My Main Theological Interest
This is likely more dangerous that my last post.
Let me try to clarify up front that I am not trying to say I am above the sin of pride and I have a competitive side in debate. One commenter raised the issue that I am just like my adversaries in that I see the world as black and white. Another hit home with charging me of "having fun" in the competition.
That's sort of true. I want to see the world in black and white, and I want to be one of those to get to the "right" answer first. I want to believe that no matter what the question, there is one right answer - one "best" answer.
That answer is always what Jesus Christ would do in the exact same circumstances, with the exact same means available to him and the same end in sight.
Like Pope Benedict, and many of those I debate, I believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and there are probably some acts we can call intrinsically evil.
One person expressed the other day that one of the things she dislikes about my writing is my long-windedness, and I confess that is a fault of mine I have hard time discerning how to overcome.
The Germans used to say of Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, that they wished he'd write in German.
The joke was that he actually did write in German, but never said anything simply enough to be understood even by the native speaker.
The overarching theme of his voluminous writing is tied together by the concept that grace is everywhere, always, already present. Just as he had a common theme, so do I.
I'm going to go in my usual course of a very long and round about circle here to get to a larger point, so please read this post in its entirety before jumping to conclusions on what I am trying to say.
What is the purpose or mission of this blog? What topics interest me, and why?
First, let's note a few things nobody has seen way too much of on this blog that you might find in abundance on other Catholic blogs.
You don't see a whole lot of posts on widespread personal immorality.
Occasionally, I do raise some issues of personal morality, usually abortion or some sort of promiscuous attitude about sexual morality where anything goes, and the bottom line always tends to come around to the basics: Be faithful to your promises, do your best to follow the golden rule and the ten commandments and you'll do pretty good.
You don't find frequent postings about liturgical style on this blog.
I'm not much interested in debates about what style of music is best at liturgy, or the precise wording of a eucharistic prayers, or even the whole Latin Mass verses Novus Ordo debate.
About the most you'll see on this subject is something that will wind up concluding that both the Latin Mass and the vernacular can be wonderfully done, and if the use of inclusive language is the meaning intended by the author, and not using inclusive language hurts people's feelings, we probably ought to use inclusive language.
You won't find extensive apologetics on this site trying to convince everyone else in the world who is not Catholic that they ought to become Catholic.
I do write some apologetics on occasion hitting the usual frequently asked questions like why Catholics pray to Mary or what is purgatory all about, and so forth.
In general, the way I answer the specific question will not take the tone that the other person absolutely must be convinced that what I am saying is true.
Instead, I only show that what Catholics believe on these matters is not irrational, has some scriptural basis, is rooted in historic Christian tradition, and can be seen as good news if it is true, and won't likely lead one to hell if believed and practiced.
I do spend a little more time on occasion dealing with some tough internal debates on theological issues like real presence and the resurrection or even papal infallibility with the overarching purpose of showing that liberals ask some great questions and conservatives have some great answers if we nuance those answers enough.
Occasionally, I write on a vague aspect of the Church's social justice teaching addressing an issue like racism, living wages, or the value of labor unions.
In general, there isn't too much considered controversial about these posts, and little else comes of them than that we all conclude the Church's teaching is a bit idealistic and hard to put in practice in today's economy, though the vision is worthy of pursuit.
I don't write a huge number of posts aimed at simply being inspirational pieces to remind us of God's loving mercy and encouraging us to be a little more charitable around the home and office.
I hit this theme on occasion, but not frequently. You'll hear that almost everywhere, and I feel little inspiration to be inspirational in blogosphere.
Nor do you see frequent posts highlighting a charity needing some dire support.
In a crisis like Katrina or during a period where attention is paid by wider society to something like the One Campaign, I'll post some links encouraging charitable contributions, but you don't see this every day.
You won't find extensive coverage of sex abuse by priests or abuse tracking on this site or tons of articles addressing this issue, because, while the topic is important and occasionally raised, I cannot always point to the specific persons making decisions or policies that seem to cause it.
And though contraception has taken up some space on this blog, I have always said that the topic, by itself, is not all that interesting to me, except in how the principles involved in the debate apply to other more narrow issues.
In general, if a bunch of celibates argue that married people ought to refrain from conjugal relations once in a while, I see little harm done by that to anyone, and I obey the teaching even if I don't fully understand it.
All of these things you will see forming the subject of some posts, but they don't take up as much space as what I am about to say does take up the most space.
The topics that interests me the most are how and why specific people with power and authority make certain decisions. The specific people are considered by many to be good people, who chose to do and say things publicly as policy. The decision is made with what appears to be freedom, knowledge, and deliberation. The decision hurts other people in anonymous masses within a specific class. The decision is made with the approval of a large number of Christians, and the disapproval of another set of Christians who are not in the position of decision making.
What interests me is specific types of decisions made by specific people: the decisions made by the powerful who are perceived as the good guys and yet made a decision that hurt others in large numbers.
The real question that interest me the most is the whole concept of tough love: What is it? When is it appropriate? Why is it appropriate, if ever? How should it be done if ever? Etc....
And I am not saying this topic only became interesting to me recently due to the way comments were forming recently.
I've been mulling this topic of tough love over since I broke off an engagement to be married 16 years ago in order to give priesthood a try, justified in my own mind as a form of tough love to my former fiancee (who is no longer speaking with me).
I became most interested in applying it to those in power about 11 years ago over the issues of women's ordination, married priests, and gays.
The debate on the invasion of Iraq intensified the question in my mind.
How did John Paul II become certain enough of his position on women's ordination to hurt, anger, and cause pain to literally millions of women who had no say in the decision and according to him, will never be popes to decide differently?
That was the topic of my very first post ever!
How does Pope Benedict come to conclusions about men with deep seated homosexual tendencies that are so certain that he would hurt and anger even up to half the priesthood or more and millions of other gay people by stating they are morally disordered people with an incapacity for affective maturity?
How did Christian President, George W. Bush, decide that March 19, 2003 was a good day to start a death toll in Iraq leading to the deaths of 30,000 or more Arabs?
My second post ever was on the invasion of Iraq. Gays were the topic of my third post.
On all of these types of questions, there is a "right" answer - the right answer being what Jesus would do in the exact same situation as the pope or president with the exact same facts and so forth.
Like my most frequent antagonists, I do not deny that I see the issues in black and white, or at least want to see it that way.
I want to believe there is a "right" answer.
And like my antagonists, I do believe there could potentially be moments in life where a person is called to demonstrate what has come to popularly be known as "tough love" - the willingness to call sin a sin in no uncertain terms.
One reader recently referred to a notion he called "the Nuremburg effect" - a tendency in post modern society to be hesitant to blindly obey authority when it seems to lead one to do and say things that violate conscience,..., a tendency of contemporary people to want the principles of moral discourse from which we deduce a moral dictate coming from above to be confirmed by the inductive observation of the facts on the ground.
I'll tell you: though the term "Nuremberg effect" came from another reader who criticized me on more than one occasionssion, my heart leaped when I saw it. I thought, "Finally, after two years, someone gets it!"
That is what I consider the most interesting question in theology today: when, where, why, how, over what, and who can act in ways that hurt others and claim to be doing so in the name of Christ?
Not as a main point of discussion, but for illustration, let's abstractly take an issue like gay sex in a committed monogamous relationship between two people with a genetic predisposition to homosexuality or the ability of a person with a gay genetic predisposition to enter celibate ministerial priesthood.
The eventual answer to this question will likely only effect somewhere between one and ten percent of the population, since the majority is heterosexual. Yet, the way we must answer the question is ultimately by asking that popular question, "What would Jesus do?"
What would Jesus do if he possessed a gay gene?
Obviously, it is extremely hard to say what Jesus Christ would do if he had a gay gene, for two reasons:
One - He is believed by Catholics to have been a chaste celibate, which is an assumption I don't question.
Two - To suggest that Jesus had a gay genetic make-up raises a host of theological questions taking us way beyond the morality of a gay union to even consider the question of whether the Son of God and Word made flesh could even possibly have such a thing as a gay genetic make up.
In response to the second question, I take for granted that Jesus assumed a human nature, and therefore, anything that can be posited of a being classified as a human nature is potentially true of the human nature of Christ.
Yet, it is obvious that not all conditions of human nature are simultaneously true of the human nature of Christ. He is not Jew and Gentile simultaneously, or male and female simultaneously (unless a hermaphrodite, which may be possible), etc....
Even if he was gay, he didn't enter into a gay union.
Yet, were he straight, he didn't enter into a heterosexual marriage.
So we cannot know based on his chaste celibacy what Jesus thinks of a gay union based solely on the fact that he did not enter into one.
Actually, he said nothing about it, which is frustrating as heck to those of us who would like to see the world in black and white, but maybe that's part of the point.
As much as many of like to see the world in black and white, we don't always have a clear and simple answer. Yet, I'm willing to probe deeper to continue seeking the black and white answer - or at least establish boundaries around the area of gray.
If he was bisexual or asexual or something else, we still cannot establish with certainty what he thinks of a gay union because we have departed from the underlying assumption of what he would he do if he had a gay gene.
Some consider it offensive to even ask the question of what Jesus' sexual orientation was.
We can easily wind up in a position of circular logic whereby we say Jesus could not be genetically predisposed to homosexual tendencies because such tendencies are a tendency to sin, and we know they are a tendency to sin because Jesus could not have had such a predisposition. Circular logic is simply a refusal to think deeply about the issue, and we need to break out of the circle.
It may be uncomfortable to consider the possibility of Jesus as a man with deep seated homosexual tendencies.
And yet, that is the very question we are trying to answer - can people with a genetic predisposition to homosexuality enter into a gay union or become priests based on the imitation of Christ?
It seems to me that the only possible theological way to answer this correctly is to ask what Jesus would do if he had that genetic make up, or at least to be clear about why such a thing is impossible with more than an assertion that it is unthinkable and unimaginable.
Of course, we can go a bit deeper and ask whether there is any such thing as a gay gene or complex set of genes that lead to an unalterable condition of deep seated homosexual tendencies.
In raising such questions, we move from the theological question to a question of science.
Scientific questions cannot be answered with theological assumptions.
The way to test scientific assumptions is through empirical observation and the process of falsification, where those things that cannot be falsified in a controlled experiment are thereby considered tentatively true until new empirical evidence comes along.
We cannot decide a priori that a genetic predisposition to deep seated homosexual tendencies is impossible based on a theological assumption that such a thing is impossible since God disapproves of homosexuality.
This would be the equivalent of stating the world is flat because the Bible implies it is flat, or the world was made in six days because that's what the Bible says. Scientific questions about how the world works are not answered a priori by theological assumptions.
Rather, science observes nature as it is, tests hypothesis through the process of falsification, and then when science has tentatively determined how the world works, the theologian steps in to say why the world is the way it is and what we are supposed to do to find meaning and happiness and even God within this world as it is.
If a genetic predisposition to homosexuality exists, our all powerful God obviously doesn't disapprove of it enough to simply prevent it from happening.
Certainly, a genetic predisposition to deep seated homosexual tendencies is not conclusively proven by science at this date in history, though many people feel the weight of evidence leans strongly in that direction.
I don't deny that when I weigh the evidence myself, this seems more likely true than not true.
So, if I reach a conclusion based on science that a genetic predisposition to deep seated homosexual tendencies is probable, as one interested in theology, and one who believes that there is a "right" answer to every question, I am curious what Christ would think of gay unions if he had such a predisposition in his humanity - or even if he knew someone else who did - like the beloved disciple.
And to entertain such a question does not automatically lead to the conclusion that Jesus would approve or disapprove of a gay union. I can raise the question without presuming to know the answer.
Yet, it is precisely these questions we must engage, and I would like to be able to do so without being called a heretic a priori for doing so.
Since he was a chaste celibate, it could be argued that if he were genetically a gay man, all gay men are called to chaste celibacy - and presumably celibate priesthood in imitation of Christ.
If this were true, the most recent Instructions from the Vatican would be wrong.
But before we even get to such a conclusion, we may need to establish whether it is possible that even if a gay gene set exists, could the Son of God have that gene?
We could discuss that, but let's do so without resorting to circular logic and/or name calling of each other.
On the one hand, we could probably say more certainly that the Son of God certainly did not have an uncontrollable genetic predisposition to violence.
So even if science says that such a gene exists predisposing people to violence, we could conclude a priori that Jesus did not have it, since he never acted with uncontrolled violence, and even leaned very strongly to non-violence (with exceptions like the cleansing of the temple).
But what if Jesus did, in fact, have the same genetic make-up of one the scientists claim has a predisposition to uncontrolled violence? What would that say?
What that would say is that the scientist is wrong in describing the condition as necessarily being uncontrolled, since the human man, Jesus of Nazareth, as a man, was living proof that the violent tendencies can be controlled, and thus, Jesus falsifies the theory that such genes lead to uncontrolled violence.
Of course, that would be impossible to prove since we don't have a sample of Jesus' DNA. So we're back to square one on that issue.
On the flip side, so long as Jesus had a different genetic predisposition than those with a violence gene, we can argue pretty clearly that violence remains a sin based solely on the teaching of Christ about the centrality of the golden rule - because even violent people don't like being treated violently.
And ultimately, where we cannot get at the genetic detail of Christ's human nature, we can look at his teachings as remembered in the New Testament - like the golden rule and the two great commandments and the various ways he is remembered as applying those principles to his own actions.
Yet, when we apply the golden rule to the question of homosexuality, we seem to get lost. Does a gay priest or a gay union really hurt anyone?
As stated earlier in this post, however, I am not directing this post at the issue of gay priests or gay unions per se.
Where am I going?
Look at all these questions I just raised with only tentative answers!
The type of questions and conversation above on gays is a conversation in my head - and a conversation I have been having for over ten years - and like a good thread, I must have hundreds of comments on this single topic.
One reader asked where I get some ideas he considered radical, and I answered "prayer" and I meant that.
The question is not coming first from allegiance to some group outside of me, but from within me, and I find when I search that others are asking the same questions...all of us struggling to articulate something we discern in prayer.
In a like manner, I have been in a conversation in my head about women's ordination, and about married priests.
In politics, I am questioning when the state has the authority to kill people - which most people would agree is an even more serious question than these theological issues.
It is this type of conversation I am inviting my readers to join.
I am inviting you to propose some answers to these questions, and raise some questions of your own, and be willing to say, "If we accept X, that might lead to Y" without assuming Y is wrong a priori, and let it keep going like a blooming flower.
My real point here in this post is not to argue the theological implications of considering the possibility of gay genes and a gay Christ.
This post is about more than the issue of homosexuality. I am going somewhere else entirely and I'll get there eventually, so stick with me.
If I post an admittedly provocative piece that does something like suggest that maybe the pope is gay, what am I trying to accomplish?
There are readers on both the right and the left who seem to think I am "baiting" people to sink into the gutter and then crying foul if they do sink to the gutter resorting to calling me or any reader who gets my point a bunch of names.
There are folks who see such provocation to respond by making a moral assessment of my character, or anyone who would dare to ask whether the pope might be gay.
Now, I don't deny that I am very conscious of the fact that suggesting the pope is gay is provocative.
It is especially provocative when it follows only weeks after release of a Vatican Instruction that he approved indicating that men with deep seated homosexual tendencies cannot be ordained because they lack the capacity for affective maturity to properly relate to men and women.
Some readers on both the left and the right see this provocation as simply an ad hominem attack on the pope in response to issuance of a Church discipline I admit that I find very confusing.
Therefore, it seems that many people assume that since I made an ad hominem attack on the pope, it is fair game to make ad hominem attacks on me, or any reader who agrees with me, and even those on the left sit back watching saying, in effect, "Well, Joe, you asked for it."
I did not ask for it, and I did not truly make an ad hominem attack on the pope - especially considering that the underlying question I expect all Catholic readers to seek is what it would mean if we worship a gay Christ!
It is not necessarily an ad hominem attack on the pope because if it is true that he possesses a gay genetic make up, and if I think it possible Christ was gay, it is clear in my writing that I see nothing inherently derogatory about possessing gay genes - at least not a priori.
The question is meant exactly as it is stated: What if the pope himself were gay - what would that say about the veracity of the recent Instructions.
(For those who may not know much Latin, "a priori" basically means "beforehand" in a theological discussion).
At best, one could argue is that my statements imply ad hominem in that I might be suggesting the pope is a liar.
But technically, the pope has never claimed he is not gay, so technically, he would not even be lying when approving the recent Instructions while admitting his own unworthiness to be pope, which he has done.
At the deeper level, however, what I am doing by asking about the possibility of a gay pope is asking about the possibility of a gay Jesus - which is a genuine theological question leading to real life application that has been rumbling in my mind since my days in seminary more than a decade ago.
And let me ask this - how much less provocative would it be to make a post suggesting Jesus Christ was gay than suggesting that the Pope might be gay?
And for those who are thinking, "Well Joe, if you intended to ask about a gay Jesus, why didn't you just do so?"
That was the question that prompted a reader to ask where I get this stuff leading to my response of "prayer".
But no matter how I frame the question, whether directly asking about a gay Jesus explicitly, or implicitly and indirectly asking the question by asking about the possibility of a gay pope, there are readers who see the question itself as grounds to attack me personally and any reader asking the same question.
But that is really the only way to arrive at the black and white truth of what Christ intends for a person with a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, is it not?
Since the golden rule gives us so little clear guidance on the issue, don't we have to answer the question of "What would Jesus do?" by framing the question "What if Christ was gay?" or "What if those closest to Christ were gay?"
And there simply is no way to get at this central question without being provocative.
So why not frame the question by asking about a gay pope - or pointing to the vast number of gay priests we all know exist to frame the question, or pointing to real life gay people who live lives that seem loving, healthy, mature and holy to ask the question, and so forth. All of this gets at the same point.
Yet, even when I state the ultimate question - what if Christ was gay - unambiguously, it leads to character attack upon me.
Ok. Where am I going?
We're almost there.
When I make a provocative post, there are some common patterns.
First off, you will note if you go through all my archives that the majority of the most provocative posts have been about two individuals in the public eye: George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI - or, Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict after the reign of John Paul II.
Sure, I may have made some provocative posts about other world leaders or bishops, but these two are two of the most prominent men in the world with power and authority and the perception of being on the side of good and righteousness who say and do things that obviously hurt people, and I am trying to understand if what they do and say is what Christ would say and do.
In both cases, it is not an ad hominem argument to simply state that these men have done things that hurt other people.
We can debate whether the way they hurt others is morally just or not, and we can debate how deeply people have been hurt, or even whether people should feel hurt, but we cannot deny that these men did, in fact, hurt other people.
In the case of Bush, whether you agreed with the decision to invade Iraq or not, we now have over 2000 Americans and at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians dead, and thousands more wounded, because of a decision to go to war on March 19, 2003.
In the case of Pope Benedict, no matter what you think of whether it was right or wrong, his statements on women and gays over the years have hurt the feelings of literally thousands, if not millions of people who have been very clear in expressing the pain they feel.
Some readers may see it as mean of me on my part to respond to Bush's decision for war as idiotic or deceptive - where calling him an idiot or a liar or both is perceived as nothing but ad hominem.
Yet, it is ironic that the very same critic will openly call Clinton dumb - and Clinton did do some dumb things. I never voted for Clinton either, by the way.
Being dumb is not a sin, and avoiding critical questions is dumb.
And if all I ever said about the decision were that it was idiotic and/or deceptive without further explanation, the charge of ad hominem fallacy might even be entirely true.
There are several questions that seem to me rather obvious that go into a decision to go to war, especially if initiating the war. To spark a conversation about these questions, I call it dumb to avoid the questions.
I was asking before the war began where the evidence of WMDs is, and whether possession of WMDs in itself justifies a war in the first place?
Indeed, beyond these two questions, I really want to get at the question of whether Jesus Christ would ever lead a nation into war against another nation that has not attacked the nation Jesus is leading.
That is the ultimate question that must be answered to determine if the invasion of Iraq was just, is it not?
There are a ton of other questions that get wrapped into this: Would Jesus ever order or fight in a war at all? Is there any such thing as a just war? Assuming a just war, what are the criteria for it? If there is a just war, and we can agree on its criteria, did Bush's war meet those criteria as a matter of fact?
To me, it was clear from the get that the weight of evidence was against Iraq possessing WMDs, and it was also unclear how the possession of WMDs alone would justify an invasion - a sort of double wammy.
Yet, Bush kept saying that there were WMDs with the weight of evidence against that claim, and that possession of WMDs does justify war, without explaining why or how, even implying those who ask too many questions are naive and/or disloyal and/or in league with terror.
There is and has been from the start a strong effort by the Administration to avoid and to squash any discussion of the deeper questions of what, when, where, how and why is there any such thing as a just war - especially as the initiator of war - and do the facts on the ground even support the criteria for such a just war if it exists?
To me, the most charitable explanation of such behavior I can think of is to just call it dumb, and also, by doing so, I wish to start the conversation about the critical questions, which have to do with using a position of authority in the name of the cause of righteousness to hurt other people.
That's not just an unsubstantiated ad hominem attack that just gets a feeling about a man off my chest and nothing more.
It's just my perception of a set of facts, where the chief fact is a demonstrated lack of willingness to explore the necessary moral questions in depth, and the purpose of using the words like "dumb" or "idiotic" is to get that important conversation started.
Of course, if people believed Bush's case, they may feel I am calling them dumb for believing him.
Many people were not following the arguments for the invasion of Iraq, where I was combing through arguments on both sides prior to war, trying to get at the central question - would Jesus order an invasion of Iraq at this point in time?
Those who believed Bush may not have been dumb. Many were just ignorant because the demands of everyday life distracted them from research and they trusted Bush. So calling Bush dumb is not to call a reader who believed him dumb.
Some readers may feel that they were not ignorant, and that the weighed the evidence as carefully as I did, and they were convinced that Bush was right about the invasion of Iraq.
In that case, the way to respond to me when I call Bush dumb is to present the case that the weight of evidence is/was in favor of the invasion as something Christ would do, not to simply call me dumb for calling the president dumb.
I did allow for quite some time that type of comment to be made. And when it was made, I'd ask what is dumb about a case I presented that the war is unjust. In response, I am told I am dumb for calling the president dumb. That's frankly a dumb response, especially when it comes from those prone to call Bush's political opponents dumb long before they stumbled on this blog.
The point here is that if I call it dumb to get thousands of people killed over an avoidance of deep thinking about the very question of what justifies killing thousands of people, that is not invitation to respond by saying, "Joe, since you called the president dumb, I now have the right to say you're an ass" and just leave it at that.
The way to respond is, in addition to calling me dumb, to answer the critical question: Is/Was there justification for war - would Jesus make the same decision?
And there are a host of questions that need to be resolved to even resolve the ultimate question of what Jesus would do.
And to even respond with a quip that Clinton got people killed through some decision of his is sort of a red herring.
When people have responded in this manner, my own response to their comment is that Clinton may have been wrong, I didn't vote for Clinton, I'm not trying to defend Clinton, and even if Clinton was wrong, that doesn't make Bush right - because ultimately, whether Clinton or Bush do it, the real question I am honestly trying to answer is when exactly would Jesus Christ authorize the use of military force?
And if you could answer that question or all the related questions that shed light on it, you would have proven that the president is not dumb, and at that point you could call me dumb for misinterpreting the facts and missing the theological arguments as to why an invasion of Iraq was morally justified.
I do make provocative posts, and I don't deny it. Blogs, by their very nature, are not unbiased news sources.
But there are common patterns.
I only criticize public figures who already being criticized in the press. Those figures are also powerful decision makers with support in the Christian community.
I do not direct such critique at readers or even at those who wish to present the other side of the question - those who wish to demonstrate that Jesus would invade Iraq or ban women and gays from priesthood and so forth.
Nothing I am saying about those in power is worse than what is already being said about them by others.
Almost without fail, my critique grows in intensity behind what others are saying in the wider society, starting off rather dry and academic, and building in intensity as people commenting here refuse to engage the issue I am trying to raise - when to use tough love.
Those in power are not likely reading my blog, and likely don't give hoot what I think about them if they did happen across it.
And without fail, the thing I am criticizing is something that clearly is causing pain - perhaps even death - to many people - through a public act which is the ultimate "justification" for why I criticize their behavior in public asking if it really and truly is Christian behavior?
The truth is that I am not motivated to make my critique by any loyalty to some group, be it Democrats, or Republicans, or liberal theologians or conservative theologians. The harshest of my critiques are aimed at people currently in power who make decisions that hurt other people for reasons I do not entirely understand.
One reader states that she is upset that I advance progressive causes over what she perceives as Catholicism, and I think she may misunderstand what I mean by advancing progressive causes. It is my experience that many Catholic progressives are generally concerned about the use of power.
The progressive cause I am advocating is to apply the "Nuremburg effect" - a suspicion of the way power is used when it hurts people.
Before blindly accepting an order to hurt another human person, ask the authority demanding you to hurt others what justifies causing pain in the name of Christ!
Note something else. With Pope Benedict I never even implied he is an idiot, because it would not explain his behavior. Indeed, I've stated the opposite - that he is a brilliant intellectual, and therefore should be able to present his case on gays or women in a coherent fashion, though he seems to refuse to do so.
So, if I imply something like his being raised in Nazi Germany and being a member of the Hitler Youth might influence his approach, or that he might be hiding his own homosexual tendencies if he said something painful to thousands of people that makes little sense even to some of his most sympathetic admirers, it is really an invitation to get to the heart of the matter of whether this powerful man is doing what Christ would do.
And ultimately, that is the common theme here - if we could place ourselves in those positions of power as the decision maker, and we truly reflected on what Jesus Christ would do, would we reach the same decision to hurt anonymous masses?
Prior to my rules, the closest I come to criticizing a person reading this blog is when a person makes a circular argument, or a demonstrably false statement of fact, or a clear logical fallacy, and I might have said that the argument, itself, is "baloney" or "bullshit" on occasion, and then I'll explain why. I am aiming such critique at the argument, not the person, and I generally meant it rather playfully with those I thought might see take that way.
Maybe I should not do that.
I confess that doing so seems to have ruffled more feathers than I ever intended, and it seems to have lead to a downward spiral in conversation.
I call a specific argument baloney, and someone responds by asking me if I took my medication on the next post I make, followed by the a later question of "Are you nuts?" when I try to get at what Jesus would do, followed by a question of my integrity in quoting a scripture passage, etc....
Let's switch gears and come back to the topic another way.
Some religious writers create an impression that if we all just controlled our sexual impulses, or our impulses to pride, or our impulses to intoxication, and so forth, the world would be a better place.
I don't entirely disagree. But I'm not real hopeful the entire globe is going to start doing that before the second coming.
The underlying assumption seems to be that the biggest problem in the world is warped human desires, and if we all weren't so darn selfish, everything would be fine. Some readers have seemed to argue that a Wal-Mart stock boy wanting to drive a SUV is the downfall of Western society.
Yet, there has to a limit to this thinking.
It is not a sin to enter a heterosexual marriage with a person you love and to enjoy conjugal relations with that person. It is not a sin to enjoy a glass of wine by a fire place in winter or a cold beer by the lake on a hot summer day. It is not a sin to enjoy the back and forth of a good conversation. It is not a sin to dance. It isn't even clear that smoking a cigarette is a sin, just because you want to smoke a cigarette.
Pleasure, in and of itself is not sinful. Desire itself is not a sin. We all know this in the depths of our heart.
If you think I am just a selfish person advocating the unbridled pursuit of pleasure, I spent six years of my life striving for perfect chastity while sleeping on a board eating a vegetarian diet and fasting twice a week and going to confession just as often.
I am still a faithfully married man who lives quite moderately by all outward standards.
I am not arguing for unbridled pursuit of pleasure. I am arguing against using the denial of pleasure as sole justification for hurting other people.
Why do we assume that hurting people is justified on the sole grounds that the person we hurt only felt hurt because we challenged a selfish desire of his or hers? Desire is not inherently sinful!
If the Nazis or a Muslim cleric tries to prevent me from drinking a glass of wine or going to Mass when I want, he is not justified in doing so just because my desires were selfish!
The Gospel is clearly not a call to simply go around telling people that any and all human desire is warped and selfish sin!
I am not convinced that the biggest problem in the world is a gay man wanting to enter into domestic partnership with his lover, or that a divorced couple wanting to return to communion is wrecking society, or that a married couple practicing contraception is the root of a break down in Christian culture.
Even if these individuals are sinfully wrong, no single one of them on their own is wrecking Christian civilization as we know it.
On the other hand, there are specific people we can point to who have the power to make the world a better or a worse place right here and right now. Those specific people may even be good and decent people, overall, who are on their way to heaven, and they may be doing a better job than I could do in their place.
I am not judging the state of the soul of Bush or Benedict or anyone else. I am trying to examine an action - a specific action that hurts people - and asking why it is moral to hurt people in that instance, especially if done more or less in the name of Christ?
Huge numbers of Christians claim these men are doing the right thing, so I don't think it too much to ask to ask such Christians to explain how Christ would do the same, or how Christ would make the same decision.
When a specific decision is made by one in power that hurts anonymous masses, I want to understand that decision. If it simply cannot be understood rationally, or even biblically in any conclusive way, then I refuse to do it or say it comes from Christ.
While President Bush and Pope Benedict take up most of my attention on these grounds, I have written of Blair - or the plight of thousands of employees at Wal-Mart, the nation's largest employer. Wal-Mart employees are paid a pittance by the multi billionaire Walton family - another question of the powerful making decisions that effect masses. There have been others.
The point is that the common theme is people in power - decision makers - and the decisions made that seem on the surface to hurt others and perhaps are contrary to what Christ would do in the same position.
Frankly, the older I get, the more convinced I become that asking this type of question when we see power causing pain anytime we see it happening might be the best we can do to make the world a better place beyond the way we treat people in our immediate circle of associates such as family, parish and workplace.
Note that I am not denying that a simple family man who cares for his wife and children and works ethically at his rather mundane job and receives the sacraments and so forth is doing something to make the world a better place. He is. Perhaps parenting is the most important task any of us assume, and far more important than blogging or questioning authority.
Yet, I think many of us seek to do a little something else, and that's why so many Catholic blogs - even on the right - do examine politics, apologetics, or other matters.
Like many other Catholic bloggers, I am a Catholic who has the deep seated tendency to want to see the world in black and white.
Indeed, I've written a number of times that I used to be far more conservative than I have become when I started asking this question about people in power making decisions that are painful to anonymous masses.
The question itself, "When is it just to use power in ways that hurt people?" is a question liberals tend to ask.
In liberation theology, you have this whole notion of a hermeneutics of suspicion. Boff turned his critique of South American governments against the Church and got into trouble with Ratzinger.
In raising the question I raise, there have been critics who respond initially with explicit quips like "Drop the Marxist analysis".
I'll give these critics some credit for recognizing a hint of Marxism via liberation theology even when it wasn't clearly and explicitly stated.
Yet, to me, it doesn't matter whether the question was first formulated by Karl Marx or Groucho Marx, it remains a question that interests me: when does the Gospel demand tough love and when does the Gospel challenge those in power who make decisions that are painful to others.
And I am a conservative trying to answer the liberal question, and slowly coming to - or already arrived at - the tentative answer that it seems that infallible authority has never in history been invoked to justify power used to hurt people.
Perhaps infallibility shouldn't ever be used this way unless defending another group of people.
Further, power used to hurt people for any other reason than defense of human persons has always been judged in the hindsight of history as an error, and even a sinful error, even when done by popes.
And nothing I question is solemnly or infallibly defined by extraordinary magisterium.
In history, both in the Church and in American culture, we have examples of theologically rationalized evil like slavery.
And I confess that maybe I'm wrong on my tentative conclusion that it is very often if not always wrong to hurt the anonymous masses, unless we can show how the masses are hurting others.
If I'm wrong, I am trying to understand on what basis I made the mistake.
I see how we can hurt the feelings of others legitimately as we might argue with an issue like abortion.
On the abortion issue, when pro-lifers use black and white language and appeal to authority even in ways that hurt the feelings of others sometimes, I get the point that the pro-lifer is trying to defend an innocent human being.
That makes sense to me. The goal is not to hurt someone just to hurt to someone, but to use tough love to defend the innocent unborn child.
I am a little weary of being excessively tough, even on such an important issue as defending human life, because of a few theological questions.
First, when it comes to the role of a politician in making abortion illegal, there has to be room in a democratic system to work through the process, which may involve compromises and an incremental approach, meaning it is difficult to judge the politician based on his vote without knowing exactly what was going through his head.
Second, when considering an ecclesial sanction like denying communion against someone when we don't know what is going through their head, the example of Christ was to invite Judas Iscariot to the Last Supper, meaning that while denying communion may be appropriate at some point, it is an extreme measure to be used with extreme judiciousness.
Third, while I am pro-life myself, even supporting a right to life amendment, it simply is not solemnly defined doctrine that ensoulment and personhood begin at conception. I presume it probably does, and prefer that all people make such a presumption in deciding how to act or formulate laws, but my presumption and preference is not established with absolute certainty in the realm of theology.
Those who see the abortion issue differently than I are not evil people for having a different opinion than I have.
And when bishops - those with power who are presumed to be the good guys - want to exercise power through denying the eucharist to politicians and even their supporters over something unclear, we're back to the heart of my main interest in blogging - when is tough love appropriate?
I realize that there are a ton of questions I am raising here with few answers - which drives those of us with the deep seated tendency to see the world in black and white a bit nuts.
Nor am I arguing the case that we simply cannot answer any questions I raise and need to accept that the world is really all the same shade of gray and there is no absolute truth, or absolute truth cannot be known, and so forth.
I prefer to see the world in terms of black and white even when things look sort of gray to me. Just because I don't see a clear answer today does not mean that the answers won't become clear tomorrow. I'm still searching.
As one who was once more conservative, I understand some of the principles that lead us to rationalize hurting other people: the weight we give to historical precedent (calling it sacred tradition), and the weight given to authority, and the theology of picking up one's cross, the need to stand firm against sin even when it is unpopular, and so forth.
I am willing to entertain the ways these principles might inform a decision that is painful to others. Indeed, in some cases, it is these very principles that I wish to debate vigorously as they apply to resolving this central question of when to exercise tough love.
Jesus once said don't call anyone a fool, or you are a murderer, and then turns around and calls the Pharisees fools himself.
Some folks see Jesus as one who would have the whole world sit in a circle and sing kum-by-ya, and, yet, Jesus was downright mean to some folks.
Both extreme liberals and extreme conservatives can appeal to such instances as justification for hurting others. Both do.
On this blog, however, my goal has never been for us to hurt one another, and things have sunk to that for a good three month streak here.
Rather, my goal has always been to have a discussion where we could agree to converse with one another with some degree of respect and without personal character attacks about the instances where hurting others may be demanded by the Gospel. When, where, why and how would Jesus exercise tough love - especially from a position of power over others?
I am not denying that there truly are instances where the Gospel seems to call for firmness in standing up for righteousness, practicing tough love, exercising fraternal rebuke, calling sin a sin, warning of the possibility of hell, appealing to a final authority, taking an unpopular stance, and even using strong or harsh language to condemn evil acts.
Yet, in a discussion with one another, it simply doesn't make sense to me when one person says, in effect, "Is George Bush exercising tough love or committing evil?" and the response is, in effect, "You're a sick bastard if you think George Bush is evil, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for even asking such a question."
And in the place of the name of George Bush, you could substitute Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton, Pope Benedict, Pol Pot, Pope John Paul II, Sam Walton, John Kerry, or anyone else who you believe is a person in power who is hurting others.
I don't care if the name is someone on the right or the left, because the underlying question is when is tough love justified, and I presume the eternal answer is not "When the Democrats do it."
Now, I may be faulted for framing the discussion less by saying "Is George Bush exercising tough love or committing evil?" and more by saying "Is George Bush similar to Adolf Hitler?"
Yet, it really is the same question, whether I worded it that way or not. If you don't think Bush is like Hitler, the way to make the case is to demonstrate that Bush acts more like Jesus than like Hitler, not to simply drive by this blog with a quick quip calling me a sicko for making the comparison and anyone who sees the point a psycho.
And let's face it, to compare Bush to Christ without explaining how Christ would order an invasion of Iraq is going to lead some legitimate questions about whether we are committing idolatry, and I have stated that if you compare Bush to Christ both verbally and with images, I'm really going to press that question.
But the fact that you might anticipate some of my questions by now doesn't mean you can't make your case as to how Christ would have ordered the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003.
Such a comparison as my own of Bush to Hitler is certainly provocative and the way I would frame it seems a bit one sided. The way most of the rest of Catholic blogdom frames the issue is one-sided in the other direction, or was so in 2003 when I started blogging.
Yet, view my one sided framing of the issue as an invitation to say, "No Joe (or even 'Bullshit Joe' ). Bush isn't like Hitler, he's really like Jesus - even on the issue that concerns you the most - the invasion of Iraq. Let me show you how I came to believe Jesus would have ordered the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003 were he the President of the United State...."
That's what I want and expect from my readers. An honest engagement with how these types of decisions I am talking about would be made by Jesus Christ if he were in the same place, time, and so forth as those I am criticizing.
And if you want to know if I think Christ would vote pro-choice if that were the only issue on the table, I've been clear that I don't think he would. So don't use that question to avoid the other question.
And if you want to debate if abortion is more important than the war in Iraq, well, I've given plenty of space to that here.
Ultimately, in America, abortion is a decision of a private citizen, since it isn't mandatory as in China, while the decision for war is an entire nation's decision through it's leader. That's why these decisions of leaders interest me more than issues of personal morality.
And it's not that people might use some harsh language to make a point (calling arguments bullshit, or baloney).
It's that on this blog, people are not calling arguments bullshit or baloney anymore.
Instead, they have come to the point of calling each other and me "asses" and "heretics" and making charges that each other is in mortal sin, or in need of medication and "nuts" and so forth - responding to one another with quips and doing anything and everything they can to avoid the deeper questions through ad hominem on one another - such as a priest calling a gay reader diabolical - and on using the same technique on me bolstered by every logical fallacy in the book such as red herrings, slippery slope or what appears to be almost deliberate attempts to distort each other's position to create straw men.
And it is not limited to the right.
One of the things that provoked my own crack down and formulation of rules on the tone of discussion to be enforced ruthlessly is a more progressive leaning person calling a conservative person a "bitch" with her pups sniffing after her.
It wasn't the conservatives who were the straw that broke the camel's back. It was entire threads degenerating with everyone on both sides sniping at one another very cruely, and most of the sniping being about me, often from progressives, instead of the topic of the original post!
Nobody on the right or the left seems to be willing to engage the deeper question I have raised either implicitly or explicitly: when is tough love appropriate?
The so-called liberals attack me personally for presuming there even is such a thing, going on and on about how I am asking such a question to rationalize my recent behavior. Well, the Gospel is clear that there is such a thing, and I don't accept that easy solution.
Furthermore, the very first post I made in 2003 was on women's ordination, then married priesthood the day after that, and the war in Iraq the day after that. I have been asking the same darn question since I started blogging: when is tough love really sanctioned by Christ?
The conservatives attack me for using tough love rhetoric to call into question the actions of their heroes, such as Bush or Pope Benedict.
Well, nothing in the Gospel says we cannot do this if their actions are hurting others.
Even Pope Saint Peter was chewed out by Saint Paul when he failed to treat the Gentiles with charity, and none of the early Christians saw the divine authority of the state as leading to the conclusion that King Herod or the Emperor were above critique. I've pointed this out probably close to a thousand times.
There are those who just want to spend every day here critiquing me as internally inconsistent on the grounds I critique the president or the pope, which is frankly, absurd, since I hold no power over the pope or president or anyone except maybe my daughter.
Well, I got sick of taking this from both sides and decided to give people who do this a taste of their own medicine, which only stirred up more resentment. And maybe that wasn't the best approach, and as the one in power over this blog, I am sorry for hurting all of your feelings.
But I am not going to stop blogging about what interests me the most on this blog - and the most interesting question to me is when exactly does the Gospel call for tough love, especially when exercised by those in power?
And the practical application to our day to day lives may be to think more carefully about how to use tough love in our day to day lives.
For example, is it really moral, as one Catholic blogger does, to refer to a political party as "the evil party" and gay rights activists as "Nazis" and "brownshirts" ?
Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. Many of the questions I am raising here might help answer those questions.
Less politically, should a woman with an abusive spouse apply tough love to herself and stay in the marriage? Or should she apply tough love to her abuser and walk away?
If two mature Christians disagree in a parish council meeting, how do they resolve it when they feel passionately about their respective positions?
Should a Catholic blogger ever exercise the ban and delete function? Edit comments? Etc....
To me, it would seem to be a little less "charged" and "heated" to discuss tough love by dealing with the issue in relation to those in power than to solve every particular case in the lives of those who don't have much political, economic or religious power and authority, and using it against each other simply doesn't clarify when it can be used.
There are readers who are suggesting the other day that I change topics and write about some of the things they find more interesting. I don't want to change topics. I want to change the tone of the discussion.
I've stated before that women's ordination was the most critical question of our times. I still stand by that, and it is directly related to this deeper question on tough love because it involves the very same issue: would Jesus truly exclude women from ordained ministry at the cost of hurting the feelings of his women disciples and allowing divisions to form in his Church?
Women, as a class, have been the most trampled upon class of human beings in history by those in power. In fact, if Junia and Mary Magdalene were women Apostles, we could ask not only what would Jesus do today, but what did he actually do, and was it suppressed by an abuse of power?
If the Vatican is correct that the Church is not authorized to ordain women, men will decide what is unjust discrimination against women and what is just discrimination against them until the second coming, because that is apparently how Christ wanted it.
If that is your belief, defend it by demonstrating how Jesus intended men to be the decision makers at all times as to what constitutes tough love to women and what constitutes unjust discrimination against women.
In raising all these questions, it is not my intention to simply raise the question most frequently raised by liberals and stifle conservatives from trying to answer the question.
All I am asking of the conservative reader is that the answer be a little more substantial than, in effect, saying, "You're a heretical ass undermining the authority of the Church by asking such questions. Make it stop!"
Instead, let's get into the genuine discussion and dialogue about what Jesus actually did or would do, and how excluding women is just or unjust, and whether we could speculate what it would mean if the incarnation occurred in a female human nature, and whether a male human nature actually saves human nature that is female, and all the host of difficult theological questions associated with women's ordination.
I spent six years of my life where I deliberately and consciously tried to pray through and think through theological issues basically 24 hours a day seven days a week and three hundred sixty five days a year.
I am no longer afraid of questions leading to more questions and arriving at a tentative conclusion on one question that challenges another presumption I once held firmly leading to even more questions.
That is how conversion happens. I am not afraid of undergoing the process of conversion. And maybe a well thought out position on why ordained women hurts women might help me convert back to a more conservative stand.
My questions and the willingness to let one question go to another question in what seems like an endless or bottomless well of uncertainty to some readers is not the product of a secular bias or a desire to see the world as gray.
Rather, it is the consequence of spending all day every day thinking about such things in prayer seeking a black and white answer where I cannot find one (yet).
I really am not so much trying to lead people to vote Democrat or join the Anglicans as to lead people to question any and all authority that is being used to hurt people.
Heck, I've said it about a hundred times, but I am a Roman Catholic pro-life registered Republican and frequent church goer who fits the profile of the usual Bush supporter! And I did vote for the guy in the year 2000!
So, I've been rattling on for quite some time, and I hope it is becoming clear that the underlying question that leads to what some people perceive as an obsession on my part with "dark posts" that are deliberately "provocative", often critical of a person in power, sometimes framed in "black and white", and sometimes appearing one sided, and often using language that is more typical to the extremes, and have a polemic tone, is intended to serve a purpose of examining when, where, how and why we are acting like Jesus when we use tough love and hurt others from positions of power.
If that question does not interest you, maybe this is not really the blog for you.
Critics who stated that they want more of the inspirational and informational pieces from me that I do occasionally write are not going to be entirely satisfied, because I am less interested in writing inspiration and passing on information than probing the subject of when to appropriately use tough love.
Indeed, most of what I have written in apologetics or doctrine or inspiration was intended to give you something to use when being threatened by a non-Catholic trying to bully you with his or her own tough love techniques. I was never really departing from the tough love question.
My proposed answers to these questions are doctrinally sound in the Roman Catholic tradition, but framed in such a way that you could present it to others without needing to exercise tough love yourself.
Those who think there is no such thing as tough love, if choosing to stick around, may wish to think about how to build the case that Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein or the terrorists of 9/11 or a man beating his spouse or an abusive priest and the bishop covering for him don't deserve a little tough love before deciding whether to jump into a debate about whether G.W. or Pope Benedict are, or are not, appropriately exercising tough love.
I just don't believe it is correct to say tough love is never necessary. I'm willing to say it should be exercised very judiciously, and might not ever involve physical bodily harm, but I won't concede it doesn't exist. But if you want to debate that, let's do it without calling one another names.
If the questions of when, where, what, how and why we exercise tough love does interest you, this is a blog you will like.
The only thing I am asking of the reader who chooses to join that conversation is that we agree to be more judicious in exercising tough love towards one another, because otherwise, we don't help one another find any genuine answers.
I see no benefit derived from continually calling each other names like two little children saying "You're a jerk" , followed by "What you say is what you are, na, na, na".
We will get nowhere if one person says, "Public figure A is appropriately exercising tough love" and the response is "You're on drugs if you think that. End of discussion."
We need to go far deeper than that. We need to be willing to ask many questions. We may even need to use our imaginations where doctrine leaves us feeling a little cold and unsatisfied.
For those who find the question of when to exercise tough love interesting, we always want to separate the act in question from the person in question, and examine the act, asking what Christ would do in the same circumstances - and that means asking some very speculative questions we may be afraid to ask on occassion.
Asking questions and speculating really is the theological enterprise. And that really is what I see my own blog being most about as it relates to a specific question.
I am inviting readers to imagine Jesus in the exact same place as those in power, and then get inside the head of this Jesus you imagine as best as you can, and tell me how much like or dislike the person in power you think Christ's decisions would be if he were in the same place, and then demonstrate how Church teaching, reason or scripture support your imaginative undertaking.
Such imagination is the heart of prayer and the heart of theology.
It took a long time to get there, but I hope this clarifies things.