Life slogans

-If you want to specify the object of respect, make the slogan “From conception to judgment”. It’s more elegant and accurate than the present slogan and it specifies the only moment after which we have to reevaluate whether respect needs to continue.

-There’s no point in addressing a claim like “pro-life is all life” or “pro-life is anti-death penalty”. Slogans aren’t claims. There might, for all I know, be some sort of logic to propositional slogans, but no one knows what in the world it would be. If Coke is it, is it Coke? If it is Coke and I just do it, should I just do Coke?

-All penalties presuppose we value the thing we deprive the criminal of. Fines are only a penalty because we are pro-money.




Notes on Genesis 4

Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground…

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

The word “keeper” in the passages is two different Hebrew words, and scripture often uses them separately but sometimes synonymously. We can consider them both as synonyms and not.

As synonyms. 

In this sense, Cain is asking whether Abel is his sheep. The sense here is double: on the one hand it is either a dehumanization of Abel or an exaltation of himself; on the other hand it is a mocking jab at God, since if we read Cain’s resentment at God as tracing back to God’s favoring Abel’s sacrifice, his comment reads as “So is Abel one of those sheep that you like so much?”  This is a particularly diabolic jab to make after what Cain had done to this “sheep”.

Again, Abel was killed out of envy of his religious practice and so died as a martyr. In a triumph of theodicy, death is allowed to enter the world only as martyrdom. Seen from this angle, when the Eucharistic prayer asks God to “accept [our sacrifice] as once you accepted the gifts of Abel the just” it is speaking both of the sacrifice of his sheep and of Abel himself.  Abel was thus the first agnus dei. 

As distinct.

Both terms denote being mindful of something or tending it, but the second tends to be more abstract, and can mean something like “to watch”. In this sense Cain misses that he should be one who cares and defends his brother and turns into one who watches for him, i.e. he has taken the character of the sin that “lieth at the [your] door, and his desire is for you”.

In other words, the whole problem turns on whether we watch out for others as those who care about them or as hunters and prey watch out for each other. Cain even seems to feign the first way of watching out for others in order to prey on them: “Cain talked with Abel his brother [i.e. feigned friendliness or intimacy]: and it came to pass, when they were in the field [i.e. the place they needed both for shepherding and tilling], that Cain rose up* against Abel his brother, and slew him.”


*The word for “to rise up” seems idiomatic here – it usually means “to establish” and is the normal way of speaking of making covenants. Cain thus set himself or even covenanted himself to the murder.


Punnett square on the three stages of salvation

Will exist in the eschaton Will not exist in the eschaton
Existed before the fall Man Marriage  
Did not exist before the fall Incarnation,  Church  Nations, Sacraments


Immigration and Catholic Social Theory

The best arguments for allowing mass immigration treat it as giving access to labor markets but not necessarily citizenship. I’m skeptical that the two can be kept separate* but I’ll leave this concern aside  and focus on mass immigration as simply increased market access. Though the argument linked to above is not religious, my argument here is exclusively drown from Catholic social theory and will not be of much interest for those who do not believe in the creation, fall, and restoration of the human family.

If immigration is simply market access it is about property relationships among nations, and the first principle of these is, according to the CCC:


2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.187 The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial

The doctrine sets up a three-stage account of nations with property distinct from others:

1.) In the beginning. In the original dispensation of things, all things were common to all persons

2.) After the fall. With the introduction of sin, poverty and the threat of violence required the division of persons to ensure their security. The separation of states begins with Cain and is definitive in Babel.

3.) At the end of history. Here we get a reëstablishment of the primordial order of how things were in the beginning. Nations are abolished and Christ is all things to all men.

There is a dialectical tension in stage 2: on the one hand this division of property between individuals and nations is necessary for freedom and dignity as persons, on the other hand it is supposed to be a principle for building up ties of solidarity.

There is also a dialectical tension in stage 3: on the one hand the human race is certainly not at the end of history, on the other hand the history of salvation is complete with the end of the apostolic age. All revelation has ended, humanity has entered the eschaton in the resurrected body of Christ, and the division of Babel has been overcome with the great commission to give a single body of belief to all nations and by the miracle of Pentecost.

To put both tensions in a single sentence, the division of nations is necessary so long as sin reigns and sin has been definitively overcome in one sense and in another sense not.

So what do we do?

The people of God is essentially internationalist, and so Christians are members of an international movement that cannot be isolated from any domain of life, but to pretend that Christian duties are exclusively internationalist ignores the reality of sin and the work that remains to be done in building up the kingdom. Ockham’s razor solves the problem by saying that before the final judgment the Christian is a member of two distinct societies. Like all societies, each has a spiritual component and a physical component, and so it is meaningless to divide them into the earthly and spiritual (cf. 1880). Rather, one society is of the present age – the saeculum – and exercises a secular power, though this power even as secular must place a primacy on spiritual goods (cf. 1886-1887). and the other society partially realizes stage 3. Human beings have a strong tendency to monism and so will tend to collapse one society into another.


* One of the clichés of the immigration debate is getting people “out of the shadows” but it’s hard to see how a mass labor force without citizenship avoids being some sort of shadow labor force.



One comment on Sean Carroll’s argument

(Carroll’s argument)


The general structure of most naturalistic accounts:
(1) We know naturalism is true by clairvoyance.
(2) Everything else follows.

Freedom and self-creation

As Plato explains in Symposium, all love is creative and so self-love is self-creative. One source of self-creation is free will.

Since the distortion of self-love is pride, pride leads to distorted notions of self-creation and therefore of free will.

The distortion of pride consists in missing the measure of reason, and so one distortion of free will is the denial of reason as the measure of one’s self-creation. When so distorted, self-creation is seen as demanding nothing beyond assertion. Philippa Foot and Chesterton already figured out the problem with this: a self-assertion that was not measured by some extra-subjective reason would not be a Nietzschean creation of new values but simply mental illness.

Freedom is therefore necessarily conditioned or measured by extra-subjective reasons that convey real and not merely illusory benefits, i.e. goods. Goods are sought either for the sake of something else or for themselves, and since all cannot be the former some good is necessarily sought.

Any good that is necessarily sought is in one sense sought freely and in another sense not. So far as the free is opposed to the necessary, it is not freely chosen; but so far as freedom wills (assents to) all that is necessary for self-creation and this self-creation requires some necessarily sought good, then we freely seek the necessary good. This is why good habits, even if they are no less compulsive than bad ones, are simply are not experienced as compulsions or addictions, even if we sometimes speak of them this way. This is what Paul is driving at in Romans 6:

18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

When one is “a slave to sin” the slavery is literal, when one is “slave to righteousness” this is only said “after the manner of men” or according to the “flesh” and not the spirit. Said another way, one is a slave to sin but a “slave” to righteousness. Why? Because slavery consists not in the the necessity of what one wills, but in compulsive and destructive outcomes: the end of those things is death. 

The “slavery” of righteousness is a choice of means that can attain a necessarily willed last end, the slavery of sin is the compulsive or addictive choice for means that cannot. In fact, compulsion and addiction is not necessary from the necessarily willed end, it is only made destructive by its inability to achieve it. Addiction or compulsive behavior formally consists in its opposition to the necessarily willed good.

But if free will is the choice of some means to a necessarily willed end, then how is the will free? If its alternatives are rationally equal, then reason cannot decide between them, and if they are not equal then reason must choose one and not the other. But the argument is like assuming that if art is the skill at painting pictures it therefore necessarily must paint one. Reality simply isn’t like this. Neither lives nor possible pictures are given in advance like buffet options. Our experience of creating things is of a negotiation between unconscious reasons and deliberate choice – I wrote this with a general idea of where it should go, but the topic itself also made its own contributions. The idea from which we create does not make something be ex nihilo, but is a form we are trying to realize among other forms, and those other forms contribute a good deal to the final outcome.


Sean Carroll explained, without comment.

Sean Carroll:

We can now turn to the question proper: why is there something rather than nothing? The first issue to be addressed is whether physical reality requires something external to itself to account for its existence: either something to sustain it, if the universe exists eternally, or something to bring it into existence, if the universe had a beginning. We can consider each scenario in turn.

For definiteness let’s imagine that some form of quantum mechanics is the correct description of the physical world at its most fundamental level…. then the dynamics of the theory are described by Schrödinger’s equation:

H |Ψ⟩ = i ∂ |Ψ⟩. (1) ∂t

This equation applies to the dynamics of any isolated quantum system, including relativistic quantum field theories and presumably quantum gravity; all one has to do is specify the right Hilbert space and Hamiltonian. (We assume the universe is isolated, or else we should be including whatever influences it as part of the universe.)

Thus, Carroll will prove

physical reality [does not] require something external to itself to account for its existence,

from the assumption that

the universe is isolated, or else we should be including whatever influences it as part of the universe.


Interpretations and source texts, a case study

John Gallagher summarizes the 1966 majority report on artificial contraception, which he claims makes an argument that one should:

…take moral direction not from a consideration of the sexual act or faculty by itself but from a consideration of the good of the marriage as a whole. This allows the majority report to allow for contraception in certain cases while insisting on the procreative orientation of all sexual acts…the majority report is somewhat situationist in approach. It does not see contraception as intrinsically morally evil. (It does refer to a physical evil that is present in artificial contraception). To decide what is morally good in a particular case one must consider the different values involved and try to harmonize them as well as possible.

Human Sexuality and Personhood c. 9 p. 203-4

Digging around in the source text in support of this summary, the closest we get is this:

Among these criteria [for the moral evaluation of actions], this must be put first: the action must correspond to the nature of the person and of his acts so that the whole meaning of the mutual giving and of human procreation is kept in a context of true love (cf. Gaudium et Spes, II, c.1, par.51). Secondly, the means which are chosen should have an effectiveness proportionate to the degree of right or necessarily of averting a new conception temporarily or permanently. Thirdly, every method of preventing conception—not excluding either periodic or absolute abstinence—carries with it some negative element or physical evil which the couple more or less seriously feels. This negative element or physical evil can arise under different aspects: account must be taken of the biological, hygienic, and psychological aspects, the personal dignity of the spouses, and the possibility of expressing sufficiently and aptly the interpersonal relation or conjugal love. The means to be chosen, where several are possible, is that which carries with it the least possible negative element, according to the concrete situation of the couple. Fourthly, then, in choosing concretely among means, much depends on what means may be available in a certain region or at a certain time or for a certain couple; and this may depend on the economic situation.




On the mysterium iniquitatis

The mysterium iniquitatis is the problem of how the sin of angels or Adam was possible, given they were not deceived by passion but had complete unity of right intellect and will (see Tobias Hoffman here).

Hypothesis: All sin is done in ignorance because no peccable being knows the future, and as such is ignorant of the eschatological reform of all things at the end of time. Lucifer can therefore reject God out of his false belief that the created world will be eternally what it is now, and that he will reign as its prince forever. Like us, the Angels and Adam depended on a mythological belief about the structure of the world, but they acted from the wrong mythology.

Totalizing postulates concerning the whole universe that effect all our behaviors within them, or myths in the sense of Kolokowski and Midgley, are thus structural to all finite intelligence, and Scripture’s command remember your last end and you shall never sin is a transcendental point addressed to all peccable beings. This memory, however, is fundamentally the memory of worship that calls to mind the past only to draw it into an anticipation of eschatological fulfillment. Hoc facite in meam commemorationem 

The fall of the angels and Adam is therefore arises from a sort of ignorance, and this proves itself the origin of sin. Finite intelligence in via can always lie to itself about its place in the world, basing itself on mythologies that make it master of a perpetual kingdom. It can always lie to itself that it has no need for the act of worship that ties the definitive revelations within time to the fulfillment of those revelations at the end of it. The pride of the angels and Adam remains central, but we now see it as consisting in the belief that reason need not rest on any myth nor exercise itself in worship.

The fundamental ground of sin, therefore, is the belief that the world as we see it will remain always what it is, or that it will never come to pass, as Benson put it that “then this world passed, and the glory of it.”

The critique of Philip Larkin

I argued once that the only appropriate response to Philip Larkin’s witness in favor of secularization and the sexual revolution would be poetry that gave witness to the beauty of what was lost or the ugliness of what was ushered in. But there might be a more devastating critique in noticing that poetry died with Larkin’s generation.* When he and Graves died in 1985 the republic of British letters died with them. Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes wandered around in the darkness for a while, but even they came of age in the Ancien Régime before the Sexual Revolution (1939-2013 and 1930-1998).

So after an unbroken line of world-historical English poets at least since the Elizabethans, Philip Larkin praises the Sexual Revolution and then, to the laughter of heaven, drops dead without leaving an heir. Larkin might protest that this was all a sheer accident – everything dies, so why shouldn’t the poetry of the British Isles just happen to be absent from every generation that came of age after the Sexual Revolution?

Maybe. Even granting the argument, one suspects that Larkin would have a good deal more ambivalence about his annus mirabilis if he knew it was the year that poetry died.

*And no, I’m not open to discussion on this point. Sure, some names pop up on a Google search for “Contemporary British Poets”. Sure, there’s a Norton Reader of Contemporary Poetry. Sure, maybe you think JH Prynne and Brenda Shaughnessy are bona fide heirs of Milton, Donne, Pope, Shelley, Arnold, Yeats…. But at best this is like arguing that the existence of the Oil Painters of America proves that realism is still alive in Contemporary art.

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