Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tinsel and incense

The kings are wandering. They have not made it to Bethlehem. In my house, they are still in the wrong room, roaming past the Purel and around the Christmas children's books. Mary and Joseph made it today.  They are looking ever so tired.  The kind animals have moved out of the barn, since our set really isn't big enough to house both the Holy Family and the animals.  They are huddled around the Noel candle. There are cookie crumbs everywhere, so any resident mice can have their fill before tonight's required hush.


I love the magic of Christmas. I love the blend of deep and rich theology against the starry, sparkly merriment. Christmas celebration echoes its theology elegantly.

This is the night when our Lord humbled himself. God as man. He didn't don a baby costume and pretend. He didn't set His divinity aside for a few years. Fully human. Fully God.

I cannot comprehend it, but I can smile at it.

Today my sister came to visit bringing her daughter. We made cookies.  While they were in the oven, we turned on Christmas music. The Children laughed and played and danced and twirled! The smell, the mess, the laughter, the light, the decorations- That is Christmas!

In sweet, joyful, human chaos, we celebrate and welcome our Lord. We sing with the angels, because He came. All our imperfect celebrations are for him. A holiday so wonderful that we share it with everyone. The green and red decorations and the blinking holiday lights, the reindeer and elves and snowmen, the trees decorated- in each house uniquely representative of the family- it all serves as a joyful but decidedly human backdrop to celebrate the birth this divine child.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

But God... He did it first!

Every time the issue of torture comes up it is only a matter of time before someone brings up some awful thing terrorists are doing somewhere.  "Why aren't you upset about that?"

I am glad you asked.  I am upset. Terrorists terrorizing is, well, terrible.  Often so terrible it is disturbing. It is hard to imagine people being so utterly inhumane.  For awhile, I had to stay off Facebook because the gruesome images of violence were consuming my feed, a form of graphic violence. (I disapprove. But that is a post for another day.) There is extraordinary violence committed against innocents.

Sometimes in war there is not a clear cut bad guy and good guy. People fight for all kinds of reasons.  In this story, there is a bad guy. The terrorists are the bad guys. Right? We oppose them.  They hate. They embrace evil. They will use any method to achieve their end. Killing children? Rape? Nothing is beneath them. That is what a bad guy is.  A terrorist is a bad guy pretty much by definition.

That makes us the good guys, if only we were four year olds on a playground.

In real life, the presence of a bad guy and a guy opposing a bad guy might not indicate the presence of a good guy.  Opposing him does not make us good.  Good is harder.

So, lets talk about being the good guy. Here are a few of the things the "good guy" is saying.

How can you complain about splashing a little water? 

If you are still trivializing what happened I encourage you to read. I cannot argue with ignorance. I do not want to go into specifics about what we did, but there are a thousand places you can read descriptions in graphic detail. This is not one of them.

The report is partisan.

If you think the report shouldn't have been done and was only done as a partisan power play, set aside the question for long enough to decide whether or not the report is true. To my knowledge, no one is seriously arguing its veracity. If it is a partisan power grab, the way to diffuse that would be universal repudiation. Don't corner yourself. Don't dodge the question of fact. Truth does not belong to either party.

But, what constitutes torture?

If you are quibbling about the line between not very nice and torture, your questions are understandable, but wrong. When you are talk to teens about sex, they inevitably ask how far they can go. It is an obvious question that you cannot answer directly.  It is easy to find examples to frame the question, but then there is an enormous gray area. Wandering around blindly in that gray area, aiming for just this side of mortal sin is probably not wise. You cannot answer the question because what they are really saying is, "I really, really want to commit a mortal sin. How close to that can I get without being separating myself from God?" The question itself will lead you in exactly the wrong direction.

To be clear, I am comfortable asserting that what we did was well outside of the gray area.  It was torture.

Move ahead. We accept that what we did was torture.  Why did we do it? Was it justified? This is not loose moralizing from a borderline pacifist.  These are pragmatic questions because it will come up again.  Can we do it again?  Can it be justified? 

Don't you know what they are doing?

Why did we torture?  Because they are bad guys! How do we know? They hate. They embrace evil. They will use any method to achieve their end.  We had to stop them.  We had to find out what other violence was planned! We had to know! We would use any method to stop them!

 This is an old argument. When do the ends justify the means? Usefully, it has been answered explicitly for Catholics.

"It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it." CCC, 1756
Even if we are responding to gruesome violence we cannot resort to intrinsically evil acts.  When we face judgement and are called to account for what we have done, we cannot point and whine and say, "But Go-od... He did it firrrst."

Isn't it covered by just war theory?

No. Just war doctrine is limited, though theories abound.  Again, looking to the Catechism:
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
That sound like we have to weigh our actions against theirs.  We do. But it goes on:
 2312 The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties."
2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
It cannot be justified.  That is what intrinsically evil means. War is evil, but not intrinsically because it can be justified under certain very limited circumstances. Abortion is intrinsically evil. Torture is intrinsically evil.  

OK. So, maybe what we did was bad. But why are you more upset about our response than the crimes we were addressing?

What are we doing? We are becoming the bad guy! When we decide we hate our enemy and there is no action off limits to stop him, we are indistinguishable from him. We set his actions as a standard. See that line, that line they keep moving? We are running full speed toward it.

The good guy doesn't aim for the worst thing he can imagine and try to stop just short of it. He aims for the good. Even when he misses, he is justified.  If we become the bad guy, it doesn't matter anymore if we win or lose.

I am angry- livid- because these are evils done in my name. Why am I more upset about what we are doing than what they are doing? Why am I more concerned about being a sinner than stopping a sinner?  Because I am more afraid of Hell than death. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry X-mas

Every night when my husband comes home, he has to gets to listen to me rant about discuss something or other. Last night it was x-mas. Or Christmas. Or outrageous outrage.

"See," he said, "That was a blog post.  You should write this stuff."  I promised him that I would try to take out today's frustrations on the internet.

Scrolling on Facebook, you might get the impression that we live under the kind of oppression our forefathers escaped. I was tempted to respond to each and every malcontent: x-mas is not an assault on Christmas.

The confusion is obvious. We use the English letter 'x' to cross things out, so a holiday celebrating 'x' sounds delightfully, modern nihilist.  X-mas is a celebration of tinsel and Santa and magic and everything but Jesus.  Cross him out.  Get your battle gear on!  Suit up!  America hates Christians!

Except that it isn't true.

X is a symbol. It is the Greek letter, Chi, which is the first letter in Khristos, or Christ.  As a symbol, it has been in art and text for at least a thousand years and maybe much, much longer.  It is not difficult to find examples, many that most people would recognize.

You don't have to know that. It's a special kind of nerd. It doesn't bother me that not everyone knows or cares about Greek letters. What does bother me is people who should know- people with a platform and an audience, spout off without bothering to check. I am not asking for hard research here. Roughly fifteen seconds on the internet answers the question. Some of the biggest names in Christian leadership are spreading inflammation. If you're not angry, you're not paying attention, or some such thing.

Here's the thing.  There are plenty of actual arguments worth having. You want complicated questions, bound to inflame tempers, that don't have obvious answers?  I can list a few. You want to fight? We can do that. We can talk about immigration or torture or contraception or Obama.  We can talk about feminism. We can talk about mommy wars. It has been months since I have had a good argument about healthcare.  Or if you want straight non-controversial outrage, there is plenty of violence worldwide.

I was the second of six kids. One day, two of my siblings had been at it all morning. They were sitting at the breakfast table and already Dad had had enough. He took a cheerio from one of the cereal bowls and placed it between them.

"Let's see you fight about that!"

Seconds of silence. Then, one of them ate it.

"You ate my Cheerio!!"

Outrage is exhausting. This is silly.  Lets not fight about the easy stuff.  Merry (almost) X-mas, my friends.