Daily Archives: July 2, 2009

What is a logical fallacy?

I often wonder if we need to revise the way we treat logical fallacies. Fallacy is reallly a matter of function more than content.

For example, the fallacy of redirection. It is not uncommon to see any given topic in Catholicism have the issue of sex abuse by priests come up. Depending upon *why* the issue is raised, it may be “redirection,” it may be “getting off topic,” or it may be a valid question to raise.

For example, if, in a discussion of some social issue, the issue is raised to question the credibility of the Church’s teachings, it *may* be very relevant, or if the issue is raised to illustrate a parallel error. On the other hand, the issue must be discussed only in that context in which it is raised, if that is the case.

One “fallacy” thats fallaciousness has always seemed suspect to me is “slippery slope.” If “slippery slope” is always a fallacy, then Humanae Vitae is fallacious.

Very often, however, slippery slope is exactly how things work. One man’s slippery slope is another man’s incrementalism.

Or ad hominem. When I teach critical thikning, I call on my students to carefully analyze who the writer is, who the publishers and sponsors are, and what ulterior motives they may have. If there’s researched involved, who paid for the research?

To examine such questions is not to engage in ad hominem but to examine the credibility of the source.

Also, when I teach writing, I tell my students to be careful about audience, to consider exactly who they are (indirectly) addressing their piece to. What are the needs of the audience? Their interests, agendas, existing knowledge, questions, etc.?

Mary has a friend who is now a professor at a Catholic college, who got banned from campus retreats when they were in college because of a discussion with a homosexual man.

Now, the conversation was, from the perpsective of Mary’s friend and his interlocutor, a mildly heated but fruitful intellectual dialogue. However, the interlocutor did not disclose that he, personally, was struggling with the sin of homosexuality. Mary’s friend, in retrospect, said that his argument would have been different if he’d known his audience was an actual homosexual, rather than thinking it was purely a discussion of principle.

In any case, some third party overheard the conversation and complained to the directors of the retreat ministry. So her friend was banned from leadership in that retreat ministry because of upholding the Church’s teachings.

In any case, the incident raises the question of self-explanation. If critical readers are to evaluate the writer’s possible motives and agendas, and if a good writer considers his audience’s motives and agendas, then shouldn’t writers be required in principle to offer some self-explanation?

The tradition of Western formal academic writing has grown that writers are not supposed to self-reference, but this is intellectually dishonest. It is really important that a writer express why the subject is important to him or her personally, what personal experience he or she has in that field, etc. What metaphorical axes is the writer trying to grind?

To do otherwise creates a huge impediment to actual dialogue.

A Liberal Catholic Looks at the Moon

“Hmm.  My senses tell me that the moon is made of green cheese.  But Scientists insist that the moon is made of grey rock.  This is a paradox, and my  brain can’t handle paradoxes.  So, let me see how I can delve into this mystery.”

“Well, if you think about it, cheese is kind of like a rock, because, at the molecular level, it contains minerals.  And, it’s in animate.  And it gets hard if you leave it sitting out too long. So, the moon could be made of cheese that appears like rock.”

“And color is subjective, so I might see green where others see gray.”

“So, in a spiritual sense, one can say that the moon is gray rock under the appearance of green cheese.  But I continue to insist that it’s just green cheese, because that’s what I can perceive.”

The Eucharist is a Mystery.  The difference between a philosophically oriented Catholic and a mystically oriented Catholic is that the philosophically oriented Catholic sees the Mystery as something to be solved, while the mystically oriented Catholic sees it as something to be pondered and embraced qua Mystery

Our feeble explanations can help us to delve the Mystery, or else they can do harm to it by giving us pat answers.

On Vox Nova, I’ve been accused of being “scandalized” by the Eucharist, or of failing to understand that it’s Mystery.  They’re the ones trying to de-mystify it by making it into nothing more than a spiritual abstraction.

The person who cannot really embrace the Mystery of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ–that is, the whole Christ–hidden under the appearance of Bread and Wine  but only sees a “piece of bread” is the one who adopts Rahnerism.

Protestants do not  become Catholics because they’re told John 6 is symbolic; if they do, they become bad Catholics.

No, Protestants become Catholics because they see Catholics kneeling in front of the Monstrance and are at first scandalized by it.

They become Catholics because they come into Catholic churches and know that God is there, not just spiritually, but physically, a palpable, corporal, physical presence that can be felt better than the presence of any living person.

A Catholic who cannot experience that in church doens’t need to study more philosophy.  He needs to study more spirituality and spend more time in prayer.

They’re obsessing about nonsensical speculations about whether “Jesus moves” when the Monstrance is moved in the Eucharistic Blessing (I would say that the mystery there is that the Priest, as at Mass, is acting in persona Christi while holding the Body of  Christ).  When I am blessed at Adoration, I don’t see some silly spectacle of Jesus flying all over the place–unless it’s Jesus *on the Cross*–but  I see the hand of Jesus blessing me.

To worry about such particulars, though, is just to engage in intellectual games.  It’s irrelevant to the practical experience of everyone except the kinds of people who engage in such speculations.

We should be doing our best to promote Eucharistic adoration, not worry about such silly intellectual games.

I really don’t care how many angels dance on the head of a pin.  I know the angels are there.

I am able to handle the paradox that the moon does not look to me like what science tells me it is. 

I don’t understand why Catholics are unable to understand the paradox that the Eucharist does not look like what the Church says it is. 

As I teach my children from the Baltimore Catechism, however, and I read the writings of Catholics my age who have been deprived of their patrimony except as filtered through the mind of Rahner and his progeny, I am horrified at the utter destruction of catechesis.

What is justice?

In all the debates about “consequentialism,” and “intrinsic evil” and such, one topic that always seems skirted over is the definition of “justice” itself. Plato, in the Republic, defines justice as the removal of something from one person to satisfy the need of another, the leveling out of wrongs in society. Social justice involves removal of property from those who have an excess to satisfy the needs of the poor. Criminal justice involves removal of civil or even human rights from one person to compensate for rights that person took from another.

In a manner of speaking, it is always “intrinsically evil” to kill another human being. But, in certain cases, that act of killing is morally justifiable.

Theft is intrinsically evil, but taxation is basically justifiable theft.

It is against the Natural Law to take away another person’s freedom, but imprisonment is morally justified.

Often, the debate is limited merely to the justification of war or the death penalty or individual weapon ownership, but, really, almost every action of government, certainly every action we classify as “justice,” involves in some way practicing an intrinsic evil for a greater good.

One of the the operative phrases, as our Constitution and Declaration of Independence apply Natural Law, is “due process.” It is illicit to remove another person’s rights without “due process.”

Just actions involve due process (even if that due process is an immediate personal judgement call, which society later reviews to determien if it was licit). For example, if Detective Lou S. Cannon shoots a perp in haste, because the perp, now victim, held what appeared to be a gun, the Internal Affairs review may decide that it was *not* legitimate self-defense.

President W.R. Hawk may convince the country that a war is justified, but the world community may decide, after the fact, that the war was not justified.

Due process, both before and after the fact, are key.

But if you looked at every action in which government applies justice, you will find *some* action that is intrinsically evil.

There is also the question of culpability, as opposed to justification: as when the extreme circumstances remove a person of a moral choice. This was, to his credit, the argument the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life tried to make in regard to the Btazilian excommunications, but he didn’t have all the facts of the case.

The Church acknowledges there are situations when we may be forced to commit an action that is intrinsically evil or involves an intrinsic evil, but we do not really want to. It may not even be so drastic: perhaps addiction or psychological issues impede one’s ability to make a clear moral choice. In such cases, a person is not culpable for the intrinsic evil chosen, and not guilty of mortal sin (though perhaps of venial sin).

On the other hand, when a person is faced with a situation where moral judgement is impeded or taken away, or when a person faces a situation that would involve the just application of an otherwise intrinsic evil, and that person practices heroic virtue.

A woman who has a serious health problem while pregnant and declines medical treatment that might harm the baby, when the Church says it is licit to have such treatment, is not being scrupulous, she’s being heroically virtuous.
If a person is faced with a situation of self-defense and, rather than fighting back, turns the other cheek or gives the stolen silver as a gift, tha tperson is being heroically virtuous.

The Exorcism of Lila Rose?

Young Pro-Life Vigilante “Lila Rose” has gained notoriety the past several years for various “undercover ops” involving Planned Parenthood: recording conversations with donation collectors, posing as a teenaged girl pregnant through rape or incest and seeing if Planned Parenthood reported it, video taping the counseling sessions, etc.

Some of these “sting operations” have gone to a bit of an extreme in forcing the Planned Parenthood employees to say things they probably wouldn’t have said or done.  Planned Parenthood has claimed she’s illegally recorded the conversations.

In the meantime, Lila Rose has become a young hero  to pro-lifers, and she has recently converted to Catholicism, apparently.

Well, my friend Joe Hargrave has raised an interesting take on the morality of her actions, and his observations deserve some thought.  Deal Hudson has offered a rebuttal, which also deserves some thought.

Haven’t read all the comments on either discussion, but I’d like to offer several observations:

1.  I come down pretty hard on people.   Years ago, Mary suggested I should start using, when anonymity was called for, the nickname “God’s Gadfly,” after one of my favorite passages in Plato.  The Prophet Socrates, in the Apology (also one of the two places where he predicts the coming of Christ), says he is a “gadfly” sent by god (specifically Apollo, since he discerned his vocation from an oracle at Delphi) to annoy the Athenians and rouse them from their complacency and make them examine themselves.  Much like Socrates, who was always looking for a wise man, and Diogenes, who was always looking for an honest man, I’m always looking for an honest Catholic.

But that I mean not just “orthodox”–and not even necessarily 100% orthodox–but someone who’s actually committed to living the Gospel, at least in theory, 100%.  Someone who tries as best as possible not to let worldly attachments cloud his or her judgement.

From my experience reading his writings and communicating with him online, Joe Hargrave is one of those rare people.  He is seriously seeking Truth. 

Years ago, I read Bob Casey’s memoir Fighting for Life. For several reasons, I think it makes an interesting bookend to Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, because, if you define “conservative” by the definition Kirk gives in his magnum opus, then Bob Casey is definitely a liberal.

Now, deriiving from my own views of politics pre-Kirk, and definitely after reading Kirk, I came to the following delineation of the basic differences between a “conservative” and a “liberal”. While the terms originally referred to economics, or refer to customs, or whatever, I use them, as Kirk basically does, to refer to interpretation of law.

Kirk says that conservatives are, by nature, pessimistic about human nature, while liberals are optimistic. Conservatives expect people to do bad. They want government to punish wrongdoing, but they generally want government to be restricted because people run the government, and people are prone to corruption. Liberals are optimistic. They think people are fundamentally good, and they think that various social reforms are the way to solve the problem of evil.

For various reasons, the Culture Wars most obviously, but my interpretation of subsidiarity and other church teachings included, I have always been a conservative. As I noted the other day, Michael Jackson and Madonna and MTV deserve a lot of the credit for that, as I was naturally repulsed by them as a kid, and didn’t understand why other kids’ parents weren’t as strict as my parents were, why they let their kids watch that junk.

Based upon the above description, I have long believed that Catholics should be conservatives because, if nothing else, of original sin. Our belief in human concupiscence fits nicely with the conservative paradigm.

OTOH, Bob Casey’s memoir/manifesto shows what I think a true “liberal Catholic” should be like. He was equally concerned with moral issues as I was, but he had a more optimistic view of human nature, and therefore of the role of government. It would have been interesting to debate with him on that one point. In practice, I saw my views converging with many of Casey’s, but in theory ,we were polar opposites.

So, Joe Hargrave is the closest person I’ve met to a “Bob Casey”. He’s fundamentally liberal, because he’s an optimist. But on most practical political issues, we agree.

2. While I’m searching for an “honest Catholic,” I’m always willing to grow myself. I’m willing to entertain new perspectives, provided that it all fits. I have many times, over the years, completely changed my views on particular issues when I’ve found the Church taught differently than what I thought–or, more precisely, when I’ve found out the Church has a teaching on that subject (and didn’t realize it previously).

Liberal Catholics often say, “Read the Social Justice Encyclicals.” Unlike many Catholic political conservatives, I *have* read several of them, and excerpts or summaries of all, and I’ve found that, while I am no longer a laissez-faire capitalist, I am not a socialist, either. I am a Chestertonian distributivist.

While Kirk refuses to accept Chesterton as a conservative, Kirk’s view is that conservatives should shun economic ideology in favor of economic pragmatism, and he is equally critical of both capitalists and socialists.

But while I’m willing to grow, there are often issues that come up where we really haven’t given them much thought.

Torture is one such issue. I never gave it much thought, one way or the other, till the past few years.
Now, the issue of lying as an intrinsic evil has been circulating the blogosphere, and Joe has raised the question in regard to Lila Rose–and, by extension, in regard to anyone who does “undercover work”?

Can you lie in the service of undercover work?

3. Deal Hudson responds with a similar view to what he’s posited on waterboarding. Killing is intrinsically evil. So, if it’s just or justifiable to do that intrinsic evil in certain circumstances (war, death penalty, self defense), why isn’t it just to do certain other intrinsic evils in similar circumstances? Of course, this carries a dangerous slope with it: for example, that contraception is justifiable under such circumstances. I will be gettin back to that issue whenever I resume my Iraq series.

4. A story: our old OB/Gyn in VA once told us about a “crazy Iranian abortionist” he knew. He was Irish, and his narrative seemed to be missing some points. He said this abortionist showed up one time in the delivery room wielding a handgun while he was delivering the baby of one of the abortionist’s former clients. I forget why, exactly.

Anyway, he also said the guy’s clinic in Richmond was shut down after several accusations of fraud were made against him. An undercover cop went in one day. The abortionist came in and said, “You’re pregnant. Want an abortion?”
The cop said, “That was a urine sample from my male partner. I’m a cop, and you’re under arrest.”

Well, would *that* be morally justifiable?

5. The real question Joe’s post raises is whether undercover work is permissible at all. Then there’s the question of whether vigilante overcover work is justified.

6. Then there’s the Catechism’s extreme position on lying, especially given the lies that prelates themselves often engage in.

7. Another anecdote. I heard an African bishop tell this story in an EWTN homily. Two Christian men were running from some pagans who wanted to kill them. They met an old farmer and said, “Grandfather, some men want to kill us! Please hide us!” So the old farmer told them to hide under a bale of hay. The soldiers arrived. “Did you see two men?” they asked.
“Yes,” said the old man. “They’re hiding under that bale of hay.”
“Fool! How dare you mock us?!” they cried, striking him to the ground.
The soldiers left. The fugitives came out from under the hay.
“Why did you tell whem where we were?”
“I knew they wouldn’t believe I was telling the truth,” he said. “The truth will set you free.”


Do we use the language of the Greeks or not?

The doctrine of transubstantiation, that the Eucharist contains the substance of Jesus Christ–His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity–but not the “acccidents”, uses terms derived from Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotle.

Substance was, for Aristotle, what makes a thing what-it-is.  What does it mean “to be”?  The Latin verb “to be” is esse, from which we get essence.  A thing’s substance is its essence. 

Classic example: a man is a man.  His having a beard is an “accident”, because he can have a beard or not have a beard and still be a man.

Anything that is not necessary to one’s being is an “accident.”  Anything necessary is a “substance.”

Modern science has basically turned that around and said that a “substance” is that which is.  Just the thing in front of you.  In chemistry, any finite object is a “substance.”

A human, considered as a human, is a “substance.”  A cell, considered as a cell, is a “substance.”  A DNA molecule, qua DNA molecule, is a substance.  And so on.

But Aristotle wanted something deeper.  Plato said that substances didn’t exist in this world: they’re “forms” of things in Heaven.  Somewhere in Heaven, for Plato, there’s an IDEAL BED.  There’s also an Ideal Sofa Bed.  And there’s an Ideal version of the precise sofa bed I”m reclining on as I write this.

C. S. Lewis embodies this philosophy in the last chapters of  The Last Battle.Aristotle could not see how substance could be refined to a purely spiritual reality, since things exist in a material plane. So he sought out how to define that which a substance is.  Metaphysics is the field of study “beyond physics,” but philosophers have long debated  whether that title is just bibliographic, as in “The book after Physics,” or “Physics, Level II”, or else it’s really “a field of study about things higher than what physics studies.”


Today, the proper study of metaphysics belongs to those who study quarks and dark matter and relativity and quantum physics. 

Medical science probes the human brain and discovers parts of the brain that fire when people have mystical experiences, showing how the spiritual realm transects with  our reality.

Physical science studies the fringes of the cosmos and discovers how limited our universe really is, and how limited our understanding of matter and energy really are.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church remains trapped in Medieval cosmology.

The substance of a body is something physical.  Something that can be touched . Something that can be seen.  Something that can be observed with any of the senses. 

So, those who try to give a pragmatic, worldly theology of the Eucharist, even doing so in an orthodox manner (because they argue from council proclamations based upon obsolete science), will say, “It’s the substance, but not the accidents,” using Aristotle’s terminology.

But, as soon as you point out that Aristotle’s substance is something physical, they say, “We can’t be confined to Aristotle’s terminology.”

Or else that there is a Divine substance, such as “consubstantial with the Father.”

But it’s not the Divine Substance of Jesus we’re talking about.  It’s the substance of His Body.  The substance of His Blood. Even the Blood more than the Body.  For if one is to say, “it’s just a ‘spiritual body,'” then what is spiritual blood?

Transubstantiation has to mean something, or else it is meaningless.  It has to be something *different*.  It cannot be something we just chalk up to “spiritual reality.”  If that’s the case, then Transubstantiation is no different than the omnipresence of God.

I certainly have no problem with spiritual reality, and it is quite obvious that transubstantiation cannot be observed according to the standards of our every day observation of material reality.

But if we’re going to use the term “substance,” and we’re going to use the term “body,” and we”re going to use the term “accidents,” then we have to play by Aristotle’s ground rules.  I’d rather we didn’t.  I’d rather we scrapped the whole issue altogether.

But Transubstantiation touches on the very question Aristotle is asking in the Metaphysics: What does it mean to be? And not just to be, but to be what we are?  What makes me John Charles Hathaway? 

On the human level, that is the fundamental question I ask of people who support abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, or other aspects of the Culture of Death: how do you define what a human being is?

Liberals usually answer that question with an appeal to religion: a human being is a soul.  It’s a “spiritual reality.”  They sever the human body from the human soul and say the soul is what defines the person, not the body.

Pro-lifers argue that, given our current knowledge of science, we have to say that the continuum of human life begins at conception, and we cannot create arbitrary divisions in the stages of development of the human person.  The reason for this is that, to create such a division, you have to deny human rights to someone already born, as well.  The usual division one hears is “viability,” when the baby is no longer 100% dependent upon the mother exclusively(but the adoration of George Tiller by abortion supporters show they don’t really care about viability).

Yet that removes the right to life of anyone on life support of any sort.

The argument that “life begins at conception” is almost a kind of fall-back measure, because we can’t really say what a human being is.

We don’t know what, in the Aristotelian sense, the substance of a human being is.

The answer to that question may not exist, but the fringes of modern science show that it very well may.

What if transubstantiation and the mystery of human life are inherently linked, which is why they are so important to Catholics of a more traditional mindset, and why “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics want to downplay both?

Both touch on the fundamental question of Creation, of how the supernatural and the natural interact.

When a priest consecrates the Host, he performs a similar accomplishment to what a married couple do when they conceive a child: both are bringing a human substance into the world.
One is bringing the human substance of the God Man, Christ, back into the world in the appearance of bread and wine.
The substance of the bread and wine–what makes them bread and wine–go away. The “accidents” remain.

And the man and woman combine the cells of their bodies into a new embryo, and that embryo has what we call a “soul” (and Aristotle’s word “anima” is the biological equivalent of “substance”–whatever it is that makes things alive).

Only in such an explanation can the claim that “the Eucharist is a spiritual reality” be saved from leadinng to Rahnerism.

For perhaps Plato was right. Perhaps all substance is spiritual. Maybe we’re all just little game board pieces, little avatars, being moved by our True Selves in Heaven.

Or there’s something else.

If the substance of a human being is the DNA, or the cells, if “life begins at conception,” then we have to be able to put the Host under a microscope and see evidence of the substance of Christ’s Body.

A 1 week old embryo and a 100 year old man will, in theory, have the same DNA when looked at side-by-side.
If the genetic code is the “substance” of a human person, whether that person is under the appearance of an embryo or an old codger, then the Eucharist *must* have the genetic code of a man, not wheat.

But wait.

The problem is in the pro-life argument. DNA *cannot* be where we find the anima or the substance of man, because DNA CAN CHANGE

First, there’s the common response to “life begins at conception”: identical twins. Their DNA doesn’t change, per se, but the embryo splits in two, and the two new embryos have identical DNA, so that DNA cannot be the “substance” of either one.

DNA can be mutated during a person’s lfe, by radiation for example, or by certain drugs that have been shown to alter DNA. An embryo’s cell is not the same as the cell of an old man because an embryo is all stem cells, and we know that even adult stem cells are not exactly like embryonic stem cells.

So the 100 year old man does not necessarily have the same DNA as the baby. Even if it only happens that way occasionally, it still proves that DNA is not the substance of a person.

So, now, from the pro-life perspective, we have an insoluble quandary, but the philosophical quandary of the Eucharist makes more sense.

But, again, what if there is a third way between Plato and Aristotle? What if there is a third way between “spiritual” and “physical”? What if, as scientific knowledge advances, we hit on some level of existence that really is what Aristotle calls “substance” and also what Plato calls Forms?

Whatever happens to the universe at the moment of Consecration is the same as whatever happens at the moment of conception. If we can figure out what that is, we’ll have solved everything.

Let’s be clear: I have serious qualms about “Christian Rock,” too

And the shenanigans of Amy Grant are an outstanding example.

Depending upon its usage, rock music, even with “decent lyrics” or even very positive lyrics, can have a dangerous effect on our souls, as Thomas Howard suggested in a 2008 article for Inside Catholic (which I cannot presently find a URL for). 

C. S. Lewis often said that Heaven is a place of both great silence and great music, and everything in between is dangerous.  Cacophony is the sound of Hell.  The closer “music” gets to cacophony, the closer it gets to Hell.  And the support for this is in the testimony of many converts from rock culture who have appeared on EWTN over the years.

We were sitting at Ruby Tuesday this evening, and a series of songs were apropos to recent topics I’ve covered on this blog.

Mary’s a big Huey Lewis fan, and “Happy to be Stuck” came on the air, which seemed fitting to my earlier post on Jon and Kate Gosselins and Gov. Mark Sanford: if you want a successful marriage, just remember you’re “stuck with each other.”  Great song.  Oh, and it actually has a melody.

Next, or shortly thereafter, we heard the song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by Mick Jagger (“Satan” in Don McLean’s “American Pie”) and the Rolling Stones.  One could credit the song as attesting to St. Augustine’s “Our Hearts are Restless till they Rest in Thee” but without the “Thee.”

There is a very plausible theory regarding the link between the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Drug Trade.  Now, you have to strip away some of speculations to get down to the facts.  I’ve linked the summary form from a conspiracy theory website, but this is one I’ve thoroughly researched on my own over the years, and found that there is merit to the links they established.

First, the ideology, disguised as sociology, which promoted the idea of the “teenager” and “teenaged rebellion” came out of a British think tank called the Tavistock institute.  If you trace the funding of the Tavistock Institute, it leads you to the modern day descendents of the families who owned the now-defunct British East India Company.

The argument contends that the Tavistock Institute orchestrated the groundwork for the arrival of the Beatles, and that the Beatles and the other bands in the “British Invasion” were really doing the work of the Tavistock Institute.  Here’s the thing with these kinds of conspiracy theories: it doesn’t really matter if there’s a direct connection.  It would be a stretch to say that the Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc., were working directly for Tavistock.

But Tavistock *did* set the ideology in motion which paved the way for them.  Social Engineers do their work by getting their ideas infiltrated in the universities, and, through the universities, into the business executives sand teachers. 

So, regardless of how direct it was, regardless of whether it was truly “orchestrated” or just a common movement of people following a similar ideology from different facets of the power structure, Tavistock set the whole “teenager” concept in motion, and the Beatles arrived on the scene to catalyze it in a way that the existing American rock stars had not yet touched.

The Beatles challenged people’s sensibilities, but then the Rolling Stones followed suit with even more offensive stuff.

So a two way effect happened: on the one hand, the Beatles looked more “clean cut” than the Stones, so, after the arrival of the Stones, parents were willing to compromise on Beatles.

On the other hand, it was like the cliche of the older sibling “paving the way” for younger children to get away with stuff: since parents caved into the Beatles, they couldn’t argue against the Stones.

And most of the songs of both groups were,  directly or indirectly, promoting fornication and drug use.

The song in question is very obviously about fornication.  It’s also barely even a song: harsh electric guitar riffs mixed with a growling chant that barely qualifies as a melody.

It’s very unsettling and disturbing.  I don’t see how anyone can call it pleasing at all.  I don’t see how anyone can say this song makes them “feel good.’

Following up on this drug anthem was another song by the Rolling Stones, “Start Me Up,” which I first heard of when Microsoft used it as an ad jingle for Windows 95, replacing “Program Manager” with the “Start Menu”.  This song is also sexually explicit, as even its Wikipedia entry acknowledges.

While the song is also notably upbeat, less of an assault on the senses, and more melodious than “Satisfaction,” it still emphasizes noise over quality, with percussive guitar chords and vocals that are more shouted than sung.

I am not as totally anti-pop music as I was in my more staid childhood, but I still believe that Christians, who are to be in the world but not of the world, need to be extremely cautious about the aspects of popular culture we expose ourselves to.

To claim that  a pop musician is “talented” is no justification for bad art or bad morals.  Quite the opposite.  If someone is truly a talented dancer, then the fact that his preferred style of dance is to grab his crotch and slide left to right should be all the more scandalous.

Talent untrained is worse than talentlessness.  A person may be a talented storyteller, but will not be a good writer if he or she does not know the rules of grammar.  That person may even be a successful writer, but it would be foolish to praise such a person for any “achievement” when the person has failed to pursue even the most basic refinement of craft.

The most worthy of popular musicians, even some I wouldn’t necessarily admire myself, turn to at least some level of elevation in their later years.  If they’re primarily performers, they elevate their craft by switching from rock music to covers of old standards, as, for example, Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart has done (for the songs on his 60s-80s tributes, Manilow has also added a touch of class to some of the original material).  Or else, like Huey Lewis and Petula Clark, they start taking roles in Broadway musicals.  Others turn to composing, writing musicals and movie soundtracks, as Barry Manilow, Elton John, ABBA and others have done.

When Andrew Lloyd Webber achieved unimaginable success with Cats, he said, “I have more money than I know what to do with.  I think I’ll write something for art’s sake and do a requiem mass.”  His original intent for  Phantom of the Opera was to write a straight up opera, or else remix pieces from existing operas. 

Speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of his achievements, along with other composers of his generation, has been to show that rock and roll music, and electronic instruments, have something to offer the musical world.  The electric guitar, like the acoustic guitar,  is actually a versatile and potentially very beautiful instrument, in the proper hands, when not used merely to produce noise.  In the original heavy metal single version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” and more subtly in the later film version, Lloyd Webber blends the signature d-minor organ intro with an electric guitar, showing the world that an electric guitar can serve the same role as an organ (it would be interesting to hear an all-electric-guitar version of “Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor”).

Similarly, jazz musicians can do amazingly gentle things with electric guitars (Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack to Twin Peaks is an example).

Lloyd Webber’s Variations on  Paganini’s 24th Caprice, for cello and “rock ensemble,” is an amazing blend of classical, jazz, rock and New Age elements.

Rock music can do amazing things when it a) has, minimally, a melody, b) does not make noise for its own sake, c) involves some art, and d) has decent lyrics.

That’s not even to say that you can’t have lyrics about controversial subjects.  Many great classical songs and operas deal with controversial subjects.  As Messrs. Andre and Firmin sing in “Prima Donna”:
“You’d  never get away with all this in a play, but if it’s loudly sung, and in a foreign tongue, it’s just the sort of story audiences adore: in fact,  perfect Opera!”

Of course, one must recall that Mozart’s operas were also censored and criticized for their lewd content.  That should not elevate the Rolling Stones; it should make us more cautious about Mozarts. 

But the *topic* is not so much the issue is how it’s dealt with.  Is it explicit or subtle?  Crass or reverent?  Does it specifically refer to fornication or adultery, uncritically?  Does it show the inherent flaws of fornication or adultery?  Can the song be applied to marital love?

We must ask these questions when we consider our involvement in pop music.  One of the first times I watched Life on the Rock, Jeff Cavins (oh, how I miss him!) was talking about walking through a store with a seminarian friend, and his friend said, “Oh!  I’ve been wanting that CD!”  And Jeff Cavins was like, “What?  You’re studying for the priesthood, and you want to listen to that?  How is that going to help your vocation?”

It could just as easily be applied to, “You’re trying to live a chaste marriage, and you want to listen to that?”
“You’re a single person. Is this going to help you live in continent, celibate chastity?”

If we’re going to make heroes out of popular artists, there ought to at least be some objective standards by which we elevate them to that status.