The Ravages of Foregrounding Culpability

Part 3

Second, in our moral teaching, almost the first words out of our mouths have been, “Well, we cannot judge your heart.” We wax eloquent on this for a while. Then we issue the commandment: But the objective call is not to fornicate, not to contracept, etc.

But all sinners are as adolescent boys and girls. Waiting with Pavlovian lust the bell that ends your lecture so as to carry out the very deed proscribed. So, when we speak thus it is as though we were addressing 15 year old males and telling them that should they fornicate we cannot judge them, but that there is some remote objective norm that they would be violating. “You are such pathetic infantile and lusty souls that you will probably disobey. But we cannot judge. Still, it is the ideal that you do not fornicate.”

Success us unlikely with these approaches. Evangelical success and moral success.

Why? We have “foregrounded” culpability. We have put it in bold, underlined it, waxed on it, etc. In fact, we should pretty much bury culpability. Bury it for the confessionals. Attention to culpability is the job of the priest when the penitent is wailing, not when he is plotting his next subjectively innocent violation of God’s pattern of life.

For every action, there is some reaction. When we foreground culpability, we incentivize sinners to continue in the sin, betting on their innocence. We fail to bring the good news to non-Catholics, the good news that Jesus established the Catholic Church as the one only Church, the only community of salvation, the ark without which we drown in the deluge, the harbor of rest from our labors, the mother with abundant breasts for us starving drifting souls, the one who dispenses our final farewell that we might not be taken down by the demons to hell but up with the angels to heaven. Why is this not front and center for us? Because we enjoy our café latte with the pagan or anti-Catholic or non-Catholic who is kind and a good pal, as we fail to show him the precariousness of his lot outside the Church?

The Ravages of Foregrounding Culpability

Part 2

How have we done this?

First, instead of joyfully proclaiming the Gospel, its absolute necessity for and real deliverance of salvation, we have stopped in our tracks to meditate on “Whether those who have not yet heard this message can be saved?”

This thought – albeit worth spending some time on – in fact obsesses us, distracting our attention, occupying our resources, and really taking us away from the urgent demand to evangelize. Christ gave us gifts not so that we could meditate on what is the fate of those who don’t receive these gifts in plenitude. Rather, he gave them so that we would share the gifts so that poor starving souls, weary with life, can be made rich in his grace.

The Ravages of Foregrounding Culpability

Part 1

Today I begin a series on “The Ravages of Foregrounding Culpability”. By “foregrounding” I mean putting before our thoughts front and center, for explicit consideration. So, “foregrounding culpability” is to put front and center before our thoughts, for explicit consideration, the “culpability” of the person.

This is my contention: To foreground culpability is unnatural and pastorally destructive.

When you lay out the rules of your household, the last thing you state is, “Oh, and if you happen not to be paying attention to me right now, then you will be less culpable if you happen to violate a rule.” To do so would be utterly silly.

But this is what we are doing today. This is exactly what has been done by Catholics for the past 52 years: We have foregrounded culpability. By doing this, we downplay the objectivity of law, its centrality, and our responsibility to know the law and follow it. And this law is nature’s and God’s.

Consecration of Russia

Our Lady revealed to Sr. Lucia her instruction to the Pope to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. This is public knowledge and witnessed to by several public attempts by various pontiffs so to fulfill this command.

Now, here are the results Mary prophesied to Sr. Lucia, should or should not the consecration take place:

If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.

It has been claimed that the consecrations have adequately taken place. However, do the results that we witness match the prophecy Mary announced? Is there “peace”? Is Russia converted to the One True Church of Christ, the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church? Have the errors of Atheistic Marxism (the errors Russia spread at least upon a time) abated?

Or rather have these Marxist errors spread, morphed into new viral forms, and taken hold even in the west? Even in the south? Even in the Third World? Have wars and rumors of wars increased? Have there been persecutions? Have the good suffered? Has the Holy Father been pressed with trials?

Who has eyes to see and ears to hear?

Is There Good in Evil?

Part 6

And that is the heresy at work in the “musings” of some who suggest positive elements in these relationships: Platonizing thinking of evil.

This is a kind of Platonism which thinks of evil as “non-existent”. How easy it is to slip into this kind of Platonizing “benign reading” of evil actions! Especially since leaders in the Church have tried their best the past 50 years only to point out the positive things, not to harp too much on the negative things. (More on the Council and this “Plotinian turn”, as I call it, in theology in another series of posts.)

But in fact, evil is not a mere “non-existence”. Not a mere “absence”. Rather, evil is the privation of a due good. By “privation” we mean absence in a subject. For instance, “blindness” is an absence in something. Blindness is not “sheer absence”. In the midst of my room, only I can see. But that does not mean that the space in the room is “blind” because there is “absence of sight” floating around the pure space of my room. The kind of absence we are speaking of is an absence in a subject. More precisely, it is an exact kind of absence, for it is an absence that involves a specific kind of subject, a subject that is supposed to have what is absent. My wall cannot see, but we don’t call it “blind”. Only that which is supposed to see can be blind. Thus, blindness is the absence of vision in a thing which is supposed to see. At long last, we see depicted our definition of evil: Absence of some good in a subject which is supposed to have that good. Or in short: Privation of a due good.

Now, Evil is an analogical term, which can signify moral privation or merely physical privation. That is, there is moral evil and physical evil. We have given the illustration with physical evil. It is a physical evil for me not to have my arm or the use of my arm. It is a physical evil for me not to have balance in my step. Moral evil is the absence of the due good in free action.

So, why do I say these musing people — those connected with the Synod on the Family who are asking whether or not there are positive elements in fornicating, in adulterous, and in homosexual relationships — are Platonizing?

Because they are failing to see the deep problem of the actual total situation of evil. They think very abstractly, not concretely. (A very bad pastoral policy, by the way. Very bad. They use abstract thinking about concrete shifting reality in order to bend those universal truths which are true in every situation. What an odd pair of contradictions, producing a course of action that is unwise in principle and foolish in practice!)

Let me spell this out. If you set about listing independently or one by one the “things that exist” and “only the things that exist”, of course you will come up with a list of “only good things”. For instance, the detective writes down, “A dagger, a hand, a man, a woman, blood, heart.” Each of these is “good” taken independently. However, when we look at the concrete situation and see that it involved the hand of a man, thrusting a dagger, into an innocent woman, tearing her heart to shreds, and thus causing her to shed blood…. Now we have the real story.

And we say that this act is evil, and it is evil. Our mere list of items is an abstraction from reality. We cannot muse on the list and say, “But the dagger is such a good dagger, with such a nice handle, … and pretty blade; the blood is so red and colorful – “Do you see how lovely the pattern on the sheet?”; what a strong hand he has; he took such powerful steps; what balance in his feet; what a nice smile he had; and he addressed her so kindly; and she really is so beautiful still… — and innocent!*$#!” This “listing out” the sundry good things that are elements of an act which is simply evil is utter nonsense. Abstract nonsense!

We must, rather, discern: What is the order of these various things, these elements? What happened here? Who did what to whom, and with what instruments? What was the end intended in the action? When we discern the end orchestrating everything, we hit upon the actual real thing that took place. Here, with the end, we have the reason for the being of everything human in this picture. The end was cold blooded murder. Now, that murder was a complex event and the complex parts are as it were instruments of it: His steps, his hand, his eyes, the dagger, its sharpness, etc. And everything instrumental to an end that is evil is itself evil. Period. “But what about the girl?” His Victim! “But what about her blood? Her lovely face?” Food for maggots!

Let us turn back to the salacious issue at hand: Adultery. Everything about the the adulterous couple’s action ordered to the end of the relationship as sexual is simply evil. Period. And when I say “relationship as sexual” I write precisely. It is not simply “what is ordered to adulterous sex” that is evil. It is not that we can only say, “What they did Tuesday night was evil, and the dinner beforehand that was its social preparation.” These are evil, yes. But there is much more that is evil here in the relationship. Whatever is ordered to the relationship as sexual is evil. The act of giving her flowers is evil. Of singing to her, evil. Of living with her, evil. Of calling her while at work, evil. Of organizing the garage with her, so that his things can fit in the garage, evil.

In practice, it ends up being very difficult to will anything for the partner (in such a relationship) apart from the end of the actual relationship as sexual. Difficult to divorce one’s sundry actions from the adulterous affair. Perhaps she is his secretary. Perhaps he pays her a just wage. Perhaps he doesn’t even make the affair a condition of her employment or of a positive atmosphere. Good. Then the just wage is good, and willed apart from the relationship as sexual. (But one must be honest. Perhaps her salary was gratuitously bumped as well. Just how would the atmosphere be without the affair? And at any rate, all that serenading, those chocolates, etc. – these all serve the lust.)

At last, What about the homosexual couple? Here, there is not only nothing in the relationship as sexual that is actually orderable to the good; there is nothing even hypothetically orderable. Why? The entire relationship as sexual is against nature. The only elements that can actually be considered positive are those that are willed apart from the relationship as sexual. And, let us be honest and sober, not drunk with delirium, almost everything regarding this relationship is in fact ordered to to the relationship as sexual.

Who thinks that a lengthy massage by one member upon another of an adulterous pair, or by one member upon another of a homosexual pair, can be willed and/or delivered apart from the relationship as sexual is clueless.

Is There Good in Evil?

Part 5

What about the adulterous couple? A man has left his wife and has taken up with another woman. Thus, the adulterous couple. Is there any actual potential for the so-called “positive” elements in this relationship to be ordered to the good? There is none. For the man is married. These elements can be instrumental only to sin, for they all lead towards a claim to fullness proper to marriage and/or to that sexual embrace that is proper to marriage. Thus, these elements have indeed nothing positive about them, except insofar as these elements are willed apart from the sexual relationship. But most or practically all of such elements are actually ordered to the relationship (let us be sober and not drunk with delirium). So, in an adulterous relationship, there is only hypothetical potential for so-called positive elements. By hypothetical I mean that there is something materially describable in the relationship that could, were the man not married, be taken up actually into a proper marital union. But as a matter of fact, nothing actually ordered to the adulterous relationship can actually so be taken up.

It is idle Platonic dreaming to think it could be.

Is There Good in Evil?

Part 4

We are now in position to answer a question proposed for the 2015 Synod on the Family.

The question is (or involves): Are there positive elements in unions that are not sacramental? An remotely similar question surely to be asked: Are there positive elements in homosexual unions?

Regarding either question, supposedly positive elements can only be identified where there is potential for said elements to be ordered rightly. Where there is no potential for said elements to be ordered rightly, there is nothing “positive” about them.

Now, one way in which said elements have potential to be rightly ordered is if they can come to be actually be ordered to the good. For example: A fornicating heterosexual couple might repent of their fornication and embrace true marriage. Then, the relationship that they have built up, though indeed wounded by their past sin, has in it that which can be brought to the healed and healing state of matrimony.

Is There Good in Evil? – 3

Part 3

More complex is the fornicating couple. They refuse to get married. They seek each other’s pleasure. Thus, they commit the evil of fornication, which shall take them to hell. Yet, they do look kindly on each other. They bear affection for one another. Not simply as steps towards the fornicating act. But as acts genuinely tender. I say this issue is more complex. Why? Because really we cannot separate these acts from the fact that the couple is living in sin. Each member is ordering his (or her) life to the evil of cohabitation. Thus, the very goodness and promise in their tenderness towards one another is almost ineluctably taken up into the evil of fornication and adds thereto. On the other hand, in itself, such tenderness is natural and “raw material” for a genuine marital relationship. And it may be that concretely speaking such tendernesses are concretely willed apart from the state of cohabitation, of proximity to the bed. Insofar, the acts would be good. Yet, such concrete willing apart from the state of cohabitation thrives under the wider umbrella of an overarching intention of fornication. So, yet again, these acts are laboring unconsciously towards sin. And so far, they are again evil.

(Dizzying are the subtleties. I am trying to show that if you want me to bring out the subtlety, it must be done both ways.)

If we substitute for the fornicating couple the juxtaposition of two persons who are engaged in the hideous acts of un-nature, we can add one final comment. Whereas the fornicating couple engaged tenderness acts that are in themselves natural, this juxtaposed set of persons living un-naturally is rather engaging tenderness acts that are, more frequently, in themselves un-natural. Friendship is not unnatural. Yet, sexual tenderness towards the same sex, is unnatural and thus evil.

Is There Good in Evil? 2

Part 2

We can now add the nuance, seeing that the angry mob, gathered last night, is dispersed and that only those seeking light remain.

Those aspects of good that are not ordered to the evil act do not add to its evil. They may even constitute juxtaposed, contradictory goodness in the midst of the evil act, which remains evil.

For instance, a murderer might really have genuine affection for his mother. His murdering is evil, but his affection for his mother is good. He is locked up in prison but his mother visits him and he has true affection for her. (He is very sick.) This contradiction indicates the state of a pilgrim man on his way to hell. He wills the evil of murder, has not repented of it, but retains some genuine affection for his family.

So too, the Nazi, who is deeply hurt when his son smacks his daughter. He is grieved. He issues a just punishment, and without undue rigor or anger. He keeps order in his home. These acts, if they are not ordered to the evil of exterminating Jews, are good acts. They are not acts leading to heaven. For the Nazi is going to hell. However, they show that his will is not finally anchored in hell. That there remains seeds of virtue which could be, by the grace of the Spirit, put to such use as to have the Nazi make his way to heaven.

 

Is there Good in Evil? (In Several Parts)

Part 1

The question is less theoretical and more concrete. However, we will need to get theoretical to tackle it.

The beginning and endpoint are practical: Does a sin become less a sin because there are things about the action that are attractive or good? Again, does a sinner become less sinful because there are things about him that are attractive or good? These are our leading questions.

And we often want to say a simple “Yes” in answer to these questions. But not so fast!

If the attractive features are ordered to the sin, then they do not take away from the evil of the sin. Rather, they can even exacerbate it. How?

If your rhetorical skills are charming and persuasive, then when you harness them to seduce some woman, or some nation of zombie consumers, then you turn to evil what is abstractly considered otherwise neutral or good. Thus, your rhetorical skills make the sin more evil. Why? Because you thereby attract more followers to the enslaving evil of your greed, as you advertise merely for profit’s sake.

Again, if some heretic is very charming, and attracts followers because he is “Oh, so kind and gentle; so good humored; so easy going,” then his positive traits make his sin of scandal all the worse. This is why Pope Saint Pius X condemned Modernism so harshly and warned the sheep so vehemently against its proponents. Because the proponents were sexy back then. Already were they preparing for war, for rebellion against Holy Mother the Church. Preying on young men. Drawing them into the foul stench of heresy.

Similarly, if someone pursuing the unnatural sin with a victim is “kind and tender” in his manner of attracting and victimizing his victim, then this kindness and tenderness, this soft speech, the generosity of the table he spreads before the sheep he will slaughter on his lust’s lap, all these turn to evil and pile evil upon evil.

We have given the most essential and pertinent answer to our leading questions. But the mob of obfuscators gathers round the door, angry, pounding and protesting that we have not been theologically nuanced enough. They gather and incite riots not because they seek clarity but because they take license in our not having said everything to distract from the most important thing that needs saying,

 “The (abstractly) good aspects of some act, which aspects are ordered to evil, simply add to the evil of the act.”

Save nuance for those sober enough to hear refined discourse.