Friday, January 17, 2014

3 Realizations From My First Year of Fatherhood

One year ago tomorrow (January 18th), my wife was due to have our son Owen.  As is often the case during parenting, things didn't go exactly as planned.  He decided to grace us with his presence on the 22nd, and chose an emergency surgery as the way to enter the world.
Having a kid changed many facets of my life.  It is one of the best learning experiences I've ever had.  Nothing has prompted me to grow in compassion, mercy, respect, and responsibility like having a child did.  I look back at who I was a year ago and the difference shocks me.  It's like looking in a mirror that you would find at the circus.  It resembles you, and you know it's you, but so much of it is different that it hardly seems possible.  The following three realizations during my first year of fatherhood have changed me a great deal:

1. Babies are helpless, and so am I.

This might seem obvious, but I had never contemplated the implications of how helpless human children really are.  Owen, without constant care and frequent attention, would not have lived past a few days, maybe hours.  This is in stark contrast to many of the other creatures on earth.  Giraffes walk within two minutes.  Zebras are capable of running within one hour.  Many sharks are born with a full set of teeth and immediately hunt their own prey.  We are one year in and Owen can finally walk, is working on his third tooth, has no idea how to find or prepare his own food, and is unable to extract himself from his own waste.  The care required from human parents is not one hour, one day, or even one year.  It's about a decade to basic self-sufficiency, and in modern society it's common to last 22 years (through college).  And yet, we are the most dominant species on the planet.

Obviously the top of the food chain:

This thought, of our complete dependency on others, caused me to ask, "why?".  What sort of spiritual growth can we come to as a result of the fact that we are entirely dependent upon others for so long?  

The answer is simple.  In our natural order, we are quickly taught that survival is dependent upon others.  It's a standard which we take for granted even though it underlies our very existence.  We would not be alive but for the care of those around us.   We are programmed early with the understanding that little, if anything, is within our own control.

But what about when we become seemingly self-sufficient, capable of generating an income necessary for our own care?  Even then, we rely on the specialties of those around us to produce goods that we are incapable of producing ourselves, to invent new items that we would never consider, and to work so that society can function.  Very little in our adult life is actually within our absolute control.

The Bible has revealed all of creation is created ex nihilo.  It's a Latin phrase that means "out of nothing."   And because we are of nothing, we have no property intrinsic to our being that requires we exist.  God must actively hold us in being.  We are all entirely helpless and dependent upon God.   Perhaps our seeming helplessness in this world is a physical representation of a greater Truth.  It should come as no shock to us that the entire time we existed, it was because of another.

Owen, joyously depending on his parents:

2.  Parenthood develops compassion and mercy through sacrifice.

I've always been kind of a manly man.  I grew facial hair early (8th grade), I was stronger than most people around me, and I was emotionally impenetrable. In addition, as I grew up in my Protestant faith, I considered myself a good Christian.  I mostly did the right things. I regularly said I cared for others.  I often prayed for them.

I'm not saying it was necessarily a lie.  I really was trying. I just never realized how self-centered I was.  It's probably something most people don't realize until they have somebody else whose life entirely depends on them.  

Parenthood was the first time I was challenged to put somebody else's life before my own (probably because my wife is amazingly self-sufficient).  Parenthood requires regular sacrifice.  For example, for several years prior to fatherhood I got wings and beers with the guys every Wednesday night.  After having a kid, that was much harder. In order to be a good parent and give Owen the care he deserves and needs, I have been forced to regularly miss something I loved.  And, at first, it was really frustrating.  As another example, instead of getting 6-8 straight hours of sleep every night, I'd get 5-6 hours in three different chunks.  That's uncomfortable.  It requires patience and self-control not to get frustrated.  And, due to lack of sleep, it could effect my attitude and actions when I was with others.  I had to begin actively thinking about patience and self-control.  It became a habit for those things to cross my mind during the regular course of the day--and it never was before.  Lack of sleep, and inability to just get up and do something were only a few of the challenges I experienced.  But, every challenge led to something better.  It's an ongoing development project: me, and who/what I live for.

The results have been mind boggling.  A year of sacrifice helped develop some incredible and positive habits.  I think, due to having Owen, I'm more patient with ineptitude (something that really got under my skin in the past--and it's still a work in progress), I am more willing to take the initiative to help others without the other person's initial request.  When I imagine the suffering of others, I'm able to give it a human face: Owen.  Movies full of injustice have brought me to tears when I never would have given them a second thought in the past.  Driving by homeless people during a cold Nebraska night makes me feel ashamed that I have an unused guest bedroom in my apartment. (I still don't bring them in for safety concerns of my wife and child--as much as I want to do so). During my first six years in Lincoln, I never fed the homeless or gave money to them on the street.  The number of times is now growing every week.  And it's all because I see the face of Owen on every beggar.  He has humanized the entire race of humanity for me through his helplessness.

And when you're seeing this, who could say no!?
Children do this to most parents because life stops revolving around themselves.  You develop the habit and spiritual awareness that life is about others.

I have become especially sensitive and soft-hearted to single parents.  Raising a kid with two of us means we get to split the sacrifices--not always equally, but we still share the burden.  Single mothers (and fathers) are frequently without the emotional, physical, and spiritual support of other people.   I can't even begin to imagine what that's like.  The thought nearly brings me to tears.  The devotion and sacrifice single parents put toward their children is absolutely incredible and inspiring.  God bless single parents--if you aren't praying for them regularly, please start.

Side note:  Thanks mom and dad for everything you did for me.  It's true, you never understand the sacrifice of parents before you have kids.  As far as I can remember, I never had a dirty diaper.

3. Children help us all re-experience the little joys of life and draw out the beauty in this world.

Most people love babies and very young children (especially when they are other people's).  Sure, they are cute and cuddly, but even moreso, they are bewildered with all their new experiences.  Consider the following example:  It snowed in early December.  Miranda and I absolutely had to get Owen out in the snow to experience it.  We laughed and enjoyed the wonder on his face as the snow fell from the sky and speckled his cheeks.  Generally, snow doesn't really excite me anymore.  If anything, I first think about how much of a burden it is to remove and drive in.  I'm too caught up in everyday life to consider how amazing something like snow is--but, due to Owen, I was caught up in how beautiful and spectacular such a simple thing in life was.

Situations like these aren't rare.  In fact, they happen almost every day.  Owen learns to wave at people and we celebrate like we invested early in Berkshire Hathaway and Facebook and Twitter.  You get the picture.  Simple things in life that we generally take for granted become very big things again.  Everyday things become occasions for joy.

He even made Halloween more complete...

Joke aside, children help us all see the beauty in the world.  Their innocence and inexperience draw out things we have been numbed to and re-invigorate our minds.  It's a breath of fresh air, and probably the most positive thing I've ever experienced.


Having a child is a big deal, and it's taxing.  But, every second of it is worthwhile.  They say nothing good comes easy, and that definitely applies to children.  Owen has changed my life in almost every way imaginable, and yet I'm incredibly thankful he was here to shift my focus outward more frequently.  Kids are good. They bring value and joy to the world.  Owen is intrinsically valuable beyond measure, and when you have your own child, you begin to realize everybody else is valuable too.

So much changed in the first year, I can't wait to see what the rest of our lives bring!  One thing I know for sure, it's going to be incredible.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Single Prayer Can Make All the Difference

I didn't grow up in a church.  My parents, coming from different religions, decided to let us find our own route. In 2001, when I was 13 years old, my 11 year old brother asked me to attend a group called "Cool Christians" on Wednesdays after school.  It was a fun and social event that roughly 100 kids from my middle school attended. We played in the gym, had snacks, and spent 30 minutes listening to worship music.  It wasn't long before my brother made the decision to attend church there with some of his friends. I went with him.  Six months later, the rest of my family followed, and my brother and I were baptized.

After a few years, I became upset with the direction of the church, and I left. I found my new home at Northland Cathedral Assemblies of God. I loved it.  However, when I left for college, finding a church that felt the same seemed impossible.  I tried a new church every week for four months.  Finally, I decided to settle with my girlfriend's (she's now my wife) church, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Newman Center in early 2008.

It was boring, and I disagreed with their theology.  There weren't doughnuts, live bands, testimonials, or Sunday School classes.  I went for the community, which I was sorely missing.  Although I often disagreed with them, they respected my beliefs and were always willing to discuss our differences. I was a part of their community without being a part of their Church.

Three years later, in 2011, I spent a weekend at a regional Fellowship of Catholic University Students conference in Minneapolis. On the Saturday evening, in the middle of a talk, I had an urge unrelated to the talk to begin a research project examining the beliefs of the early Christian church.  I thought, if anybody knew what Christ wanted, it would be the people who lived near the time He lived, right? It made sense to me, the practices of early Christians ought to reflect most closely what Christ intended.  I spent several months reading more than 100 documents written by early Christians.  In the middle of Against Heresies by Irenaeus, I realized that early Christians did not believe what I believed about the Eucharist. Irenaeus spelled out, explicitly, the modern Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.

I remember thinking, literally, "Shit, I'm Catholic."  I called a pastor back home and pleaded with him, "Help me, I think I'm becoming Catholic."  We talked through my reasoning about the church fathers and then through what Irenaeus had written. He didn't have sufficient answers for me.  As I continued reading writings of other early Christians, it became more apparent which church they most closely resembled--the Catholic Church.

I converted in April 2012.

But why did it happen? What caused my overwhelming urge to read the church fathers? What started my year-long intellectual journey to Rome?  Why couldn't I stop reading them--even in the middle of law school classes?

The answer shocked me.  I attended the Minneapolis conference with Miranda, my girlfriend of roughly 10 years.  On the Saturday of the conference, hours before my obsession began, Miranda prayed for the very first time that I would make the journey into the Catholic Church.  Over the next year, she never expressed this desire in person.  I never felt pressured by her to join the Church.  She merely prayed for me.  After making the decision to join the Church, she told me about her prayer. I had no clue.

Here's the deal folks, I strongly believe that without her prayer earlier on that Saturday, I wouldn't have begun reading the church fathers.  That single prayer, started my journey home.

Pray for the conversion of souls, it works.

P.S.  Thanks, Miranda! I wouldn't be the person I am today without your prayer, love, and support.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Modern Lie About Humility

The Modern Lie About Humility

In second grade, I lived down the street from a set of twins that were my classmates.  One day, they told me their parents thought I was too boastful.  I was upset about it. I actually remember crying myself to sleep! Since that day, I have been self-conscious about humility. Figuring out how to be humble has been a struggle for me.  My entire life, people have regularly considered me “headstrong”, “proud”, “boastful”, and “confident”.  There are likely situations in which I go overboard, but here is the deal: the modern concept of humility is a lie.

I Have Accomplished Some Awesome Things

I could make a mile long list of the things I have done that get me excited, make me smile from cheek to cheek, or rustle up feelings inside me that make be believe I could take on Ndamakong Suh. For your sake (and possibly mine, since Suh is huge), I will refrain.  However, I will say one. My most recent accomplishment that makes me proud is finishing the law school portion of my joint degree.  It is an amazing feat! I am excited to join a club that includes many founding fathers, great philosophers, and a host of modern scholars/businesspeople.  There is a sense of dignity, respect, and trust associated with those who have received their jurisdoctorate.   People expect a level of knowledge and wisdom out of you that they do not expect from others.  It is awesome to achieve!

The Lie—False Humility
I noticed many of my fellow law students shrugging off my congratulations to them, as if it were no big deal that they had just finished law school.  Often, people receiving compliments for doing awesome things shrug them off. “Thanks, but it was really nothing” or some variation of that lie comes out of our mouths.  This is what society has led us to believe being humble is.

It is a lie.  Finishing law school really is special.    Working two jobs as a single mother to support your family really is special.  Giving up 5 hours of your week to volunteer really is special.  Living a chaste life really is special.  Fighting for a good cause really is special.  Spending every day teaching our youth really is special.  People are how they act. The diminishment of action is a diminishment of the human person. Lying and diminishing your accomplishments, diminishes your worth.
You probably get the idea.  Everybody has something to be proud of—and it is not humble to downplay it. It is a lie.   You damage yourself and anybody who hears it. 

Real Ways to Be Humble

1. Pass on the credit
When somebody else deserves some of the credit for your accomplishments, make sure they get it.  My parents, my wife, my friends, my professors, and my classmates all deserve a portion of the credit for my completion of the jurisdoctorate.  I would not have wanted to do it without their love and support. In all instances, I can (and probably should) also pass the credit to God for breathing me into existence, holding me there, and endowing me with the gifts necessary to make it through law school. While passing on the credit might diminish my role in the accomplishment, it does not diminish the accomplishment.

2. Celebrate Everybody Else’s Accomplishments
The biggest struggle I have with humility, and often the least practiced/contemplated, is the expression of excitement over other people’s accomplishments.  Many of us are arrogant, “that’s good, but I would have done better.”  Some of us are envious, “good for them, but they started from a better position than me.”  Arrogance (pride) and envy are the true enemies of humility. How would you want somebody else to celebrate your accomplishments?  That is how you should be celebrating theirs.  Do not let your big head get in the way.  Celebrate in joy and happiness for whatever great thing they have done!

If somebody is continually pointing out good things to you that they have done, they are probably just in need of some affirmation.  Give it to them. Seeking this reassurance is likely indicative of a lower self-esteem, rather than high self-esteem.  If you are the person that is continually asking for affirmation, start looking for places to celebrate other people’s accomplishments.  When you start to give value to the actions of others, it is inherent that you will start to see the value in your own actions. If you are in a place where you do not think you do anything awesome, find two awesome things a day that others are doing and congratulate them on it.  It will change your life.

3. Forgive People
True forgiveness requires a person to forget the sin.  “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget” actually means the forgiver is not “forgiving” the other person.  I think it takes a lot of humility to forgive others for their wrongs.  The logic behind forgiveness requires you to first admit your own sin.  None of us are perfect, thus forgiveness is necessary in our relationships. 


There are two good responses to, “Wow, great job!” and similar compliments:

1. Yeah, you know what! It really was a great job…let’s go get a beer (unless you are under 21, then ice cream should be used)!

2. Well, I can’t take all the credit…[insert where credit is due]. (Still admits it was a great job).

If somebody has accomplished something great, or deserves some recognition, let them know what a good job they are doing. That is real humility.  Being able to forgive people that have done you wrong also requires a great deal of humility.    

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Live Action puts its cause before The Cause

I am incredibly saddened by Smith’s analysis of Aquinas. She either misunderstands or misrepresents his views several times within her paper. Hopefully it’s merely a misunderstanding of his words about lying (which you can find here, specifically refer to Art. III Reply to Objection 6 and Art. IV Reply to Objection 5). She regularly overstates his position and extends it into realms he does not actually enter.  She also limits his consideration of the issue to actions between men, not men and God.  It is clear that while Aquinas was concerned with the former, the latter shaped his view on Truth. Smith is a brilliant scholar when it comes to NFP, respect for women, and human sexuality. I have had the pleasure of meeting her, discussing those issues with her, reading portions from several of her books, and regularly following her blog. However, she sets the bar low with her analysis of Aquinas’ view on lying.  

The question about differentiating actions versus words meant to mislead is much more compelling. I'll have to cover that later--and would likely take another post of this length.

Peter Kreeft forgot to carry out the implications of his argument
Did Kreeft botch his argument?  Surely he does not mean that, “all decent human beings intuitively know that it is moral to tell falsehoods to protect the lives of the innocent from those threatening serious evil.”  This, as will be noted later, clearly defines Augustine and Aquinas as indecent human beings.  From my other experiences with Kreeft’s writing, it’s both charitable and (likely) accurate to assume he doesn't mean exactly what he stated.  It is likely more accurate to say that such a sin is either lesser or excusable. Aquinas thought several types of lies were venial sins and not mortal. One such type was a lie told in order to save a life.  I am certain Aquinas would never have equated venial sins with a “moral action”, thus defeating Kreeft’s assumption.  Kreeft also does not view Thomists as legalistic.  Thomists are between relativists and Kantians.  The entire article is a play to emotions rather than logic—he even creates an appeal to authority on logic (himself) which is generally considered a logical fallacy.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure I've ever read a lower quality piece by him.

Error on the side of caution
Let us say that you take the approach that the Catholic Church is unclear/undecided on its teaching about lying.  You accept it as a given that the teaching is open to two interpretations, one of which the Church guarantees to be correct—it is just not sure which one, yet.  One allows lying in various situations, but with no guarantee. The other states that all lies are sins. At present, it is unclear which situation is the safe one.  Augustine, Aquinas, Gregory, Dionysius, and the Catechism state categorically that lying is a sin.  It is going to take much more than an illogical plea to the heart by Kreeft to convince me that Augustine, Aquinas, Dionysius, Gregory the Great, and the Catechism are incorrect. Moreover, let me be clear, if you think lying is moral, you disagree with Augustine, Aquinas, and the most recent Catechism.  Objectors do not raise up the Church Fathers, but attempt to do so on their own rationale.  One must be cautious that they have not placed the pro-life cause before The Cause.  Often, political issues and passions drive us to ignoring and justifying our faults when they would otherwise be obvious.  They are two areas in which the human species needs to be particularly cautious.

The Results of Lying Are Unclear
Even if one risks lying in various situations, its morality likely depends on the good being achieved. The most common example is the lie to protect another’s life (i.e. somebody telling a Nazi they have not seen a Jew while hiding one in their attic). There is no doubt that lying, in general, is wrong.  However, it may be okay if there is a link to a life being saved.  In the case of Live Action, we have a very tenuous link. Somehow, people assume that the video saves lives. That effect is not actually true. Here is what has to happen in order for the assumption to be correct:  first, the lie is stated.  Second, we must hope that the respondent is willing to commit a grave sin (uh oh...another MAJOR issue here). Third, we must expose this sinner on various forms of national news.  Fourth, we must transplant the viewpoints of one sinner to an organization.  Fifth, the willingness to sin must outrage a significant portion of the population—so much so that an Amendment to the Constitution occurs including the “unborn” under the 14th Amendment.  Alternatively for fifth, we rely on publicity to cause the judicial system to re-examine Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and overturn it—giving power back to the states.

As you can see, with no certitude can we determine a single individual is rescued from murder in these situations.  In fact, the link is so tenuous that it's likely irrational. This is very different from praying outside of an abortion clinic and/or expressing the joys human life represents with every breath.  Those things are regularly tied to life saving events.  Live Action’s tactics are not. We have no reason to believe it has produced fruit, but certainly scandal.  Should God exempt that which is tantamount to sin for a greater good if the greater good is nonexistent?  Absolutely not.  Intent clearly can not mitigate sin if it is irrational, unless there is a factor beyond the sinner’s control. This is not the case for Lila Rose (the brilliant, compassionate, and well-spoken woman behind Live Action).

Aquinas states that an officious sin (one committed to save another’s life) is not mortal, but venial.  Janet Smith states that Aquinas has zero tolerance for an officious lie, but she is incorrect.  Zero tolerance would have equated the lie to mortal sin. It is clear that Aquinas believed an individual would end up in Heaven without engaging the sacrament of Confession if the only thing holding him/her back was an officious lie. Furthermore, the lack of linkage between the lie and those saved might invalidate its venial nature anyways.  The lack of support for a view in opposition from a single Father of the Church begs the question.  At the very least, it should call us all to proceed with extreme caution.

Father's questions about sting operations and other similar issues will be considered as soon as I get some sleep, hit up mass, and move my brother-in-law out of his apartment.

Enjoy your day!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

God Exists, You Don't Need Religious Texts to Know It.

You and I exist, but we might not have.  Humans exist, but they might not have.  The earth and other planets exist, but they might not have.  Our universe exists, but it might not have.  Phew, that's enough. Seemingly, everything that exists might not have.

Neither we, humans, the Earth, or the universe is the explanation of its own existence. My existence was contingent upon something else--my parents.  I am a receiver of existence. So are my parents.

It is impossible to conceive of a universe in which all things are receivers of existence. It's easy to realize this when we put it into terms.  If all things which existed were receivers of existence, it would go on forever.  One might ask, "What's the problem with this? Can't there be an infinite number of events before right now?"  The answer is simply, "No."  That would mean we counted through an infinite number of events to reach right now. It is impossible to count to infinite.

The Need for a Giver
Logic requires a starting point, or a giver. Contingent existence requires that something exists in its own right.  It "is".  For simplicity sake, let's refer to this being as the "giver".

Often, I hear, "But, what accounts for the giver's existence? Where does the giver come from?"  The answer is something you will have to follow closely.  Since this giver is not contingent, the source of the giver's existence is contained within the giver itself. This means there is something about what the giver is that requires its exist. "What" something is refers to the nature of a being.  My nature is human, which means I possess certain qualities.  One is that I am contingent. We may, or may not exist.  The giver on the other hand must exist. The giver cannot not exist. The giver, is existence.  This is the Primary Truth about "the giver".

(As a side note, it might shock some of you to know philosophers realized this 5 centuries before Christ).

What This Tells Us about Our Giver
Some of you are saying, "So what?  That doesn't mean a whole lot.  So there's a reason we all exist.  It doesn't tell us anything about this 'giver person'."

One thing we can know is that the giver exists without limit. There is no deficiency about being. Deficiencies are that which are not. The giver exists to the fullest of existence.  The giver is infinite.   This means the giver exists in the perfections of all things.  For instance, the giver could not make something exist that the giver is not.  Since we can see and hear, we know that the giver can see all and hear all.  Furthermore, knowledge and charity are found in created things.  This means the giver must know all and love all. That means the cosmic being, far away from us in the order of existence, is also close and personal with us. It knows and loves us.

For Today, This is What We Know
1. We are contingent, and contingent beings require one who is not contingent.
2. A being that is not contingent has a nature requiring that it is existence.
3. A being that is, must exist to the fullest extent of that which are.
4. Perfections which exist in nature, must exist in the giver.  (ex: love and knowledge).
5. The giver of our existence knows and loves us.

Let that sink in for a moment, this much is knowable without Sacred Scripture, and was developed by people that did not know or follow the Judeo-Christian religions.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thinking is really hard and exposes an individual to being wrong!

Thinking is hard.  I mean, it's really hard--and if you do it, sometimes you'll be wrong.  I find the lack of emphasis on logic and reason among my peers mind boggling.  I began reading Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis two nights ago (for a 3rd time).  Here are a few reflections he has on the topic along with my additional thoughts:


"At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it.  They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as a result of the chain of reasoning."

Many of us don't want to change.  We want to go with the flow.  Our life ought to reflect what we think and believe.  It's much more convenient for us if we don't hold any opinions or viewpoints--because then we can do whatever we want. 

Determining What to Think is Complicated

"[We have] been accustomed, ever since we [were little] to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside [our] heads."

Sometimes, it's really difficult to think about all the moving parts involved with different issues.  Take for instance the current gun rights/control debate.  I've been on 20 different sites and read editorials from probably 40 different individuals with various political affiliations and beliefs.  Many present compelling cases, and mutually exclusive cases.  It's often difficult to reduce their editorial into the positions the author holds.  Does one reject gun control because (s)he believes human dignity requires the freedom to defend oneself, or does (s)he reject it because (s)he believes the 2nd Amendment protects it.  Does (s)he reject it because human dignity requires better protection of innocent lives often killed by individuals using guns?  Does (s)he reject it because (s)he believes the 2nd Amendment no longer matters?  Do both parties accept it or reject it merely because their leaders tell them to do so?

To complicate matters, most of the facts on issues aren't released or presented in individual articles.  For instance, the recent legislation voted down by the Senate wasn't merely about background checks--but that's all people seem to be talking about.  Some democrats and republicans flipped (totaling 9) because they believed the bill was actually pro gun rights.  Wait, what? A bill restricting one's ability to purchase guns is pro gun rights?  Yup, because there were plenty of additional provisions that actually gave gun owners additional rights.  That's the political game.

Merely finding information on a topic is difficult.  Figuring out the political slants, underlying beliefs/assumptions, and biases is even more difficult.  Where people are coming from is an important frame of reference, but we rarely have access to it without spending a lot of time searching.

Thinking Requires that Shift Our Focus
Demon says, "Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experience."

By stopping to think about something, we have to shift our focus from the "now" into something that seems to have less substance.  We are no longer capable of using our time to pursue present desires, but we must reflect on how we ought to manage our lives.  Removing ourselves from the stream can be very difficult.

So What Can We Do?
[Demon says,] "By the very act of arguing, you awake the [individual's] reasoning; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?"

1.  If you're Catholic, check your viewpoints against Hers.  The Church is our bastion for Truth, Justice, and Charity.  Figure out if She has an official stance on an issue.  If She does, it's right--you just need to figure out why, and be able to explain it.

2. Discuss your opinions with others, but don't force the conversation on people. As you can see by the Lewis quote above, merely engaging in the discussion might lead them (or you) to Truth.  Practicing our "thinking" abilities will get better at it in the future.  Remember not to have an unwanted conversation with others.  Forcing the issue will likely push them away from your views, even if they ultimately agree with you!

3. Be open minded, and be willing to be wrong (if She has no official stance). Engaging yourself in formulating opinions requires testing them by discussing the issues with others.  This means that you might be wrong--and that's okay!  If you're wrong, change your opinion.  That's admirable and respectable--not something to be looked down upon as it's presented by the modern media and politicians. Sometimes you might be correct about the issue, but incorrect in how you present it. Be open to changes in that regard.

4. Be charitable and loving in your discussions with others.  Even if they are of a different opinion, commend them for their thoughts.  It's difficult to be courageous enough to disagree with somebody and voice it.  "Crossing the aisle" and mending gaps requires respecting the other side.  If you can't respect their opinion, respect what they are doing.  

5. Find role models that exhibit the above behaviors when making and addressing views. Instead of having to parse through all the information, let them do it for you. Remember though, they aren't going to present all the facts.  Find somebody that does the same thing on the other side, and read that too. This will help you formulate holistic views, and protect you from saying something ignorant in discussions with others.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Few People Can Defend Traditional Marriage--Too Many Try.

     It's been almost impossible to get away from talking about same sex marriage over the last week.  The discussion has flooded Facebook walls, profile pictures, Twitter feeds, television commercials, blogs, papers, every major news outlet, and even family dinner tables.  For the second time in a year, we've got a (pair of) Supreme Court case(s)  that are more highly publicized than a new season of The Bachelor (the other was Obamacare).

     It's rare that I see an argument against same sex marriage that is coherent, logical, and charitable.  Most are guilty of at least one major pitfall.  All of these pitfalls undermine their position, and actually end up creating advocacy for same sex marriage. There is an objective way to present the position, but it requires steadfast adherence to logic--and, likely, positions that most conservatives are unwilling to tend.  Finally, most are unable to address the role the government plays when considering the actions (not characteristics) of individuals.

Major Pitfalls
1. The individual uses an objective statement, but can't tackle comparisons/objections based on other circumstances that violate the statement.  This is largely a result of an inconsistent philosophy addressed later.

2. The individual uses relative truths.  Nothing is held to be objective, or self-evident.  Generally, relativists arguing against each other merely leads to a frustrating stalemate--because no matter what is said, it is merely opinion. Relativism is always doomed to failure when opposing same sex marriage--you just sound mean and unreasonable.

3. Instead of attempting to use logic, the individual resorts to name calling, ignoring their dissenters, and repeating themselves to no avail.  Instead of bridging gaps, the individuals burns bridges, destroys roads, and sometimes launches nukes at the other side.  Without charity (the virtue associated with love), we are nothing.

Objectively Presenting Marriage

Explaining Marriage
In order to present an objective viewpoint concerning marriage that can be followed and supported using natural law, you must first define marriage.  As often pointed out (usually to show that marriage doesn't belong to Christians), marriage existed long before any texts for Judaic religions. It was codified in Hammurabi's code. No scholar or historian doubts that the social institution of marriage existed prior to this codification. Marriage is deeply ingrained in the nature of humans--it is a natural response to existence and survival of our species.  What has marriage traditionally been understood to mean?

1. The lifelong union of a man and woman for the benefit of their children that is ordered toward unity and procreation.  Limiting either of these goals, limits your ability to defend traditional marriage--it's likely impossible.

Stop right here.  Most people have already messed up.  How does the person you are speaking with define marriage? You need to find out. Many people in society today view marriage as, "a public declaration of affection between (two) people that have romantic feelings for one another."  If you don't agree about what marriage "is", then you've got to at least understand each other's frame of reference. Once you do, you can explore them.

After that's established, you need to ask them to examine how their definition applies to 2 basic situations. This, generally, is capable of demonstrating the theoretical differences between the two positions.

    A. Unions involving more than two people.
If "marriage" is defined in the second sense, there's no rational objection to allowing multiple individuals to marry.  Can more than two people have a public declaration of their romantic feelings for one another?  Are those feelings somehow less than those of a homosexual couple?  What is different about the situation same sex advocates want and that of a polyamorous situation? As far as I--and most others--can see, there's no logical reason to deny one and allow the other.

    B. Unions involving related individuals
If two people are cousins (or siblings) and want to be married, what is stopping them under the second definition?  Doesn't stopping them violate their equal right to happiness and choice of life partner/sexual partner? In principle, there is little difference.  One might object to the offspring produced--however, marriage has nothing to do with offspring if same sex couples are allowed to marry.  Children are only part of the traditional definition.

If nothing else, press for a definition of marriage that can consistently limit other applications.  There's not one capable of doing it.

How 99.9% of Opponents to Same Sex Marriage Already Botched Their Case 
  A. Advocacy and Use of Contraceptives
Yup, you're reading this correctly.  If you advocate/use contraceptives, you've likely created self-defeating logic.  Sex is no longer fulfilling both of its purposes.  Sex between a man and woman naturally unites them as one and also generates a possibility for procreation.  When you remove the second as a possibility, sex becomes no more than an act which unites two people.  It's easy to slip that into the second definition above.  Same sex couples can easily participate in sex that is only oriented towards uniting individuals.  However, they cannot participate in a sexual act that causes reproduction (barring entry of a third party). I'll go ahead and say it, contraceptives are the #1 reason that same sex marriage and abortion are viable options in the United States.  Both are logical ends after its widespread use.

  B. Accepting Divorce as a Viable Solution to Marital Issues
Most divorces in America occur because one, or both, of the parents are inwardly focused and not focused on their children.  Many marriages end in divorce before they have children (a result of contraception). If there aren't children, and if we aren't focusing on the children when making our decisions--we aren't fulfilling what traditional marriage upholds.

  C. Believing Sex outside of Marriage is Okay, but Same Sex Marriage isn't
This one is more rare, but it happens.  If part of marriage involves sex, and part of sex uniquely unites (bet Ron Burgandy practices that alliteration) individuals, then sex outside of marriage violates your principle.  An adherence to this practice, or apathy towards its occurrence results in changing the definition of marriage.

Roles and Capabilities of the United States Government

The 3 P's
The United States is capable of doing 3 things with any action. It can promote, permit, or prohibit.  Generally, actions that are beneficial to the welfare of people are promoted.  Actions that are not beneficial, or would violate an individual right if prohibited are permitted.  Actions that damage the welfare of society are prohibited, unless such prohibition violates a fundamental right found in the Constitution.

Currently, heterosexual sex is promoted through marriage and homosexual sex is permitted.   I want to reiterate that--permitted.  Both groups can have sex whenever and wherever (read privately) they want.  Both can get married.  Only heterosexual couples receive benefits from the government for doing so.   The difference between their wedding ceremony (in most states) is that they are given a piece of paper entitling them to various benefits.

The benefits are given to promote longevity of relations that may create children.  The government promotes heterosexual marriage because those marriages often lead to children, and children are better raised in households where a mother and father are present. There is a much lower risk of growing up in poverty, being exposed to abusive relationships, committing suicide, and depression.  Children are only a result of sexual relations between a man and woman.  To encourage longevity in the sexual relationship of a man and woman, the state offers benefits associated with taxes, transfer of assets in life and death, and several other minor benefits.   The same characteristics are not associated with homosexual sex, so they are not--and should not be--promoted by the government.

It's all about the Children

In natural law and under the current role of the United States government, the emphasis is on the children.  They are the ones that benefit from the current arrangement.  By shifting the focus from children, to the people in a relationship, we've already drifted away from the reason we recognize marriage.  The people being married aren't the point of government recognition--the welfare of their posterity is.

All of that said, Justice Kennedy (the man likely deciding the case creating all the noise) made some interesting statements during oral arguments today. He believes all of this is what actually makes the case compelling, "there is an immediate legal injury … and that’s the voice of these children [of same-sex parents].… They want their parents to have full recognition and full status.”  The irony of this is, most proponents of same-sex marriage scoff at the idea that children have anything to do with marriage--and it might be the very thing that provides legal standing to address the issue. Make no mistake, Kennedy realizes that, "We have five years of information [about same-sex marriage] to weigh against 2000 years of history".  It seems likely to me that the court will punt the issue and make no decision at all.  It may wait for more evidence regarding the results of same sex couples parenting children to examine the implication. (Of course, my prediction to Obamacare was also horribly wrong.)

If anything changes, the traditional definition of marriage will likely be construed in this way:  The lifelong union of a man and woman for the benefit of their children is ordered toward unity and child rearing. This is slightly different than the first definition presented by the individual claiming the natural law.  It still does not prevent the slope into polyamorous relationships, relationships between siblings, or relationships between vastly different ages (past the age of reason).  If the ruling comes out that way, many states will begin changing the way their laws work with these other situations. It is the only logical consequence.

How to Change This Result
1. Immediately stop using and advocating for contraceptives.
2. Begin taking measures to drastically reduce the number of divorces.
3. Lift sex up to be an act limited to marriage.

If you aren't doing these things, you've already begun redefining marriage--how can you blame same sex couples for attempting to do the same?  If you can't defend the position, or if your theory is inconsistent, you shouldn't try to defend it. It does more damage than good.  Sometimes there is wisdom in silence.