A Rage Observed
Reporting on the recent “Reason Rally” of atheists in Washington, D.C. (guest column, “The New Atheism: All the Rage,” Jul.-Aug.), Andrew M. Seddon was struck by the high emotional temperature of those attending, many of them consumed with anger. These are the people who claim that God is a threat to our freedom and flourishing. Once liberated from the hopelessly old-fashioned and un-scientific notion of God, they believe, humanity will experience true happiness. Why then the anger of those who uphold this view? Classical Christian theology, stated briefly yet eloquently by St. Augustine, gives us the answer: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Or, to put it in language best understood by those whose second home is the Internet: We are hard-wired for God. Without Him, we will always be dissatisfied, frustrated, and, yes, often angry.
The Rev. John Jay Hughes
Johnson State Prison
St. Louis, Missouri
Andrew M. Seddon amply backs up his contention that atheism is itself a matter of faith. Indeed, his list of its most common “faith statements” is most telling. I’ve seen the first one myself — that nothing suddenly became something — presented with great earnestness in a college science textbook.
Even an atheist must know that you can design the skyscraper to beat all skyscrapers, but if you do not have an adequate foundation it won’t be scraping the sky for long. So, what’s the problem here? Is religious faith less real to them than other kinds of faith? To put it in even starker terms, is the true Catholic faith more threatening than the other kinds? Well, one should hope so.
To attack the Catholic religion on the grounds that it is not as reasonable as that of militant atheism is, well, not reasonable. To resort to shouting and physical violence is even less so. But it leads one to ask, in view of their claims to logic and general integrity (as opposed to the ridiculous disorder of those who believe in God), just what is an atheist anyway?
We are all familiar with the sort of protesters who carry the signs and shout the slogans for reasons other than belief in a cause. Depending on their age, these sign-carriers may be out for a thrill, following the crowd, looking for acceptance, or truly protesting not for but against something else. We hear from lapsed Catholics that “the world is overpopulated — how can the Pope be opposed to birth control?” But are these valid reasons for atheism?
Then there are the ideologues whose political theories preclude the possibility of the divine. But are they truly atheists? Why then are they often self-sacrificing and ethical? And how do they deal with dying? It is said that even Voltaire called on God at the end — though it is also said that God had lost patience with him and didn’t answer!
If there should exist a man completely unable to perceive the presence and the existence of God, who could not even speculate on such a thing, and who if presented with a miracle would explain it away not out of ego but in true honesty, then that man is lacking something fundamental. In short, that he is mad.
A core of such people undoubtedly exists, just as during the 16th century there existed a core of honest heretics. And, like the heretics of that time, the atheists of our time have acquired followers who profit (like the nobles who appropriated Church property) or who simply feel the need to revolt. Religion these days has fallen low. Those who try to serve God are relatively few. But among the rest, faith is not dead. If, to paraphrase Chesterton, people stop believing in God, they will come to believe in anything. There is an undercurrent even among the most abandoned hedonists of “faith” in an afterlife (automatic Heaven) and a belief that the world will continue to exist — that the “bad guys” (and who says they are bad, we might ask the nonbeliever) won’t win. These people live on the remnants of Catholic civilization and don’t even realize it.
The “reason” ralliers might have some excuse for their unreasonable behavior. After all, the atheist faith must be hard to even pretend to maintain. And to use it as a stick to beat mommy and the parish priest and one’s third-grade teacher can do little for one’s self-respect. That great and tragic flaw called original sin leads us to throw tantrums when we are suffering. This is nothing new — even Caesars threw tantrums. It is the obligation of those of us who have recourse to the sacraments to bear with those who are still muddling about in darkness. The martyrs, you recall, prayed for their persecutors. So did our Lord.
Yes, Mr. Reasonable Atheist, there is a God. May you meet Him under more kindly circumstances than did Robespierre.
St. Patrick Parish
“Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don’t forget.” These were the very last words uttered by the great philosopher of whom the Oracle at Delphi once proclaimed, “There is no man wiser than Socrates.”
But even as the poison — whether it was hemlock or some other concoction, we don’t know — crept through those venerable old veins, the noble Athenian couldn’t help but pay homage to his pagan past one last time as he pulled the cover from his own hideous head. Apparently, what the “wisest man on earth” knew all along and ironically admitted, perhaps with a smile: “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
But we know that he knew one thing, at least: that there is a God (or gods) who is not only capable of healing the sick but, if we are to believe the dying philosopher, raising them from the dead — the ultimate cure for man’s mortality. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to draw any other conclusion.
To the modern atheist, this is all nonsense and superstition, the stuff of myths and legend. Whoever heard of a God (or gods) raising anyone from the dead? It’s, well, downright Christian! It’s morbid, too, and as pagan as Pan. There’s a difference, of course: One day the myth became real; and death, as the old Athenian once observed, became not a curse but the greatest of all human blessings.
Leaven for Humanae Vitae (www.leavenonline.org)
Port St. Lucie, Florida
I submit a few observations on Monica Migliorino Miller’s cultural and philosophical perspectives on marriage (“‘Gay Marriage’ Is Not Marriage. Here’s Why,” Jul.-Aug.).
1. Miller implies that same-sex marriage is or could be marriage, based on what heterosexuals have made marriage mean since accepting contraception as the norm. Contracepted heterosexual marriage, however, doesn’t serve any distinct public purpose that merits special legal standing. Likewise same-sex relationships. To give the encouragement of special legal standing to human relationships expressed in “dead-end sex” insanely invites demographic doom. Miller’s way of putting it calls needed attention to the depth of our civilizational challenge. She treats another aspect of that challenge in Abandoned, a newly published book celebrating pro-life efforts to do some justice to the least among us.
2. Miller looks primarily to the Church for positive contributions toward renewing our societal sexual ethic, especially with more vigorous teaching of traditional moral responsibilities. I suggest that the catechesis that will ring true and meet the challenge must do justice to the situations (perhaps very widespread?) treated by Fr. Edward Bayer’s book Rape Within Marriage and the magisterially validated psychology of Anna Terruwe and Conrad Baars. Miller’s consequentialist exhortation to contribute to society’s future might motivate some to forego “dead-end sex” and procreate, but it doesn’t clarify why society deserves a future at all. Philip Longman’s The Empty Cradle highlights relevant facts that suggest the inadequacy of consequentialist appeals.
I suggest that the distinctive contribution needed from the Church is the highlighting of aspects of the big picture, which would allow traditional marriage to be appreciated as an inviolable human possibility. The relevant aspect of the big picture is that all history depends on, and is sustained by, an absolute marriage, that between Christ and His Church (Jn. 3:29, Rev. 19:7). Appreciation of history and all of life in terms of Christ’s marriage to the Church would give people news good enough to bother with the burdens of carrying on. It would invite appreciation of traditional marriage as a sacrament of the fullness of time. Traditional marriage itself could be seen as glorious and liberating (whether or not it contributes to a next generation) because of, not in spite of, what we may term its “sacrificial crucifixions.” Those crucifixions — i.e., those morals preached by the Magisterium — are ways couples live out in their flesh (cf. Col. 1:24) a faith- and hope-filled loving share in the sacrificial crucifixion. For there is only one sacrifice by which a foretaste of the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21) is a real prospect for such fools as we mortals be.
3. There are truths being warred for on both sides of the civic discussions of gay marriage. The challenge is to show which side’s truth can integrate all that is truthful in the other side’s. I suggest that the fecundity and beauty of the truths Miller focuses on could become more apparent if academics develop and contextualize them in a way that does justice to all reasonable motivations on the part of gay-marriage proponents. The Lord’s recognition that human marital prospects are subject to forms of violence from birth and from other humans (Mt. 19:12) should foster intellectual interest in identifying and mitigating such violence, without of course violating any inviolable dignity in the process.
Invitations to insanity abound. Slippery slopes abound. But the cause of truth is harmed by neglecting in tone and choice of detail to do justice to the needed — if often fumbling, inadequate, and even self-defeating — attempts to deal with insanities long suffered but heretofore insufficiently noticed as insanities.
When I saw the title of Monica Migliorino Miller’s article, my soul leapt for joy. When I read the article, I wanted to weep for the lost opportunity. Her statement that homosexual persons “simply do not have the right to marry” is the ultimate disaster! In fact, homosexuals have exactly the same right to marry that heterosexuals have, as marriage is open to everyone. That is the test of civil, legal equality. And no homosexual has ever been denied that right. It is simply the case that homosexuals do not want to marry — that is, enter into an opposite-sex union.
The real issue is the fact that homosexuals do not have any intrinsic or constitutional right to call a same-sex union a marriage because such unions simply have nothing to do with either religious or secular marriage. But arguing on the basis of moral considerations is a guaranteed loser in our present society because very few will put forth the effort to examine what is said. Most people will simply dismiss any perceived attempt to “impose religion on society.” The secular argument, on the other hand, is a solid winner with anyone who will make the effort to examine it. The court decision handed down in Hawaii this August is a prime example.
U.S. District Judge Alan Kay upheld the constitutionality of Hawaii’s marriage law, which states that marriage “shall be only between a man and a woman.” He concluded that “because Hawaii’s marriage laws are rationally related to legitimate government interests, they do not violate the federal Constitution.”
Judge Kay wrote that the defendant, Hawaii Family Forum, “argues that the following three interests rationally relate to Hawaii’s opposite-sex definition of marriage: (1) ‘steering the natural procreative capacity of opposite-sex couples into marriage’; (2) ‘promoting the ideal that, wherever possible, children are raised by both their mother and father’; and (3) ‘reserving watershed changes to such a fundamental and important social institution to the legislature as the policymaking branch.'”
The state’s interest is specified in further detail. The defendant “states that this ‘responsible procreation’ interest rests on two factual premises. First, ‘It is an “inescapable fact that only two people, not three, only a man and a woman, can beget a child” without the intervention and assistance of third parties and as an ordinary result of their sexual union.’ Second, ‘When procreation and childrearing take place outside stable family units, children suffer.’ [The] Defendant states that in light of these two facts, ‘the state has an interest in encouraging opposite-sex couples to channel their sexual relations in a stable, long term relationship, an interest that does not apply to same-sex couples.'”
Judge Kay determines that “there is a difference between the individual interests in marriage and the social or public interests in marriage. Although legal marriage also secures individual interest, [marriage] is a public institution enacted for the benefit of society. In Kerrigan, Justice Zarella, dissenting, determined that it was rational for the state to continue to promote the public’s interest by limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples ‘while enacting a civil union law in recognition of the legitimate interests of same-sex couples.’ He explained: ‘The state reasonably could believe that limiting marriage to a man and a woman accomplishes vital social goods, while the institution of civil union promotes the legitimate interests of those who enter into it. Recognition of the latter private interests does not necessarily entail abandonment of the former public interests.’ The Court agrees. The legislature could rationally speculate that by reserving the name ‘marriage’ to opposite-sex couples, Hawaii’s marriage laws provide special promotion and encouragement to enter into those relationships advancing societal interests while the civil union laws protect the individual interests of same-sex couples. In the absence of a suspect or quasi-suspect classification or a restriction on a fundamental right, the Fourteenth Amendment does not require Hawaii to endorse all intimate relationships on identical terms.”
In other words, if sterile same-sex unions are called a marriage, then marriage would no longer have anything to do with the state’s identified interests. Calling a sterile same-sex union a marriage severs the connection with the procreative capacity present in opposite-sex couples and severs the connection with the ideal of children being raised by both their mother and father. Marriage ceases to be marriage if its rationale for existence is removed.
James J. Harris
San Diego, California
As I was reading Monica Migliorino Miller’s article on the decline of the natural family, I began to wonder what will replace it. For a society to exist and function coherently, its members must be bound to something beyond their own autonomy. Obsession over autonomy, or self-rule, in all phases of existence, is surely behind the decline of the family as it has been understood for millennia. Family ties once virtually determined the political dynasties of nations; now they are mere accidents of life.
The way I see it, in the coming new society, already partly here, the family will be replaced with the law. The civil law will reign supreme, even above science, reason, and the state. Lawyers will be seen as the new priestly caste, much as college professors were in the 1960s and 1970s. Rulings, precedents, and legalistic jargon will replace God, the Ten Commandments, and the natural law. The process has already begun but it will take a few decades to complete. Thankfully, I will be long gone before the coming changes completely reshape human life.
Hackensack, New Jersey
MONICA MIGLIORINO MILLER REPLIES:
I am perplexed as to how Mark Frisby could assert that I implied that “same-sex marriage is or could be marriage, based on what heterosexuals have made marriage mean.” Indeed, I argue quite the contrary. The social, moral, and cultural path to the increased acceptance of “gay marriage” was paved by heterosexuals not living the true meaning of marriage. As I said very plainly in my article, much of married heterosexual sex isn’t true marital sex at all. Mr. Frisby suggests that my argument is “consequentialist” — a loaded term within moral theology since consequentialist thinking is not compatible with Catholic moral thought. My argument that “gay marriage” is not marriage is based not only on the procreative goods that true heterosexual marital sex provides for civilization. What is at least equally at stake is the very meaning of human sexuality, the meaning of being male or female, being a husband or wife, being a mother or a father. My article was ultimately focused on the human identities and human responsibilities that are inherent in sexual activity — identities and responsibilities upon which civilization depends. If that is a consequentialist view of sex — well, then we need to take seriously the consequences of “dead-end sex,” whether gay or straight.
I wish I could have provided a full treatment of the nuptial truth that human marriage is founded on the union of Christ and the Church. As Mr. Frisby correctly maintains, this is ultimately where the full meaning of marital relationships is located. I have explored this subject at length in my book Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church.
My article, however, was deliberately narrowly focused. I wanted to provide a concise social and philosophical argument as to why homosexual unions cannot be legally (or morally) regarded as marriage. We need persuasive arguments if we are to compete in the public square, where non-religious, sectarian arguments are called for.
As for James Harris’s criticism, he is correct: No one is denying homosexual persons the right to marry. They can get married right now if they choose to marry someone of the opposite sex. Point taken. But my argument must be considered in its context. The homosexual lobby wishes to call their unions “marriage,” and aggressively agitates for a change in the law so that their unions will be recognized as the equivalent of marriage. That’s the dragon we are fighting. I was quite clear that homosexual unions cannot be called marriage, that there’s only one kind of marriage, the bond between one man and one woman.
Mr. Harris says that “the real issue is the fact that homosexuals do not have any intrinsic or constitutional right to call a same-sex union a marriage because such unions simply have nothing to do with either religious or secular marriage. But arguing on the basis of moral considerations is a guaranteed loser in our present society because very few will put forth the effort to examine what is said. Most people will simply dismiss any perceived attempt to ‘impose religion on society.'” I agree with his observation: We cannot argue solely from religion or morality. That is exactly why I wrote my article. My goal was to provide at least one strong, cogent, non-religious argument as to why “gay marriage” is not marriage — an argument that can be taken into the public square to demonstrate what is as stake (consequentialism again?) if homosexual activity is deemed an alternative to marriage.
My observation that arguments in favor of accepting homosexual unions as marriage amount to insanity was provoked by President Obama’s twisting of the Golden Rule. As a homosexual once said to me, “What’s wrong if the apple wants to be a tomato if it feels like a tomato?” To treat homosexual sex as it were marriage is to become unhinged from the truth of the physical world — to demolish the order of nature just so we can live inside our heads, or simply live according to how we feel. That’s insanity.
Richard J.T. Clark
The New Oxford Note “The Numbers Game” (Jul.-Aug.) attempts to put a damper on LifeNews.com’s “celebration” of the decline in the number of abortions from 1990 to 2008. There is some confusion, however, about the rules of the game.
It is true that it is not the abortion rate that has “dropped 25 percent since 1990,” as claimed by LifeNews.com, but rather the absolute number of abortions, as pointed out in the Note. Although there were 25 percent fewer abortions in 2008, there were also fewer pregnancies, albeit only three percent fewer. The actual decline in the rate of abortion, however, is not the six percent computed in the Note either; that is the difference between the earlier rate and the later rate.
Any standard math textbook will tell you that the rate of change is determined by dividing the amount of change (six percent) by the original amount (24 percent), thus arriving at 25 percent!
Even that, however, is not completely accurate, due to rounding. The actual figures are: a 23.7 percent abortion rate in 1990, an 18.4 percent abortion rate in 2008, a 5.3 percent absolute decline in the abortion rate, and a 22.4 percent rate of decline.
It’s not quite 25 percent, but it’s far better than a mere six percent. So, as the Note asks, “Who feels like celebrating now?” I do.
Any decrease in the number of abortions should be celebrated. The live birth of even one child who was in danger of being aborted is cause for joy. As the facts — and accurate math — show, however, the progress made by the pro-life movement is, indeed, substantial and should not be diminished but proclaimed loud and clear.
How to Change the Law
In the New Oxford Note “How to Change a Culture” (Jul.-Aug.), it is argued that the only way we are going to make any real progress toward ending abortion is by “changing the law.” This is quite correct. But it is, alas, easier said than done. The problem is that Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional issue, and changing the constitution is very difficult indeed. The only hope I see of changing it is by appointing to the Supreme Court a couple more justices who might be willing to consider throwing out Roe v. Wade. But to do that we will have to make support of unrestricted abortion embarrassing and politically unacceptable. It will not be easy, but I think it can be done.
I am convinced that the abortion movement has an Achilles heel — namely, late-term abortions. In fact, I suspect that much of the recent drop in popular support for abortion is due to a recognition by many former abortion supporters that late-term abortions are, in fact, murder, and they want no part of that. Of course the leaders of the abortion industry recognize that there is widespread opposition to late-term abortions. Nevertheless, they have vigorously fought the placement of any limits on their dirty work because they understand that once they concede the point that “fetuses” in the womb have life, they must enter into a discussion of when life begins, and this discussion will greatly hurt their cause since science won’t be on their side. The abortion industry is, therefore, in an untenable position that we, its opponents, can exploit by repeatedly and loudly accusing any abortionist who performs late-term abortions (and anyone who defends late-term abortions) of being a “baby killer.” By so doing, we can, over time, make it less and less acceptable for anyone, including a Supreme Court nominee, to be an abortion supporter. And we will make it politically acceptable for politicians to openly withhold support from anyone who performs unlimited abortions.
Of course, getting rid of Roe v. Wade is just the first step. If we succeed, it will push the issue back to the states. But I am convinced that we will win more battles than we will lose at the state level. And even if we don’t win in every state or always get everything we want, the situation will be much better than it is now. But the essential first step is to get rid of Roe v. Wade. Until we do that, we have little chance of making any real progress.
Fr. Jeff VonLehmen, Pastor
Taylor Mill, Kentucky
Mary Rosera Joyce’s article “A True Turnaround, A Real Revolution” (Jul.-Aug.) is as deep as the ocean. How beautiful to swim and see the world from under water! Her article brought to mind Pope John Paul II, who frequently exhorted youth to “go out into the deep.” The discussion of issues related to sexuality is an invitation to go deeper into who we are as persons. If we stay on the surface, it is all about genital sex, as Joyce indicates; if we go deeper, it is about who we are as persons in the image and likeness of God.
Joyce’s thesis could be summed up thus: Just as the sun was once thought to revolve around the earth, today we think our nature revolves around genital sex. If we were to look deeper, however, we would see that just as the earth revolves around the sun, so too does our sexuality revolve around our personhood.
The depth offered by this view is that we are relational, contemplative, intuitive persons, in whom the soul receives the body and is expressed by the body. We are not educated animals who can do no more than tame our sex urge. As human persons, we are both responsive to life and responsible for life, not entrapped beings driven by impulsiveness and compulsiveness.
This is an extremely important re-vision. We operate out of who we think we are. If a doctor images himself as a plumber, then the patient is going to be treated as a pipe that needs to be fixed. If we are no more than rational animals, we may rationalize anything, and have little hope for self-control and integration.
At the heart of the true sexual revolution is, as Joyce suggests, the concept of active receptivity. Wisdom tells us that receptivity is not always passive. At conception, the soul created directly by God actively receives the sperm and egg and begins to express itself bodily. How does this view of our being relate to our sexuality? As Joyce explains, “Interior sexual maturation results from a special way of thinking about the physical sex urge. Since all the nerves in the body receive their impulses from the brain, our way of thinking affects the nerves to the organs of the body, especially those related to our freedom. A re-centering in our thinking, then, affects the powers of the brain and eventually increases our sense of freedom for sexual integration.”
What does this look like in real life? An example is natural family planning. The kind of sexual freedom that comes from our soul-based personhood is very much a part of a happy sacramental marriage between a man and woman. They are able to actively receive and integrate their sexuality with their power to give life.
By answering John Paul II’s call to go out into the deep, we can actively receive this invaluable contribution to the true sexual revolution. The re-vision is possible because we are rational, intuitive, relational, and contemplative bodily persons.
Juliana Davis, Founder
Mary Rosera Joyce calls for a “Copernican-style” sexual revolution. What more proof of its necessity do we need than the countless negative statistics of the sexual revolution of the tumultuous 1960s? Evidence that the age of a body-based, genital-focused sexual revolution has done its damage, as prophesied by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, so abounds that repeating it here is not necessary to make the point that Joyce is right.
Thanks to President Obama, the topic of contraception has been exposed to the light of day via his much-debated contraception mandate. Now that our government threatens its own citizens with tyrannical oppression regarding contraceptives and abortion, not limiting its agenda to faraway, out-of-sight Third World countries, we have a new opportunity to wake up and take a look “through the telescope” long enough to realize that there has to be a better way.
The widespread use of the Pill and other contraceptives has created a contraceptive mentality that infects nearly all heterosexual relations, with few exceptions. The contraceptive mentality has rendered us not only contra-conception of new life and contra-already conceived life (via abortifacients), but their pervasiveness has also resulted in contra-conception of substantive ideas: between husband and wife, between priest and laity, and between men and women throughout the culture, inside and outside the Church.
Because of their primarily genital-based focus, even subconsciously, heterosexual relations prohibit whole-person intellectual communion between those whose very brains are uniquely and specifically masculine or specifically feminine, as Joyce writes. The genital-based approach is so ingrained that even celibates avoid what she calls active receptivity with the opposite sex, limiting intellectual exchange to superficial, one-sided monologues. Even unmarried friendships between the sexes devolve into carnality. Intellectual sterility and barrenness result, effecting a culture of death. On the other hand, a whole-person, or person-based, sexual complementarity effects a culture of life — not only physical life, but a flourishing intellectual life that gives birth to fresh new solutions to all manner of social questions.
Referencing Joyce’s concept of active receptivity, to test the quality of exchange, all we need reflect on are two questions, and either gender can pose them. The first question: Am I really heard, actively received intellectually, when I express my most important ideas to a person of the opposite gender, be it spouse, co-worker, friend, or fellow parishioner? The second question: Do I actively receive a person of the opposite gender when that person shares his or her substantial intellectual ideas to the extent that they impact my own thoughts and decisions about life?
In a whole-person relationship between husband and wife, for example, the husband actively receives his spouse on all levels: psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical. Such active receptivity informs, or at least influences, his own thoughts and decisions. He realizes that she has insights and a way of living that he lacks. Because he listens to and receives her actively, he benefits from her as helper and friend in the truest sense. She gives him courage to act, to be more masculine, not the flaccid, feminized version of masculinity of modern feminist creation.
Likewise, when a wife actively receives the whole-person masculinity of her spouse, and when she is the beneficiary of his actively receiving, she respects and seeks out his uniquely masculine gifts for analysis and judgment, thereby avoiding excess in her own intellectual independence and creativity. His way of giving and receiving her whole person encourages her feminine genius, protected from the human tendency to pride. It feminizes her all the more in the real sense, not in the masculinized version of femininity also of modern feminist creation.
In lay-clerical relations, the actively receiving pastor hears with his heart when it is primarily fear, not ill will, that keeps many married couples from embracing the periodic abstinence required of them. If he understands and lives person-based sexuality himself, he will not fall into misplaced compassion for the couples he pastors; rather, he will help them face their fears so they don’t fall prey to contraception and the harm it’s certain to bring to their marriage and family life. He is kind and confident in his own masculinity, certain that sacrificial love is a livable truth that deepens mutual love. He doesn’t hide his head in the sand, ignoring or avoiding sexual issues. His life and words are a continual, highly visible antidote to that endless media barrage extolling a genital-based sexuality. He instills courage, administering healing and strengthening sacraments to them as an alter Christus. Being actively received by him in love, parishioners gain strength to strive for holiness of life.
Our Blessed Mother and Jesus both demonstrate soul-based, whole-person relationships par excellence. Jesus actively received the initially body-based affection of Mary Magdalen, raising her little by little to person-based agape love until she had the capacity to be the “apostle to the Apostles,” announcing to them His resurrection. Then there are saints throughout the ages whose apostolic friendship and collaboration brought new life to the Church: Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Claire and Francis, Jane de Chantal and Francis de Sales, and others. In our own times, we have John Paul II and Mother Teresa as beautiful examples of genuine masculinity and femininity. They are sparks in the stubble, beacons of light from age to age that call us to that Copernican-style sexual revolution that Joyce proposes.
Whenever a person comes into my field of vision, I determine almost immediately whether that person is male or female. The older the person, the more disturbing it is to me if I cannot make this determination. I will search for clues, and look deeper, to resolve my uncertainty. No one wants to be duped by appearances.
The idea that genitalia is the center of human sexuality may seem to be an obvious and objective determination. But a deeper look into the biological order will reveal that the brain, with all its neurological connectivity, is the center of genital functioning. As one revealing turn deserves another, one might make the effort to understand the differentiation of the masculine from the feminine, not only between brain lobes, but in every body cell. It may take another turn to realize that the differences are not only physical but spiritual, that sexuality is caused by “the life principle of human personhood, the spiritual soul,” as Mary Rosera Joyce writes. The soul is the sexual center of the human person.
Copernicus used lenses to magnify the object of his visual observation, demonstrating that the earth travels around the sun. We can do better than Copernicus by finding the human soul as the center, not only of human sexuality but of human personhood. To think that they are separate, or that the soul is neuter and sexuality is biologically “accidental” to the person, shows a real lack in high-brain thinking and smacks of a dualistic attitude.
Mary Rosera Joyce is our contemporary Copernicus. She proposes a revolution in knowing conception as the soul, created by God, actively receiving within itself the interacting parental gametic cells, expressing within itself the human body who is a person: The body is within the person.
As the soul receives the body and expresses the person, as the nerves receive impulses from the brain, so actively receiving within, the energy of the sexual urge provides for interior sexual maturation, without the premature acting out of unintegrated, underdeveloped sexual expression. Liberation from such a “worn-out formula” as genital-based sexuality will complete the revolution begun by John Paul II. We’ve been duped for too long.
A Flawed Premise
It is hard to imagine more misinformation and error packed into just two paragraphs than that which appears in the first two of Mary Rosera Joyce’s article. She attempts to construct a simile between the Copernican revolution in astronomy and her re-vision of the personhood of sex.
The Copernican hypothesis states that the planets, including the earth, circle the sun, that the sun is the center of the circumferential paths of perfect circles along which the planets move. Such a system has two degrees of freedom: the radius of the circular orbits and the motion of the planets. By Copernicus’s time, medieval astronomy had advanced to a high degree of precision. Copernicus tried valiantly over many years to adjust the parameters of his model to match the precise observations of the astronomers, but he always fell short. Copernicus was loathe to publish his work as such during his lifetime. It was published only posthumously as an interesting astronomical exercise. The Catholic Church at the time took the reasonable position of encouraging such efforts as intellectually interesting, without subscribing to them.
Later, Johannes Kepler proved the Copernican model wrong by rejecting the circular hypothesis in favor of elliptical orbits. He was able to produce much better alignment of his theory with measurement. With the elliptical hypothesis, one may no longer talk about the center of the solar system (circles have a single center, ellipses have two foci). Newton followed by showing that planetary motion followed some simple laws, provided, as he thought, that the sun was an absolute location from which one might determine absolute motion. Newtonian absolutism is reducible philosophically to a type of pantheism.
During this time, Ptolemaic calculations were producing results and predictions to the accuracy of contemporary measurement. In fact, the date published on this edition of the NOR is based on a Ptolemaic calculation, not a Newtonian one.
Later still, Jules Henri Poincaré showed that the physical understanding of the solar system is relative to the observer. Reference the sun, the planets revolve about the sun. Reference the earth, the sun and planets revolve about the earth. Neither absolute location nor absolute motion is needed to understand motion in the solar system. It is all a matter of reference.
So the simile Joyce leans on is actually a revolution from an accurate model to a flawed understanding of the solar system.
Oak Park, Illinois
Mary Rosera Joyce states that Thomas Aquinas “believed…that the earth is the center of the universe.” Not so. What St. Thomas actually said was that the visible motions of the celestial bodies “are produced either by the motion of the object seen or by the motion of the observer…it makes no difference which is moving.” In other words, either the sun could be moving or we could be moving. Aquinas understood that the Ptolemaic theory was just that, a theory, and that there could be other theories.
Joyce also asserts that Copernicus proved “that the sun does not revolve around the earth.” Again, not so. Neither at the time of Copernicus nor of Galileo were there yet telescopes powerful enough to prove the heliocentric theory. And as historian of science E.A. Burtt remarks, “There were no known celestial phenomena which were not accounted for by the Ptolemaic method with as great accuracy as could be expected without more modern instruments.”
To imply that Thomas Aquinas believed that the soul was something “inside” the body is inaccurate. According to Aquinas, neither the body nor the soul were “things,” but were rather two principles that together make up a living being. The human soul and the human body come into being simultaneously. That God first creates a soul and then “puts” it into a body is not an idea to be found in Aquinas.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
MARY ROSERA JOYCE REPLIES:
My thanks to those who commented on my article about the brain as our main sexual organ and our spiritual soul as the primary source of our sexuality. In response to J.R. Breton and Helen Dietz: I used the Copernican revolution as a parable, not as a technically developed fact of astronomy. This should have been immediately evident.
Dietz is correct that, for St. Thomas, the human soul and body are not things. But she is incorrect that both the body and soul are principles of the human being. For St. Thomas, the soul is the actuating principle (substantial form) of passive (or primary) matter. The result is secondary matter, the body.
St. Thomas, following Aristotle, did not recognize the profound difference between a spiritual soul and an animal soul in relation to passive (primary) matter. Neither of them recognized the spiritual soul’s active receptivity of both the primary and secondary matter of the parentive gametes. The result of this re-vision is that humans are person-based, not animal-based. In other words, a human being has a person-based biology, not a biology-based personhood.
According to Aristotle and St. Thomas, we are “rational animals.” Such a definition belongs in biology, and perhaps in the philosophy of nature, but not in ontological psychology, philosophy, or theology. By recognizing, in the spiritual soul, active receptivity for matter, we make a turnaround in the way we think about ourselves.
We have a choice: staying put with Aristotle and St. Thomas or doing what they did. They developed and deepened their understanding of the truth. They were primarily interested in reality itself, and secondarily interested in the helpful ideas of others.
Richard A. Cody
Marstons Mills, Massachusetts
No Violation of Conscience
In spite of my personal and committed belief that abortion is wrong, I do not agree with those who allege that the government is persecuting the Catholic religion with its contraception mandate. It is not as if the government is setting up checkpoints and forcing women to take birth-control pills. What the government is doing is requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives for women who want them — even women who are insured by Catholic institutions — at no cost to the institutions, which are not required to approve of the treatment. There is no question of a violation of conscience here.
Christians should act with humility just as the early martyrs did who, while witnessing to the faith, did not seek to impose their beliefs on others but rather tried to persuade them by example. The early Christians in Rome expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing unwanted children left exposed to the elements (an ancient and accepted Roman practice). They did not go about fomenting rebellion or shouting “Death to the Emperor!” If anti-abortion Christians are serious about their beliefs, they should adopt all the children in our overcrowded orphanages, where many grow to adulthood without ever being adopted.
I think it is a tragedy that the related issues of contraception and abortion have become a political issue, especially when mealy-mouthed and insincere politicians use them as a means to get elected. Karl Rove used the religionists so effectively that a man like George W. Bush could get elected twice without doing anything to help their cause. Reagan, or at least his handlers, pioneered that strategy.
Further, Catholics and Catholic institutions lost the battle when they meekly accepted the ruling that religious institutions are not exempt from the constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination on the basis of faith when it comes to employment. I still get conniptions when I find out that many of those employed in Catholic hospitals, Catholic charities, and Catholic schools are not Catholics but adhere to faiths opposed to and even hostile to the Catholic faith, or are of no faith at all. If these Catholic institutions had hired people who share the beliefs of the Church, then offering contraceptive coverage in insurance plans would be a non-issue because none of the employees would avail themselves of such coverage.
Brewster, New York
An Unheeded Warning
Robert Lamb’s letter (Jul.-Aug.) on the morality of the 1915 German submarine attack that sank the R.M.S. Lusitania merits a reply.
Modern exploration has revealed that this “unarmed passenger ship” was carrying some four million rounds of American-made .303 Remington rifle ammunition intended to kill German soldiers. The U.S. was purportedly a non-belligerent at the time. Moreover, the German government placed black-bordered advertisements in The New York Times warning American passengers of the danger of sailing on this vessel. One such ad appeared on the very day of sailing.
Doesn’t responsibility lie with the two governments and a steamship company that exposed civilians to the risk of death by allowing them to sail unawares on a munitions ship?
Deacon John Saturus
I was thrilled to read Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God (Jul.-Aug.). I happened upon The Story of Ruth Pakaluk when flitting through Amazon.com. After finishing the book, I realized that I didn’t “happen upon” anything. The Holy Spirit strikes again — finally, a saint for someone like me!
In the homemaking trenches of the new millennium, I have not read about many women who converted to Catholicism while at Harvard and who used their lives to spread a passionate, pro-life message (among many other worthwhile messages) while mothering large families. I love that Ruth mentions her baby Sarah grabbing her glasses as she writes about speaking at Boston College, Columbia, Brandeis, and Brown. In January 1989 she debated pro-abortionists at MIT; in November 1989 she and her husband lost their seven-week-old son to sudden infant death syndrome.
This juxtaposition of Ruth as a mother and pro-life warrior is what kept me turning the pages. Her practical observations also hit home. She describes sanctifying ordinary work, which she relates to the “spirituality of Opus Dei.” She compares our needing the Eucharist to a child who, without human contact, exhibits “failure to thrive.” She advises one to have a “plan of life,” to have a “schedule or a system for working prayer and other aspects of the spiritual life into your daily routine.” This is a woman who understands how difficult it is to pray while a kid is hanging on your leg.
Dr. Gardiner beautifully reviews the end of Ruth’s life, including her final letters to her children. Very likely, the last words that she ever wrote were to her son John that “none of us is perfect.” Therein lies Ruth’s real appeal to me. Despite her amazing life, she was not at all perfect. In fact, I get the feeling that she would hate me rambling on about her. But I must affirm in this “feminist age” that Ruth Pakaluk’s writing and life, as related by her husband, Michael, reinvigorate my belief that being a mom and a homemaker is truly God’s work.
I am a deacon in the Orthodox Church, and I am working toward a masters in theology. I’d like to ask the readers of the NOR for help. If there is anyone reading this who has ever been an Anglo-Catholic who considered converting to the Orthodox Church (whether or not you became Orthodox or Roman Catholic or remained Anglican), I would very much appreciate it if you would share your thoughts and opinions in a survey at http://tinyurl.com/DeaconJohn. Many thanks!
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