A reader responds to my FT piece

Via email. He or she has given me permission to post it anonymously. He or she agrees with my piece, but feels that our rational arguments fall on deaf ears because public rationality is more or less broken. I agree, I think, and in the piece mentioned the irony that many use the language of reason as a warrant for their desires which run contrary to nature. But I’m like Brad Pitt’s character at the end of A River Runs Through It. He’s killed in a fight; his father asks his brother if there’s anything else he can tell him, and his brother responds, “Every bone in his right hand was broken.” We may go down, but not lying down. At any rate:

Great post on First Things today.  Hopefully, it will persuade some.


I have debated on this very issue from the same perspective in which I provided ample historical and legal evidence, including cites to Robert George’s excellent article, What is Marriage?, arguing that to be a marriage, a union must, among other things, be ordered toward procreation, with an explanation that actual procreation was not necessary (infertility is not a bar to marriage), but an ordering toward procreation is.  Since only a man and a woman can engage in coitus, only a man and a woman are capable of marriage.  I might as well have been talking to trees.  The very concept was ridiculed, even by some who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds.


If you argue from religious grounds (which is a perfectly acceptable, in my view), then you are dismissed as some sort of fringe fanatic by the nonbelievers; if you argue from nature and biology and society’s needs, then you are dismissed as having an irrational attachment of marriage to sex (how ironic) and procreation, a position that is even adopted by some Christians.  If you cite past laws to prove the connection, the laws are dismissed as antiquated and based on Christian fundamentalism (after all, the bad old Christians controlled Europe for 1500 years or so).  If you cite current English law, you’re reminded that we don’t live in England.  If you cite the few remaining states which have laws which make that connection, they are either vestiges of the bad old past or you’re misinterpreting their clear language.  If you cite the old marriage rites, then you are, of course, citing the rites of a particular religion, Christianity.  There is no winning the argument because much of the other side are victims of St. Paul’s description in Romans 1.  They have debased minds incapable of rational thought because they have denied God.


As I have said many times, this is the fruit of the widespread acceptance and practice of artificial contraception.  Once it became acceptable to separate marriage and sex from procreation, the whole fabric began to unravel.  This is especially true for why so many Christians have a hard time accepting the secular arguments against same-sex marriage and can only articulate a religious one, which they cannot defend other than by citation to texts (Scripture for Protestants and Encyclicals, the CCC and Scripture for Catholics) which are rejected out-of-hand by secularists.  Many of them are practicing, have practiced and/or plan to practice artificial contraception and so are blinded to how it has changed the way which even they understand marriage.


T.S. Eliot, who favored the change in teaching, warned that the Anglican Communion should have provided much clearer guidance as to when artificial contraception was and was not moral in his “Thoughts after Lambeth“.  The failure to provide such guidance opened the door to private choice, leading ultimately to the view even among many orthodox Christians that there are no moral issues involved.  First, it was the acceptance of contraception for any reason whatsoever, separating marital sex from procreation.  You could now have a marriage of a young, otherwise healthy and fertile couple, with an active sex life, without ever having children.  If that is the case, then all the all taboos related to non-coital sex no longer served a logical purpose and the laws supporting those taboos as to heterosexuals were slowly repealed or overturned in the courts.  This began in the 1960s and was almost entirely completed by the time the Court struck down all sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.  This is seen, unfortunately, in the views expressed in books and from the pulpit by Mark Driscoll and others.  This eventually led, in turn, to the overturning of those taboos as to same-sex couples.  After all, if a man and a wife could engage in such sterile sexual acts, why shouldn’t a man and a man be permitted to do the same.  See Justice O’Connor’s concurring opinion in Lawrence v. Texas for exactly that argument, who would have upheld Texas law criminalizing sodomy had it applied to such acts committed by opposite-sex couples and not just couples of the same-sex.


This also enabled the separation of sex from marriage (as C.S. Lewis and others warned), though, when contraception failed, as it often does, it also increased the public demand and, hence, acceptance of abortion.  Thus, we have seen the skyrocketing in out-of-wedlock births and the legalization of elective abortion.


Then, in the 1970s, we began the process of making the separation from the other direction, reproduction without sex, via IVF and AI, a practice which is now very widespread even among otherwise conservative Christians and is the very means by which same-sex couples have children to whom at least one of them is biologically related.


So, today, we can have sex without procreation or marriage; marriage without procreation or sex (as several of those with whom I have debated argue); and procreation without sex or marriage.  The three strand cord of marriage, sex and procreation having been unwound, each of the separate strands was easily broken.  In such an environment, it is practically impossible to make even the secular argument convincingly to nonbelievers and, for that matter, many believers.  I am convinced that until we retrace these steps and rewind the three strand cord of marriage, sex and procreation, our efforts to prevent the eventual nationalization of same-sex “marriage” will fail.  To borrow from another passage in Scripture, these are the logs in our eyes that prevent us from removing the specks from the eyes of our brothers.

Mary, Technology, Gender

Courtesy of Cardinal Ratzinger. After explaining that if Jesus is the seed placed in the soil, then Mary is the soil, Ratzinger makes explains why we need the Marian mystery of the Church (emphases mine):

In my opinion, the connection between the mystery of Christ and the mystery of Mary suggested to us by today’s readings is very important in our age of activism, in which the Western mentality has evolved to the extreme. For in today’s intellectual climate, only the masculine principle counts. And that means doing, achieving results, actively planning and producing the world oneself, refusing to wait for anything upon which one would thereby become dependent, relying rather, solely on one’s own abilities. It is, I believe, no coincidence, given our Western, masculine mentality, that we have increasingly separated Christ from his Mother, without grasping that Mary’s motherhood might have some significance for theology and faith. This attitude characterizes our whole approach to the Church. We treat the Church almost like some technological device that we plan and make with enormous cleverness and expenditure of energy. Then we are surprised when we experience the truth of what Saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort once remarked, paraphrasing the words of the prophet Haggai, when he said, ‘You do much, but nothing come of it’ (Hag 1.6)! When making becomes autonomous, the things we cannot make but that are alive and need time to mature can no longer survive.


What we need, then is to abandon this one-sided, Western activistic outlook, lest we degrade the Church to a product of our creation and design. The Church is not a manufactured item; she is, rather the living seed of God that must be allowed to grow and ripen. This is why the Church needs the Marian mystery; this is why the Church herself is a Marian mystery. There can be fruitfulness in the Church only when she has this character, when she becomes holy soil for the Word. We must retrieve the symbol of the fruitful soil; we must once more become waiting, inwardly recollected people who in the depth of prayer, longing, and faith give the Word room to grow.”


(Ratzinger/von Balthasar, Mary:The Church at the Source, pp. 16-17)

Is Satan female?

Of course not. But there’s an interesting discussion on Michael Liccione’s Facebook page. It caught my attention because of a time I acted like a jerk in seminary.

I was in Greek class with Dr. A.K.M. Adam at Princeton Seminary, who’s now at Glasgow. And I was translating orally, and not using inclusive language. (I’m that kind of guy.) So I got a gentle rebuke. Well, darned if my next turn up didn’t concern something with Satan — maybe the Temptation narrative, or the Beelzebul controversy, I forget.

In any event, of course I here employed the feminine “she” for the pronouns whose antecedent was Satan.

One of my feminist friends, Abigail, blew a small gasket inside. I got a sterner — and deserved — rebuke.

But it does raise a thorny question about translation, doesn’t it? I don’t want to rehearse any arguments about inclusive language for God here. (Though I do think it’s interesting that the new NIV, which I critiqued here, uses inclusive language for humans who do have gender, while it deliberately uses masculine language for God, Who lacks gender.) I do, however, want to make an observation.

Divine beings — whether God, or angels, or demons, or the Devil — lack gender in traditional Christian theology. This is why Jesus in Matthew 22:30 says there’s no marriage in heaven — “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” — and that’s why traditional wedding vows include “til death do us part.”

So far so good. But then we get into the tricky situation of using human, and thus often gendered, language for God and for other divine beings. And we fight about it, at least in the mainlines and in seminary classrooms. It’s a serious fight, with real issues. Should we keep the traditional Trinitarian language of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”? (I would say yes, of course.) Should we use masculine pronouns for God as such? (I’d affirm this.)

Humans, unlike God, are gendered as male and female (leaving aside the special cases of hermaphroditism and intersexuality), and here the problem is obvious: Do we use masculine language for the whole human race and as generics? (e.g., “He who hears my voice…”). A lot of passion here, too, though with some creativity — like being an “equal opportunity offender” by alternating “himself” and “herself” and such — these problems can usually be surmounted. (Though I agree with Anthony Esolen that there’s just no good substitute for “man” in certain cases — “Man does not live by bread alone,” etc.)

But you notice no one ever really fights about gendered language for angels, demons, and the Devil? Of course the archangels have masculine names — Michael, Gabriel (though both have close female equivalents in Michelle and Gabrielle), and we’re accustomed to conceiving of angels, demons, and the Devil as masculine. But why, if  like God they lack gender and if we still wrestle with gendered language for humans?

Two reasons:

(1) We still care about God and ourselves. We’ve really lost a sense of those beings in-between, angels and demons (and the Devil). Our culture’s superficial interest in angels and fascination with the dark side of things don’t rise to the level of serious concern with beings who really can help and harm us — guardian angels and our own personal demons Satan has assigned to us.

(2) We think too highly of ourselves. Everyone, I think, reads the Gospels and in pride identifies with the wrong characters. Few of us — although a few, and usually they need spiritual or psychological counseling — identify with Judas, or Herod. And so too we don’t care if the Devil is male, if demons are masculine. We think too highly of ourselves to spend time worrying about gendered language for demons and the Devil.


BTW, let me know if the picture is too risque — I thought it tame enough.

My latest at First Things…

…is now up. It’s entitled “Opposing Gay Marriage is Rational, Not Religious.” While I bolt the doors and batten down the hatches, here’s an excerpt:

Many times Christians present our arguments for the traditional family by making arguments from Scripture and speaking of “God’s design for marriage.” For instance, Billy Graham recently issued a statement in support of Chik-fil-A and its owners, the Cathy family, in which he said, “Each generation faces different issues and challenges, but our standard must always be measured by God’s word. I appreciate the Cathy family’s public support for God’s definition of marriage.” Dan Cathy himself said, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”


It’s no wonder, then, that the broader population thinks opposition to gay marriage is a matter of religion alone. And as such, it can be marginalized. Indeed, it must be marginalized, for our culture assumes a fundamental split between faith and reason. The roots of this split reach back to the medieval period in William of Occam’s nominalist and voluntarist theology, which conceived of God not as reason but as raw arbitrary will. Religion became regarded as irrational. And most modern Christians—whether Protestant or Catholic—accept that split, having absorbed it from the ambient culture.

Read more…


In Defense of Swordplay

When I was yet single but had friends who were married with kids, I accepted their common opinion that playing with toy swords and guns was a bad thing, that it encouraged violence.

Well, Someone whom we’ll call grandma — because she’s Hans’ grandma Betty — got Hans a toy sword. And he loves the thing. Carries it everywhere, even likes to sleep with it.

He plays with it, too, slaying the dragons that lay threat all round us. And although he needed a little coaching, he’s pretty good about distinguishing between a fire-breathing, man-roasting-and-eating, damsel-in-distress-threatening dragon, and his little sister Miriam.

I’m finding I have little problem with this, at all. For two reasons.

First, Kari and I read an essay somewhere that imaginative swordplay inculcates the development of virtue, particularly a sense of justice. There is Good and Evil, Justice and Injustice, and goodness and justice must be defended. Obviously it’s not that simple; we all know how such terms can be perverted and misused with horrible results. (Paging Dr. Kristeva…) But I’d rather have my son develop a rudimentary sense of justice now, and we’ll worry about how concepts can be warped in service of power later.

Second, I think it’s good that my son cultivate his imagination, for all the obvious reasons people might state, but also because imagination is a gateway to faith. For C. S. Lewis, for example, his love of Norse mythology led to his love of Christ:

If my religion is erroneous then occurrences of similar motifs in pagan stories are, of course, instances of the same, or a similar error. But if my religion is true, then these stories may well be a preparatio evangelica, a divine hinting in poetic and ritual form at the same central truth which was later focused and (so to speak) historicised in the Incarnation. To me, who first approached Christianity from a delighted interest in, and reverence for, the best pagan imagination, who loved Balder before Christ and Plato before St. Augustine, the anthropological argument against Christianity has never been formidable. On the contrary, I could not believe Christianity if I were forced to say that there were a thousand religions in the world of which 999 were pure nonsense and the thousandth (fortunately) true. My conversion, very largely, depended on recognizing Christianity as the completion, the actualization, the entelechy, of something that had never been wholly absent from the mind of man.

If the mythology involved in swordplay cultivates Hans’ imagination so that one day he can more truly see Christ, the Myth Become Fact, then slay those dragons, I say.

Walleye Tacos

Someone asked about my awesome walleye taco recipe. She asks, y’all benefit.

First, it’s best if you can catch the fish in the AM or early afternoon and cut them up before dinner without ever freezing them. But it’ll be just fine if you use frozen fish. As always, smaller walleye are tastier than larger. You’ll want to cut your walleye so it’s in strips. Chunks will do too. You can bread it or not. (I think breaded is called “Baja style” in various places that make fish tacos with tilapia.)

The secret is the sauce. Basically, mix 1 part mayo and 1 part sour cream (some folks substitute yogurt for sour cream), maybe 1/2 cup each. Then, mix and match from the following, 1/2 to 1 tsp each for the spices:

  • 1 lime, juiced (or lemon, I prefer lime)
  • minced capers
  • oregano
  • cumin
  • dill weed
  • cayenne pepper
  • coriander
  • chili powder (regular or chipotle)
  • 1 hot pepper, seeded and minced (jalapeno is delicious, as are the cherry bomb poppers).
  • fresh cilantro, chopped

You can also put a dash of tabasco or similar in there, but most of your guests and children probably would recoil from that spicy goodness.

Let the mixture sit for an hour in the fridge, but if you need to serve right away, go for it.

For garnish, sliced cabbage is standard. Diced tomatoes, hot peppers, and even avocado is good. Cheese is generally not used, but you could try a colby and jack mixture. Cheddar is safe.

For tortillas, soft white flour work best. Heat up 2-3 at a time on a plate in the microwave for 30-45 seconds with a wet paper towel over them.

Now you know. Enjoy!

Food is precious

I mean that strictly. Though I may be a gourmand given to gluttony all too often, here I mean there’s a lot that goes into producing our food.

Maybe that’s obvious if you stop and think of it, but few people do. I’m thinking of it because my wife and I are gardening again now that we’re back in ND, after years of living in a townhome without real space.

We’ve planted a small garden in our backyard, and then we’re also growing some jalapeños and tomatoes in containers on our deck. I think altogether I’ve got thirty tomato plants and perhaps eight jalapeño plants that will produce. (In fact, they have produced. I’ve taken a couple peppers a bit early for omelettes, and they are good, especially with our home-grown cilantro.)

I tell people this, and they respond along the lines of, Wow — you’ll have tomatoes and peppers coming out your ears.

Maybe, but maybe not. I’ve been doing some quick math, and while we’ll certainly have more tomatoes and peppers than your average gardener, it won’t be ton. Not enough to get us through the winter, as I joked to a friend. But we’ll use some this fall and make salsa and sauce and can the rest.

It’s a lot of work to raise a garden, I’m finding, with simply the basics of watering and weeding, even with our minimal plot and containers. And then there’s the time nature requires for the plants to produce; we started most things from seed in March (which here was very warm; I got my first sunburn halfway through the month), and it’s now August, and I think our tomatoes will take a few more weeks, if not longer. And other stuff, too, will be ready for harvest in coming weeks — cucumbers, eggplants, carrots, etc.

And then we’ll be done for the winter, and can plant again in the spring. North Dakota, like many if not most places, has a single growing season. One a year. And what you get at the end of that season is it, for a year. It makes me think of the settlers immortalized by Rølvaag in Giants in the Earth. Cliff Notes: The women went crazy, the men die.

In any event, gardening has made me think about the food we get at the supermarket and how much we all eat. I can go to the store and get copious amounts of whatever produce I can afford year-round.

But it comes from somewhere, and it takes time and energy to raise it, even with modern methods, which all too often are environmentally harmful and produce produce that’s less nutritious and flavorful than it should be. If you haven’t yet, you’ve got to see Food, Inc.

The result of this for me, at least, has been spiritual. In a small but real way, gardening has made me ever more thankful for that which I and my family eat, whether from our garden or the store.

Hans, an American Christian already

My family and I are registered at Cathedral Parish in Bismarck. But every now and then for various reasons we’ve popped into other parishes to fulfill our obligations.

One of those parishes is Spirit of Life in Mandan, across the river. Now Hans routinely asks, “Are we going to Spirit of Life church?” and when we inform him we’re going to Cathedral, he reacts more or less…poorly.

So we teased out why. We thought that perhaps he liked the nave and sanctuary, or Fr. Gion or Fr. Ruelle (since moved on to Belfield), or their accessible nursery, or something else.


Turns out Spirit of Life has shorter masses, at least in his perception.

Probably because we’ve gone to the evening masses sometimes, attended by fewer, making for shorter communion lines.

So this morning, my wife is taking the kids to daily mass, something she’s trying to do once a week. To make a long story short, Spirit of Life has a 9:00 AM mass that works with the schedule.

And so Kari informs Hans that they’re going to daily mass, he asks where, she replies Spirit of Life, and then tells him that it’ll be short because it’s a daily mass. To which Hans replies, at the top of his lungs, “Hooray!” with his toy sword held high, of all things.

Maybe you had to be there. But I’m thinking to myself, you’re barely four and you’re already antsy if mass approaches the hour mark…

Fishing brings me back to reality

I have fallen in love with fishing once again. Growing up in western ND, I fished the Souris/Mouse and Missouri systems frequently. Indeed, my home was about four houses from the Mouse river. With college and summer camp and other duties, my fishing really fell off about twenty years ago. Then began a series of moves for school and work — Princeton, Duke, Germany, Chicago, during which time I barely fished ever.

Now that I’m back in ND, however, in the same part of the state in which I grew up, I find myself fishing regularly again, as much as my other responsibilities to work and family permit. I’d fish every day if I could. It’s to the point where I had a dream about bait the other night.

I’ve been asking myself why. I liked fishing when I was young, but I didn’t try to move heaven and earth to do it. I think the answer is that fishing really puts me in touch with nature, which I’ve found so very important these days in a way I didn’t as a youth, because back then — I grew up in the 80s and 90s — the Internet was unheard of. I remember it hitting my campus (Jamestown College) around 1993-1994. Nowadays, of course, most of us spend much of our day staring at a screen, and not only wasting time on Facebook or Twitter, but working. Tech estranges us from nature.

It’s thus un-natural, if necessary. I find, then, getting onto (or into, with my waders) a river or lake rips me back into reality. I write about it here, my most recent post at First Things.