject. I can certainly make myself the object of my knowledge, but in so doing, that objective knowledge of myself is at the same time accompanied by an intuition, a subjective knowledge, an awareness that I am knowing myself as object. This subjective knowledge, or knowledge of myself as “subject”, is intuited and does not become objective. It is always behind me, so to speak. 

There is much about myself of which I am aware. For example, I am aware that I am not necessary. What this means is that I know that I am an actualized potentiality–I did not always exist but do exist now. I also know that I am limited. Although I know myself as a being per se, thus relatively independent, it is also true that I am to a certain degree “relative”; for I know myself “in relation to” things other than me. And so, I know that I am not absolute. I have a profound sense of my own contingency–I am aware that I exist, but I am aware that existence is that which I “have”, not that which I am–I cannot say that “I am being”. I am a human kind of being, I am a complex being, a system if you will, but I am not my own existence. Rather, my existence is “had” or possessed–not possessed by a part of me, but by the whole of me. But that awareness of my own contingency (that I need not be) can only be had against the background of what is non-contingent, because contingency is a relative term, and as such can only be understood in relation to that which is non-contingent. In other words, on some level, I am aware of non-contingency, that is, I am aware of necessity, or that which “is” necessarily, and I know that I am not it. But that knowledge or awareness has not always been explicit; it has been implicit or preconscious before it was made explicit. That knowledge, which is an intuition, comes from the “subjective” plane or realm. It accompanies me always, but it is in the background, so to speak. It is a real knowledge that is non-objective, or subjective. In short, I know that I am not the Necessary Being, but the awareness of the Necessary Being is a condition that renders it possible for me to know myself as non-necessary or contingent. 

This is the realm of spirit. Spirit includes a preconscious knowledge of God, which is not to be confused with an objective and explicit knowledge. Mystical knowledge, or an awareness of the presence of God (the Necessary Being), occurs in this realm, the realm of the superconscious. It is real, non-objective, subjective (not in the sense of a purely individual construct), spiritual, and superconscious. 

Objectification and Abortion

http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_365objectificationandabortion.html

Deacon D. McManaman

Very often while serving at a Mass, I will look out at the congregation and reflect upon the fact that there are so many people in front of me about whom I know virtually nothing. I also know that if I were to sit down with any one of them and begin a conversation about their life, a whole world would open up before me and I would never see that person the same way again. They would go from an object before me to a ‘thou’, a concrete subject with a history. In other words, their personhood would gradually come into focus. What this means is that they would become increasingly real to me. I believe this is what Nicolas Berdyaev means when he insists that there “is no greater mistake than to confuse objectivity with reality. The objective is that which is least real, least existential.”[1] What, then, is most real? In short, it is “subjectivity”, or personhood. That is why the more this unknown person communicates, the more he reveals his status as spirit, as subjectivity with a history that is still moving, and thus a subject with meaning. That is “real being”. Berdyaev writes: “…my inward spiritual experience is not an object. Spirit is never object: the existence of that which exists is never an object.”[2]

The general mass of people that I might behold looking out at the congregation is not entirely real for me until each one begins to reveal himself or herself. And so it is in community that the truth of things is revealed, and the truth revealed is that these are not things, but persons with a depth of meaning that always exceeds what I am able to know at any one time. 

We live in a fallen world. This means that the community of humanity is broken, and if it is broken, we don’t really come to an understanding of the truth of who we are in and through this community. We, like everything else, have been objectified. We have become less than real in the eyes of others. This or that person standing in line for a coffee is a non-entity to me, I am a non-entity to him, and we tend to forget that an hour or two in conversation will bring into greater focus the existential and subjective density of this person. We know ourselves to be “subjects”, that is, persons of intrinsic worth, but the assurance of that knowledge does not settle upon us until it is reflected back to us through the eyes of others. The “objectification” that impedes this is in many ways the source of a great deal of personal anger and feelings of alienation in people; for anger is a response to a perceived injustice, and “objectification” of the human person is a terrible injustice; in fact, it is the most fundamental injustice. 

Years ago I recall showing my “Right to Life” Club the Silent Scream, narrated by Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson. It is a short, half hour film that shows, via ultrasound, what takes place in the womb during a suction abortion. After the film was over, much to my dismay, a young girl in the class burst out in tears. She was clearly overcome by the sadness of witnessing the cold destruction of a real human subject, engaged in a futile struggle to live as the suction tube probed the womb in search of the child’s body. Her tears were deep with emotion, and her sadness expressed our own and perhaps even intensified it.

But I’ve often wondered what it is that happens to some of these girls, as they go off to university, either to medical school or to university nursing programs, that changes them from their earlier pro life position to their current pro-choice stance. There is no doubt in my mind that much of it has to do with peer pressure. Many people simply don’t have the strength of character to stand alone against the larger crowd. Perhaps it is rooted in a lack of conviction regarding the status of their own personhood; after all, that awareness of our own spiritual center, our own subjectivity, is rooted in community, and perhaps the only way I can maintain that sense of my own status as subject is through the approval of the group. And so I capitulate, for the sake of my own personhood, for fear of the alienation that results from objectification, that is, being regarded as a thing, an opponent, an enemy of the state or enemy of the group. There is tremendous irony in this: in order to salvage my own personhood, I join in the objectification of other human persons (i.e., the unborn), refusing to see them as human persons created in the image and likeness of God. The unborn as “person” becomes an obstacle in the way of my right to a life in community.

Notes

1. Nicolas Berdyaev. The Beginning and the End. Translated by R. M. French. San Rafael, CA. Semantron Press, 2009. P. 53.

2. Ibid., p. 58. Berdyaev also writes:  “There is a tendency in the reason to turn everything into an object from which existentiality disappears. The thing-in-itself is not an object or “non-I”, it is a subject, or ‘Thou’. The subject is not, as in Fichte, the absolute or the deity. The subject, the human ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ are turned into objects and things as a result of a fall in the relations between us.” Ibid., p. 59. Further on he writes: “Objectification is above all exteriorization, the alienation of spirit from itself. And exteriorization gives rise to necessity, to determination from without. The horror which Pascal felt when confronted by the endless expanse of space is the horror of objectification, the horror of strangeness.” Ibid., p. 63