Monday, November 19, 2012

Can Moral Responsibility Be Delegated?

And the second is like it, YOU shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Mt 22:39
As YOU did it to one of the least of my brethren, YOU did it to me.  Mt 25:40
I see some of the blogs I read have started to do “Seven Quick Takes Friday”, short notes of things they want to mention or things they think of interest.  I feel of number of things are on my mind these recent days, and so I want to do my own version of Quick Takes, except these writings are meant to be meditations, so they probably won’t be quick.  And I don’t know how many of these I’ll write here, so it may not be seven.  And, of course, I am writing these things on a Monday morning. 
So except for those differences, below are my Seven Quick Takes Friday:
1.)     Of primary concern these recent days is my friend in the hospital.  She is one of hundreds of people in hospitals around the country right now, victims of the contaminated drugs injected into their body.  At the local hospital, many of them think this infection can’t be beat --- they may be dying or be subject to bodily malfunction for the rest of their lives.  The drug treatments they are undergoing are experimental.  No one has been cured of this infection yet, as far as I know.  The atmosphere at the hospital is depressing.  Prayers continue to be needed.  I’m afraid I’ll be writing more on this later.
2.)    Last weekend, I caught a few minutes of Redeye Radio, a late night show aimed largely at the long haul truckers, driving through the night.  The commentators were talking about why, in their opinion, some people feel compelled to vote for a “nanny state.”  The alluded to a human nature which seeks order in their lives, and fears freedom.  Freedom means YOU make choices, and therefore YOU are responsible for them.  (Read the Scripture quotes above.  God commands YOU to do things, and then you can gain eternal life --- maybe.  My choices determine my eternal heaven or hell??  Yikes!  My choices CAN have huge impacts, on me.  No wonder why many people may be afraid to have freedom, to be responsible.)

Historically, people chose kings to rule over them, to lead them into battle, and to tell them what to do.
  And the people loved their kings, and wept over their death.  On a smaller scale, families give children comfort and protection, and decide things for them --- but where families fall apart, children choose gangs to belong to.  The talk show hosts said this desire to belong to a group, to have a leader who is responsible for them, seems a natural longing.  And so many are choosing to have the government lead them, and to be responsible for them.  They seem to fear freedom.  (Unsaid was the Christian church’s teachings on freedom, a gift of God --- yet look what happened to Adam and Eve who acted in freedom!)

Of course, the Red Eye Radio show isn’t Christian radio, but they often speak of Christianity and God, and they said this fear of freedom was a natural thing.
  Myself, I would say some are choosing to trust the government, but if they must trust anyone, why not trust God?  Look at how many governments have stated they wish to care for their people, and look how they’ve failed.  People fled those countries for America, and they still do.  Throughout Scripture are evidences of how God wishes to care for us --- if we let Him.

Freedom IS a scary thing.
  We grow into adults and take responsibility for our actions.  And yes, if we choose wrongly, we can turn God away from us.  But … unlike a government, God loves us.  Unlike a government which may tell us what we’ll be, God lets us be all that we CAN be --- all He created us to be --- if we choose Him, in our freedom.
3.)    First Things magazine, in its December 2012 issue has a number of good articles.  In particular I liked: The New Secular Moral Majority, Careless Consumerism, and England’s Repressive Tolerance.  You might be able to read them online, or just go out and buy this issue --- it’s worth it.

First Things points out a new liberal-leaning voting bloc in America, a bloc larger than the Evangelical vote:
  “20 percent of Americans now check “None” when asked about their religious affiliation --- the number was 3% in 1957.”  One third of adults under thirty are Nones.  It’s become more socially acceptable to be a None.  The Pew study reports 72% of Nones support legalized abortions, and 73% same-sex marriage.  “Their primary commitment is perhaps best understood as the freedom to define the meaning of life for oneself.”  “They boasted and jeered when the party leadership forced through amendments to restore ‘God’ to the (Democratic) party platform.”

Especially among the young in America, there is a new definition of freedom and responsibility.
  “My freedom means YOU are responsible to give me what I want --- and if I am in power, I will make you do it.”

Scary times, and all the more reason for us to get up and take action.
  We are the ones who need “Hope and Change.”  I heard Cardinal Dolan on the radio yesterday:  “First things first.  Get to confession.”  Sounds like good advice.
4.)    One recent morning at the coffee shop discussion table, the businessmen began filing out to start their workdays, but one remained behind with me.  Our conversation turned to thoughts about freedom and responsibility, and about many Americans’ self-centeredness --- “What I want is most important.”  My friend, a Christian, expressed these views:

“I’m in favor of many of those government social programs --- but, of course, not the wasteful ones.
  It’s not that many people want to be taken care of --- maybe they do --- but I think many people NEED to be taken care of.  Look at the choices the people of the city of Detroit are making:  broke government, crime, families disintegrated, and they say they still want to control their future.  They’re not capable.  The government should take care of them.”  I reflected my Catholic teachings and the doctrine of subsidiarity: “Why the government?  Isn’t the commandment for YOU to love your neighbor?”  “I am,” he responded, “but this is a huge job that I can’t do myself, so I’m delegating it to the government, which I elect to act in my behalf.”  “So, you’re delegating your moral responsibility.” I ask?  “Sure, why not?”  “Why not,” I responded, “has to do with why those commandments were given to you in the first place --- so that YOU might have eternal life.  Do you really think that you can justify yourself to God by saying ‘Okay, I did all You told me to do; I delegated it to those guys, and if they screwed up, well, You know I tried.  Will God accept this reasoning on your part, or will He just look at them as further support of His saying about how hard it is for a rich man to get into heaven --- he thinks he can buy his way in,” I quipped.

“I don’t think you can delegate your moral responsibility,” I challenged.

He paused.
  Then he said, “I can see that viewpoint, but I’ve got to get to work.  See you.”  And he left. 

Conversations such as these, with family and friends, need to be completed, not walked out on.

5.)    The radio show this morning spoke of a study on sadness:  people who are sad make bad financial decisions (it was a show presented by financial advisors).  They said that studies show that sad people will choose to spend $1000 for a new television, even if they knew it would cost $650 in three months.  Sad people tend to want instant gratification.  Focused on financial decisions, I thought the study could be generalized to all decisions by sad people.  Sad people commit more suicides.  Sad people say: “Things will never get better.”  People without jobs are sad and will vote for government programs that will bankrupt the country --- later, but they are sad NOW.  People will abandon even God, if their prayers are not answered, now.

But even Jesus fed the 4,000; He gave them a miracle to satisfy their immediate needs, address their sadness, and then He said: “Okay, now that I have your attention, let’s talk.”
  We too need to find a way to begin the conversation with the sad “needy” people of our country, of our culture, who can only think of the NOW, and of immediate satisfaction of their wants. 
6.)    Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio has put out a new semi-annual magazine, Quaestiones Disputatae, a journal of philosophical inquiry and discussion.  A paper by Alice von Hildebrand in it discusses phenomenology:  “For most people, phenomenology is associated with the Kantian distinction between noumenon, things as they are in themselves, and phenomenon, that is, the way sensation is interpreted by the human mind.  Phenomenology in this sense is based on the firm conviction that there is an objective truth, and, moreover, that man is capable of reaching certain knowledge.  (But) according to Kant, the human mind has the mission of ‘shaping’ the information it receives through sensation, which is to say, knowledge is essentially active” (and therefore relative to each individual, depending on our degree of prejudice, education, nationality, etc.).

Alice speaks admiringly of her husband, Dietrich:
  “Even though he was raised in a family that took moral relativism for granted, the young Dietrich, age fourteen, challenged his oldest sister’s conviction that moral values depend upon time, place, and circumstances.  Back home, she appealed to their father saying, ‘Imagine, he refuses to see that moral values are relative,’ to which the father said, ‘Don’t forget that he is only fourteen.’  The young Dietrich retorted, ‘Dad, if you have no better argument against my position than my age, your position certainly does not rest on solid ground.’”  Their conversation related occurred in the late 1800’s, not yesterday.  Relativism has been around a long time, and has many firm believers, and intelligent ones.  Know your enemy.

Fortunately, there are intelligent people on the side of truth, also.
  When I said WE need to inform ourselves about the doctrines of our faith, it was so we could defend it, as young Dietrich (unknowingly) did.  Dietrich believed man could know the truth, which is why he eventually became Catholic, and a great defender of the faith.  He found Truth in the Catholic Church.  We need to also, and have a similar depth of confidence, of trust, in it.

I caught part of Raymond Arroyo’s EWTN show yesterday.
  A guest of the show said he was invited to debate the leader of the “Nuns on a bus” group which toured the country proclaiming “Catholics for Obama.”  Before the show, he said, he had a chance to meet the nun.  “Let’s not talk about abortion,” she said.  “I really am torn about that topic, and what my thoughts are.”  He said: “She doesn’t know what to think about abortion, but she knows exactly what the minimum wage should be: $12.50/hour.  Debate her?  I didn’t know how to even begin to talk to her.”

So I guess some relativists DO think they can find absolute truths, like the correct amount of the minimum wage.

7.)    Sunday morning as mass began, a group of people were called to the front of the church.  They were people committing to the RCIA program, to study the Catholic faith, and (hopefully) be admitted into it on Easter Sunday.  The line was long.  There is hope.

Well, look at that:  there were seven items.  I hope they give you something to think about.  Relativism was talked about heavily in the 1800’s, and now it is taught in our schools, and our kids believe it more than they believe in the faith YOU teach them.  You need to teach them better.  You need to live your faith, to give witness to what you believe.  And you need to trust in God.

My Jesus, I trust in You.

Do not be anxious.


  1. Many things to think about here... thank you for writing this. I was pierced through by the nun who knows the "correct" minimum wage, but not what to think about abortion. And I continue praying for your friend who received the contaminated injection.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. The things I ponder and think relevant, I write here. I’m glad you find them relevant also, to meditate and pray over.

  2. I'm still praying for Jeanne. May God's will be done in her life and in the lives she touches.

    Lots to digest in this post. The concept of relativism is new to me in the sense that I never gave it a thought before, but now realize that I was actually shaped by it in my thirties. God has done a wondrous work in me and brought me out of so many errors. Bless His Holy Name. I am studying the faith, enrolled in "read the Catechism in a year" where quite a community has formed in the forums.
    Its good for me because its bite size and easier to digest.

    RCIA: signs of hope.

    1. Happy Thanksgiving, Maryellen, to you and Clinton.

      You’ll note on my Thanksgiving post that Jeanne is home. I’ll go over to her condo later today – my substitute caregiver will be with mom for a few hours, while I substitute for Jeanne’s daughter, who wants Thanksgiving dinner with old friends.

      I’m glad you found a catechism study site which fits your needs. Me, I’ll just keep plodding along as I am able. There is much there to learn --- either again, or in more depth. Re relativism, as Archbishop Dolan notes, it has been around a long time, and growing stronger.

  3. I am not Catholic but i am a Christian, and I sympathise with the nun. Why is it so unthinkable to have a clear position on one topic but still be unsure about another?

    Should we start all debates/conversations knowing EXACTLY what our "position" on a topic is? I think that's half the problem with politics today; everyone is so sure of themselves, so utterly convinced they are right, that true dialogue is impossible. I usually hope to approach a debate with the attitude of, "Let's both come to a deeper understanding of the truth" NOT "Let me try to convince you of my position while you do try and do the same to me."

    I believe the Truth is there for us to know it (or, in the fuller sense, to know Him)but that He is more profound, more mysterious, more unsearchable and at times, more elusive than our human minds will allow. Thus we argue and take positions.

    For some, minimum wage may seem as much a matter of human dignity and freedom as abortion. What to us is crystal clear, is to another still a matter unfolding. Therefore let's not write an opposite viewpoint (or worse, person with an opposite viewpoint) off!

    1. Thank you, Jane, for these thoughts. First, to re-iterate, I write this blog not to convince anyone of anything; I am not an apologist for the Catholic faith. I don’t seek to debate; I seek to document thoughts given me, I pray, with some grace, since I write all these posts in the chapel, in our God’s presence. I write these as points to meditate on, to find some depth greater than I wrote, something more personal – for me, who re-reads them, or for any reader. I’m pleased you DID think on these things, and shared with me your insights.

      I find myself nodding to everything you wrote. Conversation is indeed needed; understanding is needed among peoples, now more than ever. I don’t write off people who disagree with me as unintelligent or stubborn, but over my life I have come to understand that sometimes our agreement on issues is not possible --- we have grown up in a different worldview. We all want truth, but seem unable to agree what truth is when we see it. (I give an example of this in this post I wrote in 2010: )

      One of the most basic Truths of the Catholic Church is that humans are made in the image of God. All life is important; no life is less than another, even one in the womb. God knows and loves us even there. Scripture and the writings of the earliest followers of Jesus (I read many of their words) state that abortion is a great evil. Deliberately taking a life is not on a moral evil level with providing a fair wage. If fair wages aren’t provided by an employer, it is the duty of Christians to push for that or, yes, but if someone is in need, Christians also have an obligation to provide for them --- to love our neighbor. (One of the things the nuns also pushed for was for more government social programs, but that is one of the points of this particular post: can you delegate “Love Your Neighbor” to the government?) The Catholic Church has huge charities worldwide, as do many Christian faiths. I participate in many. There is more than one way to aid the poor. But if someone commits abortion, there is no more help for that child, no way to fix their death, a death of a child loved by God. The Catholic Church teaches that is a much greater affront to God, a greater sin, than most social issue sins. The nun referenced equates these things, or still considers them as possibly equal or one greater than the other. She doesn’t know or accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on the basic value of life in the womb --- and yet she was on a bus touring our country telling people she represents Catholics and (implied by her robes) the Catholic Church, and she promoted election of a president who not only favored abortion for any whim, but even the death of born children if they are unwanted. As Bishops here loudly spoke: she doesn’t represent the Catholic Church in her views.

      That Jane, is why it is a scandal to orthodox believing Catholics, her not accepting the value of human life --- except those she wants to value. The issue is what it is; I don’t seek to debate it, I just tried to explain it for you. The nun has the freedom to choose, free will is given by God, but the Catholic Church believes that Jesus attached responsibility to that freedom. Relativism says you are free to do anything you believe is right; the Catholic Church disagrees. In my many years of life and after much study, I agree with the Church. (You might find this article by Archbishop Chaput of the Catholic Church helps to explain things; I found it very succinct in explaining:

      I hope that explained some, Jane, this complicated topic: how I can agree with everything you said, yet have a different understanding than what you meant.