Friday, February 29, 2008

Procreation, creation, and IVF

Ryan T. Anderson posted a fascinating article on Catholic arguments against IVF. Pope Benedict has just called on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to articulate for the Church "the great values at stake, and providing the faithful, and all men and women of good will, with ethical and moral principles and guidelines for these new and important questions.”

There are two principles in Catholic sexual ethics that the CDF must keep in mind: “(a) unconditional respect for the human being as a person from conception to natural death; (b) respect for the originality of the transmission of human life through the acts proper to spouses.”

Anderson notes the parallels between Benedict's call and the work done by Paul VI prior to Humanae Vitae's publication: new reproductive technology arises, the Church must apply Christ's "eternal truths" to new moral quandaries in which the faithful find themselves.

You will remember that Humanae Vitae--the 1968 encyclical definitively condemning artificial contraception--came rather as a shock to the hierarchy as well as to the laity. One can easily see the CDF's forthcoming response to IVF, the manufacture of "three-parent" embryos, etc... to be equally shocking.

On one level, I can sympathize with infertile couples seeking to conceive their own biological children. Thus far, Catholic teaching has largely been articulated in terms of "treating the child as a someone, not a something." The couple desperately trying to conceive will respond: "We certainly will receive this child as a person. We don't see it as another possession--that's why we're so desperate." The connection between what our actions say objectively ("I will create life that belongs to me!") and what we're feeling emotionally and in relationships ("This child is its own person, of course!") is simply not clear to us in our fallen condition.

Similarly, arguing from consequences--however right your prediction may turn out to be--usually fails to move hearts. The Church puts herself--again, necessarily--in the role of "harbinger of dire warning." Sometimes, this is necessary. But is there another way? Are there arguments against IVF and embryo-manufacture that stem from the very act of procreation itself? Is there something about the sexual relationship that says to all men of good will, "This is how we are meant to come into being?"

Anderson suggests several lines of argument the CDF may take:

"Paul VI [in Humanae Viate] did not rest his argument on predicted consequences alone. He proposed that the connection between the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act is both natural and divinely ordained. But he did not give us much of an argument as to why these have to be united and how we know that fact. One argument might focus on a philosophical anthropology: the natural ends of the body and the proper function of the sex organs. Another line of argument might focus on the goods of human flourishing at stake in contraception and IVF and how only a sexual act open to life protects those goods. When we use contraception, we orient ourselves against the good of life itself—and, in the same way, when we use IVF to create a new human being, we treat that being solely as a means to our own purposes."

Like Anderson, I favor the latter approach, always remembering that it is not arguments that will convince infertile couples. It is the cross.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

But I do "get" this.

Here is an article from The Hudson Review on J.S. Bach. It's rather long, but I love the ideas:

"When we hear “Mozart” or “Beethoven,” we think of a person behind the music. When we hear “Bach,” we think of music only."

The composer has become so phantasmal, but his music speaks eternal truths.

I have to include this on the blog, because my Profile says that Shakira and J.S. Bach are my two favorite musicians. That's like saying that Jesus Christ and The Scientist Dad are my two favorite men. The distance between them is infinite.

Lest anyone think I am being flippant, here is an article on Shakira to prove my devotion and that "infinite distance." Or you could just listen to some Brandenberg concertos.

I just don't...

...get it.


The thesis defense is done, and the Master's is a fait accompli!

How did it go? It went smashingly. I realized about three weeks previous that I had hardly had a philosophical discussion with anyone save The Scientist Dad in over a year. This, as you may imagine, made me rather nervous to attempt a philosophical discussion with three of my most-admired profs. But it all came flooding back in a wave of Pascalian raptures.

It ended on an uplifting note: My advisor recalled her favorite Pascal image. Imagine, if you will, a cave filled with people. Every day several are taken (at random) out of the cave and beheaded. Those left in the cave, instead of preparing for their inevitable end, divert themselves to the point of indifference.

This is human life, says Pascal. This is the human condition. Resist it.

Very Lenten. Very dark. And yet, is it not true?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Chair of Peter

Somehow "chair" makes me think--not of the golden throne in St. Peter's--but of his final seat on this earth: the inverted cross. Ave crux!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I will be done. (Deo gratias.) Feeling very grumpy about Pascal, Descartes, and the whole stinkin' lot. And very glad that I have all the resources of the Church to shore up the glooms.

"You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being." -- Evelyn Waugh


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Capybaras, beavers, and other fish

Apparently, some time ago, the Vatican gave permission for the poor of Venezuela to eat capybara on Fridays in Lent. The large rodent being, I assume, sufficiently non-meaty to count as a penitential meal. Wikipedia has confirmed such reports, but I'm still looking for proof that water-dwelling mammals in general are acceptable! Beavers seem quite capybara-ish.

Before you get yer dander up, the whole "fish Fridays" thing is not some ploy to subsidize the fishing industry. It's an opportunity to forgo celebratory foods in memory of the Passion and in solidarity with the poor. Meat has traditionally been an expensive food, and to give it up is a sign of this remembrance. I cannot think of a better way to express poverty than a good rodent chili.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Last Things

Since Pascal is imprinting so well on my mind, I thought a little blogging would be allowed.

This passage from Father Alexander Men (photo at left), a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, calls for an attentiveness during Lent. Lent, while a Christian tradition, is really quite a philosophical time. It is an opportunity to put first things first and to meditate on the true order of things as well as the shortness of our lives. Pascal decried philosophies that ignore the question of death and immortality, "for that is the most important question for knowing how we should live." Our culture's allergy to death (that is, to thinking about our own personal deaths) can make this uncomfortable, but contemplating death is not morbid if it changes how we live.

Here is Father Men's homily from a funeral:

"As a traveler, approaching a river after a long journey, senses how cool the water will be, so you and I are getting nearer to the great time of purification. We should greet every Lent as if it were the last in our lives, so that we stop and think--if only for a short while, tearing ourselves away from the perpetual bustle and rush that constitutes our lives. Look how we live nowadays: how bitter and exhausted we are, what an endless hurry we are in--we're making such an effort, trying to make progress. But all of it comes to an end earlier than we realize. Here among us we already have someone who has left his abode--his body--and perhaps before we reach [the end of] Lent, one of us might be lying here, like him, in the middle of the church.

"Let us think for a while about how we can open up our souls to the Lord, how we can start to live a real life. So what kind of life is a 'real life'? It is a life of love--for God and men--a life in which what is most important comes first and is not pushed aside by trivialities. When we stand before God, it is as though we are standing before a bright light, which shows up our unworthiness, our meanness, and our weakness. before the face of God we are revealed as destitute. For the Lord is love, which he pours out on us. How can we thank him, other than by returning that love? But, we ourselves do not possess it: we only see, in the light of the Divine Glory, how unworthy of it we are."

Thanks to MAGNIFICAT for the passage. Link

Monday, February 11, 2008

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Couldn't resist...

So, I'm supposed to be studying Pascal. But this was too funny. Nathaniel Peters over at the First Things blog posted new lyrics for “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.”

(It's even funnier for those of us who just had to sit through yet another Ash Wednesday round of "We rise again from ashes!/From the good we've failed to do!/We rise again from ashes!/to create ourselves anew!" Pelagianism lives.)

But here are the lyrics:

Sackcloth and ashes and days without eating,
Mortification and wailing and weeping,
A hair shirt that scratches, a nettle that stings –
These are a few of my favorite things!

Penitence, flagellants, memento mori,
Spending nights sleeping on rocks in a quarry,
The sound of a cloaked solemn cantor who sings –
These are still more of my favorite things!

Tossing and turning and yearning, I’m spurning!
Passions aflame like an ember-day burning,
Corpus and carnis and wild drunken flings –
Forsaken are they for my favorite things!

When it’s Christmas,
When the tree’s lit,
When the cards are sent…
I simply remember my favorite things –
And then I can’t waaaaaaaaait ’til Lent!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


The Philosopher Mom will be on blogging hiatus until February 22nd. I have to study for my MA thesis defense! Then... freedom! Until Baby2 arrives.

Have a blessed Lent until then.

Friday, February 1, 2008


The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried. ~G.K. Chesterton