Contemporary life in America, while full of material blessings, is plagued by emotional and spiritual poverty, mental health issues, and loss of felt community. Among the chief contributing factors to these plagues is a loss of several kinds of meaningful connection.
to worthy purposes
to nature and food
to local community
to our bodies and the material world
Contemporary work is marked by a shallowness of purpose: we work for employers whose goal is to make money and in return they give us money. That’s it. Very often, it is not even imagined by either party to this transaction that a higher state of things is possible. Furthermore, the extreme division of labor that has taken place since industrialization means that our work is often so specialized and narrow as to be almost entirely disconnected from the rest of our lives and our larger ideals. Thus, not only the purpose of our work but also its content lacks the ability to connect us to meanings worthy of a life’s devotion: the purpose is money; the content is a super-specialized function so narrow and obscure as to be spiritually impoverished. Our careers–for those who are fortunate enough to have a career rather than a mere job or unemployment–most often lack any sense of vocation.
The complexity of contemporary economics and social life also obscures certain realities and involves us in moral compromise. Continue reading →
“The World” here is defined in contradistinction to “the Church.” The fundamental difference for present purposes is that the Church recognizes the authority of God’s commandments respecting sex while the World follows its desires regardless of God’s commandments. People do not divide neatly in the World and the Church, but at the same time the distinction is more than theoretical. I am sure that there are atheists who eschew sexual whateverism and, for their own reasons, promote faithfulness within loving dual gendered marriage as the only ethical expression of sexuality; but I cannot think of a single person I actually know who fits this category today. The vast majority of those who remain unmoved by the sexual and ideological revolutions of the last century are the religious–and most major religions (including at least Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Judaism) have historically spoken with virtual unanimity on the subject. Buddhism, of course, considers liberation from all desire and attachment the ultimate goal, and it therefore has perhaps an even less permissive stance towards sexuality than the other major religions.
While the nearly unanimous consensus of the world’s major religions is so strong an argument in favor of traditional sexual morality as to be, in my judgment, very nearly conclusive, I do not insist on traditional sexual morality for present purposes. What I insist on is that people must attempt to comply with a moral and philosophical system that is dictated by reason and conscience and not by desire. Desire must bow to Right (“as God gives us to see the right”), not Right to Desire. To the extent that a rigorous and conscientious atheist regulates his sexuality by the morality that seems to him correct and yet denies the authority of God’s purported commandments, he is outside the Church but also outside the World. Continue reading →
There are two competing claims in the debate on transgender issues. The first is the historical norm of Western culture: one’s gender should be considered the same as one’s objective biological sex. The second is the core assertion of the transgender movement: a person’s gender should be viewed by others and by the law as a matter of subjective identity. Both claims are defensible, but both cannot be right. I will refer to these two views as the objective and subjective views even though I admit these terms are problematic. My conclusion (spoiler alert) is that both views should be respected, since (among other reasons) there is no possibility of any public proof that either is right or wrong.
The clearest thinkers on both sides of the debate acknowledge a valid distinction between (1) the mere fact of biological differences between males and females and (2) the things that culture and psychology do with the concepts of “male” and “female.” This culturally and psychologically generated construct has come to be distinguished from biological sex and called “gender,” though the terms are still often used synonymously. Acknowledging this theoretical distinction, the practical issue of what to do about the possibility that an individual’s gender identity may differ from the individual’s biological sex remains entirely unresolved.
There is widespread acknowledgement that political acrimony and partisan polarization are at a record high within living memory. “Americans are more divided than ever,” proclaims the Associated Press. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton noted in her concession speech that “We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought.” And then the last four years happened, culminating in the Capitol Riot and the second impeachment of Trump.
I do not believe that our nation is about to die, but I do think that our democracy has been growing increasingly unhealthy. And in the long run – by the time my grandkids are old – I do believe that our democracy will have fallen apart at the seams unless current trends are reversed. Continue reading →
I am personally thrilled with Amy Barrett as the newest Supreme Court Justice, though far from thrilled by the process by which she became such (including the Republican-controlled Senate’s procedural hypocrisy in deferring Garland’s hearing but rushing Barrett’s). But amid the discouraging signs of the politicization of the Supreme Court confirmation process, the decline of political discourse in general, and the nation’s increasing polarization, I read one article that I found very encouraging: a self-proclaimed liberal writer who personally knew Justice Barrett back in her days as a clerk for Scalia and who, though anticipating that he will disagree with many of her opinions, is glad that the court is getting a brilliant legal thinker who is also a good person. The nation deeply needs this kind of capacity to recognize goodness and merit in people who are on “the other side,” and I want to recognize and honor that when I see it. Continue reading →
You can tell when a news story is big, because even I will have heard about it–I who rarely spend more than ten minutes a day on news, and usually much less. But even I heard about the Catholic church’s publication, “Male and Female Created He Them,” which respectfully asserts the Catholic position on gender identify–that one’s biological sex should be the same as one’s gender identify, and that men and women were designed by God to complement each other, among other things. It also calls for dialogue about the issues while calling upon Catholic parents and educators to respectfully give their witness regarding these matters. Its publication during Pride Month predictably sparked a subdued outrage among the major news outlets, who (so far as I have seen) failed to report its arguments for why the notion of choosing your own gender is harmful for children and society, and dwelt instead on the supposed harm this non-revolutionary doctrinal statement will cause to Catholic persons dealing with gender identity issues.
I recently posted a blog article setting forth eight different non-religious arguments that honest people have found persuasive in favor of heteronormativity. My purpose was not to persuade anybody that traditional sexual mores are correct, but that there are valid arguments in favor of heteronormativity that good people might accept, and that those who (like me) stand by the traditional mores regarding homosexuality are therefore not necessarily bigotted. I explained that I used only non-religious arguments not because religious arguments are invalid, but because they are not publicly accessible.
The Catholic church’s publication reminded me that I missed one of the major non-religious arguments that people have found persuasive in favor of heteronormativity–namely, the complementarity of men and women. Continue reading →