28 January 2010

Coffee Bowl Browsing

B.O. demagoguing over the recent Supreme Court decision to invalidate McCain-Feingold.  For a former constitutional law professor, B.O. seems woefully ignorant of the basics.   Also, the S.C.'s credibility with the American electorate is far, far higher than the Won's.  He might want to back off.

". . .a shocking lack of decorum. . ." and a really dumb political move.  The amateur hour continues a pace.

Anti-ACORN filmmaker wasn't out to wiretap.  There's more to this story. . .

The Diocese of Phoenix strengthens regs for marriage prep.  This is an excellent idea.  As our culture continues to trivialize marriage, the Church is called upon to sharpen its focus on the sacramental nature of the bond. 

More on the perils of demanding ironclad definitions in the pursuit of virtue.  Definitions function as semantic limits on how words are properly used in a language's grammar.   A definition will change as a word's usage changes.  Few people nowadays declare themselves "gay" when they mean "happy."  The demand that "torture" be given a fixed definition is dangerous precisely for this reason.  What counts as torture today may not count as torture tomorrow.

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  1. I hope that a part of the lengthening and strengthening of the marriage preparations requirements, the diocese goes more in-depth on some of the topics than does the marriage-prep class which I am currently taking. It seems like a very "surface-deep" treatment--admittedly, that is needed by a great number of the people who are trying to get married--I wish they would add a little more depth to some of the topics. Either way, I hope that their new program will be effective.

  2. Fr. Joshua10:52 AM

    Thanks for the marriage prep link Fr. I'm a newly ordained priest (8 months) and have been looking for something to sink my teeth into in terms of marriage prep. Marriage Prep in my diocese seems to be the ends justify the means! Get them married no matter how they get there! Thankfully I have a really great pastor and together we are reforming our parish marriage prep and this document is a great guide. That link is going to help a lot of couples. Thanks again.

  3. Fr Joshua:
    Good luck to you, too, in reforming your parish marriage prep. One of the things that I do like about the marriage prep at my parish is that they have at least noted that the end goal is not just to get the couples married, but to help with the discernment process. They have stated explicitly that the course is also a success for any couple(s) who decide not to get married (yet) as a result of the course.

    One criticism I have, though, is that I have not heard (and do not at this point expect to hear) much about living chastely within marriage--not too mention prior to it!--and why this how a healthy marriage should be. For clarification, I am not here equating chastity with abstinence from sexual activity. It's something that's been on my mind a bit, but which I've never really heard addressed much (outside of a few of Mr Christopher West's books and similar). The marriage prep course which I'm going through has had little snippets on this theme, but nothing explicit, and virtually nothing deeply theological or practical.

  4. Fr. P, haven’t you read Euthyphro? For anyone who wants to know: Socrates asks Euthyphro to define piety. The best Euthyphro can do is say that “it is what the gods love.” Socrates points out that that is not a definition, which makes Euthyphro and his sophist friends angry. The result is they condemn Socrates to death.

    The fact that the meanings of words can change does not make definitions unnecessary. Words are only connected to knowledge through rigid designators, (This and only this is water.) or real definitions. A real definition states the genus and the species.
    Ex: “Torture is intentionally causing severe pain (genus), to an innocent person (species).”

    Under this definition some things clearly are torture and others are not.

    The postmodern way of using words relies on nominal definitions that are vague, flexible, and subject to change. Torture is whatever the UN, the popular culture, or the party in power says it is. This results in endless debate and the culture wars. When does life begin? Who is a person? What is a marriage?

    Great for bloggers and politicians, but not what God intended.

  5. Substantive sacramental prep is great, but one hopes that they have a different program for those couples that are not young! What a twenty-something couple embarking need is very different from what a thirty or forty-something couple entering into a second marriage needs, for example. One size really doesn't fit all.

  6. Lamont, I'm about as far from a nominalist as anyone can be!

    My point is not that our inability to define words makes definitions unnecessary...my point is the nature of definitions makes setting the definitions of words in concrete dangerous. Most of what medieval Europe called torture would be thought horrific by even the staunchest pro-torture supporter in the US today. The CCC doesn't define torture precisely b/c the Church wants to be able to guard human dignity in every age. If the Church defined torture in specific terms, she would be using the definition of one age to be applied to all ages. . .thus potentially giving some future age the excuse it needs to torture with impunity. For example, let's say the Church in the late middle-ages said that torture was any physical violence that drew blood or broke bones. At the time, that would eliminate 99% of what the pro-torture could do to a prisoner. In 2010, we can inject a prisoner with spasmodics and cause excruciating muscles cramps that last for hours. No broken bones, no blood, therefore, no torture. But the CCC forbids using pain as a means of exactiing information b/c doing so violates human dignity.

    I'm not saying that definitions are unnecessary. I'm saying that when it comes to the practice of virtue, we cannot rely on fixed definitions to keep us safe from vice. We have to ask: do we want to be the sort of people who torture other people for info?

  7. Anonymous7:24 PM

    An acquaintance was horrified when she heard we were starting marriage prep 20 years ago. "But I know someone who did that and they called off the marriage." We told her that was the point. If just talking about issues made them call off the marriage what would have happened if they had actually gotten married. "Oh"

    But I do hope they (and others doing marriage prep)are flexible. My sister and brother-in-law both worked nights for several years before and after their wedding (newspaper editors). People kept requiring 8am meetings and workshops for marriage prep and other wedding related matters. When you've just worked from 4 pm to 2 am, 8 am doesn't work well.

    My husband and I had to co-ordinate 3 dioceses in different states - the one where we attended school and did marriage prep, the one where his parents lived (since he isn't baptized, he needed an interview with his local priest for me to get approval to marry him in the church), and the one where my parents lived and we were married. Luckily everyone co-operated. I was going to say it went off "without a hitch", but we are still hitched : )