23 February 2014


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 88

"Why do horrified critics deny that many societies have found cannibalism acceptable?"
-- Jared M. Diamond

Because they'd start to see signs of the same basic phenomenon in their own societies?

Does cannibalism count as human sacrifice? My first instinct was to say no, because we draw a distinction between animals we kill for food and animals we kill for the gods: so it stands to reason that we would do the same for people whom we see as cattle. But from the moment I started thinking about it, I couldn't shake the feeling that historical accounts would prove me wrong. Perhaps cannibalism is more superstitious at root than I realise.

The closest our own society comes to cannibalism--the harvesting of organs from the brain dead or stem cells from the unborn--is a medical rather than culinary practice. But inasmuch as there is an element of improving your life at the expense of someone else's, we may be looking at the same thing.

Which brings us to the question of what human sacrifice has to do with global warming . . .

Pages 477 to 554

Sometimes I come across a chapter in a novel that seems to have a similar purpose to the "middle eight" in a song. It doesn't move the plot along or contribute much to character development, but it provides a place for reflection . . . and sometimes a new note that is never heard again but that gives the story a richness or a power that it never could have achieved with a more streamlined structure. So, no, it doesn't really bother me that Professor Norman Hoffman comes out of nowhere to drop several bombs at once. 

"Just as there is an ecology of the natural world, in the forests and mountains and oceans, so too there is an ecology of the man-made world of mental abstractions, ideas and thought . . .

Within modern culture, ideas constantly rise and fall. For a while, everybody believes something, and then, bit by bit, they stop believing it . . . Ideas are themselves a kind of fad . . .

In fashion, as in natural ecology, there are disruptions. Sharp revisions of the established order. A lightning fire burns down a forest. A different species springs up in the charred acreage. Accidental, haphazard, unexpected, abrupt change . . ."

I don't know about you, but I find this fascinating. Culture as an ecology of thought is a radically different model from the one we (like Nicholas Drake) seem to have accepted these days: culture as a battlefield. As models go, I think the former is preferable.

While I'm hardly qualified to sketch a proper ecological history of Western civilisation, I am the only living expert on the ecosystem of my own mind--which is currently being blown by the metaphor of ideas as different species. My intellectual life has its share of dinosaurs, prehistoric throwbacks, domesticated pets, feral escapees, invasive species, and mutant strains . . . among other varied citizens. 

It's interesting to think that our culture combines a passion for protecting endangered animal species with a passion for eliminating certain thought species. That our desire to preserve great swathes of natural wilderness for generations to come is rivaled only by our desire to turn the wilderness of ideas into an intellectual golf course. That we somehow balance scandalised disbelief that certain philosophies are still going strong in the twenty-first century with determination that certain animals not disappear on our watch. But whether we are trying to hunt ideas to extinction or to protect wildlife through "education," we make the same mistake of believing that ecosystems can be perfectly managed. Take the allegory of Yellowstone National Park.

". . . what you have," Kenner said, "is a history of ignorant, incompetent, and disastrously intrusive intervention, followed by attempts to repair the damage caused by the repairs, as dramatic as any oil spill or toxic dump. Except in this case there is no evil corporation or fossil fuel economy to blame. This disaster was caused by environmentalists charged with protecting the wilderness, who made one dreadful mistake after another--and, along the way, proved how little they understand the environment they intended to protect."

You could have knocked me over with a dodo feather when I got to that passage and realised that you could substitute "environmentalists" with "Traditionalists," make other context-appropriate changes, and have basically the same moral. For despite what some butt-hurt bloggers will tell you, the real problem of the Traditionalist Catholic movement is not a supposed "lack of charity," but a lack of understanding of what it takes to preserve an environment. (Hint: it's not with capes, cigars and Chesterton.)

The asteroid that was Vatican II may have wiped out a lot of majestic creatures . . . but it didn't get the turtles, the crocodiles, the sharks, and the crustaceans! Okay, that's not such an inspiring thought, so how about this: mammals probably wouldn't have thrived if the dinosaurs had held the edge in numbers. Or to paraphrase State of Fear: "The threat of [Vatican II] . . . is essentially non-existent. Even if it were a real phenomenon, it would probably result in a net benefit to most of the world."

All that was harder for me to write than anyone will ever know. In case it was also hard for you to read, I share the consolation that came to me: the hope that when the Spirit is sent forth, they shall all be created and the face of the earth shall be renewed.

Which finally brings me back to human sacrifice, which is, of course, rooted in fear and part of the culture in any State of Fear . . .

"Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing the culture of Western society really is? Industrialised nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health, and comfort. Average lifespans increased fifty percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't even see--germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful, and depressed. And even more amazingly, they are convinced that the environment of the entire planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like the belief in witchcraft, it's an extraordinary delusion--a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell and we must all live in fear. Amazing."

Although the professor really should know better about the ecology of the Middle Ages, I'll give him a pass because he totally gets the ecology of our own times. It's true that so much money, time and energy are spent assuaging the terrors of the safest people in the history of the world that there is nothing left for the millions of others who actually are suffering. If we rewrite the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the latter would be living in a house built with state-of-the-art sustainable materials, driving the latest low-emission car model, and feasting on 100% organic food . . . all of which leave no room in the budget for neighbourly aid.

This is bad enough without the added frustration that comes when an object of fear returns as a fad. Professor Hoffman points out that after $25 billion dollars was spent to move power lines because people believed the electric fields around them caused cancer, magnetic therapy became the hot new thing and magnet sales eventually ran into the billions as well. 

As for the plot . . . So Ted Bradley gets to be part of the final group, does he? I don't really mind, because an incredulous voice still seems to be necessary. Besides, if he doesn't get eaten (I probably shouldn't "ROFL" here, aye?) he may end up going through his own rite of passage! And if he doesn't, well, it would add another layer to the moral to have him incredulous to the end. An end we are rapidly approaching! Aren't you thrilled? =D

Discussion Questions:

1) Confess: which belief would you love to wipe off the face of the earth completely? And if you could be granted this wish but also had to choose an animal species to suffer extinction, which animal would you pick to take the bullet?
2) Can you think of another example of a fear which returned as a fad?
3) What was your favourite part of Professor Hoffman's "middle eight"?


Bob Wallace said...

Diamond is a questionable figure, to say the least.

As for cannibalism, it was to gain the power of the eaten. It's why there is that symbolic cannibalism in Christianity, "to become as Christ." Many atheists can't seem to figure that one out.

As for abortion and such, it is human sacrifice, although it's supporters can't seem to figure that one out, either.

Enbrethiliel said...


All I know about Jared M. Diamond is that if he's good enough for Michael Crichton to quote in a footnote, then he's good enough for me to quote in an epigraph.

If you want to understand the Eucharist, you have to go beyond the understanding of "natural" cannibalism. Remember that the Eucharist really and literally is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. And another word for it is "Communion" because receiving it makes us part of His Body. To put it crudely, taking Communion isn't like popping a vitamin pill, unless the very act also transformed you into a vitamin. And unless the vitamin were divine and eternal.

Abortion as human sacrifice should go without saying, but unfortunately, it can't.

Belfry Bat said...

See, this very idea, that ideas live and reproduce within an ecology, was the analogy that whatsizname was getting at by naming the tiniest bits of communicable ideas memes... which the vast majority of occurences today of the word "meme" ignore and obscure entirely...

1) [a] Much as I'd like to eradicate the usage of meme to mean "elaborate writing game" or "picture with ugly/snide caption"... I think it'd be more beneficial to the intellectual health of everyone if everyone would once again disentangle self-control from self-determination. Of course, I'm bad at self-control myself (like, I found myself consoling myself this weekend with the thought that, if I only open the marshmallow bag enough to grasp one marshamallow at a time, that would help me pace my devouring of said marshmallows...), but... anyways.

[b] I know of no good done by plasmodium. In this I may well be wrong, but... to heck with the things.

2) Witchcraft; Anarchy; Swimming; Tomatoes; I'm going to predict that dietary oxidative stress is an up-and-coming fad whose opposite (dietary antioxidants) has recently been a huge fad; illiteracy is coming, too... for instance, I have run-ins among my booked faces over the actual content (as distinct from the motivation/occasions for) prospective legislation in various places I don't inhabit, because they read editorials about these proposed laws and not the text of the bills themselves, so it's only a short time before this deliberate ignorance is recognized and celebrated, I figure... that's enough for one go.

3)... um... n/a. (Perhaps I'll let you know in a month!)

Enbrethiliel said...


When you imply a relationship between self-control and self-determination, are you alluding to an "-ism" whose street name I might be more familiar with?

Wouldn't it be interesting to test your theory by "sliding" into an earth in which plasmodium had never been part of the ecosystem? ;-)

Belfry Bat said...

[Is blogger eating my comments? Is this a duplicate? Am I confusing myself?]

That's a tricky question, in that I don't know a name for this thing I'm getting at. It might be a species of libertarianism, but I don't think so... However, a quick internet query for "David Hume" and "slave of the passions" should give an indication of how old this idea is, at least. (It'd be simply perverse to call it "Humeinism" now, in his honor!)

I could easily believe that in a world that had never seen plasmodium, the instects -- mosquitos particularly -- would never have left enough room for birds; but that's not the same as asking what would happen if we got rid of them now. Most complex systems exhibit some kind of hysteresis, which is also handy for such things as VHS and the internet; but on the other hand sounds like "you can't go home again."

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat, the reason I asked was that I had and still don't have any idea what you meant by linking self-control and self-determination like that. I know you like being obscure and cryptic when you write, but it's really hard for someone to have a conversation with you when you do.

Enbrethiliel said...


PS -- I found your comments in the Spam folder and rescued the second one. Do you want the first one here as well, for the record?

Belfry Bat said...

oh! hmmm... (I'm not trying to be glib, or puzzling; I really don't know what's in my head that needs to be said!)

What I mean is that much of the modern world that makes surviving so much easier (and yet not less frightening) also makes it easier to do stupid things for fun; and because the survival-importance of the ancient laws has been thus downplayed, modern people are become very sceptical of the old laws, and instead choose to privilege personal choice above personal virtue --- so while everyone is still acknowledging the divine character of human free will, it has become commonplace to mistake this for a divine right in free will as-such: it is frowned-upon to question another's choices because they are choices. This leads to an environment of thought in which self-control of any sort (self-denial in particular) can only be acknowledged as good in that it is a form of self-expression, rather than because there is an objective good to which all have a duty to conform themselves and which actually perfects free will.

So... yeah, that's the idea I wish everyone could get over and abandon if it's actually the way they think about things.

Sheila said...

In case BB is not clear, what I understood him to mean is that self-determination is the freedom to make choices, and everyone values this. But they don't seem to understand that in order to make *good* choices, you have to have self-control -- you can't just go for whatever suits your fancy at every moment.

And yet there are always a million people ready to tell you "Just do it! Eat the cookie if you want the cookie! Buy the shoes! Buy them in every color! It's YOUR choice!" Yes, obviously it is my choice. But some choices are better than others, and if I do whatever I feel like at every moment, am I even making choices anymore?

I second that cannibalism is almost always ceremonial. Sacrificing a bull and then eating it is the Mediterranean "civilized" version of this custom. I don't know where I got the idea that a sacrifice is what you *don't* eat, but in the ancient world, if you wanted to participate, you had to eat some. The Jewish temple sacrifices were the same, except for the holocaust, I think. I remember being scandalized to find that out when I read it in the Bible -- but I can't have been over ten, so I don't know why I so strongly believed one *shouldn't* eat the sacrifice!

1. The idea that it is ever permissible to do evil for a proportionate good result. I figure if that idea up and died, we'd have a lot less genocide, etc.

2. I know mosquitoes feed birds. But dangnabbit, I hate them so much! No, wait. Ticks. Definitely ticks. I'm sure the ecosystem could adapt to no ticks.

3. ...... here's where you out me as a tagger-along rather than reader-along. Though I think I've mentioned that.

love the girls said...

"1) Confess: which belief would you love to wipe off the face of the earth completely? And if you could be granted this wish but also had to choose an animal species to suffer extinction, which animal would you pick to take the bullet?"

1st choice : Muslims and all snakes.

2nd choice Egalitarians and all flies.


2) Can you think of another example of a fear which returned as a fad?"

Going topless, which was previously the fear of flying.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- You mean you talk the way you write? =P I still want to get you on the phone, by the way. I think I'll understand you better in writing if I know what your voice sounds like. Just e-mail me your phone number and I'll take care of the bill!

Sheila -- Now that you bring it up, I don't know where I got the idea that sacrifices aren't eaten! I can come up with a couple of examples of sacrifices to the gods which involve sharing the meal, with the understanding that the gods are entitled to the best part. I think only the Greeks got a break, thanks to Prometheus's trickery--which he was punished for.

And genocide is another form of human sacrifice, isn't it? I don't think that the most recent versions are religious or ritualistic the way the historical ones were . . . but perhaps I just don't know the details. If people are killed and then their property assumed by the killers, that's a more sanitised way "to eat" them in order to gain their power.

Finally, I didn't mean to out anyone! =) But Hoffman mentions a lot of good ideas, and if someone else wanted to discuss one that I didn't mention here, I wanted to encourage him.

LTG -- I really do wonder what the world would be like if Islam had never gained a foothold. And Ireland seems to have done decently for itself without snakes in its ecosystem.

Is your answer to the second question another of your parodies of Bat? =P I'm afraid I don't get it.

Sheila said...

I mixed up the questions and forgot to tell you a fear that became a fad. I can think of dozens: natural childbirth, putting babies to sleep on their backs (they used to say they would choke on their spitup!), going barefoot, animal fat.

Going topless is perhaps a very niche sort of fad, but LTG is right, people do it.

I think LTG wants to wipe me out, though .... this is awkward. Unless I misunderstand his definition for egalitarian.

Genocide is seen in terms of sacrifice: sacrificing some for the good of all. Just like abortion, or the crucifixion ..... it is better for one man (or one ethnic group) to die for the people. I read a fascinating book detailing the preserved body of a Celtic human sacrifice, and explaining what Celtic customs were. In a time of great crisis, they would choose at random one of their number to die for all -- and it was believed that this death would convince the gods to change their fortunes for the better. Rather a prefiguring of Christ, if you think of it that way.

love the girls said...

Miss E,

No. I had not even read Bat's comment.

And I was thinking more of the entire sexual revolution, a fad that went on to dominate the entire cultural landscape, where those who are part of it commonly look back on the moral order as a fear to fly so to speak.

As for Sheila and egalitarians. While I do think you would be happier and more in sync with the natural order if you laid of your obsession with women's egalitarianism, I was instead thinking of the entire american cultural landscape where egalitarianism is so ingrained as to be a secular religion that will not tolerate those who disagree.

You have very good underlying understanding of the natural order, but you invariably try to cram it into an unnatural egalitarian worldview.

Sheila said...

I hope that came out more condescending than you meant it.

I actually did finally write a post on my blog about why I believe women are equally rational to men. You can read it if you like.

love the girls said...

Miss Sheila,

Condescending? Why would that thought even cross your mind?

True, I do write my posts differently for different readers and so I intentionally wrote my post to not give slight while trying to be helpful. But I suppose you will also read my intention as condescending.

I read your post women being rational. No one denies women are fully rational, it is after all the specific difference of man. There isn't an immaterial difference because if there was men and women would be difference species.

What is said, and reasonably so is that women are emotionally different and think differently from men because of a material difference that lets them better perform their natural tasks.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I wonder if every new fad can be traced back to a fear that the faddists would actually remember well. If so, then I wonder why we go through this cycle.

Despite LTG's wording, my question was about ideas rather than the people who adhere to them. But now you and he raise the interesting issue of how essential our ideas are to who we are. Would removing even the most minor thought species from an individual's philosophical ecosystem be the equivalent of preventing two of his distant ancestors from meeting, in that he'd be an essentially different person?

Genocide is definitely a form of human sacrifice, but until I had to write this post, I didn't realise that I might have to take human sacrifice and cannibalism together. Now I really think there's a sense in which all human sacrifices are "eaten" or "consumed" by those who offer them up them for the supposed greater good.

I take all historical cannibalism as evidence that there's a Eucharist-sized and Eucharist-shaped hole in every human soul. But insofar as the cannibalism practiced isn't actually Communion with God, it's carried out with even worse myopia than Adam and Eve had when they ate their own "forbidden fruit," thinking it would make them like God.

LTG -- I think the original reasons for opposing "free" sexual activity were hardly based on fear, though I can understand why they would have been misrepresented that way by the advocates of "freedom." I also think that going topless, insofar as it is related to a "back to nature" movement, is a practice that pops up again and again in history--too often to be a proper fad.

Sheila said...

LTG, it is hard to tell sometimes if you are being condescending; I suppose all you are is very confident that you are right and that I am wrong.

On average, men and women think differently. And yet there's never been an adequate test that could guarantee being able to tell a "male brain" from a "female brain." The best we can do is plot people along a span of statistical probabilities.

And how can we make hard-and-fast rules about what each gender may or may not do, based on what *most* of them are better at? What are the outliers supposed to do? Because, after all, this gender-roles thing is not descriptive, but prescriptive; and it seems to me that one should not prescribe based on statistical likelihoods, but on universals.

What universals can you point to that necessitate your prescriptions? I assume you believe, as most of your school does, that one of the prime prescriptions is that men ought to be the main decision-makers in a family. But you can hardly say that men are universally better at making decisions; a look at crime statistics or car insurance rates suggests rather the opposite.

E, it seems to me that every fear is itself a fad! We demonize certain things for cultural reasons, good or bad, and then later our children or grandchildren don't see our reasons, or disagree with them, and they "rebel" by embracing the very thing the older generation feared. Bacteria are another example. My grandmother would never have accepted the idea that bacteria could ever be good; she was operating off the experience of *her* grandmother, who knew people who died of bacteria. In my generation, we know that attempting to kill *all* bacteria is impossible and not even desirable; and we also fear bad bacteria less because we know most of them are easy to destroy with an antibiotic.

When mindsets collide, we have my sauerkraut bubbling away in the kitchen while my husband is horrified that I eat the stuff!

love the girls said...


Asking for hard and fast rules reminds me of the contentious arguments on torture or modesty where what is required is prudence, not the blunt instrument of rules that cover ever instance.

Nevertheless, given that prudence does require some universals, there are in turn some "hard and fast rules". Such as the Church teaches that men are the head of the household, see Rerum Novarum no.13, and thus the final decision maker by authority.

And nature acts for an end, i.e. women are materially made to nurse and nurture.

It's also true that not all men are as capable at decision making as their wives are even if the final authority does rest in them, which doesn't remove the final authority, but it does mean that a wise husband will let his wife lead when she is more capable.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG, don't delete that comment, okay? I may want to come back and read it again in the future.

Sheila said...

LTG, what do you say to John Paul II's mutual submission thing, then? Was he a heretic?

The paragraph from Rerum Novarum doesn't seem to be attempting to prove anything about male authority, but simply pointing out that male workers are often supporting families, which no one in their right mind would deny.

Now there are better passages you could cite to support your view, but I could cite right back at you, because there are a lot of differing descriptions and opinions in the Church over the generations, and nothing which appears to have the slightest suggestion of infallibility. Casti Connubii says that if a man isn't doing a good job heading the family, that his wife will have to do it. There are a lot of Catholics I know who would be shocked to discover that. And, as I mentioned, JP2 said in Mulieris Dignitatem that submission is the proper task of both spouses and doesn't require any hierarchical setup at all.

love the girls said...


In published versions the passage of note is no.20 and on the vatican website it's no.13

"As already noted, the family like the State is by the same token a society in the strictest sense of the term, and is governed by its own proper authority, namely, by that of the father."

Enbrethiliel said...


Although I was supposed to read Casti Connubii right after Arcanum (which I loved, in case anyone was wondering), I've been putting it off and putting it off . . . and now, like a foolish virgin, I find that I don't have enough oil in my own lamp to join the conversation.

But as I implied earlier to LTG, I take everyone's comments seriously and will definitely come back to this discussion (if only for my own private ruminations) when I'm finally ready. Thanks so much for citing specific encyclicals!

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "JP2 said in Mulieris Dignitatem that submission is the proper task of both spouses and doesn't require any hierarchical setup at all."

You appear to be saying that JP2 specifically contradicts Leo13, (specifically the passage I cite), could you please cite the passages for me.

Sheila writes : "nothing which appears to have the slightest suggestion of infallibility."

I run across the same argument by those who want contraception. How do you maintain your argument while defending the Church's teaching on contraception?

Sheila writes : " Casti Connubii says that if a man isn't doing a good job heading the family, that his wife will have to do it."

Please explain how my last paragraph from my Feb 26 9:36 am post does not address this.

The Church, of course, does allow for rebellion against tyranny, but rebellion and tyranny are a correction of a defect, and not the natural ordering of society.

Sheila said...

There's a big difference between a husband saying "you are good at decision-making, sweetie, you choose" and a wife saying, "Dear, since you've drunk our family out of our livelihood, I will manage the budget from now on." What you said sounds like the first ... what Pius X said sounds more like the second.

The Church's teaching on contraception has many more marks of being definitive than the "obey your husband" stuff. Can you not tell the difference between calling the father the authority in a family, offhand, in an encyclical about property and worker's rights, and the way Paul VI condemned contraception? (To save you googling, his words were: "Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means." -- Humanae Vitae, 14

Is that infallible? I'm not sure; it certainly is authoritative, and since the Church's teaching on the subject has been so consistent over time, I don't expect it to change. Here's a good link about how infallibility works: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=2697

In any event, the teaching on contraception is stated much more authoritatively, AND it has never changed -- as I've demonstrated is not the case with submission.

You want a quote from JPII to prove it? Here:

"The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife" (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the "head" of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give "himself up for her" (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual.....All the reasons in favor of the "subjection" of woman to man in marriage must be understood in the sense of a "mutual subjection" of both "out of reverence for Christ."" -- Mulieris Dignitatem, 24 Read the whole section if you've got time; it's very good.

Sheila said...

How do you think infallibility works, LTG? If you think a Pope is infallible every time he says something, or writes it in an encyclical, you're going to have to give up on the Catholic Church altogether. Popes have disagreed all the time, especially as the general point of view on something gradually shifts. The infallible stuff is what *doesn't* shift: stuff like "Christ is God," "Christ has two natures," "Marriage is a sacrament."

Personally I think the mind of the Church is developing more in the direction of equality between men and women, just as it has in the direction of religious freedom and democracy, two developments I happen to agree with. You could, of course, just as well think, "The Church isn't infallible on these things, and I liked the old way better." But what you can't say is "The Church was infallible before, but when she speaks now, she's wrong."

love the girls said...


I really don't see much point in carrying on a conversation with someone who simply dismisses as "offhand" what she disagrees with.

If you would like to present an actual argument explaining how Pope Leo can be understood in light of your position, I would be interested in reading it.

Sheila said...

It seems clear enough that he was not intending to make a definitive statement. Where's the "We declare," the "as attested by Scripture," the "in accordance with tradition"? There aren't any anathemas either, no suggestion that those who disagree are denying the Church.

What is *your* evidence that Leo was intending to speak infallibly? Rather than calling me dismissive, why not explain why you think I'm wrong?

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "It seems clear enough that he was not intending to make a definitive statement."

Given that the sentence is a resaying of the principle of defense of the family against unjust intrusion by the State, why do you say it was not definitive? i.e. :

no. 12 : "Hence we have the family, the "society" of a man's house - a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State."

A principle which is the foundation used to defend the inviolable rights of parents among others.

Or are you saying that the governance of the family is "offhand", i.e. not definitive, but the nature of the family as a true society is not offhand?

Sheila said...

I believe what Leo says about the family being a society is true because he gives good reasons for me to believe what he says, and because it happens to jive with other things that I believe, such as the Catholic worldview as a whole.

NOT because this is an infallible proclamation. I am not certain you could find one infallible proclamation in the whole of that encyclical, no matter how many true things you find there.

But I see you have avoided my question: upon what grounds do you believe the statement you quoted to be intended as an infallible proclamation? Which of the marks of infallibility does it have?

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "is true because he gives good reasons for me to believe what he says, and because it happens to jive with other things that I believe"

This is how you comment reads: the standard by which you know what is true is first in you. So that where you and Pope Leo disagree, he is wrong and you are correct.

Is my understanding correct?

Second, specifically ignored your comments on infallibility because they're irrelevant. Most Church teaching is not infallible, but doesn't mean we are not required to assent.

Sheila said...

So what is your rule for knowing when a Pope says something that you must assent to, and when he's simply giving his opinion?

You act as though it were obvious that the fact that a Pope said it is enough, but Popes say wildly divergent things. How can you cope with what John Paul II said, which I quoted to you, if you at the same time have to assent to what every other Pope has said?

love the girls said...


My rule?

My rule is to only read that which is comprehensible, which in turn pretty much precludes everything JPII wrote.

But when forced to read JPII, I read him the same way as I do with any other coming to know which means that I read him in light of that which is better known, i.e. Pope Leo because Pope Leo's writing is lucid and cannot be misunderstood.

A method which also helps in unifying the Popes into a cohesive whole because while you may think Pope JPII is contradicting Pope Leo, the better and correct understanding is that they are speaking with one mind. Which means that you cannot choose one over the other or understand the one as contradicting the other.

Which is likewise why I prefer not to read most of what is written, because I find them harmful to my Faith because much that is written has all the appearances of contradiction.

Sheila said...

It simply IS in contradiction.

This is the perennial problem of being a faithful Catholic, which we all sooner or later have to face. We find a passage where a Pope says, for instance, that everyone not baptized with water goes to hell, and then a passage in a council saying that perhaps there are people not baptized with water who go to heaven. What are we to think? No small number of people leave the Church -- either entirely or for some sort of schism -- over issues like this.

The only understanding that works at all is to realize that the Church is protected from error only in its doctrine, and only when speaking ex cathedra. (Vatican I is very helpful for determining when that's happening.) Many of the teachings of the Popes are elaborations, explanations, and reflections on Catholic doctrine, not declarations of it. As such, it's their opinion -- a good Catholic opinion, and certainly one acceptable opinion you won't be a heretic if you agree with. I rate writings of the Popes very high for credibility.

But they are not all without error, nor can they all be believed by the same person without breaking their brain. Some do contradict others.

That doesn't bother me, and that's why I'm not afraid of reading anything a Pope wrote. I think it's sad that any Catholic would be afraid to read the writings of the Popes for fear of harm to his faith. What better could there be to read than that?

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "It simply IS in contradiction."

In other words, Pope John Paul II sowed confusion setting up two competing factions for the truth forcing you and each other member of the Faithful to be the arbiter of truth. Which in turn makes us the same as protestants where each man is his own church.

Sheila said...

Yep. Go be a Protestant then.

OR, go back and read what the Church actually says about how Christ preserves her from error. If Vatican I is too confusing or threatening to your faith, maybe try a summary?

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I think that last comment to LTG was a bit out of line, and it surprised me by seemingly coming out of the blue. If it struck you as an appropriate response to what he has been saying, then it's my fault for not paying proper attention to the emotional atmosphere on this thread. (Or I'm just really used to LTG by now.)

I also think I've been hiding behind the "I haven't read ____, so I can't comment on it" excuse for far too long--and that it has been irresponsible of me inasmuch as I've been encouraging you and LTG to continue the discussion on my blog. Well, I still haven't read the encyclicals you two are discussing (though I got started on Rerum Novarum last week), but I think it's only fair to both of you for me to say where I stand on this issue.

I'm at least familiar with the famous passage you've quoted from Mulieris Dignitatem, and I confess that it has always struck me as very fuzzy. I recall rereading Ephesians 5 to try to make sense of it, and I'm afraid that I still can't. It's true that we all have to submit to each other as members of the Mystical Body, but we are not all one flesh with each other the way a husband and wife are one flesh. There seems to be a reasonable, built-in distinction between relationships with all other Christians and the relationship with one's spouse; and I don't think that Pope John Paul II makes a good case for mutual submission between spouses in that passage alone. To paraphrase you, I don't think he has given good reasons and I don't see how it jives with the Catholic worldview. This may change after I finally read the whole of Mulieris Dignitatem, but this is how things currently stand with me.

The matter becomes more complex when we factor in the other things that Pope John Paul II did which I personally don't agree with, like the modernisation of the Stations of the Cross and the addition of the Luminous Mysteries to the rosary. I never pray them, which means there is a breach between me and other faithful members of the Church who do, and it's an ongoing struggle for me not to hold what I experience as bloody rents in the flesh of the Mystical Body against the Holy Father. And it makes me very sympathetic to Catholics who "go Trad" because they can't deal with the same things. I believe that the Church is always protected from erring about faith and morals, but she doesn't seem to be protected against division. I just really wish Pope John Paul II hadn't done those things. But just because I see division and deplore it, that doesn't mean I want to be a Protestant.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- I like to think that I understand what you're saying when nobody else does, but as I've told you before, you're an acquired taste. Like "turmeric tea," which is really turmeric milk. =P I'll bet that the main reason that Sheila responded the way she did to your last comment was that she took the time to write a thoughtful and reasonable reply to an earlier one of yours, and you seemed to dismiss everything beyond the first sentence.

Now, I have a pretty good idea why you focussed on that one line. (As you might have read in my reply to Sheila, any contradictions, inasmuch as they sow division, are personally painful to me. If this were a discussion of one of my pet Catholic teachings, I might have gone straight for that line, too.) But I also think that the actual argument Sheila was trying to make was that dealing with such contradictions is an organic part of being Catholic. She gave an example: the teachings about baptism. And it is hard to find a faithful Catholic today who thinks that unbaptised babies and virtuous pagans go to limbo--which, incidentally, was always just a theory . . . like, you know, global warming. =P

Another thing I'm willing to bet is that she read your reply as a personal attack on Pope John Paul II, and therefore totally out of line.

Both of You -- I think of the two of you as my good friends, and I want this blog to be a place where both of you feel comfortable and welcome. Inasmuch as either of you has felt attacked or belittled in this discussion, I have failed in that, and I am sorry. I don't want unilaterally to close comments (because, you know, someone who is interested in State of Fear may have something to say in the future =P); but if it's too upsetting or insulting for one or both of you and you decide to stop participating, I don't think that will be taken against your respective positions.

But something interesting has just happened, which I've seen a lot in argumentative corners of the Internet. It is that two people who disagree with each other have ended up saying the exact same thing. And not noticed it. Bear with me while I point it out . . .

LTG was saying how unfortunate it is that contradictions in the modern Church have the power to turn us into protestants (taking Sheila's disagreement with Pope Leo XIII as his example) . . . and Sheila responded by telling him to go be a Protestant (taking his dissatisfaction with the modern Church as evidence that he'd probably be happier somewhere else). [Ah, but where would we go, when only Jesus has the words of eternal life and we believe that the Catholic Church is His Bride?]

Sheila said...

It was a bit sarcastic for me, I admit. Usually I edit more, but Michael pushed "post" before I had a chance to re-read it! And you are right, E .... it is frustrating to go through two or three drafts to craft the perfect response to LTG and have him apparently not read any of it.

I argue about infallibility almost constantly. It drives me bananas. If I point out that X is not part of the Deposit of Faith, someone always has to suggest that so long as a Pope said it, we may as well be Protestant as not believe it. And I have read so many sketchy things by Popes -- especially Renaissance Popes -- that clearly were wrong (not heretical, but incorrect) and just a way for them to throw their weight around and obtain more influence over the monarchs of Europe, that if I held to that view of infallibility, I *would* be a Protestant. I think every Catholic owes it to him or herself to clarify what exactly Christ does and does not preserve from error, because you can't live your life trying to pretend you believe everything every Pope said and yet afraid to read any of it.

My own mother's faith was badly shaken back in our homeschooling days when we studied the history of the Papacy. Mine was strengthened, because it seemed to me that if the Church has been run by such a horde of scoundrels and fools along with the occasional saint, while still holding firm on its actual doctrines, it HAD to be from God. There is just no way it could be a human institution and not changed some vital things.

At the same time, it has evolved and changed over time, and not only do I think it's not true that none of our (non-core, supporting) beliefs have changed, I think it would have been bad if they hadn't changed. The Holy Spirit does continue to guide us in interpreting what was initially given to us.

Infallibility is really the core source of division in the Church today, as I see it. Liberals think nothing or almost nothing is infallible; traditionalists think everything is (and therefore the modern church is suspect); and neoconservatives think everything is but never read anything older than 1965 so they don't notice the contradictions.

E, I think it's perfectly fine for you to disagree with JP2 on this point. He isn't my favorite pope either, though I appreciate that he provided a different view on the teaching on submission because the majority opinion is not really credible to me. My real reason for choosing what you'd call an "egalitarian" view of marriage has to do with my personal experience, which I can email you about if you'd like. I don't really want my marriage or my parents' marriage aired in public, but on the other hand it worries me when people adopt an interpretation of "submission" that really can be very harmful. (I'd say that MOST people who believe in "submission" actually make decisions mutually in their marriages anyway, so it doesn't worry me.)

LTG, I hope you were not offended by the brusqueness and sarcasm of my comment. I was not angry, though I see how it could appear so.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Sheila. I would appreciate hearing the reasons behind your understanding of marriage, and I think you're right that we should probably continue that through e-mail.

Sheila said...

Another point which is definitely off-topic (but in this thread, what isn't?):

" I never pray them, which means there is a breach between me and other faithful members of the Church who do, and it's an ongoing struggle for me not to hold what I experience as bloody rents in the flesh of the Mystical Body against the Holy Father. "

I rarely pray the rosary at all, due to trauma mainly. But I don't experience this as a bloody rent in the flesh of the Mystical Body. Rather, I just think some things are helpful for some, and not others. I thought the Luminous Mysteries were a dumb idea when I first heard of them, because they mess up the days-of-the-week thing and the 150 Hail Marys for the 150 Psalms. But if someone likes to pray them, how is that different from them choosing to pray the chaplet or the St. Joseph prayer or anything else I don't personally choose to do? They pray to the same God, and I feel in union with them in intention even if the details of our prayers are not the same.

There are some serious divisions in the Church today, and always have been. Currently the use-birth-control-or-not division is the deepest and most problematic, but there's also the Latin-Mass-or-Novus-Ordo one, which shouldn't be divisive (Mass is Mass, right?) and yet it is. Or the bitterness between people who think some righteous pagans might be saved, and those who think they are damned. I don't know why this is a big deal to people (after all, it's not like we get to *decide*!) but it is, and there's anger over it. In many cases the worst of the division is the bitterness and anger over the difference, not that the difference exists. In others (like birth control), the division is real; it may or may not be heresy, but it is definitely dissent and disobedience.

What I mean is, division is bad, but you don't have to let the luminous mysteries get to you. They were just a Pope's brainwave ..... perhaps a silly idea, but you don't have to pray them or be upset with those who do.

love the girls said...

I typically never write sarcastic posts, they don't work well in written form, and only tend to muddy the water. Which is likewise why I write short posts, I don't want to muddy the water, but prefer to focus in on what I think is the actual problem. It's a TAC thing.

Although I do find myself tempted, and did write part of a reply to the other parts of your post bring up baptism before erasing them so as to keep the discussion focused.

It's also next to impossible to insult or offend me, so fear not and worry not. When people go off the deep end I'm either chagrined if I rudely caused an offense. Or amused, which is good because after all, I blog for entertainment.

Fortunately for us, and for JPII, his encyclicals were not written for the layfolk, but for the bishops, because if they were written for the layfolk I would have harsh words calling him an incompetent writer because he is virtually opaque.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- There's a big difference between a devotee or a religious community changing the way the rosary is prayed privately, and Pope John Paul II recommending a change for everyone in the whole world. It may not be an infallible pronouncement, but it carries an incredible air of authority. I don't know how the Church in the US responded to that encyclical, but what the bishops of the Philippines did was require every homily on a certain Sunday after its publication to be about the Luminous Mysteries. And Catholic schools with the practice of praying a decade of the rosary before every class made the change immediately as well. The change was considered official rather than optional--and definitely not just a Pope's brainwave. =( So if I were to say to certain Filipinos that I don't pray the Luminous Mysteries, it would be as if I said that I don't attend the Novus Ordo Mass. It really is a breach between me and most other Catholics in the country.

LTG -- I read Veritatis Splendor once and tried to get through my mother's book of excerpts from Pope John Paul II's speeches and addresses. Never again . . .

Sheila said...

Huh. Here it was only adopted by those who were already the Pope's particular fans anyway.

Though seriously, try saying publicly to serious Catholics that you don't pray the rosary. I get a wide variety of shock and horror reactions, advice on how I could pray the rosary if I really tried, etc. But it seems to me that if for half the history of the church, no one said it at all, I'm surely fine. I never said I didn't pray!

Veritatis Splendor was in my high school curriculum,`mainly because my mom had a copy and I felt that reading encyclicals would be a hardcore thing to do. I could barely make heads or tails of it. Since then, though, I've bumped into the heresies it was addressing (relativism and the "fundamental option") and I guess it was handy for some theologians.

Reading Deus Caritas Est was a huge relief. It made sense! Ditto for Evangelium Vitae, which was very long but read like a homily. A lot of people say it's just because John Paul II was Polish, and they can't be brief and clear to save their lives. I wouldn't know.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, our discussion of the rosary eventually grew into the first discussion post for The Secret of the Rosary: Meeting 92. I hope that's all right with you! =)