The Blessing of Incompetent Theologians

Darwin Catholic has a long response to Melinda Selmys’s also-long concerns about the moral theology behind the Church’s teaching on contraception.  Ferret out the details if you like, I’m not headed into long explanations of he-said-they-said where the documents behind Humanae Vitae are concerned.  Read the final product, it’s readable common sense that covers all you really need to know.

Here’s what I do want to say, though, about the opinions of theologians: Theologians are sometimes wrong.

The charism of infalliability is extremely limited.  Basically it keeps the pope from royally screwing up when it especially matters most, and that’s about it.*

I like to think my theology is sound.  I know for a fact that I fail spectacularly at many other tasks that ought to be wildly simple.  I could really do with a secretary, a housekeeper, and a more vigorous conscience, thanks.  That others have faults therefore comes as no surprise.  So when you encounter something that seems like dubious reasoning even though it comes from someone who ought to know better . . . maybe it is, in fact, bad reasoning.

It is entirely consistent with history, doctrine, and a charitable disposition to consider the possibility an otherwise reputable theologian might, on some or many points, be haplessly incompetent.

It happens.  Don’t stake your salvation on the smartness of mankind.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia.

 

*Yes, infallibility also applies to the bishops teaching in union with the pope . . . which just brings us back to the important bit, which is that the Holy Spirit protects the pope from the very most disastrous errors.

Funniest Parish Rumor Ever

This morning after Bible study one of the ladies asks me, “What are your degrees in?”

It’s a good question, and one I occasionally have to clarify.   I studied economics and I have a degree in economics are two different things; in my case the former is true but not the latter.  Every now and then an author blurb goes to print without my clearing it, and I cringe at the odd inaccuracies.

So I answered, “I have a BA in international studies, with a not-quite-a-minor in economics.  My master’s degree is in business administration, with the bulk of my coursework in accounting with a little bit of finance.”  Again, I don’t have an accounting degree, though I did graduate with enough upper-level courses to work professionally in accounting.  But I’m not a CPA, which people ask me whenever they hear I studied accounting.

“Oh,” the lady at Bible study says.  “So do you have a PhD in theology?”

Pardon me?  “No.”

“Oh.  Someone said you had a PhD in theology.”

No.  No no no.  “Nope.  Business.  Master’s degree in business, no PhD in anything.”

“Sometimes Father Whippersnapper seems to defer to you during Bible study.”

“That’s because he has a graduate degree in theology, which I do not, but I am more experienced with arguments among non-academics bickering on the internet.”

***

As parish grapevine experiences go, it was more amusing than horrifying, so it worked out.

–> I got to share a little bit of mine and my husband’s conversion stories (answer to the follow-up question of “How come you seem to know so much?”), and I conceded I do write a bit of Catholic non-fiction

More better: I got a few minutes of living vicariously through one of the other Bible study ladies, who overheard the conversation and shared with me about her experience in internal audit and fraud detection, which is one of the coolest things accountants get to do and I’d be totally looking into that if I were looking for an accounting job.

It was a good day.  And to my credit, I read just far enough into Love and Responsibility to know, as any good Junior Moral Theologian who happens to be married should know, the answers to these sex questions over at the Aggie Catholic blog,* which topics I alluded to in the rough cut of my most recent NCRegister post, now up: “What Do Priests Know About Marriage?”  My very smart editor removed the explicit references (which the Aggie post answers succinctly, so you’re set if you have those questions) to keep it PG rated.

*I do not write for the Aggie Catholic blog.  I have been to Texas three times, though, so it’s practically the same, for parish rumor-mill purposes.

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Artwork: Young Nun at Prayer by Sergei Gribkov.  I’m not a nun either, in case anyone is asking.

PS: Parents, this is a grown-up blog.  I teach children in regular life, but on the internet I cover adult topics.

2 Things You, Your Friends, and Your Family Need to Know About Dysautonomia

It is the time of year when I get flooded with reminders about Dysautonomia Awareness Month.  I’m aware, thanks.  I’m not a big fan of colored ribbon empathy-signalling for any disease, so we can skip that.  I’m going to save the “How’s it going, Jen?” post for another time, too.  Let’s skip this year straight to the info that is useful for anyone headed to the doctor about those weird symptoms.

Refresher: What is Dysautonomia?

You can skip this part if you already know.

Your autonomic nervous system is the part of your body that makes things work without you having to think about it.  Your heart beats, your innards digest, your temperature regulates, and your blood pressure presses, even if you completely ignore them.

Autonomic dysfunction, or dysautonomia, is when that system doesn’t work right.   When your blood pressure fails to compensate when you stand up.  When your stomach declines to empty.  When your heart decides to beat to the rhythm of its own drummer.

It’s complicated (we’ll get into that again in the next section) because of course you might have problems with these symptoms due to some other disorder.  It’s double-complicated because you can have autonomic dysfunction as a complication of an ordinary disease (like diabetes), a horrendously complicated disease (like certain inherited mitochondrial disorders), or just cause.

So “dysautonomia” is a bit of an umbrella.  It’s like saying “I have stomach problems” or “lady troubles” except more scientific sounding.  But just like you need to know that your digestive and reproductive tracts sometimes require medical attention, it is important to know that your autonomic nervous system is a part of your body that can malfunction.

What happens when you don’t know about this is what I’m writing about today.

Problem 1: Don’t Be So Nervous!

If you’ve ever felt your heart race, your stomach churn, or your hands sweat when you were nervous, you’ve felt your autonomic nervous system doing one of its things.

This creates a tricky dilemma: Say you go to the doctor because you are short of breath, and all the tests show your heart and lungs are just fine.  Are you just really anxious?

Maybe you are.  You’ll probably get referred for a psychological evaluation.  What you need to know is that many forms of dysautonomia have surface similarities to the physical side of anxiety disorders.   How do you know the difference?  For one thing, anxiety disorders involve being anxious.

So here’s the layman’s differential diagnosis:

If your stomach churns every time you walk past your boss’s office, regardless of the time of day or what you’ve eaten or how much sleep you got or whether your boss is wearing way too much cologne or not — if there is no physical reason for your boss’s office to make you ill — and you feel fabulous otherwise, it’s probably anxiety.

But if your stomach sometimes churns while you’re chilling out watching your favorite movie, or relaxing with your family on a vacation you genuinely enjoy (don’t lie), or on the day when you and your boss whom you love are on a roll achieving great stuff . . . that doesn’t sound like anxiety.   It is highly unlikely you are secretly anxious and have no idea.    The physical symptoms of anxiety tend to correlate with anxiety.  The physical symptoms of dysautonomia are not dependent on your emotional state.

Some minor complications to remember:

  • You can be a person with a known anxiety disorder, but also have a dysautonomia.  There’s no numerical limit on how many diseases you are allowed to have.
  • You can be a person with dysautonomia who develops anxiety symptoms related to the stress your illness causes.   People with cancer or typhus or foot-and-mouth disease sometimes get anxious about their condition, so if you worry about your life sometimes, you’re not exactly a pioneer there.

Therefore do some reality checking.  If you get faint with prolonged standing, that’s probably dysautonomia.  If you get faint at the sight of blood, that’s probably anxiety.  If you get faint under both instances, it’s probably two different problems that have similar symptoms.

(Or maybe you have a pathological fear of standing, and also a latex allergy you’re unaware of, because you think it’s just fear of needles.  But it’s more likely you have POTS than a pathological fear of standing, despite the thirty-seven physicians who looked you straight in the face and told you to get a hobby, because it never occurred to them to do a tilt-table test.  Tell me about your childhood . . . did you have to stand a lot?  How did that make you feel?  Did your mother do a lot of standing around you? . . . )

Problem 2: You Just Need to Exercise!

Your body works better if you use it regularly and well.  Lots of people are overweight and out of shape, and when they make the decision to eat sensibly and get out for a walk every day, they find they feel much better.

What you need to know is that some forms of dysautonomia can present like you just need to get more exercise, but actually they are a disease process that inhibits your ability to exercise.

In my case, my diagnosis of IST (Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia) hinged on the fact that my treadmill testing looked like a basic model “she needs to work out more” case, except that I didn’t actually need to work out more.

I presented with shortness of breath on exertion, but every test came back normal.   If I had been overweight, I would never have been diagnosed, period.

The only clue we had that I had a tachycardia and not a fitness problem was that (a) my symptoms came on too suddenly to be deconditioning and (b) I wasn’t fat enough.  I “passed” all tests with three different specialists, because I was healthier than any of their usual heart-attack or COPD patients.  Because of my underlying fitness level and experience as an athlete, I had the ability to push myself on a treadmill despite feeling horrible, so I’d score in an “acceptable” range.  (Even if I was gasping for air in order to do it — they didn’t chart that.  Just the number.  Hmmn.)  It took a really fat doctor who knew his own numbers and who liked to geek out on technicalities to pick up that something wasn’t right in what he was seeing.

So here is my firm advice: If you are tired and intolerant of exercise, and you try taking the usual steps to improve your health but it seems like it’s just impossible, or like you just can’t do it and you keep falling off the wagon, dig deeper.  There are a number of endocrine disorders that can cause this problem, there are some dysautonomias that can cause this problem, and there are who knows how many other things as well.

You’ll have to go through all the other first-line tests looking for obvious stuff  (if you have a pulmonary embolism, you need to know that ASAP, so rule it out, please). But if that all that comes back normal and you are still pretty sure there’s something wrong, start looking at dysautonomia as a possibility.

“Failure as a human being” is not a medical diagnosis.  Find a doctor who doesn’t shove you off, and keep looking until you figure out what’s wrong for real.  After you’ve addressed the underlying health problems that are sabotaging your efforts, you’ll find that the triad of healthy diet, exercise, and stress management actually starts to work for you.

And that’s why you should be aware of dysautonomia, and some of the other ribbons in the rainbow as well.

Follow-up Reading: Here’s a post from a health care professional who didn’t believe in dysautonomia until  it happened to her.

 

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Artwork: Mihály Munkácsy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Linking Around on the How to Solve the Gun Problem

Over at the blorg today: Death and Dread – Links & Comments.

Ever since I answered the irresistible call to join the Conspiracy, I’ve been floundering a bit over at Patheos.  What I seem to have settled on is writing my general Catholic stuff here (of course) and over there writing the things that no one else at Patheos is likely to be saying.  Which means I keep wanting to rename my blog there Token Redneck.  I’m not gonna, but you can call it that when no one’s looking.

Key points from today’s post:

A difficulty Americans face is that our laws have to take into account the actual way that Americans act.  . . .

. . . You can be certain that the stronger the rhetoric in favor of gun control, the stronger the turnout will be for candidates who oppose it.  Hence we have Trump.  (See how he spoke to his base and didn’t mention guns in his Las Vegas talk?  He knows who elected him.) . . .

. . . You don’t have to think these people are right.  You do have to understand that these people live in this nation, they vote, and they already own the guns.  Wishing them away will not fix anything.  Writing legislation as if these people aren’t there or don’t count will only exacerbate the problem.

Trust me.  I’m from Gunlandia.  I know.

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Artwork: Photo by Uoaei1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

This picture is not exactly related to the topic of the post, other than that of course I talk about the battle with evil, so there’s that.  I just liked the picture.  To get the full effect, click on the detailed image.

Useful tip: To see what I’ve been writing at the blorg, check the sidebar of this blog (jenniferfitz.com).   Scroll down a little, you’ll see I’ve got the feed of my Patheos posts right there waiting for you.  Easy peasy.

The Problem of Evil Revisited

I always carry a knife sharpener, this one, when I travel, because I abhor dull knives.  In the US when I travel I either bring my own chef’s knife and cutting board, or anticipate buying one at my destination if necessary. I didn’t need any of that in France, I discovered happily and without too much surprise.  The French are civilized and value good meals.

In Chamonix on the Epic Vacation, while the boy trekked away at summer camp, two girls and I invested in lift passes for the valley and spent the week riding up mountains.  At the Aigulle de Midi lift, they check your bags before they let you into the cable car

The amount of profiling going on at the security checkpoint was blatant.  A group of climbers were waved through at a glance.  I opened my backpack and the security guy noted the heavily bagged, unidentifiable object within.  “What is this?” he asked.

“Picnic,” I said.  Cutting board, a good sharp knife, sausage, bread, cheese, and so forth.  I was concerned that after a long wait we’d be sent home because of the knife. I prepared to open the inner bag and see if I couldn’t talk the guy into holding the knife for us to pick up when we came down at the end of the day.

But the guy never even saw the knife.  I said picnic and he didn’t bother to look further.  Middle aged lady with a couple little girls in tow.  If I say it’s my picnic, it’s probably a picnic.  He assumed, rightly, that neither I nor the climbers, though they too of course were equipped with sturdy knives, had any intention of stabbing our fellows during the long ride up the mountain.

An Armed Society . . .

Security in France is pretty good these days.

This is a photo of the TGV station at Charles de Gaulle airport:

In the foreground you see a seating area and reputable coffee machines (I’m not sure how good they are).  Look deep in the center of the photo.  That’s one of a group of four heavily armed soldiers who were doing the rounds outside the secure area of the airport.  They are, in this photo, all standing guard looking down towards the platform while the TGV from Marseille arrives and unloads.  Once the train emptied without incident, they continued their patrol.

There are groups of soldiers like this throughout the country at key spots (the Strasbourg cathedral had its share), and armed police stationed elsewhere. When we visited the shrine of St. Odile, an officer (with back-up on the grounds) was stationed at the monastery entrance all day.

Officers like these are the reason that the stabbing in Marseille earlier this week was limited to just two victims, instead of becoming a mass-casualty rampage.  This is one of the reasons we preferred to vacation in France.  The torpor with which the UK has begun to rearm its police officers did not inspire confidence.

What It Takes to Feel Safe

The reason I feel safer when a group of French soldiers is patrolling the train station is the same reason the security guy at the ski lift let me pass without looking too closely at my bag.  I have no reason to suspect the French military or police are going to harm me.  I could not say that about every group of soldiers around the world.  These officers — four strong men, heavily armed — are capable of unspeakable evil, but they don’t commit it.  Those climbers and I, working as a group, would have been capable of holding a cabin of tourists hostage and murdering them all, but we didn’t.  We had no desire or intention to do so.

Security works when you manage to make the good guys stronger than the bad guys.

France attempts this via security profiling and a strong police presence, combined with fairly strict gun laws.  The success of this strategy is variable.  You can see a summary of French terror attacks here.   Note that since the 2015 attacks in Paris, off-duty police officers are now allowed to carry firearms — the reasoning behind that is self-evident.

The laws themselves, though, are not what makes security work (when it does).  We can think of nations where the local citizens need to arm themselves specifically against the police and military.  What makes security work is when the law is ordered towards giving the upper hand to the people who can be trusted with it.  The French police generally do not go around terrorizing the populace.

Are Americans Safe People?

Last week I had the chance to listen to Representative Cezar McKnight tell a story from his childhood.  I’ll blog more about the context of the story another day.  But here’s what he remembers:

His parents, a black couple who by McKnight’s telling were sometimes mistaken for a mixed-race couple, owned a nightclub-liquor store in rural South Carolina.  One day his mother, alone with the children, was in the store when men in KKK garb gathered outside.  They had no idea what these men wanted or what their plans might be, but there was plenty of reason to be afraid.  His mother took the shotgun they kept behind the counter and prepared to defend her children and herself if necessary.

She had sound reason to trust neither her fellow citizens not to harm her nor the authorities to come to her aid.

By and large Americans share this sentiment today.  The impulse to arm or disarm America is rooted in the essential equation: How do we make the good guys relatively stronger and the bad guys relatively weaker?

This is a practical question that should not be entirely put off.  Attacks such as the recent massacre in Las Vegas, the Boston Marathon bombing, or the 9/11 attacks are particularly vexing because they pose, in their time, new problems that the (then-) current modes of security have not anticipated.    How shall we anticipate such problems in the future, preventing them when possible and curtailing them when not?  How do you give the good guys the upper hand?

This is not, however, the only way to study the equation.

On the Art of Being Good

What is necessary to make any law work is for people to be good.

It’s paradoxical, since of course if people were actually good, you wouldn’t need the law.

“Just make people good,” furthermore, sounds even more far-fetched than “disarm the bad guys” or whatever other security plans people are devising.   And yet, weirdly, it is the one thing that actually works.

There are police officers who do not shoot innocent civilians. There are soldiers who protect their citizen rather than terrorizing them. There are ordinary people who, though capable, refrain from evil and sometimes even rise to heroic virtue.  Unremitting goodness is the reason you can go buy groceries without being raped and murdered.   Where that decency is lacking, death reigns.

This is hopeful, because we can see that even though nobody is perfect, we can also see that there are places where the people are generally good enough for the purposes of peace and safety.  This is discouraging, however, because evil cannot be fixed with a law or an executive order.

What must be understood in the face of a horrifying crime is that the relationship between good laws and good people is inextricable.  A good law is designed to protect good people and ward against evil people.  The law cannot depend on human goodness alone for its strength, though — it must anticipate abuse of the law, because people will try to abuse it.  But the law itself is not sufficient.

The bulk of the work in creating a safe, civilized society is not in the work of the law, but in the work of helping each other become people who do not do evil things.  Our mission is nothing short of overturning the present culture of narcissism and death.

That is a long road — an unending road. But it is also something that we as ordinary people can work to accomplish.

Taylor Swift, All American Girl

Last night I hosted the Tom Petty Tribute Kitchen Cleaning at my house, which made my husband hopeful (about the kitchen) and my children puzzled (about Tom Petty).  I looked my son in the eyes and shook my head and said, “You’re not from the 8o’s, are you?”

He affirmed that he was not.

Tom Hoopes at Aleteia sums up the reason parents of a certain age have such a profound love of Tom Petty, despite the man’s flaws: “Tom Petty provided the soundtrack to my life.”  The songs matched what we were thinking and feeling and didn’t necessarily even know it until we heard the song.

Taylor Swift does that.  She is an astute businesswoman, yes, but also she is an artist with a gift for saying what American women are feeling.

Discerning Catholics will not necessarily care for everything Tom Petty had to say, and certainly should not care for everything Taylor Swift has to say.  But as I argue over at the Register, we need to pay attention to what Swift is saying.  Why?  Because she is describing the lives of nearly every woman in this country today.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

What Do You Do With a Day Like Today?

You’re Googling lists of Las Vegas shooting victims, and then this.  Unacceptable.  I don’t see productive blogging happening in a timely fashion.  Redneck Triduum song it will be:

May the souls of the departed rest in peace, amen.

 

 

 

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Artwork: Illumination from the Passionary of Weissenau (Weißenauer Passionale); Fondation Bodmer, Coligny, Switzerland; Cod. Bodmer 127, fol. 144r, circa 1170 and 1200.  Source http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/cb/0127  [Public Domain] via Wikimedia.

 

 

What Genre is Genesis?

So we’re at ladies’ Bible study the other morning, and the topic of literary genres in the Bible comes up.  Not everything is a scientific treatise (this blog post is not, for example), and we aren’t obliged to read Genesis as if it were one.

Which got me thinking: What genre is Genesis?

It’s not exactly poetry, though it has plenty of poetry in it.

I’ve seen arguments for calling it “myth,” but those arguments always involve long explanations of why the word “myth” doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means.  I’m not sure that’s what is anyway, even after all the explanations.

A romance, maybe?

It is one, but it isn’t just that.

The defining feature of Genesis, it seems to me after two hours of new discoveries in just chapters 1-3 — and I was pretty sure I’d already gotten the bulk of the discoveries out of Genesis on the previous seven zillion readings — the defining feature is that you just keep learning more, and more, and more about God and His relationship with man.

Which leads me to my new name for the genre: Theological Concentrate.

Related: Julie Davis at the always-excellent Happy Catholic blog has some good notes on Genesis today re: Joseph, Potiphar’s wife, and avoiding temptation.

The book we’re studying is Courgageous Women: A Study on the Heroines of Biblical History by Stacy Mitch.  So far so good. Doesn’t play around in going right to the thorny topics in Genesis 1-3.   Cover art courtesy of Amazon.com.

Who Owns “Social Justice”?

One of the news sources I flip through occasionally is Al Jazeera It’s not the only place I’d turn for information (goodness gracious!), but for coverage of Middle Eastern politics it’s a bit more thorough than the average American paper, go figure.  Al Jazeera also has good human rights coverage sometimes, such as this investigation into Britian’s modern-day slave trade.  Catholics are big into human rights.

The most painful fallacy I see among Catholics is the false dichotomy between “social justice” and “life issues.”  It’s moldering baggage from the Church’s political divisions over the last fifty years or so: We know that a branch of dissenting Catholics labeled themselves “social justice” warriors, and so our alarm bells go off whenever we hear someone talking in vague terms about peace and justice and not much clear doctrine.

We have to cut this out.

Catholics who believe the entirety of the Catholic faith are not obliged to hand over a portion of our faith to agnostics-in-Catholic-clothing.  We get to own the whole package: the Trinity, the Church, the Sacraments, Scripture, and the entire Christian moral life.  We don’t have to settle for our slice of the “pelvic issue” pie and doggedly shun any topic we fear might have somehow, somewhere, been enjoyed by a Democrat.  We certainly don’t have to swallow the line that justice with regards to immigrants, the environment, workers, prisoners, or any other category popular on the Left can thereby only be solved by the Left.

The Church proposes a beautiful, sensible, logical, theologically-sound way of looking at social issues, and it’s ours to love and cherish.  Enjoy it.  Own it.  Don’t let anyone deny you your right to the entirety of the Catholic faith.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Four Ways to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic

Up at the Register this morning, I’m talking about ways to not become a person you hate being, in the aftermath of other Catholics being truly horrid:

Bitterness isn’t born ex nihilo. Bitterness is the festering of a spiritual wound, and many Catholics are infected by bitterness because they have suffered real, penetrating, stinging wounds at the hands of their fellows.

When you see someone being rabidly ugly, that didn’t come from nowhere.

When it’s you being rabidly ugly, it often feels like “righteous anger.”

Hmmn.  Are you filled with a sense of peace? Do people generally agree that the way you speak and act is gentle and life-giving?  Do even some of your opponents speak of you respectfully, because your are well-known as someone who is rational, calm, and has good sound reasons for your beliefs?

Or is it maybe possible that, fault of the hurt you’ve endured at the hands of people who had no right to treat you that way, you’ve started to get a little bitter?

Maybe a lot bitter.

It isn’t easy, but there are some things you can do to help yourself heal.  These are some of the things.

And then there were ducks . . .

FYI it’s my editor Kevin Knight at NCR who wins the award for my favorite photo caption ever.  That’s his genius, not mine, concerning the ducks.  But he is so, so, right.  Ducks, guys.  Make that #5.

Related:  Do you you know Catholics who have grown parish-shy? This fine cat photo was my illustration for Taming the Feral Faithful: How to Lure Serious Catholics Back to Your Parish.  You can find an index with this and many other articles about discipleship and evangelization at my D&E index over at the Conspiracy.

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Photo: w:User:Stavrolo [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons