An Effective Corrective
I must congratulate Andrew M. Seddon on his article “Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Ghost Stories?” (Oct.). He states the best case for Catholic exploration of ghostly and horrific fiction that I have ever read. Truly, it is an article I wish I had written myself. I would simply add two points.
First, the best Catholic book on the topic of ghosts themselves, as opposed to stories about them, is undoubtedly Sir Shane Leslie’s aptly named Ghost Book (1956). In this regard, the Catholic reader must be reminded of the oddities at the Museum of the Souls of Purgatory in Rome’s Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio (Church of the Sacred Heart of the Suffrage) and a similar item in the treasury of St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Second, the attitudes of many Catholics in this country toward these things (and much else) have been shaped by fundamentalist Protestant attitudes rather than our Catholic tradition. Seddon has provided an effective and much-needed corrective.
Charles A. Coulombe
Chairman, Stellar Motion Pictures; Executive Producer,
As a writer of both science fiction and fantasy, it pleased me to see Dr. Seddon defending the literary rights of ghosts. Considering that the literature on the supernatural is not only the oldest but also the largest genre, he does well to remind us that this field is not only catholic (universabpbut also Catholic, for it touches on the most real things, leading us from the everyday world right down to its underpinnings. And if we are entertained, pleasantly chilled, or even reassured as we plunge ever deeper into reality, so much the better.
Of course, there are plenty of modern horror thrillers whose authors either did not choose to dive so deeply or else were spiritually colorblind or simply unable to do so. Take, for example, poor H.P. Lovecraft, with his dreary and hellish mythology. The underpinnings of a hateful universe was, I think, one of the more honest of his contributions, telling of the bleakness he saw because he was unable to see anything else. But there were and are other storytellers who take up the craft with no more finesse than a fly-by-night mechanic or medical quack. Their work is often too shallow to have much effect on the reader, who is sometimes left wondering how the author kept himself interested long enough to finish it — or else it zooms along like a rollercoaster ride, quickly and rightfully forgotten.
I appreciated Seddon’s quote of Dean Koontz, a thoroughly non-squeamish man who never shrinks from describing and even dissecting evil in all its nastiness. His quote of Fr. Dominic McManus is also apt. Certainly the work of Christians, situated in a Christian world, cannot help but affect those readers who are caught up by the story and stay to savor (and, God willing, succumb to) the atmosphere.
A couple of other examples of good Christian ghost stories come to mind that Seddon may have missed. One, for example, is the third volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, in which an army of dead oathbreakers returns to redeem itself in battle. This part of the tale manages to be not only creepy but morally satisfying. Then there are some very ghostly scenes in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, wherein the worldly and “modern” colleagues of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments enjoy a firsthand encounter with the reality beneath their materialism — though perhaps enjoy is not the right word. And then there is the final scene in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, another excellent Catholic tale of the supernatural.
All in all, Dr. Seddon has given us a very good introduction to a very large subject.
Chairman, Stellar Motion Pictures; Executive Producer,
Andrew M. Seddon’s perceptive article was a great service to Christian readers of all denominations who have an interest in the fiction of the supernatural — and might well pique the curiosity of readers who haven’t yet learned to appreciate the genre. He makes a strong case for the continuing relevance of the ghost story as a vehicle for Christian truth, and along the way he articulates what might be called a theology of Christian fiction-writing and how it communicates.
One important fact, though, is missing from his article. Because of his modesty, he neglected to mention that he is himself a distinguished contributor to the tradition of Catholic ghostly fiction. His short fiction in the ghost-story genre, written over a period of years going back to at least the 1990s, several examples of which have been published in various literary venues, is an outstanding example of the type of tales, informed at their core by Catholic theology, that he extols. (I’ve had the privilege of beta-reading most of it, so I can speak with firsthand knowledge.) Readers would be well advised to seek out the work of this outstanding author, not only in this genre but in the fields of historical and science fiction as well.
St. John the Evangelist Church
ANDREW M. SEDDON REPLIES:
Charles A. Coulombe is correct: For those interested in ghosts (as opposed to fictional ghost stories, which were the focus of my article), Sir Shane Leslie’s Ghost Book indeed provides rewarding reading. The first part examines the topic of ghosts from a Catholic perspective, while the second part relates Catholic ghost stories, which Leslie believes to have some degree of veracity. They are, he writes, “stories of uncanny occurrences remembered in the Church.” In the fictional realm, his book Masquerades (1924) contains some enjoyable tales, while A Ghost in the Isle of Wight (1929) is, unfortunately, rather dry.
Colleen Drippe points out other examples of ghosts in Christian literature — and there are undoubtedly many more. But I hope that those who read the works of the Catholic authors I have mentioned (and if I have missed any, I would appreciate learning about them) — authors who wrote volumes of tales — will find them edifying, entertaining, and cautionary.
I am grateful to Werner Lind for his gracious comments. I hope to have two books of ghost stories, What Darkness Remains and Tales from the Brackenwood Ghost Club, published within the coming year. Interested readers can consult my Author’s Guild website, www.andrewmseddon.com, for information about my novels and collections of other short stories.
Associate Professor of Speech & Communication, Western New Mexico University
West Hollywood, California
The Odd Man Out
I couldn’t help but notice that Christopher Beiting, in his reply to my letter (Oct.), offered no apology for the false accusations he leveled against me in his review of Karl Keating’s book The New Geocentrists (Jul.-Aug.). Instead, he merely added more scurrilous charges. It was interesting to see how Mr. Beiting decided to wiggle out of the numerous quotes I displayed from the world’s leading scientists who agree about the scientific viability of geocentrism. Instead of looking up the quotes and proving his accusation, Beiting reacted in typical knee-jerk fashion by saying that my citations were “a bunch of quotations taken out of context to try to establish a (faulty) appeal to authority.” Beiting, of course, offered no examples to prove his point, and that is because he can’t show that any of them were taken out of context. It’s better, in his estimation, to create a good soundbite than to do his homework and admit he is wrong.
Beiting accuses me of “selective misrepresentation of those authorities to make them appear to say things contrary to what they actually believed.” Again, same tactic: Just accuse, but don’t provide any proof. The fact is, we already know that most of these scientists “actually believed” in heliocentrism. The point that goes over Beiting’s head is that they all still accepted geocentrism as scientifically viable. Hence, Beiting is the odd man out, since he rejects the scientific viability of geocentrism, and he does so without any scientific evidence.
Beiting then accuses me of “outright denial of having said some of the things [I am] on record as having said.” Again, he provides no examples. The fact is, I didn’t deny them. I simply said I don’t talk about them any longer, and I no longer have a position on them. He then says I was “complaining about ad hominem attacks while launching an ad hominem attack.” Again, no examples, just accusations. The fact is, I simply pointed out Keating’s and Beiting’s insidious efforts to personally attack their opponents. It is not an ad hominem attack to show your opponent’s belligerent use of an ad hominem attack.
Beiting then accuses me of “being totally ignorant about the people [I’m] attacking.” O.K., I’ll give on this one. I really don’t know Beiting or whether he is truly a “secular Catholic.” But by writing such a scathing and slanderous piece against me without really knowing me or ever having talked with me, Beiting has hoisted himself on his own petard. He could have contacted me before he wrote his hit piece. If he had, he would have found that I’m a rational human being and not the boogeyman Keating and his ilk are trying to make me out to be. Unfortunately, Beiting’s modus operandi is to shoot first and ask questions later. What probably happened (as it usually does) is that Beiting was intellectually disturbed that anyone could support the allegedly bankrupt view of geocentrism, and he took out his frustration on me. I understand. It happens all the time. Unfortunately, he depended on only one source for this judgment: Keating. That was a big mistake. Keating is not only not an authority on this subject, he is a man who refuses to debate in a public forum the very opponent he has viciously attacked on paper. We usually call those kinds of people “paper tigers.”
Beiting then says of me, “To such people, [Beiting’s father] can only throw up his hands and say, ‘I can’t argue with fantasy.’ Neither can I.” All well and good. No one wants to engage in fantasy. But in order to call geocentrism fantasy, Beiting must prove that it is a fantasy, which is precisely what he hasn’t done. So, how do we settle this? Here’s a suggestion. Since Keating refuses to debate me, I turn to you, Mr. Beiting. Since you have such strong accusations against me and my science, perhaps you would like to face off with me in an oral, public, and moderated debate on geocentrism. Here is a chance to put your money where your mouth is. And I’ll even sweeten the deal for you: If you can disprove geocentrism, I’ll give you $10,000 of my own money; and I’ll take nothing from you should you fail, except a handshake. Contact me at email@example.com, if you are interested.
Lastly, Beiting claims that Augustine’s On the Literal Meaning of Genesis is “a careful statement against scriptural literalism.” That is a total misrepresentation. St. Augustine was one of the more literal interpreters of his day, and he only resorted to the less-literal when the literal would not fit, which was rare. In any case, Augustine did not believe in evolution. If anything, he went the other way, saying in his less-literal interpretation of Genesis that the universe was made instantaneously. Besides, he took Scripture’s teaching on geocentrism very literally and thus became a primary source for St. Robert Bellarmine’s refutation of Galileo.
I’ll be waiting to hear Beiting’s decision on whether he will engage in a public debate on geocentrism.
St. Mary's Malankara Catholic Church, Chungathara P.O., Malappuram Dt.
West Hollywood, California
CHRISTOPHER BEITING REPLIES:
A challenge to a debate in which one of the participants is the judge is not a debate at all but a bizarre publicity stunt, and one which no sane person would want a part of. Moreover, this whole situation is a nice illustration of the old adage, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” If Robert Sungenis is going to make a number of basic errors of fact in his letter to me alone (viz., I am Dr. Beiting, not Mr. Beiting; the quip about not being able to argue with fantasy is from my father-in-law, not my father; Augustine’s On the Literal Meaning of Genesis is very much against scriptural literalism, which you can tell from its title), it certainly lends support to Karl Keating’s criticism, in his comments on Sungenis’s letter (Oct.), of Sungenis’s overall intellectual sloppiness, and, I would add, his inability to read a simple text accurately.
John F. Fay
Mary Esther, Florida
Exonerated by Science
In his commentary on my letter (Oct.), Karl Keating claims that I don’t know the science, and that the science doesn’t support geocentrism. If that were true, then why do all the famous physicists I quoted (Newton, Einstein, Hawking, Poincaré, Ellis, Krauss, et al.) agree that a geocentric universe is scientifically viable? As we can see, the problem isn’t with me or the science but with Keating, who doesn’t want to accept — and doesn’t want you to accept — the frank admission these scientists have made clear to us.
Keating then tries to substantiate his resistance by an appeal to geosynchronous satellites, claiming that in the geocentric system they couldn’t hover over one spot on the earth since they would have no centrifugal force to keep them aloft. But this merely shows Keating’s ignorance. Modern science insists that whatever occurs when the earth rotates in a fixed universe must also occur in its relative counterpart — that is, when the universe rotates around a fixed earth. The whole essence of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that both systems are equivalent. If Keating disagrees and can prove it, then he should win the Nobel Prize, since he will have discredited Einstein’s co-variance and co-equivalence equations. The simple fact is that Einstein put the kibosh on any attempt to prove either system as the reality. It is quite ironic that after 400 years of telling our schoolchildren that only the earth-rotating system is the reality, modern men have still not caught up to the fact that their greatest scientist, Albert Einstein, said that they have no right to do so. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear from Einstein himself, courtesy of one of his colleagues, Hans Thirring, who says that the centrifugal force needed to keep the geo-satellite hovering over one spot on the earth appears in both the earth-rotating and the earth-fixed systems. He writes:
“Let K [the universe] be a Galilean-Newtonian coordinate system [a system of three dimensions extending to the edge of the universe], and let K¢ [the earth] be a coordinate system rotating uniformly relative to K. Then centrifugal forces would be in effect for masses at rest in the K¢ coordinate system, while no such forces would be present for objects at rest in K. Already Newton viewed this as proof that the rotation of K¢ had to be considered as ‘absolute,’ and that K¢ could not then be treated as the ‘resting’ frame of K. Yet, as E. Mach has shown, this argument is not sound. One need not view the existence of such centrifugal forces as originating from the motion of K¢; one could just as well account for them as resulting from the average rotational effect of distant, detectable masses [the stars] as evidenced in the vicinity of K¢, whereby K¢ is treated as being at rest. If Newtonian mechanics disallow such a view, then this could very well be the foundation for the defects of that theory” (“Über die Wirkung rotierender ferner Massen in der Einsteinschen Gravitationstheorie,” Physikalische Zeitschrift, 1918; translated: “On the Effect of Rotating Distant Masses in Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation”).
Even Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger recognized this fact and used it to exonerate the Church against Galileo. In a speech in Parma, Italy, in 1990, he said, “Today, things have changed. According to Bloch, the heliocentric system — just like the geocentric — is based upon presuppositions that can’t be empirically demonstrated. Among these, an important role is played by the affirmation of the existence of an absolute space; that’s an opinion that, in any event, has been cancelled by the Theory of Relativity. Bloch writes, in his own words: ‘From the moment that, with the abolition of the presupposition of an empty and immobile space, movement is no longer produced towards something, but there’s only a relative movement of bodies among themselves, and therefore the measurement of that [movement] depends to a great extent on the choice of a body to serve as a point of reference, in this case is it not merely the complexity of calculations that renders the [geocentric] hypothesis impractical? Then as now, one can suppose the earth to be fixed and the sun as mobile.'”
So, if we moderns have come to realize that both systems are possible, how can we tell which one is the reality, and, more importantly, what should we be teaching our schoolchildren? That’s where Scripture’s divine revelation, the consensus of the Church Fathers, and the decrees of the Magisterium come into play. All three have consistently held that the earth-fixed frame is the reality. Hence, no longer does the Church have to hide her head in shame for her fateful decision against Galileo. She has been exonerated by modern science itself.
Fr. Thomas Shaw, Pastor
KARL KEATING REPLIES:
Robert Sungenis leaves out an important detail in his challenge to Christopher Beiting. Sungenis says, “If you can disprove geocentrism, I’ll give you $10,000.” He has made such debate-for-money challenges before, and there’s always a catch. The catch is who determines the winner. It’s Sungenis himself. One need not ask whether Sungenis would agree to a debate jury made up of 12 people picked at random, the decision to be by majority vote, as in civil-law cases.
Concerning the unnamed things Sungenis once promoted but no longer talks about, he says, “The fact is, I didn’t deny them. I simply said I don’t talk about them any longer, and I no longer have a position on them.” To what does them refer? I devote considerable space in The New Geocentrists to Sungenis’s voluminous anti-Semitic writings, his endorsements of multiple conspiracy theories (with most things, such as 9/11, supposedly having Jews behind them), his fantasies about NASA’s not only faking moon landings but making crop circles with space-based lasers, and much more. The list is long. I understand why he no longer wishes to talk about the obnoxious and foolish ideas he used to promote, but it is telling that he hasn’t repudiated or apologized for any of them.
Sungenis’s chief thesis is that the earth is stationary at the exact center of the universe. Like most geocentrists, he claims that the earth doesn’t even rotate on its axis but that the entire universe, including the most distant galaxies, revolves around earth every 24 hours. In my book, I give multiple scientific disproofs, none of which Sungenis has been able to refute. Instead, he falls back onto a theory he elsewhere castigates — relativity — and says something accurate about it: If relativity is true, then any point can be considered the center of the universe. This argument actually destroys his theory, since if all points are the center, then no point is the center.
It does Sungenis no good to appeal to the writings of the Fathers of the Church. If some or many of them thought the earth to be at a fixed center, Sungenis’s appeal to relativity proves them wrong, since there is no fixed center. Sungenis can’t win on the science, so he tries a religious sleight of hand, but that doesn’t work either.
Geocentrism: A Kernel of Truth
While I cannot speak about the new geocentrists, I would like to say a few words about geocentricism. The theory is difficult to refute because, surprisingly, it contains a kernel of truth.
There is a joke that the world really does revolve around engineers because they get to pick the coordinate system. One can define a coordinate system with the Z-axis pointing out of the North Pole and the X- and Y-axes coming out through the equator; indeed, this is often done in geodesy. In this coordinate system, the earth sits stationary at the center of the universe. One can, in theory, write Newton’s equations of motion in this coordinate system and model the motions of the sun, stars, and galaxies throughout the universe. The task would be horrendous but not impossible. Thus geocentricism is not, strictly speaking, wrong in this sense.
Geocentrism does have problems, though. The earth is not a rigid body: plate tectonics cause the continents to shift across its surface. Material in the liquid outer core convects, and earthquakes cause the entire globe to vibrate like a bell. If one wishes to specify that the earth is stationary, one must specify which point on or inside the earth.
A further problem with geocentricism is the definition of what constitutes “the earth.” Meteoric dust enters the atmosphere constantly, and larger meteorites from space strike the earth regularly. When do meteorites become part of the immovable earth and not space material?
Benjamin J. Cline
Silver City, New Mexico
The Wrong Press
I would like to offer a slight correction to Christopher Beiting’s reply to Robert Sungenis (Oct.). Dr. Beiting recommends an edition of St. Augustine’s On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, titled On Genesis, which he erroneously attributes to Grove City Press. The actual publisher is New City Press, which is publishing a complete edition of St. Augustine’s writings in English, projected to run to 49 volumes. One certainly doesn’t want to get this fine publisher confused with Grove Press, publisher of the text of Rolf Hochhuth’s scurrilous play about Pope Pius XII, The Deputy.
It is sad to see such rancor from Mr. Sungenis, particularly since some of his early works, such as Not by Faith Alone and Not by Scripture Alone, are quite useful. I truly hope that peace and charity can be restored.
Fr. Thomas Thumpailchirayil
Kerala, India 679334
Rehabilitating the "Reformer"
In answer to the question posed in the September letters section, “What is a pope’s proper political role?” I suggest that he should always follow St. Peter Claver’s example, which was never to pick sides but simply to preach God’s truth to all. Unfortunately, Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, has instead opted to come down on the side of sexual misfits, renegade theologians, global-warming doomsayers, and population-control advocates.
Francis has even gone to the extreme of performing a theological rehabilitation of Martin Luther, claiming that he “did not err” in his teaching on justification! Keep in mind that Luther claimed that we are all just so many piles of dung dusted over lightly with a bit of God’s grace, just like those piles of cow manure one sees in winter covered with snow. It makes one wonder what Heaven would be like on a warm day.
THE EDITOR COMMENTS:
Why the Pope insists, against all good judgment, on continuing to make impromptu comments while in midflight is anyone’s guess. But more often than not, he leaves believers scrambling to try to make sense of some of the zany things that come out of his mouth. (See, for example, our New Oxford Note “A Sign of Self-Contradiction” on p. 19 of this issue.)
In an interview aboard the papal plane while en route from Armenia to Rome (June 26), Pope Francis said, “I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time…the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power — and this he protested…. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church.”
Francis is mistaken on at least three points:
(1) Although Martin Luther is typically described as a “reformer,” this is misleading. He did not start a reform movement in the Church (at least not directly); he started a schism, an open rebellion that ripped apart the very fabric of Christendom, leading to bloodshed, wars, and a seemingly endless fracturing of Christians into tens of thousands of little “denominations” set apart from the One True Church. To mention only the Church’s corruption, worldliness, and attachment to money and power — not coincidentally, some of the major talking points of the Bergoglio papacy — as the things against which Luther “protested” is to ignore the real and grave theological errors Luther promoted. The only reform in the Church he can be credited with is the Catholic Counter-Reformation that arose in response to the Protestant rebellion he helped initiate. To portray Luther as a well-intentioned reformer in the mold of our current Pope whose methods might have been a little off is to do a serious injustice to world history.
(2) Luther taught the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). In his personal translation of the New Testament into German, Martin Luther inserted the word allein (“alone”) to Romans 3:28, changing it to read, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law,” though he knew it to be absent from the Greek text. When he was rebuked for having done so, he retorted, “If your Papist annoys you with the word [alone], tell him straightway: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so. Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil’s thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.'” (It is difficult to imagine Luther engaging in the ecumenical panegyrics our current Pope seems to favor.) Sola fide is one of Luther’s gravest theological errors, and it was condemned by the Council of Trent. One of the canons of that council declares, “If anyone says that the godless are justified by faith alone…let him be anathema,” and another states, “For faith, unless hope and charity are added thereto, neither unites one perfectly with Christ nor makes one a living member of his body.”
(3) Although the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Council of the Lutheran World Federation both signed onto the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (1998), Francis’s immediate predecessor, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in his capacity as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cautioned that “the Catholic Church is of the opinion that we cannot yet speak of a consensus such as would eliminate every difference between Catholics and Lutherans in the understanding of justification” (“Response of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration,” 1998). Although the soon-to-be Pope Benedict XVI admitted that “the level of agreement is high,” he warned that this “does not yet allow us to affirm that all the differences separating Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine concerning justification are simply a question of emphasis or language. Some of these differences concern aspects of substance and are therefore not all mutually compatible.” Moreover, the joint declaration was signed by a body of Catholics and a body of Lutherans, so it is an exaggeration for Francis to say that “all of us,” including Protestants generally, “agree” on the doctrine of justification. Ask virtually any Christian on the street, and he would likely never have heard of the joint declaration, much less be able to give his assent to it.
If, as Francis states, Martin Luther provided “medicine” for the Church, it was a poisonous concoction that wracked and disfigured the body of believers, causing a worse sickness than what he was attempting to cure — a sickness that has endured for nearly 500 years.
When Is It Reasonable to Reject the Law?
I enjoyed the two delightful dialogues by John M. Gist, “Rational Self-Interest & Justice” (Sept.) and “Love & Reason” (Oct). The playful banter between the prisoner, Rand, and the detective, Piccolino, while fanciful in that one does not expect a policeman to be so well read (more’s the pity), nonetheless has good narrative coherence, once one suspends disbelief over that minor detail.
Still, there was something I found unsettling, especially in the first dialogue, and that was the lack of epistemological variance, in two ways. The first is the argument Piccolino makes and Rand accepts that the law is either rational and, therefore, just, or it is not. The second, based on the first, is that one must either fully accept a society and all of its laws, or fully reject it. “Why didn’t you and Seiko move to another country,” Piccolino asks Rand, “instead of breaking the laws of this one? Was anybody stopping you from doing that?”
Many of us who are active in libertarian circles recognize this second argument as the “move to Somalia” fallacy, often stated by statists as “if you don’t like having to pay extortion in the form of income taxes, having to get a food vendor’s license for your child to set up a lemonade stand, or limitations on firearm ownership for otherwise law-abiding people, then move to Somalia, where there is no functioning government.” This argument rejects the idea that a reasonable choice exists that is neither a Hobbesian state of nature (Somalia) nor an authoritarian, liberty-quenching state. That one could enjoy the relative peace and prosperity of liberal Western democratic countries and still believe with Locke that the combination of one’s labor with the bounties of nature constitutes ownership to which the governing authorities have no natural right, even if they’ve given themselves the legal right, is thrown out by this either/or distinction.
Rand is a reasonable person who, along with his “lover,” Seiko, has chosen to commit a crime. Now, even the most reasonable person sometimes acts out in a fit of temporary madness and engages in activities that are far from reasonable. I once knew a priest who was largely well regarded and whom I and others saw as a loving, reasonable man. Unfortunately, he often inflicted unnecessary costs on his parish because he would get angry and punch holes in the walls of the rectory. Perhaps Rand and Seiko’s actions were something like that — something a reasonable person does in the throes of an unreasonable moment, defying reason. In that case, accepting the rationality and justice of the law is rational, in the cool, calculating way to which Rand ultimately accedes.
However, even if we accept that their crime, the nature of which was not described, was an irrational act, the universalization of this claim does not hold up. A reasonable person sometimes decides to commit a crime because he has come to the reasonable conclusion that there are higher laws than those of his country, and that a particular law in a particular instance is to be disobeyed.
One of my all-time heroes is Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch citizen who lived under Nazi rule during World War II and saved hundreds of Jews — until she herself was thrown into a concentration camp. She was a good, law-abiding citizen, following the Nazis’ orders to the letter and maintaining a position of relative privilege by doing so, except for the few instances in which she completely violated the law. She illegally hid Jewish people. She illegally owned a radio that could tune in to Allied broadcasts. She stole and forged ration cards to feed her Jewish guests. She did not radically reject all law because she was against some of the laws. She accepted those that advantaged her, and she rejected the rest.
And this is why I reject the notion of a social contract, as apparently accepted by Piccolino and Rand. I feel that a better way of understanding our appropriate roles with regard to government can be found in St. Augustine’s notion of the City of God and the City of Man. The City of Man, the legal system of human society, seeks peace and justice, but only of a perverse sort that emphasizes its own power and maintains it through violence. The City of God seeks peace and justice out of love of neighbor. Often, those jurisdictions agree. When they do not, I place my hope on something higher. As St. Peter wrote, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good…. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly…. Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:13-23).
Thus, it is possible to suffer under governing authorities and be punished by them when their sense of justice falls short. At such a time, the reasonable thing to do is to reject the law, knowing full well that, if caught and convicted, one will be punished. It does not mean one should acquiesce to being caught and convicted.
This is probably why, while I enjoyed both dialogues, I found more with which I could agree in Part II, even though the City of Man is not so much represented by the law or by Piccolino as by Jordan Bruno. Had Rand had the presence of mind to turn Piccolino’s argument around on him, he could have pointed out that, as long as he stayed under the protection of Bruno and followed Bruno’s laws, he would be safe. So long as Rand was obedient to the governing authority who uses violence to enforce his status, he’d be fine. Rand could point out that most of Bruno’s rules are rational (no despot makes mostly bad laws) and that following them and the ones that aren’t rational is good for the stability of all the prisoners.
But he didn’t. Love won. Love is “embodied reason in action.” And that’s the direction, if Piccolino had been arguing his best, he should have used from the beginning. Of course, the second dialogue admits that love was used from the beginning, but it was never made explicit, and because love was not at the center of the argument, a type of rationality and view toward the state emerged that could be interpreted as incompatible with love.
JOHN M. GIST REPLIES:
Either Benjamin Cline’s is a calculated misreading of the dialogues for unknown purposes, or I have failed utterly as a writer.
It may well be the latter, as I am rather new to the dialogue form. But I vow to continue with it in order to increase understanding between the speakers and the reader.
I immediately took pause when reading that Dr. Cline took pause (possibly ironically, but it is not clear) to note that a suspension of disbelief was required regarding a well-read detective. This signals a certain bias, perhaps due to overexposure in mainstream media, that detectives are, for the most part, uneducated. On the contrary, successful detectives make their living through critical thinking and problem-solving. As such, it seems more plausible than not that Piccolino, obviously a successful detective, would be well read in order to develop and hone these skills.
Next Cline makes the mistake of what we in philosophical circles call the “either/or” fallacy, which suggests that there are only two options at hand. The Somalia example is so over the top that I can only conclude that it is intended to mock the spirit of the dialogue, which is that reason must validate a law in order to make it just. Rand, obviously, had a variety of options, the first being that he could have chosen not to commit the crime. He could have moved to Canada or Tahiti or taught English abroad in order to find a place where the laws suit him. Or he could have moved to the Alaskan bush and lived relatively free of all laws. Or he could have disobeyed the law, on the grounds that it was unjust, and argued his case in the courts and in the press. That Rand had many options should be clear even to the casual reader.
Cline follows this by suggesting that perhaps Rand and Seiko were suffering a form of temporary insanity when they committed their crime. There is not one shred of evidence in the dialogue to support this speculation; in fact, quite the opposite, in that it never occurs to Rand that his temporary insanity might be a viable legal defense.
As for the idea that the law isn’t rational and, therefore, is unjust, an attentive reader would have realized that this was covered in the first dialogue:
“Rand: There is no dilemma in the prisoner’s dilemma because any rational person who concludes that justice and, therefore, the laws, if they are valid, are based on reason will confess for the good of both civil society and the individual citizen. There is no prisoner’s dilemma unless the majority of society’s laws are irrational, and any rational person in this country would reject that notion. I am a rational person, and therefore I reject it. And so I confess. Game over.
“Piccolino: But what if a particular law is found to be irrational and, therefore, unjust, by said individual?
“Rand: We already covered that. In a society where the law is based on reason, it would be up to the rational individual to challenge the law and convince the system to change it. Jury nullification and all that. Remember? It’s all in the Crito. Socrates gave up his life. We don’t have to rehash the whole thing.”
I could go on, but suffice it to say that I don’t believe Cline allowed the dialogues the attention they warranted. For instance, he seems to have missed the fact that what began as the rational self-interest of the individual quickly expanded to the other (Rand and Seiko’s daughter) and, finally, to society as a whole through a respect for the rationality of its laws. This is the very essence of the social contract declared by none other than Jesus Christ: “Love thy neighbor.”
Finally, I would challenge Cline’s conclusion that love is not at the center of Piccolino’s argument from the beginning. If reason is “knowledge attended by love,” and love is “embodied reason in action,” then reason and love, though not identical, are genetically related. In other words, when talking about one, the other is implicated. Maybe Piccolino is a little more sophisticated than Cline gives him credit for?
Whatever the case, I thank Dr. Cline for taking the time to respond to the dialogues, and I hope he will continue to read the NOR. This publication deserves our continued support and that of others who wish to see the intellectual legacy of the Catholic tradition continue an increasingly post-literate world.
A Plea from India
I am Fr. Thomas Thumpailchirayil, vicar of St. Mary’s Malankara Catholic Church in Kerala, India, in the Diocese of Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad.
Ours is a small parish with hardly 68 families. Out of these 68 families, nine are very, very poor and needy with no land or house of their own. For the past several years, they have been living in rented houses, paying 5,000-6,000 rupees a month (approx. U.S.$75-$90), which is far beyond their financial capacity. The bread-winners of these families work hard to earn daily wages and make ends meet. They will never be able to buy a house on their own, unless a third party extends them a helping hand.
If they incur the displeasure of their landlords, they will have to vacate their homes at once and search for another rental while carrying all their household belongings and furniture, which is extremely difficult. Moreover, no young men come forward to marry their daughters because they live in rented houses.
If they could buy a small plot of four cents (approx. 1,740 sq. ft.), they could put up a small house with the subsidy they would get from the panchayat, or local government. One cent of land costs a minimum of 70,000 rupees (approx. U.S.$1,050).
In this year of mercy, please alert your kind readers to the poor, pitiable plight of our landless and homeless families so that they might contribute their God-given mite to us, if they get a leading from above. Surely, they will meet in our eternal heavenly abode these hapless and helpless families whom they help in this valley of tears and sorrows, for “whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do unto me.”
To avoid all doubts and misunderstandings, here is the name and address of my local ordinary: H.G. Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thomas, Catholic Bishop’s House (Dharamapitam), Sulthan Bathery P.O., Wayanad Dt., Kerala, India 673592.
Several years ago, the NOR published an earlier plea of mine [Jul.-Aug. 2000 — Ed.], and your kind readers sent some money to help me carry out my humble housing project for their benefit of our impoverished and shelterless families. My prayer is that your generous, poor-loving, Jesus-loving readers will give to our needy and helpless families to accomplish our worthwhile project.
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