Saturday, April 26, 2014

Charlotte Catholic HS and Human Evil

The story was never really about the nun. She was collateral damage for those who wanted the scalp of Father Kauth and even more want to stem encroaching orthodoxy from this otherwise Catholic-light enclave. The larger story is about how the dissenting Church is dying in Charlotte, North Carolina and this is perhaps its dying gasps. [...] 
The angry parents yelled and screamed and demanded for what was supposed to be an hour and a half but stretched into two and a half hours. Their cries were like cries of pain from deep within their souls. They were smart not to challenge Church teaching. Very few are willing to come right out and say they disagree with Church teaching, to announce they contracept, or believe in a woman’s right to abort, or that men who have sex with men can marry each other. [...] 
So, at the meeting they did not yell and scream about Church teaching but about process, and yell and scream they did. “Why weren’t we told?” “Why didn’t you stop her?” After each emotional outburst, a crowd of parents, at least one gay couple included, would stand and cheer and it all came out like the stomping of little feet among those who have not gotten their way. 
Any parent who rose to defend the Priest and the school, were shouted down. Parents who tried to defend the priest and the school are now frightened, frightened physically and frightened for their children. That is why none of them wanted to go on the record.
As the meeting progressed, Father Kauth tried to answer their questions but the questions became all the same and the angry mob was not listening. Someone told me it reminded them of why Christ did not answer some of his questioners; the questioners simply were not interested in listening, only venting and getting a pound of flesh. Sympathetic parents said they had never seen such a display of anger and hatred directed at a priest.
Source: Austin Ruse, "What Really Happened at Charlotte Catholic HS," Crisis Magazine, April 25, 2014, accessed April 25, 2014,

Ruse's article covers the recent episode of the Dominican sister's talk at Charlotte Catholic HS and its bitter unfolding very well. I want to focus on one thing that he examines, namely, the hatred behind sin.

Sin is hatred of God, even the seemingly innocuous ones because there are no innocuous sins. A sin is not only an offense against the eternal law of God, but because we are made in His image and likeness, it is an offense against human nature itself, against personhood, against this concrete person committing this sin. It's shooting yourself in the head. Sin destroys us like water puts out fire. It is the antithesis of the person, whose spiritual dynamic is oriented towards love, towards self-diffusion. Goodness follows from being, and the good tends to diffuse of itself. Love is this dynamic of self-giving. Being is, as the late Thomistic philosopher Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J., as well as some of his fellow Thomists (notably Dr. David L. Schindler) showed, subsistent, oriented towards the other, and receptive of the other. It is esse-in, esse-ad, and esse-ab. Substance and relation are primordial dimensions of being. Being always exists in relation to being. Personhood is the full flowering of being itself because it deliberates and focuses this dynamic of relationality through reason (the understanding of being) and will (the activation of understanding). Hence one cause of sin is ignorance (the will acts faultily when the reason understands incorrectly).

But ignorance isn't the only cause of sin. What makes us higher than the animals is precisely our personhood, of which the rational mind is essential. But we are animals too, and hence we have passions (as opposed to the angels who are spiritual persons). The will in its activity finds itself either aided or impeded by the pulling and pushing of the passions. The will ignores right reason when the passions pull towards what is wrong, what is destructive. Hence one can commit sin out of weakness.

But ignorance and weakness still are not the only causes of sin. We can sin out of malice, i.e. hatred. This occurs when the will acts deliberately with the passions against right reason. Hence the person isn't just pulled out of his control but savors the descent into evil, follows it, seconds it, and acts upon it. The logic of hatred is the complete antithesis of love, of being, of relationality. It says, "I wish to destroy you," no matter how slightly. All of those sayings you hear about the actual opposite of love being apathy are true only insofar as love is considered as a passion. As an act of the will, the true opposite of love is hatred, the "Non serviam" of Satan as opposed to the "Serviam" of St. Michael. (There are also those who say that the opposite of love is "use," i.e. using the other person as an object rather than treating them on the level of their personhood, but the reduction of a person to an object is an act of hatred, so really "use" is one manifestation of hatred.)

Being fascinates by its polymorphic manifestations, its multifaceted efflorescences. When the reason comes to try to understand being, it finds being can be understood in many ways, categorized in many ways, abstracted in many ways. We can consider this concrete being in itself, or we can consider it as one instance of its kind or among different kinds (the act of abstraction that gives us mathematics and quantitative reasoning), or we can consider it in its foundational dynamics. We find that being can become, subsist, and fade. Hence matter, form, and privation. All three are essential for an explanation of the foundational dynamics of all manifestations of being. There are binaries and ternaries and n-naries.

But we can misunderstand what we experience. After all, many are unreflective, and many who are reflective are poor thinkers.

We are born into original sin. But what does that mean? It means that our will, our reason, our passions are all out of alignment. It means that the inner dynamic of our being is stifled and easily misdirected. It means that our internal elements can work against themselves and against others. But does this disorder explain how people can hate so viciously? Not entirely.

The disorder is necessary on a fundamental level for there to be hatred, but it does not explain how the hatred forms in the first place. So, matter, form, and privation are necessary to explain how beings exist and come and go, but these three principles are not enough for us to understand the things themselves as things. Hence we have the natural sciences to examine each kind and order of physical being. In the same way, we can "metaphysically" understand what conditions would be necessary for a person to hate, but we must now look psychologically at why in fact people hate.

Remember: sin is an offense against love, against being, against relationality. It is against the core of what and whom we are. But although there is an intrinsic capacity for a human person who lives in hatred, in sin, to come to recognize this dismal state (at least to some extent), in fact, hatred itself will only further deform the inner dynamic of our being until we can reach such a state that we are blind to our blindness. How else could Christ have been crucified? Hence, although there is always the potential for redemption from blindness, and there is also the potential for us to recognize to some extent that blindness, in fact, such redemption cannot occur until we receive an external light, a higher light, a purer light, the light full of grace and truth.

Are we born with a "stock" of hate already brewing in our souls, ready to burst out at the slightest offense? It's hard to imagine that this is the case. We should rather break hatred down into its component parts. The Catechism notes that the desire for revenge is synonymous with anger (n. 2302), which is consonant with the theological tradition. Anger can also be understood as the passion that resists the presence of evil (n. 1765), but in context anger as a sin flows right into hatred (n. 2303), which is directly against charity. Hatred is a form of anger, which is a form of desire and a reaction to evil. But what does it presuppose?

A reaction to evil that arouses anger presupposes that a person is vulnerable to evil (it also presupposes physicality by which we have passions in the first place). Some people, however, can be angry without feeling angry; that is, they can experience a strong movement of the will against an "evil" object even if they don't feel the resistance in its emotional form. Vulnerability means the possibility of pain, of hurt; its core points to the very possibility of non-being, the obliteration of what and whom we are. Thus where hatred works actively against being, vulnerability shows us the possibility of hatred's goal in the first place. Of course, we could still hate what we could not actually destroy—many hate God. But God does not hate back because it is impossible for Him to hate—His fullness of being cannot be diminished nor attacked. But finite being can be attacked, and therefore we are vulnerable.

We experience pain in our vulnerability, but here we notice that we don't have to react with anger or hatred. We could react with sadness. Or if we are like the Saints, we could react with spiritual joy. Hence the emotional response is conditioned by a previous belief in how we interpret the experience—either as favorable (+), unfavorable (–), or neutral/indifferent (Ø). The Saints respond to their experiences with a favorable light, seeing in them the hand of God and the possibility of a deeper union of love with Him. It should be noted that many who apparently act indifferently or believe themselves to act indifferently are in fact interpreting the event unfavorably and have learned to harden their hearts against the spontaneous pain that they feel from their experiences. This is a form of blindness contrary to self-reflexivity and honesty.

If a person believes he is prepared for a difficult task, he looks forward to it. If he believes he is unprepared, he dreads it. The emotion follows belief, even if that belief is unconscious. Hence most people don't first think, upon experiencing something, "What do I believe, and how does that belief interpret this event? Ok. Therefore, I feel ____." No, it happens all at once. A person afraid to fly immediately reacts with fear at turbulence.

Therefore, although original sin may set up the conditions in which we may be inclined to react unfavorably to difficult or potentially painful experiences, it is not enough because original sin does not instill any unconscious beliefs by which we interpret our experiences. These beliefs arise as our minds try to sort through our experience in childhood and as we give language to them and structure them in an apparently-coherent whole. How does a person come to view the world with cynicism or optimism? Through a series of experiences that become articulated in either way (even if the person doesn't do so in any self-reflective manner). Original sin helps incline us to form beliefs that would react contrary to reason—hence either naively optimistic about something that we should not consider favorable (such as considering something disordered or sinful to be perfectly OK) or unfavorable about something that we should embrace (such as Church teaching). Original sin sets up the condition in which our reason can err and hence by which our reason can form improper beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, by which we interpret the world around us.

But the beliefs themselves must arise from experience. And what do most people experience? They experience lives that do not prepare them properly to respond healthily to pain and vulnerability, that is, to respond with virtue. Most people are not virtuous, and most people have very inaccurate beliefs about reality. They are selfish, shortsighted, arrogant, impulsive, and spiteful.

In the aftermath of World War II, we all have intellectually acknowledged that we too could be Nazis because the Germans were, after all, ordinary people, and we too could support the same atrocities. Most people, however, don't realize that what this means is that we can act in such a blind way that we could commit the most horrendous evils. This conclusion was also pointed out by Stanley Milgram's experiment in the '60s in which subjects were instructed to give electrical shocks to other people out of obedience to an authority figure even if such an action went against their personal consciences. Most people, it turned out, were willing to do so, even administering what would have been (if the shocks were real) lethal levels of electricity. Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment showed another form of how quickly humans can devolve into inflicting evil on others.

The fact is, most people are cold, and their masks of pleasantness are quite shallow, covering massive layers and depths of pain and anger. And who knows what will set them off? Most people follow the crowd (this tendency is practically hardwired into us as animals) and will easily be swept away with a mob mentality. We desire what others desire simply because we see them desire things even if those things are not in any way helpful for us, except perhaps as a way to fit in.

But where do the beliefs behind the hatred come from? They must ultimately come from the formative years of each person, i.e., their childhood. It is in the formative years that a person experiences the world as it works on a microscale within either a family or the lack of one. During these formative years, the person learns to speak and to reason. With the growth of technology, it's easier to become exposed to the world at large. Hence there are children as young as 10 who are already quite hardened to the evil of the world, some of whom even embrace its game of manipulation for their own benefit.

The child learns from the parent (and then immediate peers) how to react to experiences. That's the gist of it. But these reactions are hardly ever guided under the context of instilling virtue. They are immediate, unreflected, and often dishonest contexts that form immediate, unreflected, and dishonest beliefs. These experiences and the feelings and beliefs they evoke in children are hardly ever examined by someone competent to help guide the child through his experiences. Most people are never given the language of honest communication but are manipulated from the beginning, many times treated as an unwanted object by their own parents and peers. Most people are never guided to form self-reflexivity. Most people are never guided to have patience and to plan things out. And hence most people go through their entire lives living in a sphere of superficiality, spontaneity, and dishonesty. They're nice when others are nice (but even then, sometimes not); mean when others are mean.

Disobedience to Church teaching has nothing to do with the Church per se but what the Church unconsciously represents to each person: an authority figure. Most of us disobey authority in multiple ways each day, usually unconsciously. Just pay attention when you're driving, for example, and you will see. Authority is for most people arbitrary, as arbitrary as an abusive, alcoholic parent or one with a short temper or in an unhappy marriage, etc. "Normality" is a cover for who knows what. The press often asks, "How could something so bad happen in a family that seems so normal?" Well, abusive families know best how to cover their abuse up, how each person has a role to play.

Appeals to reason are meaningless because we are dealing with something pre-rational, namely, the unconscious, which has its own logic and works like a language, but we can't reason our way out of how we unconsciously and fundamentally view things. Because most people are unreflective, although they may consciously come to understand something intellectually, they may never see how that belief ought to impact other beliefs or how they live. They never see its consequences and corollaries. That belief exists compartmentalized, stifled, placed on a shelf along with everything else, simply one more object among objects. They never understand its implications or its presuppositions and how if we accept or reject this belief, everything may change.

Or if they see it, they refuse to act on it because it is too much work, too much pain, too much change. In fact, we are so used to evil that we prefer evil to good. Evil is normal and hence comfortable. To be good is unknown, fearful, and dangerous. God is good, but what does that mean to the "normal" person? The normal person doesn't want good; he wants what is evil because evil looks good. We can say that actually a person who is lost in sin actually in their heart of hearts desires God and the good, and while that is all nice and good, it doesn't amount to anything because even those who crucified Christ were the same way. Yes, every human is built and designed to desire the good. What does it amount to in the concrete? In the concrete, most people actually don't want the good. They shun the good. They crucify the good. If they didn't, then the Gospels would never have the power that they do. There never would have been a crucifixion if pointing out that everyone actually deep down has a desire for the good meant anything.

No, what means anything is what we decide to do in spite of how we feel or are habituated to interpret experiences and act. Virtue isn't a strong wish but desire and action working together towards the reasoned good.

This is where people very easily fool themselves about moral evil. It's one thing to admit intellectually that "it's very bad, disgusting, etc." It's another thing to embrace this fact and to realize its full extent and application. Most people act unreasonably and pursue evil, believing themselves to pursue good. Most people are manipulative. Most people are vicious and like the beasts. And given the freedom, most people would have their own way.

The angry parents above in Ruse's article, as Ruse insightfully noted, acted like children because at heart they are still children, seeing as they did when growing up, reacting as they did. They spend most of their times hiding these infantile tendencies behind socialization, but it's all the same at the end of the day. All of their questions are demands, demands not for answers, but for the love they never received from their parents and peers. It is the love that alone can guide us to properly face our vulnerability and cope with it during this life. It is the love that we need to not only survive but to thrive as humans. It is the love that God offers to us, but because we never experienced it here below, we reject and fear God.

Father Kauth perhaps had to be at this meeting because he was under obedience to do so, but any person who can see what's really going on would have nothing to do with it. After all, people will not change if you give them a forum to act like children. Their sins are how they act out on hiding their vulnerability. Reveal their sins, reveal their vulnerability, reveal their lack of love. It's all connected. The diocese perhaps under some pretext of social convention or politeness went forward with this meeting, but honestly, they're quite stupid for doing so because you can't "nice" people into salvation. Treating people nicely amounts to nothing. Treating people with charity sometimes means letting them behave and feel as they want. Treating people with charity sometimes means treating people in a way that will come across as "mean" or harsh according to social convention. Sometimes treating people with charity even means, after warning them about the danger and evil of their ways, letting them send themselves to hell (or at least a psychological hell) if that's what they really want.

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