Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trading niceness for the truth

Back in the early years of our Catholic homeschooling endeavor, I used to participate in the occasional discussion at a Catholic educational forum for homeschoolers.  So long as we were talking about choices of curricula, the cute things kids said, and that sort of thing, it was fine.  But I noticed that every time a "hot button" topic would come up, there would be this big rush to shut things down.  The moderators would remind everybody that emotions ran strong on these topics and everybody should remember to be civil and respectful and that the board really wasn't the place for these sorts of issues or discussions, and that would be the end of things.

Now, if we were talking about the mommy blog version of hot button topics, things about parenting styles or whether TV harms your child's brain, I could understand this "rush to shut down" mode.  But these were the same kinds of hot button topics you might encounter in the world: abortion, gay marriage or other gay issues, politics, and so on.  And this was a Catholic forum run by Catholics.

When I stopped actively participating in that forum, I chalked it up to my usual problems making friends with my fellow females.  But I think that was lazy of me, because I just can't think of rationality, tenacity, or straightforwardness in discussions as solely masculine traits, anymore than I would think of civility or respectfulness as feminine ones--ideally, regardless of one's sex, one ought to be capable of all of these qualities when one is an adult. 

And I get, believe me, that not everybody is called to the practice of apologetics.  There is nothing wrong with being the sort of person who dislikes confrontation, who is inclined to become emotional when challenged to defend his or her positions on issues, or whose interests and tastes simply do not lie in that direction.  Apologetics isn't like prayer, something every Christian should practice; it's a particular field, that only some will be drawn to.

However, I think the danger of the Jody Bottum position on gay marriage (that the Church should just shut up about it because we're not going to win and we're only going to make the Church look like a big old meanie) is that this type of thinking is so very seductive to the same kinds of Catholics who would prefer not to discuss hot button issues at all, and whose way of dealing with them is to pretend they don't exist.  Honesty compels me to admit that quite a number of these Catholics are my fellow Catholic women.

When on that board I mentioned above a situation arose where a mother was concerned about her preschool child's participation in a parish catechetical program because each day at the program a little boy prayed loudly in thanks to God that he had two moms and no dad, I was pretty well flabbergasted by the position, expressed by the majority, that the mom should just have a nice little talk with her own child, that after all these situations are going to come up, that the catechist's approval of this prayer (openly expressed, e.g., "Why, yes, you are lucky to have two moms!" etc.) was slightly troubling but not worth pulling one's child out of a really excellent preschool program--I felt that, like a certain Lewis Carroll character, I had stepped through a looking glass.  This was, remember, several years ago, four or five, perhaps, before the present onslaught of pressure to force the American public to approve openly, loudly, and daily of sodomy and all its relationships.  These were Catholic women.  The few who objected were reminded to be nice.  The rest were sure that the proper thing to do was to say that, well, God prefers for men and women to marry each other, but we should be nice (raising the inevitable question, I suppose, in a child's mind: Why isn't God as nice as we are?)...

It is one thing to say of one's own self: I have no taste, no turn, nor any particular talent to be a defender of the faith in the world, and thus I will look quietly to my own home while bracing myself to stand up for the truth when the errors of the world invade my quiet Shire, as invade it they will.  It is even acceptable to say, as some have said: I am weary of this fight, and have lost my ability to persevere in charity in it, and so I will step aside and let others take the standard from my aching hands.  But it is another thing altogether to say, and to teach one's children, that really it isn't quite nice to insist on the truth in the world, because we're only going to hurt people's feelings and make the Church look mean, so that people won't listen to us when we want to tell them about Jesus, or about Heaven, or about the immediate necessity of invading Syria, or whatever the case might be.

The truth about marriage is that it can only ever be between one man and one woman.  The world hates us for telling that truth.  It has hated us because we deny the validity of marriages after divorce (presuming the first marriage was valid, of course).  It has hated us for insisting on the truth that the unrelenting war on the female reproductive system otherwise known as artificial birth control is a grave moral evil that undermines marriages and destroys them.  It will hate us even more when we say that two men or two women are not married and that we refuse to teach our children that they are, or to remain silent in the presence of the lie.  The world will never play nice.  All we have to lose by trading niceness for the truth is our own souls.


Deirdre Mundy said...

Well, in the New Testament example of someone speaking out on behalf of God's law wrt marriage, John DOES end up with his head on a platter.

So maybe 'nice' is really code for 'please don't kill be, you crazy fornicators!'

What bothered me most about Bottum's piece (which I read half of, and then skimmed) is that he never mentioned what HE thinks civil marriage is for.

Why does the state recognize marriage? Why should this particular relationship get special benefits, when close friends, or spinster sisters, or really swinging communes do not? Why does the STATE have an interest in promoting marriage, and how does gay marriage fit with that mission?

I mean, religious objections aside, before we even get that far, why is gay marriage necessary, and why is civil marriage necessary? Why should two people get a tax break because they're in love? Why is the state acting as a yenta?

Pat said...


I really don't think the world hates you for saying what you believe to be the truth. I certainly don't.

Similarly, I don't hate Muslims in the Arab world when they proclaim what they believe to be true (e.g., women should not vote).

I, for one, feel inspired (compelled?) to reply when I see someone's deeply held religious faith applied to our civil laws, when reason should instead be applied.


Red Cardigan said...

So, then, Pat, you are opposed to laws against stealing, because reason can't infer anything about the the morality of stealing?

And you're opposed to laws against cheating on your taxes, because reason should tell you that if there's a low risk of getting caught and a high reward of getting to keep more money, logic dictates that you should make that choice?

And you're opposed to laws against polluting the environment, because reason points out that you'll be long gone before the pollution gets to the point where you will personally suffer, while in the present day pollution is just the cost of a high-tech society? I mean, it makes no rational sense to preserve the earth for potential future life-forms, when doing so is opposed to our own self-interest...

I can play this game all day.

L. said...

You can play the straw man game all day, but why would you want to? Why define "reason" as "selfish immediate whim?"

And all religions believe that their teachings are "The Truth." How best to arbitrarily select the teachings on which to base secular laws?

Gee, we'd better ban contraception for everyone, no matter their beliefs, because some devout Catholics insist it 'undermines marriages and destroys them' -- and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

The world doesn't "hate" you. What a sad notion to go through life believing.

Red Cardigan said...

L., my point was that you cannot arrive, using nothing but reason and specifically rejecting any and all concepts which are expressed religiously, at much of a notion of virtue.

The ancient pagan philosophers were pagan, not atheist, and they made frequent references to the gods when they spoke of virtue.

Prove to me by pure reason only that I must be good to my neighbor. The best you can do is to come up with utilitarian ideas: I ought to be good to my neighbor because it will benefit me in the long run. But it is irrational to avoid one's own maximum good in the present out of a hypothetical possibility that one's neighbor may feel some sense of obligation to one in the future. It is observable that there are plenty of neighbors who will abuse their neighbor regardless of how "good" the neighbor is to them. One's own life will be measurably better if one hoards wealth and acquires weapons and other means of strength whereby to impose one's will on one's neighbors, and it is highly irrational to pretend otherwise.

Yet secularists pretend this all the time--that there is some good reason, with no relationship whatsoever to religious concepts of how one ought to treat one's neighbor or the brotherhood of man etc., to put one's own self-interest aside for the sake of the community. Well, my challenge remains: prove from pure reason only that people ought to do that.

Pat said...


A game? You wouldn't think it was a game if YOUR right to marry was removed from you. (California, Prop 8).

I never suggested abandoning morals. My point is that we are past the morality argument. I, like an increasing number of Westerners every day, do not believe that gay marriage is immoral. Quite the opposite. And the morality argument is all that the anti-equality team has (had?) because a reasoned approach to our civil laws demands that Joe and John should be able to get the same marriage license we give Bob and Alice.

Red Cardigan said...

Pat, nobody has a total "right to marry." People can't marry close relatives, those who are still married, more than one person, etc.

Besides, my marriage is in the Church. The state paperwork doesn't make me married in God's eyes. It just makes it easier for the state to tax me. So why should I care if the state said, "Catholics can't get a civil marriage?" It wouldn't change any of the important things for me.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Pat-- if the state said 'heterosexual couples can no longer marry', then we would continue to marry in our churches, live as married people, etc. We'd write wills, and powers of attorney, and other documents to protect our families. We'd still have parental rights to our kids, cause we'd both be on the birth certificates. The feds would take a huge loss on taxes, since suddenly there'd be more 'single moms' who were unemployed and eligible for free everything.

State recognition has nothing to do with our marriages or our families. It's convenient, but we don't need the government to tell us that our relationships are valid.

Why do gay couples need validation from the government?

Deirdre Mundy said...

I mean... the government could care less about my baptism or confirmation, but I don't feel 'unbaptized' because of a lack of tax breaks!

Pat said...

Red, I completely agree with you (of course) that nobody has a total right to a civil marriage and that those prohibitions are good public policy. For example, children should be prevented from marrying, etc. I just disagree that it is good public policy to deny Jim and Bob a civil marriage license.

All I will say about your second paragraph is that it shows to me that your religion is very important to you and that you greatly value the sacramental nature of your own marriage, which is wonderful.

John InEastTX said...

Erin, I invite you to consider what your actions look like to someone who is not invested in your Catholic beliefs.

Here's this individual - one Erin M. - seems like a nice person, writes Sci Fi, a fellow Texan, lives in a city where I used to live. Kind of a back-to-nature type who homeschools. Probably cans veggies and stuff Okay. She might be cool.

Then you get to talking about what is wrong, intrinsically wrong, with marriages like mine.

Now, I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with my marriage - especially compared to my first marriage. But I was young and didn't know any better and fortunately there weren't any kids involved, so the divorce was relatively painless. And a couple of years later, I met the woman who for the last fourteen years has been the joy of my life. Seen each other through some pretty traumatic life experiences and came out okay. Got it right this time.

But you aren't particularly interested in any of that. By your way of thinking, my first marriage is still in effect and I still have an obligation that I am not meeting towards my first wife and even though I think I (think I am) married to my current wife, I'm actually making a concubine out of her.

Well - that's certainly not how we see it. What a strange way of thinking Erin has! Well, that's okay, maybe we won't be best buds or anything, but we can certainly be cordial acquaintances.

Except that you never miss an opportunity to talk about how marriages like mine are not 'real' marriages. In fact, you seem positively vehement about how my marriage is not a real marriage.

Huh, we wonder, why would someone want to do that? I mean it isn't like my wife and I are going to stop living together as man and wife and go back to our first partners just because Erin thinks that is the right thing to do, so it isn't like calling our marriage invalid because of our previous divorces, or calling our marriage evil because we aren't open to procreation is going to change what we are doing.

And what was that about not being open to procreation? She says it is a grave moral evil that undermines marriages and destroys them.

Well that's strange, it doesn't seem evil to us. And we're pretty sure it isn't undermining or destroying or marriage. What a peculiar thing for Erin to say!

Does Erin just like saying mean things about other people and their marriage? Does it make her feel better about herself in a "thank God that I am not a sinner like those other people" sort of way?

Who knows? Well, that's a shame because she might have been a nice person to know.

That's the sort of thing we think - not hatred, just a sort of bemused befuddlement that you would say such things about our marriages and sadness that someone who might have been a pleasant acquaintance has, through her own actions, shown that she thinks the most wonderful part of my life is actually evil.

Red Cardigan said...

John, we've chatted about this before, I think, so let me just say that the view that a second marriage involves adultery is the Church's, not my personal view. However--and this is a big one--if you and your present wife should decide to become Catholic someday (hey--stranger things have happened, right?) the Church might take a look at your first marriage and say, "Oh, guess what, John: that first marriage was the invalid one. This second marriage is fine." Or, perhaps, you might learn that your first was invalid and your second should be convalidated in the Church--lots of new Catholic couples do this.

The point is, I have no way from a comment box as a lay Catholic woman to tell you definitively that your first marriage was valid (or invalid, as the case might be) and thus to presume about the status of your second one. The only time I can even do that hypothetically is if fellow Catholics divorce and then marry other people outside the Church, having been denied annulments--because the Church has already pronounced on the validity of their first marriages, and thus any other marriage is definitively invalid.

Two men or two women are always going to be in a different position, because any Catholic, any Christian, many people of other faiths, and even non-religious people of stunning common sense can see that they are not "married" in the same way a man and a woman are. To put it in Catholic terms, they lack the valid matter for the contract to be drawn up in the first place.

The question of children is also complex. Catholics (assuming child-bearing age and healthy reproductive systems) who form a permanent intention before their marriage of never having children and using immoral means to assure that are not validly married. I don't know how the Church would view the marriages of non-Catholics who have formed a similar intention; I would guess that the Church would only consider the question should the couple become Catholic. But as children are seen in Catholic teaching as a blessing, the living symbol of their parents' love, and priceless creatures made in God's image and likeness with immortal souls and a heavenly destiny, I find it hard to enter into the thoughts or feelings of couples who would give each other any gift except this one.

L. said...

Red, I'll say again -- one person's blessing is another person's curse. Not all of us view children as "gifts" -- for some of us, motherhood is like a little piece of hell on earth.

What's the point of insisting that people like us continue to procreate, to fulfill someone else's notion of "The Truth?"

John InEastTX said...

Catholics (assuming child-bearing age and healthy reproductive systems) who form a permanent intention before their marriage of never having children and using immoral means to assure that are not validly married. I don't know how the Church would view the marriages of non-Catholics who have formed a similar intention; I would guess that the Church would only consider the question should the couple become Catholic.

Hang on a second there - back at Rod's recent blog post you sounded quite sure about the validity of the marriages of (I assume from context) all marriages that were formed with the intention of not having children. Here's the quote:

Even so, the evils of deliberately sterile pseudo-marriages...

If it is the case that you don't know the teachings of the RCC with respect to non-Catholics, then I have to assume that 'evils' and 'pseudo-marriages', again with respect to non-Catholics, are your own personal opinions of the marriages of couples who go into marriage choosing not to have children. Am I correct?

And if I am correct, would you please at least notice that you are making blanket assessments on a whole class of people (non-Catholics) who are not, to the best of your current knowledge, obligated to conform to the requirements of Catholic marriage.

And furthermore, you seem uninterested in considerations as to whether or not there might be issues - perhaps mutually reinforcing genetic problems, mental or physical issues, or anything else that might seem at least good reasons to the couple for them not to have children together.

If you want to call the marriages of your fellow Catholics in that position evil pseudo-marriages, well I still think it is not good manners, but at least it is within the rules that you and that couple have agreed to live under.

But when you say that about the marriages of non-Catholics such as myself, who are under no obligation to live according to the rules by which you judge such matters, then I am sure that what you are doing is not good manners. Especially when you don't even have the fig leaf of saying 'nothing personal, that's just what The Church says."

Barbara C. said...

"Gee, we'd better ban contraception for everyone, no matter their beliefs, because some devout Catholics insist it 'undermines marriages and destroys them' -- and ignore all evidence to the contrary."

Why don't we ban hormonal contraception because of the high incidence of scientifically proven health risks? Or that it has the potential to kill an unborn human being? Those seem like a reasonable and non-religoius reasons for banning hormonal contraception.

Or why don't we ban barrier methods (such as condoms) because they usually have low user effectiveness rate compared the high risk behavior they encourage? That seems like a reasonable and non-religious reason.

Barbara C. said...

Red, I know exactly the Forum you are talking about. They have basically shut down talking about ANYTHING that might be cause controversy. The list of taboo topics is as long as my arm.

I really like the Forum for it's homeschooling aspects, but I find it spiritually dry in some ways. I learned a lot about what the Church really teaches by reading those debates, even when I was on the receiving end of criticism.

Red Cardigan said...

Yeah, well, L., I learned a long time ago that you like to get a rise out of bloggers and readers, so I would just remind everybody that L. (who lives in Japan) was quite as concerned over her little "pieces of hell on earth" during the whole earthquake/tsunami thing as any of us would be, and ask you in charity not to engage her on these more outrageous things she says, because I don't think it's good for her health. (Seriously, L.: have you ever wondered why you do this? It's weird.)

John, here's the thing: I can say, as the Church does, that speaking generally people who attempt to enter a valid marriage while unjustly planning never even to attempt to have children are in a putatively invalid marriage, and no, they don't just have to be Catholics, because the Church is pretty clear that procreation is one of the important purposes of marriage.

However, as I said above about divorce and remarriage, should such a couple become Catholic the validity of their marriage would be examined, and--worst case scenario, they weren't validly married--they would then be able to *get* validly married. But suppose the couple has a 100% chance of passing a fatal genetic disease along to a future child--it is my understanding that the Church could permit them to marry IF they used only moral means (e.g., NFP or the like) to avoid pregnancy and IF they would refuse to abort should such a pregnancy happen. There again, though, the situations would have to be thoroughly examined by the competent ecclesiastical authority, etc., and it would be a pretty rare situation to begin with.

I think where we're clashing is that the Church tends to think of some laws as being God's laws (and thus applicable to all men, even though some in ignorance may not follow them) and mere Church laws, which only apply to those in the Church. For example, the Church doesn't just teach that fornication, adultery, etc. are wrong only for Catholics, or even only for Christians: these practices are a violation of God's laws, and are sinful for anyone who engages in them (though the person's actual culpability may vary depending on his or her state of ignorance of God's laws). On the other hand, the Church's requirement for Catholics to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent only applies to Catholics. Other Christians are not expected to comply with mere Church rules when they are not united with the Church.

The reason this gets confusing when we talk about marriage is that some of the laws governing marriage are God's, and some are man's. Two Protestant Christians aren't obligated to have a Catholic priest as the chief witness at their marriage, for instance, and yet their marriage is not only ordinarily going to be deemed valid--it will be deemed sacramental in most cases as well. But even two atheists can't validly marry if one or both of them has already been validly married before. The trouble is that the first marriage or marriages would have to be investigated to determine validity. If one of the atheists was a baptized Catholic but his first marriage was only before a JP, then his first marriage would be putatively invalid, and if a tribunal ruled that it was then our atheist and his new wife could have their marriage convalidated in the Church without any trouble--assuming the baptized Catholic is looking to return to the practice of his faith.

I know this is complicated, believe me.

L. said...

Red, I know why I do it - I enjoy the dialogue here (and I'm also a bit nostagic, since I've been coming here for years). My full name is Lisa Twaronite and I am speaking very honestly: I do love my kids, but I have no real vocation for motherhood -- I did not enjoy anything about being pregnant, nor taking care of small kids for the early years of their lives -- I couldn't wait for that phase to be over. I know my limits, and another baby would be most unwelcome, for many reasons, so I use contraception, and I truly think it's a blessing. You dismiss someone with a strong opinion very different from your own as "outrageous" and "ask in charity" that people do not engage me, for my own health? I would have to call that "weird," too -- what else is a blog for?

Barbara C, what would be the point of banning barrier methods for married couples?

Red Cardigan said...

L., the part of it I think is unhealthy is when you speak really negatively of your kids or call motherhood hell on earth--to people you don't know, who don't know you, etc.

Do you ever wonder how your kids might feel about you someday if they read the negative stuff you've posted on line to total strangers about how much you hated having them? I think it's fair to wonder about that, and to wonder if you don't really just get a kick out of saying outrageous things without thinking about the impact on your kids. Now, maybe you great your kids each day with, "Hello, you little shackles of oppression--welcome to another day of mom's hell on earth!" and they giggle or something. But it sure sounds odd on the Internet.

L. said...

You responded to my comment without posting it?

My kids are older now, and they are well aware of my views (which I do say out loud, and all over Facebook as well). They know I love them, they equally know I am not fond of gestating/caring for babies, and they know these concepts are not mutually exclusive. Again, my views are far from unique -- and there's nothing "outrageous" about stating them to make a related point.

Lisa Twaronite said...

I (finally) updated my blogger profile with my full name and photo. This seems like the least I can do, to perhaps convince you that my comments are not simply anonymous outrageous ranting-for-the-sake-of-ranting.

Red Cardigan said...

L., sorry about that--from where the comments come in it looked like I had published it--only then I hit "publish" again, and this time it showed up. I really shouldn't have to publish the comments twice, but since gmail changed to this new thing where blog comments get put in a box labeled "social" I have had a few issues with comments--so if anyone else's comments go missing or don't show up after a reasonable time, let me know.

(All except for a certain blog troll who keeps trying, cause your comments go straight to spam, so you may as well save yourself the trouble.)

Red Cardigan said...

All, I found a couple more comments from Deirdre Mundy that didn't go through the first time either! This is weird. I mean, Blogger's comment software has always been a bit--interesting--but this is a new one on me.

Again, if you post a comment and it doesn't show up, let me know. I think what's happening is that the "social" box collapses all the comments on a lengthy thread so that I can only see the newest unpublished one; I have to expand the whole thread to see others that came in but weren't yet published. So I see your comment in the email box and think I've published it (since only the newest one looks unpublished) but that isn't necessarily true.

I'll figure this out eventually, but in the meantime, do let me know, as Lisa did, if something doesn't show up.

John InEastTX said...

I know this is complicated, believe me.

Erin, for you it is complicated.

For me it isn't. For me, you who I would otherwise respect and would still very much like to have genial feelings toward, call my marriage a sterile pseudo-marriage and allude to the idea that it is intrinsically evil simply because you think it is wrong for my marriage not to be open to children.

Pat said...

John in EastTX,

I've read enough of Erin's work to believe, in fact, to know, that she bears no malice towards you and your spouse.

What interests me in your situation are the broader implications of those like Erin, who honestly believe that you are not called to marriage since you are not open to parenting.

And let me say again, I greatly respect Erin's professed beliefs in marriage and family.

To me, the broader implications are raised by people exactly like you. In a world where two people should not be allowed to form a family unless they are both certain that want to be parents and will be good parents (I mean, that second point has to be implied, right?), then those two people can't get married - I get that. But then how do you John, live your life? Do you continue to date your girlfriend, chastely, forever, never expressing physical love for her, never sharing a home and a life? Denying yourself the comfort and permanence and security, the happiness, the joys that married life brings to Jim and Sandy - the married couple next door who want children, but can't have them?

Or should you and your girlfriend feel morally bound to break up and go back out alone into the world, in hopes that you would each find a potential life partner that you fall in love with AND who will change your mind about parenting.

Which would you do, John, if those were your only 2 options?

John InEastTX said...

"I've read enough of Erin's work to believe, in fact, to know, that she bears no malice towards you and your spouse."

Maybe not, but she has some strong words to say about our marriage.

"Which would you do, John, if those were your only 2 options?"

Beats me, Pat. We'd probably say 'the heck with social expectations' and shack up together anyway.