Sorry folks. I’ve been UA for most of the last two or three days. I had my 71st birthday during that time (on Halloween, no less!), and did a lot of jiggery-pokery with my computer, which is now up and running again with both Windows 7 and 8 in good order. Windows 8 is not compatible with all my programs, so, in order to keep them, as I wish to, I have to run both operating systems. Windows 8 is certainly faster, and has some nice features. It has been suggested to me that using a program to give me the Windows 7 experience in Windows 8 is like keeping training wheels on a bike. Well, perhaps, but then, I don’t find the Windows 8 interface as productive, even if it is functional. And it’s mainly just ugly, so I see no reason to put that excrescence on my desktop. But that’s just me. Samsung, apparently, is offering a similar interface change on all their laptops. Perhaps Samsung knows something Microsoft doesn’t. Anyway, everything is functional once again, and I am back on track.
The odium theologicum is, literally speaking, theological hatred. Referring to the Arian dispute in the early church, at the point where Athanasius (the Patriarch or Pope of Alexandria, who, of course, was later rehabilitated, and is now, amongst theologians, regarded as the main architect of Christian orthodox teaching regarding the nature of the incarnation), having been found by councils of the church in Milan and Arles, guilty of heresy, and sent by the emperor into exile, Gibbon, in his great history, says with cool wit:
The ingenious malice of their enemies had deprived them of the benefit of mutual comfort and advice, separated those illustrious exiles [for more prelates than Athanasius refused to sign the Arian protocols] into distant provinces, and carefully selected the most barbarous tracts of a great empire. Yet they soon experienced that the deserts of Libya, and the most barbarous tracts of Cappadocia, were less inhospitable than the residence of those cities in which an Arian bishop could satiate, without restraint, the exquisite rancour of theological hatred. [Decline and Fall, chapter 21]
The closing expression, “the exquisite rancour of theological hatred,” occurred to me as I watched a debate between Bill Donahue and Christopher Hitchens (which begins with this clip). (It starts off a bit unpromisingly, but after the priest moderator makes a few signs of the cross and offers a quick prayer, and then gives a long introduction in which he suggests that debates and universities were a Catholic invention, and were in any case at home in a Catholic context, we get into the real meat and potatoes of the debate, and then it becomes clear that Donahue had no intention to debate at all. Talk about odium theologicum! Bill Donahue is a nasty tempered, nasty minded, abusive bully. Why anyone should have thought it promising to put this rather abusive person into a debate is hard to fathom, yet he does express well the rancour of theological hatred. Whether it measures up to Gibbons’ “exquisite rancour” may be doubted. Here’s an example of his rebarbative style:
It’s not, by the way, Catholics for Free Choice, it’s Catholics for Choice, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the truth seems to be that, Vatican condemnation or not, many if not most Catholics in the United States are opposed to some fundamental Catholic principles, such as the absolute prohibition of abortion. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is, according to Wikipedia, “a charity, protest, and street performance organization that uses drag and religious imagery to call attention to sexual intolerance and satirize issues of gender and morality.” It had its origins during the AIDS crisis in the late seventies, and, quoting further from Wikipedia:
The Sisters have grown throughout the U.S. and are currently organized as an international network of orders, which are mostly non-profit charity organizations that raise money for AIDS, LGBT-related causes, and mainstream community service organizations, while promoting safer sex and educating others about the harmful effects of drug use and other risky behaviors. In San Francisco alone where they continue to be the most active, between 1979 and 2007 the Sisters are credited with raising over $1 million for various causes.
Although their existence may be seen as an implicit criticism of the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on gay sexuality, its main purpose is clearly empowerment and charity. A narrow-minded idiot like Bill Donahue may find this anti-Catholic, which no doubt is a part of its métier, but people like Donahue should not forget that the church brings this kind of opprobrium upon itself by taking such a hard-line in condemning all forms of sexuality besides its strictly reproductive uses. To say that the Order of Perpetual Indulgence (another name for the same thing) is anti-Catholic is perhaps not altogether false, but it is to tell only one side of the story. Of course, Hitchens rather tellingly goes on to point out that the Jesus of Matthew told his followers that those are blessed who are persecuted for his sake, so that Bill Donahue should thank his critics rather than condemn them. But for someone like Donahue to complain about anti-Catholicism when his own abusiveness seems to know no reasonable limit is to fall at the first fence.
Which brings me to my real point for today. I will try to be brief. I am beginning to think a bit more closely about what I should like to say at the Eschaton conference coming up in Ottawa at the end of the month, and to that end I am reading Robert P. George’s The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis. George teaches jurisprudence at Princeton. He is a Catholic, a natural law theorist, and sets out in his book to establish a basis for legislating Catholic morality. It is therefore no surprise that he thinks of morality as being in crisis, since, by his lights, only Catholic morality is true morality. Indeed, opposing John Rawls’ idea of justice, which would make it largely impossible for different comprehensive world views to impose their morality on others who can reasonably differ, George claims that this depends entirely on whether or not what is being claimed is or is not the truth. But of course the problem of establishing the truth in these areas is what makes it possible for there to be a plurality of comprehensive world views — a point which George misses entirely.
Take the issue of abortion. While the Catholic Church holds that abortion in any circumstances, even to save the life of a woman, is wrong, many people are of a different opinion. Early in his book George provides what he considers a conclusive argument for holding that there are both pre-conscious and post-conscious human persons, and that both have as much right to life as a person with consciousness, plans, projects, hopes and fears, things valued and things condemned, things that are considered consistent with their lives as persons, and things that could be felt to degrade or to obliterate the value of their lives. He considers that this is something that can be known even to “unaided reason.” As he says:
The wrongness of abortion follows from the truth — fully accessible even to unaided reason — that the life of a human being is intrinsically, and not merely instrumentally good. [14 -- 'unaided reason' here means 'reason without the gift of faith']
I am not going to go into the argument here, although it has to do with the claim that those who think that we can separate the person, as a going concern, with plans, projects, hopes and fears (as immediately above), from the body as a instrument of those plans and purposes, is self-defeating. Thus, even a comatose body or a developing embryo have the same value as a person in the midst of a busy, rewarding and productive life, and none may be given priority over the other. Thus an embryo is in no way distinct in its essence from the adult human being in the midst of her life.
Now, the important point for the moment lies in how this plays into the public square. Since George has what he considers a conclusive argument showing that the secularist is not only wrong but self-inconsistent, in the context where the question is being asked, behind Rawls’ famous “veil of ignorance” — so that you do not know what position you have in the society, what your income is, what opportunities or privileges or lack of these things you may have, what one of a number of different comprehensive world outlooks you may hold, and so on — in order to ensure that the resulting distribution of benefits and harms are fair — giving us the Rawlsian slogan “justice as fairness” — George thinks that, unless your argument for the legitimacy of abortion is as strong as his argument against it, his argument should win in the public square. That is, however many different comprehensive world views there are, George thinks that, since he has demonstrated (to his satisfaction), that the only rational point of view is one in which both “pre-conscious” and “post-conscious” (his terms) human beings are considered to be persons in the fullest sense, unless you have an argument showing his to be wrong, his should stand, no matter what was decided behind the veil of ignorance.
Indeed, George quotes from Judith Jarvis Thompson, to this effect:
While I know of no conclusive reason for denying that fertilized eggs have a right to life, I also know of no conclusive reason for asserting that they do have a right to life. [quoted, 61]
George’s response to this is predictable:
But one is entitled to this conclusion [the one represented by the Thompson quote] about the moral status of newly conceived human beings (Thompson’s “fertilized eggs”) only if one can make an argument sufficient to support it. And such an argument would have to rebut the argument put forward to show that the unborn have a right to life even in the earliest stages of their existence. 
Actually, I think such a rebuttal can be made, but that is not the point here. The person who makes an argument because it is in agreement with their own religious presuppositions, despite the fact that they think it has more universal validity than that, cannot claim that the argument is conclusive in fact, unless they can show why it must be accepted by all as conclusive. For there are, after all, things that can be said in response to the claim that personal identity remains constant from the point of conception to the point of a vegetative state late in life. Even if we were to grant a kind of proleptic personhood to the conceptus, and a kind of residual personhood to a comatose body, there is no reason we should grant the claim that is being made, that there are no relevant moral differences involved at these different levels of (presupposed) “personhood.” But even in the absence of a conclusive rebuttal to George’s argument, Thompson’s response is perfectly reasonable; for she is saying that she does not find George’s argument compelling, and though she has no compelling argument for the other side, this does not provide George’s argument with any greater weight of authority.
It is said that the Arians, who believed that Jesus was not God incarnate, but of a lesser divinity, did not have a stable and consistent set of beliefs. The “orthodox” party, on the other hand, had a consistency and stability from which it never wavered – whether of belief or only of language, as Gibbon points out — but had at least a formula behind which its advocates could take their stand, unmoved and immovable. And so they won the day. But it does not follow that they won because what the believed was true. Thompson’s point (quoted above) seems to be that there is no knock-down argument either way, though I think she might have added that, in a conflict between a woman with her life projects and plans in place, with her own self-conception and world outlook, and the place that a child might play at that time in relation to the totality of her plans and self-conception, the matter of abortion should be left to the woman, and should not be imposed on her by others, no matter what arguments they may find compelling. George, along with other Catholic thinkers, believes that the Catholic argument against abortion is decisive, but it is not a view that commends itself to all, and it is for this reason that it must be left, where it belongs, behind the veil of ignorance. The uses of coercive power, either to force a woman to carry a foetus to term, or to force someone to suffer the pains, the disabilities and the indignities that a disease may visit upon one, is an illegitimate intrusion into the life of independent human beings, each of whom must be given scope in which to carry out their own life project, or to be able to say when their life project is done. These considerations may be seen, I think, rationally, to overcome arguments which would give others unprecedented access to the life plans and projects of people whose liberties must not be subverted, however rational those who wish to have such access believe their arguments to be.