Thursday, October 21, 2010

"We don't make determinations about who we love."

Not to be controversial or anything... ha ha ha....

This may seem like a post about homosexuality. It is not. One day I hope to address that topic directly, but this is not that day. This is a post about the human will. And it's quite possible that I am just thinking out loud. Bear with me.

At the October 14 MTV townhall event, President Obama was asked whether or not he thought being gay or transgendered was a choice. He responded:
I don’t think it’s a choice. I think that people are born with a certain makeup, and that we’re all children of God. We don’t make determinations about who we love.    (Emphasis mine.)
Again, setting aside the question of homosexual marriage, homosexual rights, whether homosexual orientation is a choice or not (as if it matters), etc., I want to hone in on that statement: "We don't make determinations about who we love." 

What does he mean by that?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Obama was talking about actual "love" and not "sexual attraction." Think of it: "We don't make determinations about who we love"? Baloney! Love -- true love -- is a choice, not a feeling. We choose to love people by an act of our will (remember, I am not talking about attraction or lust). Love is an action and a disposition of the heart; as Christians, we are commanded to love, well, everyone. So in that sense, we very definitely make determinations about whom we love.

However, I don't believe that's the way in which Obama meant the statement. I am pretty sure he meant: "We don't make determinations about who we are sexually attracted to."

Okay, well, let's say he's technically right on that. Physical attraction is involuntary. But what about after that? That's where human will comes in, right?

Here's an example: A married man may find his best friend's wife attractive. He may be irresistibly drawn to her. He may even believe he is in love with her. He may even be in love with her. Does that give him the right to have sex with her? In the liberal mind, maybe the answer is yes, but I can't be sure. Any liberal want to take that?

But in the world of traditional morality (i.e., the world of objective truth), a man's will must override his urges and emotions. He must not proceed with the best friend's wife, even if he believes that she is his soulmate. The will must prevail over attractions and feelings.

In a real life example, I remember what Woody Allen said when he had a salacious, psychologically (if not technically) incestuous affair with Mia Farrow's daughter (whom he had known since her childhood), which caused devastation to many: "The heart wants what it wants." It was just that simple for him: I will do what I feel, and damn the consequences. If it feels good, do it. (This is basically a philosophy of the godless, because it assumes that man is mere animal and there are no eternal consequences anyway.)

So, maybe "we don't make determinations" about who we are attracted to, but we do make determinations about how we act. That's called our will. And we teach our children from a very young age not to act out on their urges or emotions (in all areas of life), but to control their will -- for their own good and the good of others. Our will governs our emotions, passions and urges.

Isn't this common sense? Tell me what I'm missing.


  1. I couldn't agree more.....I am a married woman I will not act on the attractions that I have for other men.

    Ahhhh, the bcp nation has made us into merely animlas that just act out...Frankly, if my dog humps your leg, I'm gonna beat his ass. ;)

  2. Oh and I don't have attractions for other men. :) hahahaha But it's not an option, I wouldn't go down that path....

  3. Wow, this is excellent. I agree wholeheartedly that love is a choice... but the way you outlined that the act of free will to LOVE comes AFTER the (possibly) involuntary sexual attraction is brilliant. Brilliant. I haven't heard it spelled out like that before, but once again, you have logically and succintly done it :)

  4. Not sure if I will be able to comment on your blog, it worked for me on one of your curiosity entries, but I think I got lucky, I haven't even worked out what a URL is and I don't have a blog myself.
    What I'm kind of confused about is that are you saying that a liberal wouldn't agree with the moral thought processes you've outlined? I certainly would, but I'm not sure if I fit your definition of a liberal ? I do live in quite a liberal country, the UK, politically I'm a UK liberal, but I'm nearly fifty, have Christian beliefs and although I agree with the Obama sentence in that you can't control who you're sexually attracted to, you certainly can control what you do next! It maybe be miserable, and it may hurt an awful lot, but to give in to " the heart wants, what the heart wants," is simply a cop out.

  5. Speaking as a godless person, I disagree with this statement: "This is basically a philosophy of the godless, because it assumes that man is mere animal and there are no eternal consequences anyway."

    I agree with you that we do and should make choices about who we love. The better statement is indeed that we don't make choice about who we are attracted to. Luckily for all of us, we are attracted to more than one person, so we can go through life for a while that we are both attracted to and make a choice to love. After that, we should suppress our attraction to others because we have made a choice to be with this one. You did bring up homosexuality in your post, so I will say also that I think a person who tries force love for someone they are not sexually attracted to (men for women when they are really attracted to men) will have a hard life ahead of them.

    But back to the point - that so-called godless people believe that humans are animals and there are no eternal animals anyway. I'm not sure where you came up with that idea - perhaps it is from Catholic Literature - I haven't read much of that so I just don't know. If you would take some time to read some literature on the evolution of morals, you will know that there is plenty of evidence that it did not take religion to develop morals - but likely it is the other way around. We developed morals, then we developed religion to help enforce them.

    One typical example of a scientific reasoning behind being kind to others is the iterated prisoner's dilemma ( We cooperate with others because doing so builds better relationships, and makes life better for ourselves (and others) in the end. There may not be eternal consequences, but there certainly are earthly consequences of sleeping with your neighbor's wife. Your neighbor will become upset, and likely so will other people in your community. "If a guy sleeps with his neighbor's wife, who is to say he won't sleep with MY wife later on? I'd really rather not cooperate with him!" or even "That guy who slept with his neighbor's wife hurt the neighbor, and tore a family apart, and harmed those children ... I won't cooperate with him!"

    This sort of logic does not require eternal consequences or an imaginary being - neighbors and immediate consequences are just fine for this.

    If you are interested in reading about it, there are plenty of books that look into the evolution of morality, and even the evolution of religion as a result of the evolution of morality. See Matt Ridley, The Origin of Virtue, or a very recent one by Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape. In it, he "calls for an end to religion’s monopoly on morality and human values".

  6. This is so simple and TRUE, and while I think that liberals would agree with this point on the surface because our society still sees infidelity in marriage as generally wrong (thank goodness!), when it goes deeper into dealing with homosexual unions etc. suddenly the impulse is to derail the previous logical thought process and go in the direction of emotion. Excellent, excellent points!!

  7. "Again, setting aside the question of homosexual marriage, homosexual rights, whether homosexual orientation is a choice or not (as if it matters), etc"

    You don't think it matters if it is a choice or not?

  8. This is a fabulous post Leila! I can't stand when people say "you can't help who you fall in love with." Sure you can! And once you do choose to love someone you must work at it to continue to love them. Love is not just an emotion it is an action.

  9. Question for MaiZeke:

    You state that if neighbors find out about the affair, that they will stop "cooperating" with their neighbor as a natural and immediate consequence. What if they don't find out about the affair until years later, say not until one has died, and the immediate and natural consequences are not that: immediate? Without knowledge of the affair by neighbors or family members, can there still be a lasting effect on them from the lies of others? Do you believe that for people to control themselves there needs to be an immediate and natural consequence imposed on them by others? Just clarifying. Thank you.

  10. Wow, I'd love to know how you'd treat one of your own children if they "came out" to you...tell them not to act on their "urges" and to choose to love another (opposite gendered) partner? Just curious...

  11. Mai,

    What if a society decides that adultery should be acceptable, and most of the people determine that it would be okay to do so? Then morality changes, right? And I would assume that you are fine with that, correct? I'm truly curious if that is your position. Morality is sort of a democracy, whatever a society says it is?

    I don't think it matters if a person is born with a tendency to be attracted to the same sex, just as it doesn't matter if a person is born with a tendency to alcoholism. It doesn't matter what disorder we have (and we all have them), we still have free will to act within the moral law. Is it hard? Yes. Virtue has always been difficult, in every age and realm.

    If my child were to "come out" to me, I would love them just the same as I do now. I would never condone any sinful activity, of course. No matter what the sin was. Whether it be adultery, homosexual activity, theft, sloth, greed, etc. Some sins are more serious than others, but I would never embrace and condone any sin. The Catechism speaks to the treatment of (and respect for) persons who are attracted to the same sex, as well as the difficult life of virtue which is still required of them.

    There is a wonderful ministry in the Church for helping gay people live a life of holiness and chastity, called Courage. We are all called to holiness, gay or straight.

  12. Sue, I am glad you got through! I think we agree with each other.

    But the secular left often speaks of "love" as if you have to act on whatever attraction you have. That it can't be helped, and doesn't need to be resisted. I wanted liberals (secularists, like Mai) to comment on that. Woody Allen is the perfect example. He may have his limits as to who he will sleep with, but it's all arbitrary and his limits are based on his own opinion. Very subjective.

    Does that make sense?

  13. This is a really great post. I've often thought the same. What I love the most about it is your acknowledgment that attraction is something beyond our control; I really hate it when religious people insist that homosexuality is some sort of choice that you can just "unmake". It is an inclination and one that is a burden, a cross that the person must struggle with daily in order to be virtuous. We all have crosses. I think homosexuality is a particularly difficult one to carry and I have enormous respect for those who choose to remain faithful to God and His teachings in spite of the permissive cultural attitude of our world.

  14. So why is it okay to get emotional about IVF-in fact, use emotion (the deep desire for a child) as an argument for or against it (sorrow at being unable to conceive naturally, sorrow for the loss of frozen embryos denied a chance to live) and yet it's not okay to bring emotion into an argument in favor of same sex marriage? Suddenly in the case of same sex marriage, "logic" about what different organs are supposed to do (according to doctrine) and the purpose of marriage ritual becomes the ruling argument. Because somehow the fact fact that your friend next door has been living with her/his partner for 20 years and would like some official acknowledgment is too emotional (because you, know, they sleep in separate beds, of course).

    And yes, Leila, you hit the nail on the head. All of us liberals, myself included are waiting to cheat on our partners and spouses, willing to give in to all animal lusts, cheering for incestuous/disturbed relations (a la woody allen) and just waiting, just waiting to inflict our godlessness on you and your community.Any moment now, I'll marry my half brother.(since my voice cannot be heard-I'm using a sarcastic tone).

    And last but not least, let's not forget that your "logic" is bedded in Catholic, conservative, Western/American ideologies. Your "traditional morality" is not that of someone from Acoma, Papua New Guinea, or southern Uganda.

    And if I sound horrid, I'm sorry. I've been teaching all day. Enough said.

  15. Ok.. So a gay person can still have those feelings but only can be moral if he or she does not act upon them. Well that stinks..

  16. Peut-être qu'il n'ya rien de tel que le libre arbitre. Et si tout ce que nous faisons est déterminé par notre passé?

  17. I agree with you, Leila. I believe that we are not animals, that we have self control and need to exercise it. I believe that some are legimately attracted to someone of the same sex. Not those that seek to cross boundaries for the thrill, or those that are caught up in a fad, etc. There are plenty of those. But those that are legitimately attracted to someone, and maybe even in love with them, but they are of the same gender. And I feel for those people, I really do, because they are being called to something very difficult. I aqree with anonymous, who I think understands it completely-it does stink. But there is a reason for it. We are very much in a "I get what I want" society. But when we don't, it hurts, but we grow. And I bet those that have the urge and don't act (in this area and many others) are being purified here on earth through this and they will have a much quicker and more direct route to heaven than those of us that didn't have to say no to ourselves in quite the same way.

  18. Is not subjectivity the most important thing we have?

  19. Right so just in case you don't have your French translators handy....
    I copied and pasted anonymous' comment into Google translate, and here is the English version:

    "Perhaps there is no such thing as free will. And if all we do is determined by our past?"

  20. Tridentine Wife: This isn't *my* theory that morals developed before religion. I read what others have studied about the ancient world. I'm interested in it in the same way I'm interested in how we developed counting, and the number zero. Regarding the sentence "I
    believe our conscience helps us develop our morals or vice versa and both of these things were given to us by God." I believe that too, up until the point you say that these were given to us by God. I believe we have a conscience which helps to develop our morals, but we developed it evolutionarily - people who have a conscience and morals tend to be socially accepted and then they reproduce more.

    Anonymous: If there are no immediate consequences, certainly someone could get off scott-free. However, people do have consciences that are not God-given and
    may regret their actions. I don't see this as any different than a person who cheats when your God is watching - God won't tell on you, and the consequences come after death (in your worldview).

    Leila: Morality does change, I agree. A prime example is trusting the Catholic patriarchy to maintain their own discipline among priests. This used to be morally acceptable to society, and it is not acceptable any more - they must be disciplined by the courts. Aside from the
    abusive priests issue, it used to be morally
    acceptable to hold slaves, since there is plenty of support in the bible for such practice. Slavery is not morally acceptable any more. Similarly with black people marrying white people - not morally acceptable in 1800s, but morally acceptable now. Morals in society
    do change, and I'm fine with that. I work to make things I believe in more morally acceptable by society as a whole.

  21. My opinion is morals CAN exist without a religion basis. Although, that might mean that the morals of society and the morals of religion are not the same. That is extended on to the morals of DIFFERENT religions and cultures. In the end it's all relative. It's not likely that morals will be the same unless you are part of the same "community"- in a word.

    Additionally, yes, our will determines whether we act on these urges. I believe that either fearing God or fearing the consequences of your actions in society will determine how you react. If you don't have one of those, then, yes, you will act on these without a second thought. Then again, that might be defined as an Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is another story.

  22. Mai, I wanted to touch on the slavery topic because this is a commonly misunderstood point.

    You are right that the Bible references slavery in ways that seem to support it. However, it is important to understand the historical context. In ancient times, slaves were typically war criminals or prisoners of war from the losing side. I'm not saying it was a good thing, but this was the way that the ancient world operated, and the Bible references the way life was at the time. However, it always emphasizes the humane treatment of slaves, and kidnapping people to be sold as slaves has never ever been condoned.

    For example, American slavery was never ever morally acceptable, and it was always been condemned by the Catholic Church. Catholics actually played a huge role in the abolitionist movement!

    Also, Catholics have never had a moral issue with interracial marriage. It has always been morally acceptable!

    Truth never changes. Society does!

  23. Really? Catholics have always been against slavery? A simple search shows this:

    But about both, my point was really about society's morals and not specifically thw catholic church's.

  24. Mai, this quote is also from Pope Paul III, and it isn't from Wikepedia:

    "Further, in May 1537 (DS 1495) Pope Paul III wrote to the Archbishop of Toledo: "It has come to our ears. . . that Charles [V] the [Holy] Roman Emperor. . . to repress those who, eager for gain have an inhuman attitude to the human race, has prohibited by public edict that anyone should presume to reduce to slavery the Western or Southern Indians. . . . we give orders that. . . to all and each one of any dignity whatsoever. . . . you give strict orders under penalty of automatic excommunication . . . that they must not in any way presume to reduce the Indians we mentioned into slavery . . . ."

    I understand your point, and my response the same as above. Truth never changes. Society does!

  25. Miss G, we Catholics don't use emotion as our basis against IVF. So, I am confused? Sorry, I really don't understand. The reasoning against IVF is based on a natural law argument (not to be confused with "laws of nature"). Emotion is used to justify IVF, and that is not the Catholic view. Same with same-sex relationships. Help me if I am not getting your question.

    Also, I didn't say you were just waiting to cheat on your spouse. But there is no moral imperative not to, and many on the secular left don't pretend there is. We have friends who are secular who are still having a good ol' sexual time into their forties, sleeping with different women several times a week, living the "good life". It is very common in many secular circles. If you need proof, email me and I can give you more details. The "if it feels good, do it" mentality is going strong, and urges are not stymied by the will.

    As for ideology, I believe people in the East as well as in ancient times also believed in man/woman marriage. Not every person, not every country, not every minute, but to say that man/woman marriage and monogamy is a western, American thing.... well, I don't think that's accurate at all.

    You don't sound horrid. We always value your input.

  26. Mai, I have to correct you on something: The morality you cite regarding Catholic priests has not changed in the least. It has always been immoral for anyone to have sexual activity out of wedlock. The Catholic Church has never taught otherwise. So, there is absolutely no change in morality. You are saying that the way we police the morality has adapted. But the morality has not. The same morals are in place. (Priests or anyone molesting children was wrong then and now; priests or anyone involved in homosexual activity was wrong then and now.)

    Also, I know you think that man evolves morally. I don't see any evidence of that at all. I think many societies are more barbaric and bloody now than in times past. The 20th Century was the bloodiest on record. Look around at the world. Human nature is the same.

    And as far as society dictating morality: There is a huge segment of the world population (Muslim nations) which sanction the stoning of women, honor killings, lashings for rape victims, no education for girls, etc. Those are the "morals" that are in place -- are you okay with those societies holding that morality? And if not, how can you say that their morality is wrong? After all, a society makes its own morality (in your perspective), morality changes, and there is not objective truth which we can point to which says, "That is always wrong." How do you explain the examples above in light of your philosophy? Do you have a basis to say that honor killings, etc., are wrong objectively?

    It's late and I am trying to get this all in before my Friday blog fast, ha ha! It will kill me not to be here tomorrow, but I hope to come back on Saturday to a really lively discussion!

    Thanks, Mai!

  27. Anonymous, you said:

    "Ok.. So a gay person can still have those feelings but only can be moral if he or she does not act upon them. Well that stinks.."

    It's a heavy cross, to be sure. Some people have other things that they can't act upon. For example, there are people who, sadly, are attracted to children. It is not necessarily an urge that they can make disappear. They have an attraction and it is not voluntary. But, they cannot act upon it.

    Same with someone who has a very strong desire for alcohol, or gluttony, or stealing, etc. Or any strong pull to do something that is not objectively good. That person may have a hard cross to bear, but it is not impossible. In Catholicism, we know that no suffering is meaningless, and in fact it is redemptive.

    Read here for more on that:

  28. PS: I am not talking about total abstinence from alcohol. I am talking about someone who is an alcoholic. That passion is not something good, to be indulged and accepted. It is a battle that the will must fight and win. For the good of the soul.

    And that is what this post is really about. It's not specifically about homosexuality, it's about the concept of the human will, which has its rightful place above the passions/emotions.

  29. Rousseau, can you give an example of what you mean?

    Anonymous, je ne parle francais bien anymore. :) I am glad someone translated! :)

    I love all the comments, and thanks to the other Catholics for addressing so many of them for me.

  30. I would have asked the president if he thinks that applies to pedophilia. It would be a valid question because he offered no qualifying point to rule that out.

  31. It only "stinks" for a little while. I'm celibate and have been for about five years now, having obtained a civil divorce from an abusive spouse. The more you offer yourself for Christ, the more you rejoice in it because just as we fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, He fills up what is lacking in us to the point that our cup runneth over. Now, when men flirt with me, my immediate reaction is like that of a married woman in love with her husband. I'm seriously shaken by it, and disgusted. People can't fully grasp celibacy just as the unmarried can't fully grasp marriage until they experience it. Just as marriage is far more than sex, celibacy is far more than doing without sex. Falling in love and giving oneself in love in marriage changes a person profoundly for the better, and celibacy does the same thing, but in a different way.

  32. Just put a sticker on my forehead that says "missing the point"! If the post is not meant to be about homosexuality, then I haven't the foggiest idea what it's supposed to be about! Addressing the points you've made seems to necessitate talking about homosexuality.

    Do we have to do something just because we feel a desire to do so? No, of course not. Should we knowingly do something wrong? Absolutely not. But the only compelling evidence I have ever heard that homosexual activity is not a good decision is from the Catholic doctrine about sex. The WHOLE doctrine...the no artificial birth control, no reproductive technology, marriage-only, marrige-as-sacrament, sex-as-sacred doctrine. The doctrine that, because the Love of God is so real and so present and so all-important, chastity is really a viable option.

    I worry that the sexual morality debate, vis-a-vis homosexuality, is so full of personal taste and illogical argument (so many people thinking that the pill is okay, but gay sex is not okay) and furthermore that the gay community is so scapegoated for our society's sexual and community ills (when really they have only tried to avail themselves of the widely-accepted sexual ethics of the day), that most discussion about the morality of homosexuality is immediately problematic. It is terribly easy to dissect the lives of the persecuted (and for those who will jump in and say that gay people are not persecuted...please. I went to high school. I read the comments on news articles. The hate and condemnation that these people are subject to is chilling).

    It is entirely possible that the way for us Catholics to save the institution of marriage is to live it properly, to evangelize with our happiness and love, and our support for others, instead of with our words.

    All I know for sure, is that gay people today are only doing what "everybody else" is doing. Living on the assumption that sex is only the business of the consenting adults who do it (barring some pre-existing relationship), that marriage is about love, sex, and growing old together, and that controlling childbearing through technology is perfectly fine.
    We need to focus on those underlying assumptions, and not on the subset of our communities whose very existence makes those assumptions seem less comfortable. Because what we are doing now, spending so many words on whether homosexuality is wrong, and trying to bar them from the same (the *very* same) marital prvileges as the straight community, is that we are pushing them into the most uncomfortable place of tension in society. As Christians, that place belongs to us. We are called to live in the discomfort of carrying the love of Christ for everyone, seeing our brokenness and sin as well as theirs, praying and striving and working for something better, but never jumping on the bandwagon of persecution.

    A man standing on the side of the road yelling about the moral ills of the majority is seen as a crackpot, but is sometimes a prophet. A man calmly discussing the moral ills of the scapegoated minority is seen as reasonable, but in reality is often putting another foot on their neck. We are Christians, for heaven's sake. The foot belongs on our neck. Nobody else out there adores a cross of persecution and death. That's us. If we aren't bursting open at the seams with love and pain, then we shouldn't even open our mouths with an opinion.

  33. "All I know for sure, is that gay people today are only doing what "everybody else" is doing. Living on the assumption that sex is only the business of the consenting adults who do it (barring some pre-existing relationship), that marriage is about love, sex, and growing old together, and that controlling childbearing through technology is perfectly fine."

    Tara-- you are spot-on here about this.

  34. Leila: Regarding: "You are saying that the way we police the morality has adapted. But the morality has not. The same morals are in place."

    No, I am saying that there is a morality in the policing. In my opinion, it is morally wrong to leave the welfare of abused children up to a church who has clearly proven to be incapable of handling it. That is the moral point - I think everyone can agree that is morally wrong to abuse children. What we may not agree on is whether or not it is morally wrong to place the welfare of the Universal Church above the welfare of an innocent child. The Catholic Church thought that was morally ok, and society allowed it for a long time.

  35. "In my opinion, it is morally wrong to leave the welfare of abused children up to a church who has clearly proven to be incapable of handling it. "

    When has this ever been the case?

    "What we may not agree on is whether or not it is morally wrong to place the welfare of the Universal Church above the welfare of an innocent child. The Catholic Church thought that was morally ok, and society allowed it for a long time."

    Really? Can you provide official church documents supporting this claim? I'm not aware that the Church has ever taught that putting the welfare of the church above that of an abused child was "morally ok." Source, please?

  36. Tridentine wife: "Mai: If you think our morals and conscience come from evolution with no guiding will, then isn't it possible that slavery or gay marriage could at one point be evolutionarily acceptable and at another point unacceptable." Yes. Slavery was socially acceptable at one point, even by the Catholic Church (as much as Megan disagrees). BTW, I don't really know what you mean by evolutionarily acceptable. Evolution happened, we got consciences and will because of the process, and now we are able to talk about what is acceptable or not acceptable socially/morally.

    And your other point: "How does widepsread social acceptance of homosexuality fit in with the evolutionary "goal" (I know evolution is supposedly random) of propogation of the species? What would the evolutionary benefit be?"

    If my child turns out to be homosexual, I still want him to be a happy and productive member of society. An evolutionary goal is to protect - and allow to thrive - those that are genetically related to you. It is very hard for homosexual people to be happy and productive members of society when they are persecuted and bullied on a regular basis - and some of them even kill themselves because of it.

    I think you might be trying to point out that homosexuals cannot reproduce without technological assistance, so thousands of years ago, why would there have been homosexuals since they couldn't reproduce? Well, first of all, there aren't a lot of homosexuals, they are a minority. Second, why would a heterosexual parent produce homosexual offspring? Well, why do "normal" parents product bi-polar or autistic children?

    I am in danger of making a huge post here, I can tell.

    When you ask, why do we get homosexuals, I would ask the same question - why do we get autistic or bi-polar children? What can the goal of that be? What I've been reading about lately is that the things that make such children undesirable are actually desirable in other ways. Artistic/creative types are necessary in society, but as you go off the artistic/creative scale, you become bi-polar. Similarly with mathematical types - having a brain that works well with mathematical concepts is an advantage, but if a child has too much of that they tend to be autistic.

    There was an excellent article in the atlantic ( about orchid and dandelion children. Dandelion children survive anywhere, but orchid children need a perfect environment in order to survive - if they didn't have a perfect environment, they turned out to be poor members of society. The theory is that we throw out some orchid children on the chance that they will become super members of society, but most of the people are dandelions so that society will have a strong base.

    My point is, the same characteristic in a person may be seen as good or bad, depending on how it manifests itself.

    With homosexuality, I personally think there is a scale - it is advantageous to be attracted to people of the same sex, this is how we form friendships and build community. When you get a lot of this characteristic, you become sexually attracted to the same sex. (BTW, one of my lesbian friends disagrees with this theory, but it's certainly a theory).

    There may also be an advantage to sometimes producing the not-the-mainstream type of offspring (similar to the orchid and dandelion argument - most people are dandelions but some are orchids). Having another helper around to help with siblings' children (it takes a village to raise a child) may be beneficial. Having everyone reproduce a lot is not so great for population control.

  37. Joanna - read about the Kiesle case.

  38. I can see how this post is not specifically about homosexuality. It's about the idea of the will and the roll that plays in love (and really, what is love? That needs to be defined too).

    I've personally struggled with the emotions vs. will thing. I do think our society is very feelings-based. We want to feel good, and we want to do what we want. There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. But I've seen it taken too far and destroy a lot of lives.

    I think there is a tendency to assume that if someone disagrees with your choice or your feelings, they must be calling you a bad person. Then the defenses go up. But that's not always the case. My family was split in two thanks to feelings-based choices. Dad felt like he wanted "more" out of life and divorced Mom. I honestly think my father is one of the most amazing people on the planet. I love him to death. He is a great man. But his choice 27 years ago, fueled by pure emotion, was very harmful and devastating to many and that is just reality.

    I see this happening right now with a friend too. Her husband just has "fallen out of love" with his wife and "fallen in love" with another. His actions are just devastating to his kids and wife. The husband is not some evil dude. He is genuinely confused by his feelings and is acting on that. His current pain is very real and very valid but that doesn't justify his choices and his choices nor will his good intentions or strong feelings eliminate the very real consequences of his actions.

    I think if we love our kids (or future kids) we will teach them young about developing their will guided by conscience. They need to be prepared to find a "solid rock" in the midst of the emotional ups and downs of life.

  39. p.s. sorry for all the grammatical errors!

  40. Back when I wasn't becoming a Catholic, I found it very easy, like Mai, to point out the horrible things that have been done by Catholics, and claim the Church was bad. The truth is, the Church is full of humans, and humans are fallible. It has never, ever been morally acceptable in the eyes of the Church body to abuse children, or to cover it up "for the good of the Church". Bad men made bad decisions and abused children, and even worse men (in my opinion) covered up their actions. This is a reflection on those men, not on the institution. Such straw men arguments just won't get far in disproving the validity of the moral code presented by the Church, when really examined.

    If we are to lose faith in every institution whose members have committed an evil act, then we would need to become anarchists, because there is no innocent government, country, religion, or person who is worthy of our faith. Should we throw out the US judicial system because judges are occasionally crooked?

  41. Monica - good points. It's also interesting that those who list a litany of sins committed by Catholics are often not aware of the many great deeds of the Saints who often were fighting for human rights and dignity long before their contemporaries caught on. I am always amazed and overwhelmed by the amount of good has been done by those inspired by their Catholic faith and open to God's plan for their lives. I had a professor in college get pretty frustrated with a college student claiming the Bible was "oppressive." The prof said if weren't for the Bible and Christendom, the West wouldn't even have this concept of "equality" or protecting the rights of the most vulnerable.

  42. Chere Leila,

    This is the example.

    When I love this woman, it is the woman that I love and not love itself. The most important thing about love is the object of the love, which is a subject. This is subjective. There is nothing more important than that.

  43. Rousseau - not sure if you've ever read anything by Pope John Paul II, but in his book "Love and Responsibility" (under his pre-pope name, Karol Wojtyla) he delves quite beautifully into how love is both subjective and objective. If we throw either out, it fails to be love. For example, if love is purely subjective, then we are actually in danger of loving ourselves and no one else (because our focus would then shift to how the other person makes us feel or how we merely perceive the other person, how we wish them to be).

    We need objectivity which asks, "What is the truth about this person? Am I will to give myself to this person in light of who they really are, not simply how I perceive them, how they make me feel today, or how they perceive themselves?"

    In true love, we are both subjects and objects, givers and receivers, feelers and thinkers. Morality in love results from our ability to think about the consequences of our actions before acting, compelling us to anticipate how our actions will affect the one we say we love in light of who they really are and who we really are.

  44. Chere Sarah,

    Do you know if this work has been published in French?

    Is not all love subjective, because love is alive? Love is not in a piece of flesh, but in a real woman. She is the most loved, not as an object. She is the most loved as a subject. It is subjective, no?

    Objective truth is "she is. she exists". The subjective is how she sees the way I look at her.

    However, if the absolute is true, then the subjective is the most important. If the absolute is not true, then there is not subjective. Objective truth is the stage on which life is played. Some people just stand and watch their feet all day, but I live to dance.

  45. Monica - I completely agree that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. In the same way that we don't discount the church's many good points because those at the highest levels of leadership showed poor moral judgment, I'm sure that Leila didn't mean to lump all godless liberals together when she said (in not so many words) that none of us have morals because we have no eternal consequences.

    The question was, how have society's morals changed. One example of this is that it used to be morally ok with a lot of people (and police departments) to overlook the abuse and trust that the catholic church to do the right thing - and that has changed. By saying that, I'm not saying we should abolish the catholic church. We just need to police it a little more to protect our children.

  46. I think, Mai, that we are struggling to communicate because we are using the terms "morally right" as synonymous with "socially acceptable". When Leila (if I dare speak for her on blog-fast-Friday) says Morally Right, she is not talking about what your or I think is right, she is talking about what is, objectively, Right. You (from what I have read thus far) feel that there is no objective Right or Wrong. Is that true?

    Yes, things like slavery, child abuse or molestation, cheating on spouses, whatever, have been socially accepted during different times in history, including modern day. But have they ever been Morally Right?

    If socially acceptable and morally right are truly synonymous, then we must say that slavery is not wrong. It's wrongness is dependent on the time period and culture where it is being practiced. This seems to be a pretty common thought among cultural relativists.

    If we believe that something is wrong according to an objective Truth (slavery, rape, you name it) then it is always morally wrong, regardless of context.

    Mai, do you believe there are any objective truths? Do you believe "socially acceptable" and "morally right" are synonymous terms? I'm asking honestly.

  47. Mai -- I have read about the Kiesle case. The question is, have you researched the facts instead of swallowing the hype?

    My questions stand. You have not provided proof for either of your allegations against the Church.

  48. Rouseau - I don't think you are using the terms "subjective" and "objective" in quite the same way. Objective truth regarding love is not simply "she is." It is: "she is valuable because she is a person." This objective reality (that she is a person which Catholics would say was created in the image of God) is what makes her worthy of your devotion even when you don't like her very much. When, subjectively speaking, you feel nothing good towards her at all.

    Feelings are beautiful but they can change. A person's subjective characteristics can change. She can go from lovely and bright to depressed, bitter, angry, or lacking virtue. This is when subjective love becomes almost imperceptible. But objective love says, "She has inestimable value. Always. No matter what she thinks or feels or what I think or feel."

    I wouldn't be surprised if "Love and Responsibility" is in French although I don't speak French so I am not sure where to look. It is beautifully written though. You may like it.

  49. Sorry... mispelled... Rousseau.

  50. I don't think you're missing anything Leila. :)

  51. Rousseau-- the French version is *Amour et responsabilité*,1023851.aspx

    À bientôt!

  52. Chere Sarah,

    There is no value, but the subjective. Without the individual will, and without "other", we are just matter in motion. There is no value, but the value we create. There is no God to help us.

    Love is love that lasts, no matter the situation. If this love is not there, then release the man. You have nothing.

    But if I really love a woman, I love her through everything.

    Merci, chère Lisa, pour trouvant le livre.

  53. Tara, you are exactly right. Point taken! Excellent analysis.

    I will say that since the President was talking about homosexuality, it appears that this is a discussion of homosexuality (and it has been discussed in that way in the comments), but I truly did not intend that. I intended Obama's remark as a jumping off point for a discussion about human will. That we might feel a temptation (even a strong, genetically-driven one) to go in a disordered direction, but that the human will and the human spirit is powerful and transcendent. We are not bound to our passions. That is a message this culture does not seem to understand, but which used to be known.

    But, I am in perfect agreement with your statement, Tara!

    I haven't read the other comments here yet, so give me time....

  54. Just read through all the comments. Sarah and Lisa, thank you for addressing Rousseau and recommending Love and Responsibility!

    Rousseau, I think there may be a bit of a language barrier, because we are not necessarily in disagreement. You would appreciate John Paul II's philosophy of "personalism" -- it is profound! And, I think that's what you are talking about. I am sure there are many articles and books in French which are available.

  55. Monica and JoAnna, great points to Mai!

    Mai, when did the Church teach that it is morally okay to let children be abused?

    If anything, the Catholic Church's objective morality (i.e., God's truth as taught by His Church) is that what happened to those children (both in the abuse and cover-ups) was morally wrong. It is the Church who teaches that abuse of children is a mortal sin. It is the Church that warns of eternal consequences of such sin. It is a fact that if the Church's moral law were followed, no child would have been abused! It was not the belief of moral truth which harmed those children, it was the acting against the Church's moral teachings which harmed those children.

  56. Sorry, early here (for me). Did that make sense? I can try again if not.

    Also, I am interested in Mai's answer to Monica's question about if morally right and socially acceptable are synonymous. That gets to the heart of it.

  57. I just wanted to tell Lisa Graas thank you for your beautiful witness of celibacy! I have had only a small taste of this when having to abstain from my husband during pregnancies to bring our children to term. It is a difficult cross, for sure, and I appreciate the witness you provide!

  58. I think you make a lot of assumptions about "liberals." (I put liberals in quotes because they are 3 dimensional people with all kinds of beliefs on different topics. They are not one unit who think it's okay to cheat and Woody Allen is the kind of guy they want hanging around your daughter's softball practice.) Anyhow - I am definitely what you would consider a liberal (though I have some non-religious conservative views on things)and I do not cheat on my husband NOT because a church said that God said that it is "morally wrong," nor because society says it's bad, but because I really love my husband and children. They would be so hurt and emotionally damaged if I ran off to be with someone else, even for only one night with the excuse, "It was just about sexual attraction, I still love you..." That would be heartbreaking.I don't need some church or society to tell me that.

    Though I do agree with you that you can't help who you're attracted to, but love takes time and devotion, I do not agree that it means homosexuals need to curb their feelings and be chaste instead. Just because a homosexual desires someone, doesn't mean that it is solely about sex. They may be in love with the person for who they are. They may have known the person for a long time and been there through thick and thin for them. They are just like straight people, except their sexual union doesn't fit into your particular religion. (and don't say they are all hedonists... anytime I turn on the TV and have to see one second of The Bachelor(ette), Jersey Shore, or all those other "reality" TV shows that make even us liberals want to throw up, 99% of the time those folks are STRAIGHT. And no one says all straight people act like Snooki from Jersey Shore.)

    I know this wasn't about homosexuality, but it's kind of hard not to go there when that was what the quote referred to in the first place.

    All I am saying is don't think that just because Whoopi Goldberg thinks Roman Polanski is A-OK that all "liberals" feel the same way. Everyone is 3D... well most everyone.

  59. Anonymous, there is a lot in your comment that I'd like to address, but for the time being I need to clarify something (for you and Gwen, too)...

    I don't think that most liberals think it's fine to cheat on a spouse, etc. Most liberals actually live pretty conservatively. But the secular left espouses a philosophy that doesn't close the door to such things objectively speaking.

    More on that to come, but I needed to make that point. It's not that all liberals are out there doing all these shocking things, but their philosophy ("I have my truth, you have yours, there is no objective truth") leads logically to places that even liberals might not want to go.

    As for generalizing, please refer to this:

  60. "but [liberal's] philosophy ("I have my truth, you have yours, there is no objective truth") leads logically to places that even liberals might not want to go."

    Theoretically, perhaps, but not necessarily in real life. Just because you can get on a wild thought train of people acting out in disgusting ways because they aspire to no higher aim than pleasing their base instincts, doesn't mean the "godless" among us would even dream of going there. Men of god have been going there for years, in fact.

    Hate to beat a dead horse, but those Catholic priests who abused (to use the mildest word) the boys supposedly subscribed to your "objective" truth. No I don't think all priests are bad or that somehow Catholicism brings out this behavior (because I try NOT to generalize), but the church turning a blind eye or relocating these monsters to other parishes was a shocking contrast to this truth of which you speak. The "objective truth" the same individuals tout. The leaders of this church you are supposed to submit to above all.

    Doesn't sound very "objective" even if you believe in total submission to a church who supposedly speaks for an entity of which you have no proof... come to think of it, that's pretty subjective too.

  61. Anonymous, ideas have consequences. You may not act out in baser ways because your philosophy says you can, but many will (especially down the line). We have seen it happen with lots of moral issues.

    As for priests, I think you should generalize, actually, because you would then see that generally speaking, only a tiny fractions of priests have offended, and at a greatly lesser rate than, say, public school teachers and staff.

    I have a couple of posts on the Church scandal if you'd like to read my thoughts on that (back in April, I believe?).

    Anyway, you've given me a good idea for another post so thanks for that and stay tuned....

    PS: Thank you for indicating that the priests who committed those crimes overwhelmingly abused boys and not girls. It is a whole other issue as to why that is the case (and no, it's not that gay people abuse children at a higher rate than straight people), but it's good that you made that (true) generalization.

  62. Sorry, typos! And not clear thoughts today from me. Maybe I should drink some tea and try again? :)

  63. The more our will is united to God's will for us the happier we will be in what we live and in what we suffer.

    M Meacham

  64. One more point about the priest scandal: It would have never happened if Catholic moral teaching had been followed. It was sin which caused it. We Catholics believe in sin, and we believe sin is ugly and has consequences, both on earth and in the next life. So, the scandal does not discredit Catholic morality and objective truth, it confirms it.

    And I'll add how unfortunate it is that the hierarchy who moved (or didn't remove) those offenders were often taking the advice of secular psychologists, who were advising "treatment" and reassignments as the answer. The bishops were wrong in many ways, including choosing to listen to those psychologists instead of their own Church's teaching on sin.

  65. Whenever I have had trouble understanding the Church's teaching on something, I have prayed for the Holy Spirit to help me to understand it, and I have yet to be disappointed. I've struggled with the teaching on the death penalty and even Mary since I am a convert and knew nothing about Marian teaching until I converted. But I prayed for the Holy Spirit to help me to understand it and now I do, and I love it! I don't understand it when people reject the teaching of the Church "because it just doesn't sound right" to them. It's not all going to sound right because, believe it or not, everyone has some level of ignorance, including the Pope himself. All of us are ignorant of a lot of things, but Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit "to guide you into all truth", and Jesus founded a Church so we could not what is true and what is false and what is debatable. If you don't understand it, fine. I've been there myself, but the answer is to get on your knees and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to understand it. Provided that you are an obedient sheep of the shephard and want to know the truth, you will come to understand it in time, but no one can help any unwilling soul to come to know the truth. It's up to each person if he wants to have wisdom or wallow in darkness.

  66. Anonymous, your argument is apples/oranges.

    Impeccable - devoid of sin

    Infallible - immune from teaching error on matters of faith and morals.

  67. Leila is on the money here.
    The bishops were wrong in many ways, including choosing to listen to those psychologists instead of their own Church's teaching on sin.

  68. I was thinking that the church scandal and objective truths were two different points, but they tie in nicely.

    First of all, I'm amazed that you would even think to blame the secular psychologists for this situation. Really, wow. Do you ever read non-Catholic news about this? The American Bishops have been trying for 20 YEARS to try to get the Vatican to either speed up the process of defrocking or allow the American Bishops to remove priests from service themselves. To say that the Vatican has been dragging their feet on that is an understatement. They finally, this year, changed their internal laws to allow a quicker process, and more importantly, encourage priests to report such abuse to local authorities, which was FROWNED UPON before. Now we'll be able to prosecute them the same way we have always been able to prosecute teachers etc (as Leila points out, they do this too). American Bishops had to report the problem priests to the Vatican and the Vatican alone, and when the Vatican refused to remove them from service, the priests had nowhere else to turn but psychologists, hoping that they could help the priests "get better". I had no idea that the basic facts of the case were a point of contention with some Catholics.

    THat said, let's talk about objective "Truth" and this case. I personally wouldn't call the church hierarchy "even worse men". First, the American bishops were trying to work within what the Vatican allowed, which was not much. They were trying to maintain their obedience to their spiritual leaders while at the same time trying to protect innocent children. Hard to do in that situation. I also wouldn't say that the spiritual leaders in the Vatican were "even worse men".

    The Vatican leaders were, from what I can tell, only trying to hold up what they saw as the "Truth". It is a "Truth" to them to protect their flock. Becoming a priest is no small affair; you pledge your life to God and the Church, and the Church pledges to take care of you forever. I know the ceremony for the nuns is analogous to marriage, and I'm sure the preisthood is something similar. In the Church's eyes, marriages aren't easily dissolved. If the Church allowed their priests to go to jail, they would (in their eyes) effectively be abandoning them, and then the priests wouldn't have the retirement, the full Catholic burial, etc etc. The Church would effectively be divorcing because of this sin.

    Further, the Church has another "Truth" that the Church can absolve people of their sins through confession. The Church really believed, I think, that having a priest confess his sins and get absolution was enough.

  69. continued, the comment was too long for one post:

    By holding on to these two "Truths" too long, the situation became catastrophic. When the American Bishops were pushing for defrocking twenty years ago, the Vatican should have re-thought their position. However, they didn't. We all know that the Church can hold on to a "Truth" for too long, take Galileo for instance. This "Truth" was that the sun revolved around the Earth, and if anyone argued or researched against this "Truth", then they would be excommunicated, put under house arrest, their writings burned, etc etc. As we all know, it took FIVE HUNDRED YEARS for the Church to apologize to Galileo for this. This really indicates an unwillingness to change.

    So, had you asked me 20 years ago if it was good that the Church protects its priests as if they were married to them, then yes, I would have said, "That is true". You probably would have even pushed me to say that is an objective truth. The statement itself is hard to argue with. However, once it conflicted with a different "Truth", that of protecting innocent children, then I would say, "OK, in that case, protecting priests is not that true any more." Liberals can change their "Truths" when something like this comes up, but it appears that Catholics can't.

    THis is why I (and so many others here) are so reluctant to agree to any of your objective truths. Once that happens, we lose the ability to re-evaluate. To take another discussion, when the "Truth" about sex-for-procreation comes up against the "Truth" for allowing people to have babies who cannot, we re-evaluate. In normal everyday life, I think people should use sex to have a baby, but I won't go so far as to make it an objective truth. There are extenuating circumstances, as IVF.

    And, allowing for extenuating circumstances allows for additional good and additional bad. Allowing for the additional good is very important. And when someone does something really bad, we stop them (child molesters, rape), but if it's bad but not threatening to others, then I don't see why we need to. Sure, I don't agree with Woody Allen's decision, but it's not hurting Soon-Yi (or whatever her name is), she's an adult. I certainly don't want to be Woody's friend, but I'm sure he doesn't care. It is worth it to me to allow Woody to do that sort-of-bad thing in order to not have the Church (or anyone else's "objective truths") controlling our lives.

  70. Mai, you are confusing two issues: Defrocking (called "laicization") and removal of priests from ministry.

    The Vatican is the entity which can laicize priests (and it is a slow process in generally, due to issues of due process and other prudential considerations that liberals would normally support).

    However, the bishop is in charge of decisions to remove priests from ministry, or reassign priests.

    You asked if I read non-Catholic news about the scandal. All the time. Apparently, your source is the New York Times or their ilk. I've read all sides and sources. Have you?

    If you are actually interested in reading how the Church truly operates and how the media distorted (and even lied?) about what happened regarding the Vatican and the priest scandal, then you will be willing to read further:

    And especially telling:

    (If you check out nothing else, scroll to the sentence in bold in which the man who presided over the trial itself was never contacted by any news organization, including the New York Times.

    You need to understand the facts more clearly, Mai, so that you can get an accurate view of what actually happened in the cases you read about.

    Because you are bringing up Galileo, I think we are at the point of "multiplying words" which is time-consuming and fruitless. There is plenty of info about the Galileo situation out there if you are interested. Just google.

    As far as objective truth: It seems you are stilling confusing things like, "I believe that particular situation was handled badly." with things like, "Rape is intrinsically evil." If you can't see the difference between opinion (even correct opinion) and matters of objective truth, then I don't know where to go from here.

    I will reiterate Lisa Graas' statement that:

    Anonymous, your argument is apples/oranges.

    Impeccable - devoid of sin

    Infallible - immune from teaching error on matters of faith and morals.

  71. Mai, if you actually think that public school teachers are removed or prosecuted for their crimes against children, you need to read this AP story (not a Catholic source):

    Be sure also to see the new (non-Catholic) documentary called Waiting For Superman and learn about New York's rubber rooms. (Or, just google that to find out more.)

    And, since this was a post on human will and not the priest sex scandal, please go to my two part post on the priest sex scandal here:

    Finally: You never answered the simple question: Are "morally right" and "socially acceptable" synonymous in your mind?

    Could you answer that clarifying question that was posed to you? Thanks!

  72. Well, no, I'm not much interested in spending a lot of time reading the Catholic View on the scandal. I'm most interested in the Church's recent change in laws where they actually now recommend, and not prohibit, that bishops report abusive behavior to the local authorities. I'm happy that is happening now, and it's good enough for me. I can't spend time studying "fairy-ology"*. Although I have picked up a new book called "God is not one" that compares the eight great religions of the world.

    Regarding the question you keep asking me, are "morally right" and "socially acceptable" the same thing? No, they are not. Socially acceptable implies whether you should use a salad fork or not, and morally right is more severe. I still believe that morally right will change as society changes, however, and I think that is the question behind the question.

    Please let me know which of the other questions that have been posed to me that you must have me answer. There are a lot of them up there.

    * "Look, somebody who thinks the way I do doesn’t think theology is a subject at all. So to me it is like someone saying they don’t believe in fairies and then being asked how they know if they haven’t studied fairy-ology." - Richard Dawkins

  73. Mai, you said "I still believe that morally right will change as society changes"

    Based on this, in your philosophy, are you saying that, conceivably, an act we currently see as morally wrong (let's use rape, as I'm sure we are all in utter agreement on it) could become morally right as society changes?

    Or do you believe that rape is actually absolutely morally wrong, regardless of society?

    I am just trying to get a very clear idea of your position. Thanks.

  74. Mai:

    You said:

    "This is why I (and so many others here) are so reluctant to agree to any of your objective truths. Once that happens, we lose the ability to re-evaluate."

    I think being able to re-evaluate is very important. I think you are confused though. Since you don't believe in absolute truth, or Objective truth, you have taken the only tool possible with which to re-evaluate and thrown it away.

    If truth changes from time to time, or place to place, then there is no truth. What is true today, may be false tomorrow, etc. Hence all judgements, including yours are subject to the endless flux that can be your only reality (or change). The only thing left is will (as Nietszche showed).

    If you don't have a fixed standard (natural law, objective truth, the Tao) whatever you want to call it, then you will find that you have no way to challenge the changing cultural situations you find yourself in. You can only express your will, but then so can I, and so can every other person on earth.

    Since you have denied us absolute truth you have left us with power. Whoever is stronger will simply impose his or (doubfully) her, will on everyone else, and there will be no fixed standard of right and wrong to appeal to.

    If people like you or Dawkins succeed you will have taken everything from humanity that makes us truly human. Thankfully we believe that the word of God is ineradicable from our hearts. We can, however, obscure it and thwart it.

    People have asked in a variety of ways how you justify your morals and you have never given a satisfactory answer. You are like every other person in the west who is (as Nietszche said) coasting on Christian morals.

  75. Anonymous - "People have asked in a variety of ways how you justify your morals and you have never given a satisfactory answer. You are like every other person in the west who is (as Nietszche said) coasting on Christian morals. "

    Satisfactory to who? I'm apparently like every other person in the west, and the determination of morals based on something other than a god is satisfactory to us. The only thing that would be satisfactory to you is if I said that my morals are based on what an imaginary being in the sky told me. Or, more appropriately, what he might tell me after I die (when we can all find out the "real" objective truth).

    And finally, at the risk of incurring Leila's disapproval by repeating an argument that I've made before, there is historical evidence that morals created religion, not the other way around.

    Monica - I've said this before too, but will say it again since you're asking again. Rape could possibly become morally right, I will always leave that possibility open, even if I agree the chances are close to nil that this will happen. However, this is similar to the earth revolving around the sun. Or gravity. That's the way it is right now, and the chances that something will come along and change this (rape being ok, sun revolving around earth,current theory of gravity being incorrect) are close to nil.

    On the same topic, I also leave open the possibility that there is a god. Something could come along and prove to me that something like that exists, but I haven't seen it yet.

  76. Anonymous, well said. If there is no absolute truth, then all that is left is power.

    That's not a happy place to live.

  77. Mai, I have a question that I've wanted to ask an atheist. Statistically speaking, no adults believe in fairies (or Santa, or unicorns). But statistically speaking, the vast majority of adults in America (and throughout history) believe in God (or gods). What's your take on that? Why do we stop believing in fairies and Santa at a certain age, but keep believing in God? Many times adults even begin to believe in God as adults (if they were raised as atheists or agnostics), but nobody starts believing in fairies or Santa or unicorn as adults. Can you give me your opinion as to why?

  78. Hi Mai,

    I understand how tedious it must have been for you to answer my questions, so I thank you for your time. Your answers went a long way towards clarifying your world view for me and others. You seem to be utterly consistent in your relativism, and I appreciate your consistency.

  79. Thanks Monica - that was nice to hear after Tridentine Husband's comment that my ideas will be the end of everything.

    Tridentine Husband, I did address rape in the post on why Leila won't ever be a democrat, in a reply to TCIE. Rape is wrong because the rights of the woman are violated. One person's right to do something stops where they interfere with someone else's rights (to live, to not have sex, to keep something they own, etc). That isn't my only basis for morals, but it is a big one.

    Leila - I'd be happy to talk about this if you wanted to start another post on the topic. I think I'm done with this particular post. For the time being, I'll quote my mother, when she replied to my adolescent self when I wanted to do something that everyone else was doing: "Think for yourself, honey. If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?"

    The one big thing in this post that you asked me that I haven't addressed that I'm still pondering (it could be a long comment) is how to talk about other religions' moral failings, as it were. As in, Muslim society actually does seem to think rape is ok - women's rights are negligible. I don't think it is ok, I think all people even women have basic human rights, so what do I think of that, since that society seems to agree to it? Do I judge it? Do I join a global human rights organization to stop it? I mean, I was in Peace Corps twice, trying to help other cultures is part of my worldview. If you don't post about it, likely I'll just put something on my own blog.

  80. Oh, sorry - to Leila - the "this" I'm referring to is, why do I lump fairy-ology with theology, when so many agree with theology?

  81. Oh, don't misunderstand me Mai, I still totally agree with Tridentine husband's evalutaiton of your position. I just find it nice and refreshing that you are so honest about your relativism.

  82. Oh, great. Thanks so much!

    In the same way that I scare you, you guys scare me a little bit.

  83. lol. Well, at least the feeling is mutual.

  84. "One person's right to do something stops where they interfere with someone else's rights (to live, to not have sex, to keep something they own, etc). That isn't my only basis for morals, but it is a big one."

    Mai, this is one of the reason's I'm pro-life. I believe a woman's right to bodily sovereignty ends where her baby's body begins.

  85. *one of the reasons, rather (darn iPhone autocorrect...)

  86. Mai:
    I know they are not your ideas. I see you, and please don't take this as an ad hominem attack as a "useful idiot." You truly believe your ideas will lead to tolerance and peace. You have no idea that the ideas you have appropriated, without truly understanding their source, will lead to neither.

    If relativism were to ever really take hold outside of academia, it would lead to a world or society where the only reality was power. It would resemble Thomas Hobbes's state of nature.
    You said: "One person's right to do something stops where they interfere with someone else's rights (to live, to not have sex, to keep something they own, etc)."

    This position is patently ridiculous. With this position you must reject any coercive power on behalf of the state? Doesn’t your position mean that a person could refuse to pay taxes (keep what they own) if they felt like it? But even more fundamentally, as a relativist you have no metaphysical right, unless you are willing to be philosophically inconsistent, to use the word “right” or to expect that the next person would respect your idea of “rights”. The next person might be a sadomasochist and derive pleasure from inflicting pain on others. There are an infinite number of possibilities.

    I understand how this discussion could be frustrating, but for many of us it very serious. You seem either unwilling or unable to take your positions to their logical conclusion. Not everyone is going to be a Catholic (too bad), but you might find a book by Allan Bloom called The Closing of the American Mind. He was no Catholic, but he showed, I think conclusively, how we got to the American brand of relativism we are at now, and what could result from its widespread acceptance. I don’t endorse everything in the book, but it is very good on this subject.

    Marc (TW's husband)

  87. Mai, what are "rights" to a relativist? If one adopts your philosophy (no god, no absolute truth), then isn't any definition of a "right" completely arbitrary?

    Help me out, because I really don't understand where rights come from, if not from God. I could disagree with your right to keep your television, for example.... Maybe it makes me feel good to steal it. Who are you (random matter) to tell anyone else what they can do?

    Again, please address that because I truly don't understand an atheist's justification there.

  88. Thanks to Marc for making me read up on moral relativism, and the classic Catholic argument about this. Just because I'm not a moral absolutist doesn't necessarily mean I'm the philosophical definition of a moral relativist. As I've said here a number of times before, I do have morals, I do think things are right or wrong, I just derive them from someplace other than a god or religion. Also as I've said here before, I believe that we must always be prepared to re-evaluate our positions and self-correct when necessary.

  89. Mai, sorry if I sound frustrated, but from where do you derive your morals? Yourself?

    That's the question I would like to have an answer to.


  90. Haven't I answered this before? I think about them. And then I decide. I have a conscience. And so yes, myself. We evolved a moral brain, we can decide what is right and what is wrong. Our moral brains can actually think about things and come to a conclusion without a god telling us what to think.

    For most things, people think the same way - murder, rape, stealing others' properties. Some might not think that way. But all of us who do think murder, rape, and stealing are wrong (the clear majority) have joined together in something that we call a democracy. We all contribute taxes, you see, and pay for police and judges to enforce these morals that we thought about. Sure, someone might say they don't want to contribute taxes, but then they aren't free to live in our democracy - they either pay up or go to jail. For lesser things such as adultery and which salad fork to use, we have social mores to get people to live together nicely.

    Leila, this long comment string trying to prove to me that because I don't subscribe to absolute morality, then I must be that ogre of a moral relativist and the world will fall apart because everyone is running around creating their own morals is like preaching fire and brimstone. Here comes the apocalypse! What a terrible opinion you must have of people who don't think just like you, or subscribe to your god. We must all be living in Sodom and Gomorrah according to you! As Marc said, he would prefer a Catholic theocracy, and I am guessing you would too. Well, we had that when the Catholic Church had equal or more power than the government in the Roman Empire, and it didn't work out that well. I'm glad I'm living in a time when the Catholic CHurch doesn't control my life.

    I'm glad I participated in the bubble to learn this about you all. I've certainly learned a lot. Thank you so much for that.

  91. Mai, you and Gwen always jump to these wild conclusions that we think you are ogres, or evil, or will soon marry your own brother, etc. (that is Gwen on that part), and yet you are totally missing the point.

    It's about ideas, not judging you personally. Ideas and philosophies have consequences. Your philosophy, taken to its logical conclusion would be monstrous. That is what we are saying. It's fine that you still live in relatively "Christian" ways, but that is likely because you've grown up in a nation that is based on Judeo-Christian ethics. If you grew up in a different nation (say... North Korea, Iran, Sudan, etc.) you might not see things as clearly as you do now. And, one look at the world and I don't see how you think people have evolved morally.....

    But I think I need to take this up in another blog post.

  92. I never said we should live in a Catholic Theocracy. You have learned nothing here. You have simply re-confirmed the carricature of Catholics that you arrived with. Unfortunately, you can't see past your own biases.

    Your arguments are logically inchoherent. It is your ideas that are monstrous, not you.

    It's funny. I think you would almost rather we be the theocratic crazies that you and people like Dawkins make us out to be. You come to this blog to "learn" as you have said, but I think it is more likely that you come here to simply reinforce your prejudices.

    Your ideas of relativism get us to the point where we cannot even communicate. A review of all of your comments and the replies to them show that for all intents and purposes we are talking past each other, and we may as well be speaking different languages.

  93. The last anon comment was from me (Marc)

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  95. Paul, first of all, I don't know of anyone who is working to make contraception illegal.

    Second, I am not sure if you are aware of the history of contraception (and acceptance of contraception) in America. When the (secular) Washington Post ran an editorial in 1931 blasting the first ever concession to contraception by a Christian body (the Anglicans), was WaPo motivated by a desire for a theocracy?

    Thanks for coming back, and I hope you will answer that very specific question.

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  98. Paul, a few things came to mind when I read your comment.

    1) It seems like you are implying that every time a moral standard is rejected by an increasingly secularized society, then that morality is exposed as a "religious issue". Couldn't that be true of anything that is a moral issue (stealing, murder, rape, cheating)? It seems like liberals confine this phenomenon only to issues touching on sexuality at the moment, but surely that could change, correct?

    2) You said, "There wasn't that kind of secularism" a few decades ago. Can you explain, briefly?

    3) I am sure there are agnostics and atheists who have objections to contraception based on Natural Law arguments (not to be confused with "laws of nature"). More than one is out there, I'm sure. (Just like you find "atheists for life" even though most secularists like to call objection to abortion a "religious issue".) What you will never find is an atheist or agnostic arguing for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Trinity. Now those are purely religious issues.

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  100. Paul, the answer to 1) shouldn't hinge upon my finding you a secular person against contraception. I will do a post (sooner or later?) on the Natural Law arguments against contraception (which go along with the Natural Law arguments against abortion, homosexual sex, IVF and a host of other things that might surprise people. It's all part of the same basic issue.

    In the meantime, there shouldn't be a problem with you answering #1.

    After all, it is the secularists who claim (with vigor) that opposition to abortion and gay marriage is based on religious considerations only. (Same with those who said/say that about contraception -- contraception has just fallen further down the slippery slope.)

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  102. Paul, I can barely find an atheist that is against abortion for moral reasons (though they exist), so it would be much harder to find one who opposes contraception these days. My question is still completely valid, and I hope you will answer.

    (By the way, Freud is dead now, but even he (an atheist) said that we define sexual deviance when sex and procreation are disconnected. He understood the Natural Law.)

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  104. Let's turn the question around, Paul.

    In the past, many atheists and agnostics affirmed that contraception was wrong.

    In the past, no atheists or agnostics affirmed that the Trinity existed.

    The former was not always seen as a "religious" issue. The latter always was.

    That's an important distinction, and so my question stands. I have no problem if you still decline to answer, but I wanted to be extra clear.

    Natural Law arguments are not the same as theological arguments.

  105. Hi Paul,

    Seculars against birth control? Google the phrase "feminists against birth control", and you will find this: as one of the results. Scroll down to the section called "Feminist Backlash against NRTs" (new reproductive technology) and you can read about several radical feminists who are both anti-religion and anti contraceptive. In addition the (extremely) secular book on natural family planning called "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" is strongly anti-birth control, though for health reasons, not philosophical ones.

    Whether or not anyone agrees with the reasoning is irrelevant, though strange as it may be, it rings true in many places.

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  108. Paul,

    You said if someone wants to make contraception illegal that person basically wants a theocracy. That statement, or argument, is a non sequitor since no one made the statement on this blog. But let's explore this a bit.

    Did Martin Luther King Jr. want a theocracy because he argued from the premise that all men are created equal?

    Were the founding fathers who used that phrase establishing a theocracy?

    If someone allows their religious beliefs to inform their political beliefs then are they working for a theocracy?

    The threshold is pretty low for your definition of theocracy.


  109. Paul,
    You said that at one time intelligent non-Christians could be Thomists, but this is no longer the case.

    If these people could have been Thomists then, what has changed now that they cannot be Thomists?

    You are right though that most Thomists are Christians, and in fact the majority within that group Catholics.

    I don't think a logical argument can be made for the natural law, it is "self evident." If someone cannot see it, or refuses to see it, there is no syllogism that will get them to see it.

    But then I don't think a logical argument can be made for strict empiricism either, we simply accept it. As Catholics we trust our senses because we trust that God would not create us in such a way as to fool us through our senses (that's a gross simplification, but it gets to the heart of the Thomist position). As a secular scientist I assume you also trust your senses, but why?

    If you reject the natural law, I think you also need to reject reason itself, if you are going to be logically consistent. I'll end with this quote from G.K. Chesterton:

    Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."


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  112. Paul, still only reading, no time to comment much at this moment, but I had to say this:

    It's a "dopey" philosophical question to ask how one knows what one senses is reality, but it's not "dopey" to observe no inherent connection between sex and procreation?

    This is where you lose me as far as recognizing the obvious. I'm still trying to process that comment you made from a few posts back.

  113. Paul,

    So in other words you have no idea and take your empiricism on faith?

    Quoting Feynman is not an argument. If Feynman and others wish to opine about philosophy then they should actually do the hard work of constructing arguments.

    Also, I use my religious faith to inform my view that building atomic weapons is wrong. Feynman as a good secularist scientist (and he truly is a good physicist) sees no problem in working on a weapon that can be used to kill thousands, if not millions of people indiscriminately. Hooray for a-political secular science!

    I told you that most Thomists are Christians, so I'm not sure what the point of your question is.

    Also, I fail to see how your comment ties in with Mai's and even if it does, you have simply exchanged a non-sequitor fallacy for a slippery slope fallacy. Either way, it makes little sense. Your argument is that if we allow people to use their faith to inform their political views now, later we will have a theocracy. That's specious, and fallacious.

    Also, doesn't history show that that is rarely the case? Our country along with most of the countries in the west was started by people who were theocrats (based on your broad definition), and it has steadily secularized ever since.

    It is irritating, to say the least, when someone makes philosophical claims, finds that they can't back them up, and then says, well, I really don't care about philosophy.

    You also make claims about Thomism, and then, again, when asked to elaborate you just say I don't know much about Thomism.

    Why are you allowed to use your faith (empiricism) and then you say you don't like other people allowing their faith to inform their political views? What do you use to inform yours? Also, can you actually make an argument for why using religious faith to make decisions is deleterious to society, or is your main argument that you don't like it?


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  115. Paul,

    It is hard to follow your argument. How do you explain this statement:

    "I don't think her's is a very accurate statement to make yet, [but in a couple generations, I imagine that the only people wanting to make gay marriage illegal will be theocrats. All the non-religious arguments will have lost out, and all that will be left is this religious objection. It hasn't happened yet, but maybe in a couple generations.]

    This appears to me to be a slippery slope argument. If I misunderstand what you are saying then please show me how the bracketed text is not making the argument I simplified in my paraphrase.

    Also, it appears to me that you are trying to have it four ways, on one hand you like it when people use their religion to motivate them, on the other hand you will simply ignore them, and then on the third hand you find it dangerous, and on the fourth hand you always find them unhelpful.

    You say you don't fault others who pay attention to them, but you should fault people who advocate for "dangerous", and "unhelpful" political positions.

    I understand symbolic and informal logic very well, and I know how to find and define fallacies, but you are right, I don't understand your argument. I suspect you don't either.

    I find that when people can't express themselves well they simply repeat their arguments over and over again, and insist that the person who insists on consistency does not understand them.

    Also, just because you can't understand the arguments for why the senses can't be trusted doesn't mean they are baloney. I think you could easily understand the arguments, they are not overly complex, you just refuse to acknowledge them.


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  119. Paul,

    I'm not sure I'll be able to reply in full to your comments today. I will say I appreciate your gracious response. My response was a bit intemperate, and you responded well. I agree that the comment section of a blog is a tough place to make arguments.

    I'll try to respond either today or first thing tomorrow.

    I think, for the most part, we agree. I feel like I understand your position well, and as you stipulate the definitions, I'm not sure I can argue against them.

    You've brought up other points, however, that I think I can argue against.

    I'm horribly unlucky with my betting, and therefore don't feel comfortable with the possibility of jinxing the movement LOL. So I'll pass on your bet.

    Also, there is sloppy, verbose philosophy and then then there is good philosophy that is written in such a way that anyone who made the effort to understand it could apprehend.

    Thanks for taking the time to really lay out your argument, Paul.


  120. Paul, I am not very learned in any of this (including philosophy... my kids know more than I), but I would say that my six-year-old cannot automatically understand the fullness of Natural Law (even I can't follow Aquinas... I go into brain freeze). However, my little guy can understand the nature of things. He knows that a pen makes a lousy clock. He knows a chair makes a lousy toothbrush. Once I tell him the rudimentary facts of life, he will know that sex makes babies.

    I go back to "What is the nature of a thing?" If something is used contrary to its nature, it's not going to turn out well. A five-year-old can understand that.

    As far as where we will be with homosexual marriage in 50 years, I agree that there will be total secular acceptance of it. No doubt. That's what happened with contraception, no-fault divorce, IVF, and it's what is happening with abortion, etc. It will continue with same-sex marriage (and one day, I believe man/boy love, etc.).

    I think it will happen because living Christian virtue is difficult, while living in a way that makes the individual "feel good" and without self-sacrifice is attractive. We humans are afflicted with concupiscence. Our tendency is to go away from the virtues and toward sin. It's easier, it's more pleasurable (for a time) and doesn't require humility and obedience to anyone. So, of course a pleasure-seeking, post-Christian culture will go that way on most all issues, and especially on any issue dealing with sex. But that says nothing about the objective rightness or wrongness of anything.

    I have to think more about all of that, but I think it's similar to this early post I wrote:

    It was a eureka moment for me.

    Thanks for making me think more deeply about this, Paul. That's what I like about the dialogue.

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  122. "I don't see how [procreation] is the purpose, or even a purpose, of human sex."

    Paul, I can't get past this. I don't know how to talk about this with you when I read that. I think we may be at a total impasse. (I could start speaking very graphically, but I don't want to do that here unless I thought it would make it clearer for you.)

    I will (one day, God willing!) be writing a post on the unitive and procreative meaning of human sexuality. Maybe that will help, I don't know.

    By the way, did someone say something about shaming people who are using something the wrong way, or comparing them to Nazis?

    The way you describe yourself gently teaching your son how to use something right so as not to hurt himself would be exactly how I see God talking to us about how to correctly live out His design and not hurt ourselves. That was perfect.

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  124. Paul, I can't help but notice that you leave out God most of the time. I think you said you were Catholic, then you were more of a generic Christian, then an agnostic. Help me out?

    If we are speaking from a secular perspective, then contraception is "inefficient". If we are speaking from a religious perspective, then we speak of "sinful." Religion speaks of sin, which is an offense against God above all.

    Off to my kids' saints day presentations! Won't be back for several hours....

  125. PS: Paul, I mentioned that because you mixed up secular and religious terms when you said, "It's not sinful. It's just very inefficient." From a religious perspective, it's both.

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  127. Paul,

    That's interesting that you can't understand natural law ethics, but you can understand Kant's ethics. Kant is usually considered to be one of the most abstruse writers in philosophy -- I know I studied philosophy in college. I'm not doubting you understand Kant (I admit I don't fully), but for someone who does not seem to like professional philosophers, he is a tough one! Can you say what you find persuasive in Kant, beyond his categorical imperative, and understanding of duty? This is very interesting to me as someone who studied philosophy.

    Also, I don't pretend to understand Physics, other than in broad strokes, but that doesn't mean I reject physics. For instance, I thought about bringing up Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in reply to your comment on another post regarding materialism and determinism, but decided I wouldn't bring it up to a physicist... Still, I don't think an inability to understand something is a reason to reject it.

    Do you rule out natural law a priori (like I think Dawkins, etc. do)? Or do you believe that it is at least a possibility that you just have not seen the evidence for?


  128. Paul,

    You wrote:

    "I am inspired to do science because I believe God created this beautiful universe, and I want to learn more about what He did, as an act of love, the highest act I can offer, for Him."

    With that being said can you respond to this C.S. Lewis quote from "The Problem of Pain"?

    “Look at the universe we live in. By far the greater part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one of them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believe that life and happiness were more than a by-product to the power that made the universe. As it is, however, the scientists think it likely that very few of the suns of space--perhaps none of them except our own--have any planets; and in our own system it is improbable that any planet except the Earth sustains life. And Earth herself existed without life for millions of years and may exist for millions more when life has left her. And what is [life] like while it lasts? It is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, but in the higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables [death] to be attended with pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. In the most complex of all the creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence. It also enables men by a hundred ingenious contrivances to inflict a great deal more pain than they otherwise could have done on one another and on the irrational creatures. This power they have exploited to the full. Their history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror, with just sufficient happiness interposed to give them, while it lasts, an agonised apprehension of losing it, and, when it is lost, the poignant misery of remembering. Every now and then they improve their condition a little and what we call a civilisation appears. But all civilisations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man. That our own civilisation has done so, no one will dispute; that it will pass away like all its predecessors is surely probable. Even if it should not, what then? The race is doomed. Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogenous matter at a low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter.

    “If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.”


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  131. Paul, isn't the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus the very crux of Christianity?

    St. Paul said that if Jesus was not raised (for real), then our faith is in vain.

    If Jesus did not rise bodily, then not one of us should be a Christian, because it's a sham.

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  134. Paul, we'd call that a transfigured body, but His body nonetheless.

    I can't speak for what a Protestant believes, because they have beliefs that do not correspond to the Catholic Church.

    As for Paul, can you give examples of his habit of exaggerating? Just curious.

    But since the entire case for Christ was built on the fact that he bodily rose (and that's the only reason the eyewitnesses kept saying it, and the only reason the people converted), then I'm pretty certain he was being dead serious.

    Again, the bodily resurrection is pretty much the crux of the Christian claim. Even our Creed speaks specifically of the "resurrection of the body." (ours, at the end of time).

  135. Paul,

    I'm leaving it open that I am misunderstanding your comment about Lewis. Have you read the "Problem of Pain?" I assume you have since you feel comfortable summarily dismissing it. You said:

    'His answer to this problem is: If it's so bad, why did people think up a good God?" The answer's fine, as far as it goes, but it totally avoids the heart of the question. For that, I found much more meaning in "A Grief Observed."'

    That is not Lewis's answer at all. The quote I provided is one of the ways Lewis formulated the philosophical problem of pain or theodicy. Lewis explicitly rejects this answer. Lewis spent the remainder of the book attempting an answer to this problem.

    Honestly, if you feel intellectually qualified to dismiss what many philosophers consider to be an excellent treatment of theodicy and also feel comfortable in your assessment of Kantian ethics, then you (and I mean this frankly) are significantly beyond my intellectual abilities.

    I am curious as to what books you have read on the Natural Law. Have you read Lewis's "The Abolition of Man?" It's not the best treatment of that subject, but one that is still very good and clearly written. There are many others, but which ones have you read that have been unclear and unpersuasive?


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  138. Paul,

    This is very interesting. It sounds like your conversion was very similar to mine. I think we may have reached the end of this comment string...

    Would you be willing to email me on this subject? I am very interested in discussing this further with you.

    I understand if you have no interest discussing this with a complete stranger, or if you don't feel comfortable emailing me. But if you do, here is my email address:

    Maybe you could just email me that you are willing to continue this via email, and then we can go from there.


  139. Paul, with your view of the Creed and the possibility of ever-changing (and mistaken) Christian doctrine, how do you know if anything that is true now in Christianity will be true later? Isn't it shifting sand, the way you see it? And maybe it isn't the Church who changed, maybe you just changed your mind?

    Also, I'm curious why you have trouble accepting the Virgin Birth?

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  141. Paul, why did you ever convert to Catholicism? Just curious.

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