So Trump is President Now

This year’s election has been interesting to say the least.  Everyone laughed when Trump began running, turning to shock at the way he debated from the primaries up through the presidential debates, and finally to an odd mix of shock, horror, and relief when he was elected.  I think I can safely say that I am somewhere between shock and relief.  Catholics were subjected to an extraordinarily difficult task this election.  On the one hand, we knew that on no account could Hillary Clinton be elected.  The damage that she would cause to this country, morally speaking, would be catastrophic.  Personally, between Bengazi and the email scandal, I found it impossible to trust her with foreign affairs as well.  On the other hand, the only candidate that stood a chance of beating her was Donald Trump, a man who demonstrated clearly that he wasn’t one to stand by his word and possesses the remarkable ability to alienate and anger huge communities of people without a care.  Usually, that is reserved to those who loudly proclaim their loyalty to the Catholic Church.  So we were faced with a dilemma: vote for a third party candidate for whom winning the presidency is a virtual impossibility and therefore possibly hand the presidency over to Clinton, or vote for a man who may very well cause the United States to be destroyed from the outside.  I decided the latter was the better defensive option.

One thing that I’m noticing though in the aftermath of the election is the fact that the Hillary supporters are assuming that those of us who voted for Trump are happy that he is the president-elect.  Which is something that I find strange.  In this election, so few people supported either candidate on their own terms.  A great deal of the population voted for either side simply as a defensive measure, to prevent the other candidate from entering office.  It still confuses me how we as a country got to the point where only 50% of the voters actually supported their candidate.  The other 50% simply hated their candidate less.  I’m reminded a little of a couple of quotes, one from the Grinch: “Given the choice between the two of you, I’d take the seasick crocodile,” and the other from the Riff Trax to Revenge of the Sith: “It’s like saying, you know, of the three times that I’ve been stung in the eye, that one was the best.”

I’m not saying that I hate the man or regret choosing him, but I would have liked to have had a better option.  For now though, he has surrounded himself with some good people, others not so much.  I’m of the mindset to wait and see.  No one, I think, knows quite what he’s going to do.  Perhaps not even himself.  So we’ll wait and see what he does.  Work with him.  It’s about the only option that we have at this point.

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Teaching is Exhausting

For those of you who don’t know, I recently was hired as a part-time music teacher and working a second part-time job.  Teaching is exhausting.  It’s fun, but in this instance, I’m working very much uphill as the person previous to me did not really teach music, just sing the same songs, year after year, with the kids.  So they don’t know any music theory.  They don’t know how to read music, even the oldest kids, and some of the ones who do, only understand the notes, they don’t understand how to read rhythms or anything of that nature.  It was essentially another recess.  And I’m working to change all that, to legitimize music as an actual class in their minds.  It’s hard.  It’ll be worth it, but I’ve definitely got a long road ahead of me to get there.

Deontology

So I’m having to change my writing schedule a little, which is why I haven’t been writing recently.  I’m still attempting to find one that works well and doesn’t produce unnecessary stress, so now that I’ve just gotten into a rhythm, I’ll be breaking it.

 

Deontology.  What is it?  Very simply put, it’s a system of ethics that is very-much rule based.  Those rules can be given by reason (Kant), by God, or by some other binding authority.  It enjoins a sense of duty upon the person far more explicitly than other ethical theories.  In deontology, duty is the motivating factor for moral action.  Depending on its use, a deonotological theory can be very minimalist, or it can pervade the entirety of a person’s life.  Take Kantian ethics vs. the Beatitudes.  Kant’s categorical imperative doesn’t really give room or motivation for a superogatory act, precisely because it is an act which is good but which we are not compelled to do.  A divine command theory, on the other hand, which is based not on universal imperatives but the Beatitudes does give such motivation.  They are rules with exceptionally broad applicability, and yet still manage to provide a solid backbone for ethical deliberation.

Unfortunately a deontological ethic which is based on the Beatitudes has one great weakness: you have to accept the authority of the law-giver in order for it to really have binding force.  With today’s atheistic society, it is rather hard to get people to accept that there is a God, let alone that He gave us the Beatitudes as commands to follow.  This is largely why I want to connect deontology with virtue ethics and natural law theory.  Each of them can be discovered by reason (I’m specifically going to avoid using Kantian deontology even though it is based on the powers of reason because I think there are simply too many flaws in it) and each will help to ultimately lead to the divine commands of God while providing additional reasons to act in accord with the Beatitudes other than simply because God said so.

Virtue Theory and Natural Law

Part two of my condensed thoughts concerning a theory blending natural law theory, virtue theory, and deontology (deontology section to come later).

There is a lot of intersection between natural law and virtue theory.  Both are derived from the nature of the human person.  Whereas natural law takes human nature and discovers appropriate rules that must be followed, virtue theory looks at human nature to derive appropriate ends.  Virtue theory develops the virtues as means to arrive at those ends; natural law largely leaves the choice of means up to the individual, with a few caveats.  Here, I think, is where virtue theory can help to shore up some weaknesses of natural law.  By using the development of character as partially means, and partially an end, it helps to give guidance to the individual as he searches for fulfillment.  Natural law likewise does something similar for virtue theory in choosing ends.  The ultimate end of each is perfect happiness, but natural law is able to more precisely define the intermediate ends that one ought to follow.

Virtue theory also provides motivation for superogatory acts.  In natural law, there isn’t much motivation to go out of our way to do things that aren’t morally required.  It’s more of a minimalist route to happiness.  Virtue theory on the other hand provides a pretty strong motivating factor for going out of our way to do things above and beyond the call of duty.  It helps us to do the small everyday things that we wouldn’t normally think of doing.  In essence, virtue theory provides the upper bound for moral action, and natural law provides the lower bound.  Each are extremely helpful in their own right, but moreso when they are combined.

Friends and Pope Francis

I was thinking about friendships the other day, and specifically about how we are supposed to discern when to maintain or end friendships, or relationships in general.  When someone we are friends with begins to live bad lifestyles or make terrible decisions, how do we know what is an appropriate response?  Do we lecture them?  Support them?  Leave them?

There doesn’t seem to be a response that universally applies to these situations.  In the Bible, God approaches sinners in all three ways.  He lectures the Pharisees and the money changers in the temple.  He supports the prostitutes and tax collectors.  In the Old Testament, he leaves Israel on multiple occasions; in the New Testament he, through Paul, in 1st Corinthians tells the community to expel a particular sinner from their midst and, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  The Psalms tell us not to be friends or associate with sinners, but we are to follow Jesus at the same time who embraced the sinner.  So what do we do?

Part of the answer to this lies in how the friend’s behavior is impacting us.  We must always be striving for our salvation.  If the friend’s behavior is dragging us down and tripping us up, then it would be prudent to cut off the friendship.  We would hope and pray that the severing of the relationship would speak to the evil in their life and hopefully cause them to repent, but we also have to see that if we aren’t holy, then there is no way we can inspire them to holiness.

What if this isn’t the case?  It then turns into a matter of prudential judgment.  We have to look at the person and judge whether or not they are in a state where it would be better to lecture or to support or both?  Note, however, admonishing the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy.  Merely supporting without telling them that what they are doing is wrong won’t do anything.  But the constant loving presence in their lives may very well gradually lead them to God.  On the other hand, sometimes people react well to fire and brimstone type lectures and need that swift kick to get them moving out of their complacency.  It is up to the judgment of the person to discern which.  But make sure to remove the log from your own eye first.

In coming to this conclusion, I realized that this is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing and saying throughout much of his papacy.  He is often saying that we must discern the appropriate way to show mercy to others who are sinners, just as we are.  This is why, I think, he shies away from the hard and fast rules that many of us are used to and are looking for.  Yes, oftentimes the ambiguity is frustrating and can be misleading, but he is showing us something different than the previous two popes.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II were both exacting and precise in their words and especially in their teaching.  From them, we were given fantastic principles that were well fleshed out in order to create a foundation for action.  Pope Francis is showing us how and where to apply those principles appropriately.  His statements are ambiguous because each situation is different and requires a different approach and manifestation of mercy.  I’ve found that it’s helpful to keep this in mind when hearing about his papacy.  We can’t hold him to the same standards as JPII and Pope Benedict because he has a very different mission and is a very different person.  Not all popes are brilliant intellectuals whose mission is to provide safe theological footing in a crazy era.  Some are called to minister to those who are lost in sin and unaware of truth.

Pokemon Go: A Tool for Virtue and Evangelization?

So Pokemon Go is a thing now, and a very popular one at that.  I have to say, it’s kind of fun playing Pokemon in “real life.”  I think that’s what most everyone has wanted for quite some time.  Honestly, when they hook it up to VR or something like Google Glasses, that’ll be the best version, and probably the safest to be honest.  That way you’re not looking at your phone constantly, but actually at the environment around you.

Back on topic though.  I’ve heard people talking about how much fun it is and their experience with it, and I’ve also heard people talking about how bad it is.  What I haven’t heard much explicitly about is what is good about this game.  Because it’s vastly different from any other MMORPG, or really any Pokemon game that I’ve seen.  It’s revolutionary in that it’s starting to bridge the difference between the game world and the real world.  But what’s really good about it, I think, is that it’s actually having positive real life consequences on gamers.  It’s reversing a lot of the stereotypes that, honestly, tend to be all too true.  It’s motivating people to walk around and explore the city that they live in, to visit new places, pay attention to landmarks and businesses around them, and maybe even travel to other states, countries, or even continents to see what the Pokemon there are like.  So it helps gamers.  Great.  But what about the rest of us?

This is where Pokemon Go really shines I think.  In my lifetime, short though it’s been thus far, I’ve seen neighborhoods go from places where you play with the neighbor’s kids in the street to almost no one playing even outside on their front lawn.  I hardly ever see kids running in the sprinklers outside or at the park, and they always have to be attended.  This extends to the neighbors themselves though.  People are getting more and more secluded, even in bustling areas.  Pokemon Go encourages you to actually form teams with your neighbors, meet them, talk with them, strategize with them so that you can take down that gym nearby and claim it as your own, and then defend it against those pesky teenagers.  I’ve seen parents go for long afternoon walks with their children in order to play this game with them and people team up with each other when they’d normally have no reason to even speak to each other.  Not to mention the fact that in order to do pretty much anything, you have to get up and walk around.

If it takes a multigenerational game like Pokemon to get people to form communities again rather than just conglomerations of homes, then I think it’s a really quite positive thing.  I’ve even heard a fantastic recommendation to follow what businesses are doing.  They’re coughing up the money to make their business a Pokestop to bring in a whole new brand of clients since they’ll be encouraged to stop by on their Pokewalks and maybe be intrigued by the business.  Churches can, and, if their capable of Eggecuting (pun so totally intended) it well, should I think do likewise.  Bring in those multigenerational hardcore and casual gamers to your parish hall.  Have a couple people there at various times who know the game and who know evangelization and just talk to them.  Show them that yes, there is a community in the church as well.  Maybe have a church team that they can join.  Maybe even be a local gym that the youth group is responsible for the upkeep of.  Meet them where their at, bond over something that you both enjoy, establish a lasting community that they already feel welcome in by virtue of the mutual love of the game, and you’ve got a solid foundation to start introducing faith into their lives.

One final tangential-ish note: I’m so totally excited for when they do this same augmented reality type game for Star Wars, LOTR, or Avatar the Last Airbender.  Walking around and seeing others who have avatars that superimpose their body so you know that they play and being able to challenge them to ridiculous battles or join them in quests just sounds like so much more fun than your traditional MMO.  MMOs can be frighteningly boring and antisocial, despite having a huge constant playerbase to interact with.  (http://www.dorkly.com/post/60844/the-ages-of-multiplayer)  I think if these sorts of games take off, and with the instant huge success of Pokemon Go you can be sure that other gaming companies will be doing likewise and improving on the formula, we’ll actually start to see games reversing the trend of antisocial behavior that we’ve seen in recent years.

Styles of Ethics

I find it weird how many different sub-disciplines there are within ethics.  Some of them, I agree, are completely incompatible (see virtue ethics vs. utilitarianism, deontology vs. genealogy, etc.), but others aren’t but seem to be treated like they are.  Maybe that’s just how it’s been presented to me in school, but it strikes me as odd and very much in the same vein as the distinctions between disciplines which arose mainly because of the invention of the university.  I don’t mean to say that there aren’t distinctions, because there are, but the different disciplines are often treated as their own subjects with the other areas have little to no impact on their studies.  Anyways, before this turns fully into a confused diatribe, let’s get back to what I wanted to write about: the compatibility of various disciplines.

Specifically, I want to look at three ethical disciplines, each of which seem to kind of be treated as incompatible when they really aren’t: Natural law, virtue ethics, and deontology.  The core of each is like this: the moral law can be discovered through applying reason to the way of nature (natural law); the moral law is discovered through following the virtuous man (virtue theory); the moral law can be discovered through the imperatives of God.  Each has its pros and cons.  Natural law is very accessible, but sometimes can be very vague since we are looking at a flawed version of nature.  Virtue theory in practice ends up being more instinctual, but more able to be confused since it doesn’t rely so much on statutes and rules.  Deontology is very straight-forward, black and white, but this doesn’t allow for the nuance of living a moral life in the complicated messy world.

I’d like to point out here that Thomas Aquinas essentially did all three in his Summa.  He is the staple child for Natural law theory, just as Kant and Aristotle are for deontology and virtue ethics.  Even if he wasn’t the very first originator of it, he is the first great articulater of the theory against whom all others are measured.  His theory, I believe, melds all three into one larger theory of ethics, one which shores up many of the pitfalls that each can have.  By introducing natural law, it makes accessible many of the divine commands of deontology while also providing, in part, a set of rules and ends for the virtue ethics to draw on.  Deontology makes virtue ethics a little more cut and dry, while virtue ethics makes deontology more forgiving for everyday life.  Each lends something supernatural to natural theory.  What you end up with is a theory in which some commands are given by God, some by the natural order of the world, some by our own human nature, in which the human person lives, grows, and cultivates himself in accord with those commands so that he can better understand and follow them.  He is responsible then, not just for whether or not he did what was asked, but his internal disposition and his understanding of the law.  He is never fully ignorant of the law because it is always apparent to him through reason and the pull of the virtues on his heart, but he needs God to reveal it to him fully and to aid him in doing it.

Really, I guess, I don’t understand why you would want to separate them when they work so much better as one cohesive theory.  It just makes so much more sense this way.