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December 2005 Archives

December 14, 2005

Ten Commandments

This is mostly intended to be a bit of a record…

At the RCIA meeting last night, the topic of discussion was the ten commandments. Now, you’d think they’re pretty straight-forward, but, of course, the consequences of straight-forward commandments are pretty complicated. Here’s just what caught my attention:

From the first commandment, the This is Our Faith book talks about many things, including a reference to simony, as a sub-category of irreligion. Now, like me, you’re probably wondering what simony is. According to Apple’s dictionary, it is:

The buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, for example pardons or benefices.

Which is about the same as the brief definition given in that book. Summary: selling indulgences is A SIN. Good call, Martin Luthor!

Next up: taking the Lord’s name in vain. Now, what I found interesting about this is the varying interpretations of what that exactly means. I mean, the Lord’s name, strictly speaking, is Yahweh, not “Lord”. Actually, I suppose, the Lord’s name is also Jesus Christ, though to some extent that’s the name Mary gave him, not the name that is his inherently. So, does just saying “oh, God!” when surprised, frustrated, or whatever qualify? Probably not—-that’s taking the Lord’s title in vain. Essentially, like the difference between “George W. Bush” and “Mr. President”. Another question: what does it mean to take it in vain? I mean, if you’re shouting it in surprise or in glee, is that in vain? Next question: why is it phrased taking the Lord’s name? I don’t know that saying something has ever been referred to as “taking” in any other context. On the contrary, when we say “he took my name”, we generally mean that he assumed my name, and called himself by my name. This makes more sense as a commandment: don’t call your children God or Yahweh, because that name is reserved and your taking the name would be in vain because you are not God.

So why do we think of “taking” the Lord’s name in vain as using it as an exclamation?

The “This is Our Faith” book also describes failure to attend Sunday mass as mortally sinful. This seems interesting, and prompts the question: what is the difference between regular sin and mortal sin? According to Fr. Bill, regular sin weakens your relationship with God while mortal sin destroys it. Next question: does skipping mass on Sunday once destroy your relationship with God? Not going ever, that may be more of a mortal sin, but skipping for whatever reason? Hardly seems mortally sinful.

On the other hand, we have the fabulous example (and I use the term sarcastically) of megachurches, nationwide, deciding not to hold services on Christmas (Fort Wayne, IN and Miami, FL and Des Moines, IA and Kentucky and Texas to name a few). Yeah, that makes lots of sense.

An interesting note about some of the Laws of Moses: remember the whole eye-for-an-eye thing in there that seems kinda barbaric and unmerciful? Something to think about is that at the time, common practice was that if you poked out my eye I’d poke out six of your kinsmen’s eyes (minimum). In that framework it was shockingly merciful, and we’ve merely progressed as a society towards more and more mercy.

Anyway, the fifth commandment was, as always, a fun one. First up: abortion. Now, this is just a minor quibble with the This is Our Faith book, but it claims that Christians have always believed that personhood begins at conception and that killing a fertilized egg or an embryo or a fetus has always been considered murder. This is totally not true, as can be discovered by reading a little of Saint Augustine’s works. Specifically, he references Exodus 21:22-25:

When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges.

But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life,

eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

And points out that the life within the woman is worth merely a fine, while the penalty for any injury to the woman is far more severe, indicating that the unborn child is not worth as much. Granted, there are plenty of good arguments to say that Exodus gives an incorrect balance of punishments (particularly in this case), but the fact of the matter is that the Church has not always felt that unborn children were living in the same sense that the mother is living.

Now, of course, when talking about “thou shalt not kill”, one always comes face to face with things like war and how the Church endorses the concept of Just War. And a straightforward, simplistic reading of this says: hey, the commandment is not ambiguous! It doesn’t say “thou shalt not kill, except when you really have to”, it just says “thou shalt not”. The concept of Just War is predicated on the concept of self-defense as a basic right. And I was originally a little confused about where such a so-called basic right comes from, until another RCIA member pointed out that lack of self-defense is murder! If someone is going to kill you and you do nothing, it’s no different than committing suicide. Killing is still wrong, of course, but when it’s unavoidable… then it’s a wash. Which is somewhat more firm ground, but illustrates just how limited a concept Just War really is.

Here’s another question I don’t have an answer to: is smoking morally equivalent to suicide?

Fr. Bill told us to look up Gerry Powers, Professor Emeritus of Boston College, who has made many interesting arguments about the concept of Just War, particularly as it applies to Iraq.

There was a little bit of talk about the Catholic sexual ethic, which I’ve already talked about (and no new issues were raised here). An interesting point came out of the This is Our Faith paragraph about masturbation. Specifically:

Inexperience, habit, or circumstances, however, can diminish our blameworthiness in this area as we grow to maturity.

When I asked him about it, Fr. Bill said that this concept holds true for just about every sin: sometimes there more to avoiding it than just not doing it (this even refers back to the ideas substantiating self-defense). This, of course, also points to the concept of the Primacy of Conscience, since circumstances are important in considering the blameworthiness of a person for any sin. Interesting, no?

The This is Our Faith book also outlines some pretty… strict prohibitions about the use of fertility and other pro-conception methods, such as using donated sperm (a no-no, because it interferes with the closeness of the couple (what? I think circumstances will bear out the un-blameworthiness of this one most of the time)). This prompts the question, for me (I didn’t raise it at the RCIA meeting) of: if an unborn child is essentially no different in any particularly important spiritual respect than a child that has already been born, what’s the difference between having a test-tube baby implanted in the womb of a mother and straight-up adoption? I think the Church (or the This is Our Faith book) is a little wrong here in banning anything but classical conception.

My last observation: The eighth commandment against bearing false witness does NOT specify that you may not knowingly bear false witness, it merely forbids bearing any kind of false witness. Specifically, that seems to me to be a commandment to verify whatever information you pass along before you do it (i.e. don’t spread rumors!). Fr. Bill didn’t seem to want to come with me on that one, but he may not have quite understood me (or I may be wrong in reading that into the wording).

Oh, and Fr. Bill read a bunch of amusing passages from Deuteronomy to demonstrate how really silly it could get. For example, Deuteronomy 23:10-12:

“When you are in camp during an expedition against your enemies, you shall keep yourselves from everything offensive.

If one of you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he shall go outside the camp, and not return until,

toward evening, he has bathed in water; then, when the sun has set, he may come back into the camp.

Yup, they even have rules for that.

December 18, 2005

Say "Christmas" Or Else!

December 20, 2005

The Pill is NOT an Abortofacient

I recently got a comment on my Natural Family Planning entry, and I did a little reading to respond to it properly. My response was long enough, and sufficiently interesting, that I’m going to elevate it to full post status.

The comment I was replying to said:

I’ve done similar research and I agree that the whole Church’s case for NFP is unclear. But I think I can help you with the problem of the pill. I think that nowadays the crucial argument of the church against the pill is that it is an early abortive measure. Modern pills are too weak to guarantee that there is no ovulation. They have extra mechanisms of which one is to make a mucus barrier for the sperms, the other is changing the tissue of the uterus in such a way that a blastocyste (if it happens to be conceived) cannot root into it - so it dies and is expelled. If the last situation occurs, and if it occurs the couple is unaware - we can talk of an abortion (life begins at the conception). Further more - there is plenty of evidence that the hormonal pill (and blisters too) is harmfull to woman’s health and even life. Summing up, the pill is now forbidden not so much by the VI but by the V Commandment.

Here is my response:

I’ve heard similar arguments about the pill before—a friend of mine even went to a downright medieval pre-Canna (they were emphasizing how the woman had to obey and have sex whenever the man wanted) that made similar claims. I had written them off as off-their rocker, but I think the claim that modern pills are too weak doesn’t hold water for more reasons than that those fellows didn’t like it. Specifically, they have pills that can hold off your ovulation for three months at a time! One example is called Seasonale and is produced by Duramed Pharmaceuticals. If this pill was really too weak to guarantee that there is no ovulation, then it wouldn’t be able to hold off menstruation for three months at a time.

Now, I’m confident that there are side-effects to taking these pills. My understanding is that they consist primarily of a combination of estrogen and progestin (or synthetic varieties of the two, such as progesterone, norethindrone, or levonorgestrel as progestin replacements and estradiol or ethinyl estradiol as an estrogen replacement), and what these pills achieve is, essentially, fooling the body into thinking that it’s already pregnant and thus doesn’t have to release an egg. Different pills have different amounts and formulations (which is good if one pill has side-effects like making the woman’s breasts sore, because there’s hope that another formulation will not have that side-effect), but the general effect is the same. Even without the pill fertilized eggs are not guaranteed to implant—at least 15% of the fertilized eggs that humans create don’t implant for whatever reason (given how poorly designed our reproductive systems are, it’s astonishing that we’re as prolific as we are). Surely these cannot all be considered abortions. This is a natural function of the body: the uterine lining (the endomitrium) is normally unreceptive to implantation at the time of conception.

From what I have read (for example, on the website of the Association of Pro-Life Physicians), it seems that the evidence of this alleged abortofacient side-effect of the pill is exceedingly weak to begin with. The reason for this is, in part, because the pill is not the only actor in the hormonal system of the uterus: the corpus luteum, once the egg is fertilized, generates massive amounts of estrogen—ten to twenty times as much as is there normally—which causes a thickening of the lining of the uterus and prepares it for implantation. The evidence that pills are abortofacients (i.e. that they cause abortions) is based entirely on observing the uterine lining during a non-conceiving cycle and is merely an observation that the lining is not as thick as when the woman is not taking the hormone supplements, which then ties into observations from in-vitro fertilizations where thin uterine linings have lower success rates. However, given what the corpus luteum does when the egg is fertilized (releases massive amounts of hormones designed to make the uterine lining grow quickly), and given that it takes six days to travel from the fertilization point (within the fallopian tubes) to a point where it can implant in the uterus, it is entirely plausible if not certain that the uterine lining is returned to its full strength by the power of the corpus luteum’s hormone production.

A more thorough description is here.

There are other reasons for refuting the supposed abortofacient nature of these pills (and the Association of Pro-Life Physicians gets into them at length), but the ones above are the ones that convince me the most.

Thanks for commenting, though!

December 25, 2005

The Real Basis of X-Mass

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this sort of usage of the letter Chi first showed up in "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" (whatever that was) as Xres mæsse around 1100 A.D., and later appeared as X'temmas (1551 A.D.).

Bartleby has this to say:

Xmas has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where the X represents a Greek chi, the first letter of Χριστος, "Christ." In this use it is parallel to other forms like Xtian, "Christian." But people unaware of the Greek origin of this X often mistakenly interpret Xmas as an informal shortening pronounced. Many therefore frown upon the term Xmas because it seems to them a commercial convenience that omits Christ from Christmas.

December 27, 2005


I found some ancient fonts I created once. Be a shame for them to be forgotten in the mists of time. So, here they are:

(Mac Win)

(Mac Win)

(Mac Win)

(Mac Win)

(Mac Win)

(Mac Win)

I also found my old “Poetry & Prose Archive”… it’s childish in places, but still was something I invested a lot of time in back in the day. Rather than let it fade, I’m making it live forever, here, unaltered from exactly how it was back in 1998. Let’s pretend it’s not embarrassing. :) By the way, I highly doubt any of the email addresses on that site still work.

Finally, an old MOD site I put together. No comment.

About December 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Kyle in December 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2005 is the previous archive.

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