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Waiting in Joyful Hope

Christianity and the concept of "person"

I recently had the chance to read a book lent to me by Professor Lucian Turcescu, a colleage at Concordia University (love the bow tie, Lucian). It is based on his doctoral thesis, and is entitled Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Persons. While his work is necessarily quite technical, the theme itself is quite fascinating, in that he argues that our modern Western concept of "person" depends on an intellectual tradition that flows directly from Christianity.

The concept of "person", of course, is extremely important for (among other things) human rights theory. If we get this concept wrong, in other words, we risk seeing a degredation of a proper respect for our fellow human beings. So what is a "person", anyway?

As it turns out, the ancient Greek philosophical tradition did not actually have a well-developed concept of "person". The root word of "person" is the Greek word prosopon (in Latin, persona), which meant the mask worn by actors in the theatre to represent the different roles they might play. This view is wholly unacceptable to establish any sort of human rights concept, however, because it implies that the value of an individual is not based on who he is, but simply on what he does. It eventually leads to a utilitarian view of the human person, in which those who are sick or otherwise weakened lose some or all of their dignity has human beings.

Enter the Greek-speaking Christians, particularly Gregory of Nyssa and his fellow Cappadocian thinkers. Debates were raging around the nature of God at the time, particularly the concept of the Trinity. How can God be one and three at the same time? The eventual formula agreed at the council of Nicea (325 A.D.) was "One God in three Persons". But what, exactly, did this mean? The defense of this statement of Christian faith required the Cappadocians to clarify the concept of "person" itself — and in doing so, they laid the foundation for all of modern human rights theory (and, I might add, the notion of the solidarity of the human race).

The first thing that was rejected was the word prospon to describe the concept of "person", primarily because it was too easy to misunderstand in the concext of the Trinity. It would be too easy, for example, to declare that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely different roles (or masks, if you will) exercised by God depending on his current activity. This is heresy called "Sabellian modalism", and it effectively denied the Trinity as such. Of course, a side-effect of this theory has been already described above, in which this theory reduces the source of dignity of persons to merely the roles they play (a very dangerous notion).

The Cappadocians strongly supported the Nicean formula, which described God as three individuated substances (one could say as three individuals) sharing one substance/nature (in Greek, ousia). Each Person could be understood as fully divine because each possessed the divine nature, without somehow "dividing up" that nature. Think of cats: what makes a cat a cat is that it shares that nature of cathood with other cats. At the same time, I can look at this cat or that cat without somehow thinking that the nature of "cathood" has been divided among them (that would be silly). The birth of a new cat does not somehow make other cats less "catty". In an analogous way, the presence of the three Persons in the One God does not diminish God in any way, and what permits each to truly be divine is that they share the divine nature.

So far, so good. The basis of human rights is now set, in that the dignity of a person depends, not on what he or she does, but what he or she *is*. "Human" describes a nature, not an activity, so "human rights" are rights that flow from sharing that human nature, first and foremost. The Cappadocians, however, develop their concept of "person" even further, and in doing so diverge from some elements of the modern version of the concept. Or, more accurately, it is the modern version of the concept that has diverged from theirs, with potentially nasty consequences.

In our modern mindset we tend to think of a "person" not simply as an "individual human", but as an "autonomous individual human". There is some truth to this idea, in that to be an individual anything means to be this thing and not that thing. Again, think of cats: to be an individual cat means to be this cat and not that cat. However, for this "not-thatness" of an individual to be a truly defining element of its existence requires that it be completely distinguishable from the other, i.e. that its existence be independant. For humans, because we have free will, this independance means (in part) living with personal autonomy. Again, there is some truth to this notion, in that if we are not autonomous then we are not really free, and if we are not free then we are not really capable of choosing to love (which is our highest vocation).

What Gregory of Nyssa and his companions recognized, however, was that the concept of autonomy needed to be completed by the concept of relationality. For the Cappadocians, to be a true "person" meant to be in relation with others. If the concept of autonomous individuals, for example, were to be applied to the Trinity without this concept of relationality, then the Trinity would actually consist of 3 separate gods. What keeps the three individuals of the Trinity in their profound union with each other is their mutual relationality, lived in an autonomy that finds its perfection in eternal mutual love.

The Cappadocians, therefore, present a concept of person that necessarily includes an openness to relationality. In doing so they actually present a stronger foundation for human rights than the notion of mere autonomy. Some, of course, do not agree. For example, some argue that the reason we need human rights is so that people can truly become autonomous and this truly become persons, thus placing autonomy as the core concept for human rights. The problem with this argument, however, is that it once again reduces a human being to what he or she *does*. Granted, it is not exactly the same as the prosopon problem, in that what is at stake here is not what is done so much as the autonomy with which it is done. Nevertheless, it still boils down to action over being. What about, for example, people suffering from coma or mental illness? They are not totally autonomous, and may never be. Are they therefore less human?

By opening the definition of "person" to include relationality, therefore, the Cappadocians recognize that the dignity of human nature rests not only in autonomous loving, but also in the capacity of being loved. Relationality possesses both an active and a passive dimension, and as such it includes the good ideas of the concept of autonomy while preserving the idea that human rights reside in the very nature of humanity, rather than simply in the activity of its individuals.

Where this concept of relationality becomes really important, however, is in the attitude of mutual responsibility it engenders. Why, for example, should I love my neighbour? Because he is of the same tribe? Because he is of the same religion, or nation? Because I hope to gain something from him? The Cappadocians would answer: because he shares the same human nature as you. And since this nature includes relationality, it means that all human beings are, by nature, necessarily in a relationship with all other human beings, a relationship that finds its perfection in love.

Translation into regular English: if the Cappadocians are right, then charitable organizations like Doctors without Borders are among the peak achievements of civilization, because they exercise care for others simply because they are fellow human beings.

I think the Cappadocians are right, and I think their theory is actually empirically verifiable. Just think of the typical relationship between a parent and child. A newborn child is far from autonomous, and yet I have had many parents tell me that they never knew how much they were capable of love before their first child was born. It was like a "rush of love" as a new relationship was established — and a relationship with a highly non-autonomous being.

And there is one other empirical verification that I think is possible. I think it is inarguable that Western civilization has the most developed notion of universal (i.e. non-tribal) charity. Each culture has its organizations for the mutual assistance of the members of that culture, but very few have similar organizations for the aid of strangers. The West does, and I consider these organizations to be the true peak of Western civilization. I find it interesting that, as we in the West have tended to emphasize autonomy and self-determination, we have also tended to become more "tribal". Still, even if it has forgotten it to a certain extent, the West is a highly Christian society in its origins, and those Christian origins include a concept of persons developed from theological debates concerning the Trinity. That concept of persons allowed the West to develop a more and more universal concept of charity, found today in groups like Doctors without Borders. So ask yourself: do you think that charitable organizations with a universal character are the signs of healthier side of a civilization? If you do, then you think the Cappadocians were right.

One final point, though: if the Cappadocians were right about the concept of persons, then it necessarily implies that they were right in understanding God as a Trinity. It is a sign that Christianity is truly a force that inspires civilization to be the best it can be. And it means that every time you give money to a charity with a non-tribal outlook, you are actually professing the belief, or at least the hope, that God is a Trinity after all. Let us therefore pray that the West may continue to have this Trinitarian outlook, that it may become more and more explicit, and that it may spread throughout the world as a more perfect basis for the love of God and neighbour.

The morality of mega-salaries

A reader wrote to ask the following question:

Recently I've learned that the CEO of our company has a salary of 900k,
and received a bonus of 1.8 million! I'm not proposing a communist system would be better, but something about that seems out of whack. I mean, what the heck could the guy be doing each day that merits that reward? Yes, yes, other CEOs make more but...

It seems to me there are two questions at stake here: (1) whether or not such a reward is merited in this case, and (2) whether it is *ever* just for *anyone* to earn that kind of money.

Regarding the first question, we need to remember that in a capitalist society the price of a good is determined by the forces of supply and demand, and not as a measure of their intrinsic worth. Air has more intrinsic worth than champagne, but we pay plenty for the latter and nothing for the former, because while the demand for air is high (and inflexible!) there is plenty of it all around us. The supply is much greater than the demand, with no delivery costs — and so, it is free.

Now a CEO is actually a fairly rare kind of person. There is a combination of leadership qualities in a CEO that is quite unusual. He (or she) must be capable of mastering several business functions (sales, finance, production, etc.), s/he must possess some sort of vision, s/he typically must be capable of intense concentration, be a good communicator and lobbyist, etc. Does these functions *intrinsically* mean s/he should earn oodles and oodles of cash? I'd say no, but that is not how our capitalist system works. Assuming there isn't some sort of high-level corruption at stake, the CEO earns a crazy salary simply because the demand for good leaders is high and the pool of good leaders is small. So the question about the morality of a CEO salary is not really about CEO salaries, it is about certain fundamental assumptions of capitalism itself and its capacity to properly express, in dollar values, the true worth of goods and services. Discomfort at inflated CEO salaries is, in my opinion, really just a symptom of a malaise regarding less-than-perfect elements of our current economic structure.

Now regarding the second question, as to whether anyone should ever earn that kind of money, I think as Christians we would do better not to protest high salaries so much as insist upon a proper sense of social responsibility. This is, again, one of the weaknesses of the capitalist system, which tends to focus on property rights with too much focus on social responsibilities. The Christian response, it would seem to me, is found in the stewardship concept. The stewardship concept starts from the idea that the world is ultimately governed by divine providence, such that everything we have and receive is actually a gift from God. While our possessions are in our care, they are really more on loan than anything else — God, in a sense, is "investing" in us by placing these goods at our disposal. It is our responsibility, then, to return these goods to God with increase, according to standards of virtue and solidarity. A CEO may earn $2.7 million dollars in a year, but the real question is not so much what he earned but what he did with it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Is he acting as the "sovereign" of his wealth? Or does he see that he is really more of a caretaker of it, on behalf of the One who owns the whole world? So personally, I don't get too uptight about the question of quantities of possessions, but rather the quality of how they are used — and that is an issue that touches upon every Christian, indeed every human being, no matter what their salary might be.

The new Law of happiness

The Beatitudes represent the opening lines of the Sermon on the Mount, which St. Matthew places as Jesus' first major speech within his ministry. Each of the Beatitudes begins with the word "Blessed", as in "Blessed are the poor in spirit" or "Blessed are the meek". The word "blessed" does not quite capture the ancient Greek word, however, which is the word "makarios". "Makarios" is often translated as "happy", but it does not mean a simple human contentment, but a happiness that is rock-solid and overflowing. In French, the word we use to translate "makarious" is not hereux, but bienheureux, i.e. "really and truly happy".

Interestingly, Jesus taught the Beatitudes while on a mountain. This is not an accident, and is meant to evoke the image of Moses, who descended from Mount Sinai holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Beatitudes are often considered to be the completion of the Law of God. Curiously, however, the Beatitudes are not written like your typical commandments. The Ten Commandments are written as a set of do's and don'ts, as in "Do not kill" or "Do keep holy the Lord's day". The Beatitudes, instead, are written like simple statements of fact. In reality, however, the two kinds of statements go together. For example, imagine I were to say "Don't eat the mushroom. It is poisonous." I have made two statements: the first is a commandment, and the second is an explanation of the commandment. Each statement, however, completes the other. In some ways, the second statement is the more important. If all I say is "that mushroom is poisonous," it implies that it should not be eaten. The explanation completes the commandment by giving its reason, while the commandment makes explicit the "do" or "don't" in the statement. So it is with the Beatitudes. They do not replace the Ten Commandments, but they point out the real goal of the Ten Commandments, and provide a set of statements that have implicit within them a code of behaviour for all of life.

When we look at the Beatitudes, however, we sometimes see a contradiction. "Happy are those who mourn"...does the make sense? By definition, isn't a person who is mourning unhappy? To understand these statements, then, we need to grasp them within their cultural context. In the original language and cultural mindset of Jesus' time, to make a strong statement in one sense automatically implied its opposite. This is true even today in some things: the statement "it is hot" automatically implies it is not cold. A good way to understand the Beatitudes, then, is to pay attention to their opposites:

"Happy are the poor in spirit" becomes "Miserable are those attached to earthly possessions". Isn't it true that an inordinate attachment to material things brings all kinds of misery, such as jealousy, workoholism, and even fear of loss?

"Happy are those who mourn" becomes "Miserable are those who can never let go". Mourning is a natural and healthy process, by which we achieve closure when we experience loss. If a person is unable to let go, however, it means they can never stop living in the past to start looking forward again.

"Happy are the meek" becomes "Miserable are the arrogant". The meek will inherit the earth, but those who bully others can only take: they are not *given* anything.

"Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" becomes "Miserable are those who hunger and thirst for evil things". People can try and fill themselves up with all sorts of stuff — food, drugs, money, fame — but in the end these just leave emptier. A fulfilled life does not get filled from the outside, but has a fullness that comes from the inside.

"Happy are the merciful" becomes "Miserable are the merciless". People who bear grudges, who refuse to forgive, and who take revenge, are the real prisoners. They are prisoners of their own hate, and it eventually poisons all their relationships.

"Happy are the pure in heart" becomes "Miserable are those who take things for granted". Purity of heart is often interpreted to mean sexual purity, and it can mean that, but is a broader sense it means the ability to focus on what is really important in the present moment. How many of us put off until later even the good things that are being presented to us right now? How many of us miss out on the beauty of the present moment, or taint it with selfishness?

"Happy are the peacemakers" becomes "Miserable are the warmongers". There are people in this world who have a deep need to feel offended, or to offend others. Peacemakers get to be part of the grand family of the "children of God". Warmongers, on the other hand, end up alone.

"Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake" becomes "Miserable are those who have no spine". It isn't always easy to stand up for what is right — yes, we can wind up persecuted. But who will ever trust us with what is truly important if we don't have the inner strength to hold on to it in the first place?

Perhaps you see other forms of "beatitude-opposites" that help bring some or all of the actual Beatitudes into greater clarity. If so, please share them! The Beatitudes represent the goal of all real morality: the inner strength to do what is right in all circumstances, and the inner freedom to love unconditionally. Yes, the Beatitudes are a new Law, but the best law of all: a law that sets us free!

Don't have a cow-man

A reader sent me an email regarding a story about planned attempts to create a cow-human hybrid embryo for the sake scientific research.

This raises, of course, all sorts of ethical questions. Clearly the scientists desiring to do this don't believe that "embryo" is a state of being worthy of dignity, or else they wouldn't be trying this (I am, of course, being generous here — perhaps they just don't care). But in the email my reader sent, she asked "what does it mean for those little souls?" From what I can see, there are 4 possibilities:

  1. The resulting hybrids are merely animals

    It is possible that the resulting embryos are essentially animals with some human-specific DNA in them. In such a case, the hybrids have merely animal souls, not rational souls.

  2. The resulting hybrids have rational souls but do not possess bodies capable of expressing that rational nature

    This case is analogous to a person who is suffering a severe mental handicap. A human being possesses a rational soul, but also requires a body capable of expressing that rational nature. A person with advanced Alzheimer's, for example, still possesses a rational soul even if the brain has been slowly degenerating. If this second situation is the case, therefore, these souls are rational and immortal, even if the behavioural element would never be able to show evidence of it.

    Complicating this particular matter, however, is the fact that there are serious theologians who do not believe that even human beings possess rational souls until the body itself is capable of some minimal rationality. Their position is that the human soul starts out as a vegetative soul, then develops to become an animal soul, and finally becomes a rational soul. These theologians would probably argue that if there ever were a new race of creatures in which not one of its individual members, EVER, could show evidence of rational behaviour, that race of creatures could not reasonably be considered to have a rational soul.

    In the end, this leads to some touchy theological hair-splitting. The Church does teach that human life does begin at conception, and that the soul is created by God at that moment. If that is the case, i.e. if there is some special intervention by God involved, then we really are not limited to thinking that the human soul goes through "merely vegetative" and "merely animal" states prior to becoming a rational soul. Indeed, the direct creation by God is what gives the soul sufficient ontological priority over the body to allow for free will — even though all you may have is a fertilized ovum. Besides this, I think the general sensus fidei has become more aware of the dignity of the human person since conception, such that a common agreement would emerge to allow the hybrids to be accorded the dignity that comes with possessing a human nature.

  3. The resulting hybrids clearly share in human nature, such that they can rightly be called "children of Adam"

    In such a case, the hybrids clearly have rational souls (with evidence of some sort to prove it). Basically, they would be considered a kind of human mutant, but human nonetheless. Physically, the ability to produce offspring with "regular" humans who are not mules (i.e. are not sterile) would be strong evidence that, while mutated, these hybrids are still essentially human, but this would not necessarily be required evidence. On the spiritual side, if their behaviour showed evidence of being tainted by original sin, it would be strong evidence that they true descendants of Adam (more on this in the next section)

  4. The resulting hybrids clearly possess a rational nature, but not a human nature, such that they are truly a new species

    In this case the hybrids represent a "new creation", such that their souls, while rational, are not human. What is interesting about this possibility is the further possibility that such creatures might be free of original sin. If they are so different that they truly cannot be called "children of Adam", this might truly be the case despite their having been formed partly from "human flesh". St. Thomas speculated on this possibility when he asked the question, Whether original sin would be contracted by a person formed miraculously from human flesh? Of course, we are not speaking of a miracle here, merely a work of biological engineering, but this does not change the point because the "generative contribution" of human beings is (likely) not at stake.

    A complicating factor, however, is that it might be very hard to determine whether or not a new species is subject to original sin. This is because a new species, as a new species, might have its own version of natural law that corresponds to its new, non-human nature. Some of what would be sin for a human being might not be sin for a cowman being, and vice versa (and also with virtues and meritorious acts). On the other hand, the fact that such creatures would have a rational nature would mean that they would be capable of communication and language, meaning that they could (and should) cooperate with humans in the building of the common good. Actions against this common good, no matter human or cowman, would still be sins against the natural law derived from reason itself, and would be evidence of original sin.

Getting away from this question of souls, however, there is still the bigger question: should we do this? The answer is NO, for the same reason that extreme caution should always be exercised in issues of reproductive technology. Our reproductive capacity is part of the image and likeness of God in us, and is indeed a key part of that image and likeness, in that through reproduction we become "co-creators" with God in his ongoing desire to enrich his family with more and more children. How we pass on human life, therefore, has a strongly spiritual dimension, and should always be undertaken with great respect for its sacred character. I understand that the scientists in question may simply not see this quality of the sacred, and for that I am profoundly sad. Nevertheless, I think the answer for Catholics is clear: we must never participate in such experimentation, no matter what the possible potential payoff, because to do so with profoundly dishonour God as well as ourselves.

The Vatican, condoms, and AIDS

Both the mainstream media and the blogosphere have been abuzz lately with the rumoured possibility that the Vatican will make a declaration stating that it would be possible for married couples to use condoms in the case where one of the partners was infected with HIV, so as to prevent transmission of the virus.

For myself, I simply can't see such a declaration being made. My reasons are both dogmatic and pragmatic.

The issue at stake is called the principle of double effect. According to Catholic teaching the use of condoms is not permissible in general because the use of artificial contraception is contrary to the natural law. But the issue at stake in this particular case is that the condom prevents not just conception but infection. Given this double effect, can the use of the condom be moral?

The dogmatic issue

The principle of double effect needs to be properly understood if we are to apply it. As some initial background, the Catholic Church teaches that for a choice to be morally good neither the intention behind the act *nor the act itself* can be oriented towards evil. The first principle is more obvious: most people easily see that it is possible to do something for someone that appears good, when in fact it is tainted by a negative intent (a common term for this is "having a hidden agenda"). The second principle, on the other hand, is widely contested today: the idea that some actions are simply evil in themselves, without regards to the circumstances or consequences of the action. Nevertheless, this is a cornerstone of Church teaching, in part because without it the idea that there are values worth dying for risks becoming meaningless (with the sacrifice of the martyrs becoming meaningless as well). As an example, consider the case of adultery: it is to be avoided, pure and simple, and there is no dispensation a person can receive from the Church permitting him/her to commit adultery in particular circumstances.

For the principle of double effect to apply, then, several conditions need to be met: (1) the act being contemplated cannot be immoral in itself, (2) it must be contemplated with a morally good intent, (3) both the negative and positive consequences must flow directly from the single action, and (4) there must a proportionality between the positive and negative consequences such that the positives outweigh the negatives. A good example is going in the room of a sick patient. There is nothing immoral in itself with visiting the sick, and certainly it can be contemplated with a morally good intent (in fact, the Church teaches it is an act of charity). If the sick person, however, has a disease that is highly contagious, the risk of infection means that the good consequence of performing an act of charity is accompanied with the negative consequence of being exposed to the risk of catching the disease. Both consequences flow directly from the action, so for the visit to the sick person to be morally good the proportionality criterion must be met. Consider these two possible "visitors": a nurse coming to administer medicine, and a small child who just really wants to see his sick family member. The proportionality criterion weighs in favour of the nurse being morally allowed to take the risk regarding infection, but I think most people would agree that keeping the child out of the room is probably a wiser course of action no matter how much he might emphasize his desire to see the sick person.

So what about condoms used in marriage to prevent HIV transmission?

Regarding criterion #2, if the intention really is to avoid infection and not to prevent conception I would say it is met. Criterion #1 is trickier: is the use of a condom something which is *intrinsically* morally disordered? If so, then the principle of double effect cannot apply, and this option is not open to married couples. If not, then we need to continue our analysis further.

My understanding is that the Church *does* hold the use of the condom to be intrinsically morally disordered, because the use of contraceptive methods is something which the Church teaches is contrary to the natural law (and not simply contrary to a regulation implemented by society). The debate therefore ends here. But for the sake of completeness, let us take a look at the positive and negative consequences of the use of the condom in this specific case, and examine the proportionality involved.

The issue, as I have often seen it constructed, goes as follows: the negative consequence of the use of the condom is the direct prevention of conception, while the positive consequence is the prevention of infection by a deadly disease. Put in these terms, the proportionality between the two is clearly in favour of the use of the condom. But this, unfortunately, is a false comparison.

First of all, condoms are not a 100% guarantee of prevention of disease transmission. They do break from time to time, and are also often used improperly. Simply put, accidents happen! So rather than being an exercise in shooting oneself with a loaded revolver, the use of the condom simply turns the case in question into a game of Russian roulette. It is better, yes, but not by much!

There are also all the negative consequences of the use of contraceptive methods that Pope Paul VI listed in Humanae Vitae, such as the increased risk of objectification of one spouse by another. Even if the intent is to prevent disease, the use of a condom is still a contraceptive act contrary to the natural law, and so it carries with it the "natural consequences" listed by Paul VI.

The list of negative consequences now weighs quite heavily. What about the positive consequences?

Chief among the positive consequences of the use of the condom within marriage is the possibility of the couple to enjoy a sex life that is at least partially renewed. Because the conjugal union in itself is normally a good thing, as it promotes the communion of life of the couple, this is a genuine good worth considering. Indeed, it is really the only positive good that is put forward by the proponents of the idea of using condoms within marriage where HIV infection is involved.

Now lets try looking at this from the opposite angle. As everybody knows, there is at least one sure-fire way to avoid infecting someone with HIV: don't have sex! The proponents of the use of condoms in this case need to demonstrate that not having sex is so negative a consequence to marriage that this negative outweighs the positive of a zero-infection risk, as well as the positive of avoiding the possible detrimental effects to marital love of the use of contraceptive methods. And I don't think they can, in part because of the example of two great saints: the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph.

According to Catholic tradition, Mary and Joseph had a "virginal" marriage, in which they never had sexual relations. Ever. And yet, the Catholic teaching is that this was not an insult to the nature of marriage. According to Catholic teaching, marriage *does* open up the possibility for sexual relations to be a holy act. As well, according to the Bible, the exchange of consent in marriage means that each member of the couple is given certain rights over the body of the other, such that if one member requests sexual relations the other cannot refuse without reasonable cause. But there is no direct obligation to actually have sexual relations. If Joseph *had the right* to ask Mary for sex but he never exercised that right (and vice versa), it was not detrimental to the dignity of their marriage or to their personal holiness (and vice versa). Indeed, it may have actually increased it. The desire for physical union with one's spouse if perfectly natural, and to deny oneself that union is definitely a form of sacrifice; and in the case of Mary and Joseph's marriage this sacrifice had definitely spiritual overtones, as the conception of the Son of God in her womb effectively transformed Mary into a living Ark of the Covenant.

So I have to ask myself this question: what HIV+ husband in his right mind would insist that he have sex with his wife, knowing that he risked infecting her with a deadly disease? What HIV+ wife in her right mind would insist that she have sex with her husband, knowing the same? And even if it was the other partner who asked for sexual relations, what HIV+ individual *who truly loved his/her spouse* would accede to the request? The simple fact that the uninfected spouse is willing to take the risk does not take away from that fact that it *IS STILL* a terrible risk, and Catholic teaching DOES NOT allow for positive consent to transform evil actions into good ones.

Let me put this another way. If I was married, and then I became HIV+ because of some innocent circumstance (such as a tainted blood transfusion), I would cease having sex with my wife. It is a reasonable guess that I probably would not cease desiring such relations, but if I truly loved her I would never want to expose her to such a terrible disease. And if she were to approach me with a box of condoms and say "With these it'll be ok" I would have to reply, "My dear, I appreciate the gesture, and I know that our not being close in this way anymore is hard for you as well. But I love you too much to expose you to this disease, and I could not live with myself if you became HIV+ as well, knowing that you got it from me. Let's focus instead on how we *can* show affection to each other. Let me bring you a flower on my way home from work each day. Let me hold you when you are sad, and hug you when you are happy. Let's go for walks together, and I'll rub your feet when we get home after making you a mug of hot chocolate. Let's pray together, and volunteer our time together, taking our "sexual energy" and re-focussing it on love of God of neighbour. Even if we can't have a union of bodies anymore, let's work on having a union of hearts."

(Good grief, I really am a hopeless romantic. :-) )

My bottom line is this: knowingly having sex when one spouse is HIV+ and one is not is always a defect of charity, condoms or no condoms.

The pragmatic issue

Any declaration by the Vatican that the use of condoms in marriage in the case of an HIV+ partner would be a disaster, and not just because of the dogmatic issue. Such a declaration would risk being terribly misunderstood, and would confirm the idea in the minds of many that Church teaching is arbitrary and can be changed thanks to public pressure or some crazy idea of the Pope. It would risk increasing contempt for the magisterium of the Church itself, and would precipitate a much greater crisis of authority than what we have currently. All of this is bad.

Worse, however, is the message that it would communicate to HIV- spouses who are married to an HIV+ spouse. In essence, it would say "If your spouse proposes using the condom, despite his/her being HIV+ you do not have a reasonable basis to refuse sexual relations." In effect, it would turn the refusal of sexual relations with an HIV+ partner into a sin. I know, I know, the proponents of the condom idea are only considering the case where both partners desire the sexual act, but the bottom line is that the Bible itself says that the general consent given to be married includes in it an obligation to give specific consent to sexual relations when they are requested. As I've already mentioned, the Church does mitigate this when it teaches that sex can be refused in reasonable circumstances — but a positive decision in favour of condoms in this case would basically say that having an HIV+ partner is not a reasonable circumstance to refuse sexual relations. Does that make sense? And I have a sneaking suspicion that, all other things being equal, it would more likely be the HIV+ husbands making this request of their wives than the reverse. In effect, then, a Vatican decision in favour of the use of condoms in marriage for HIV+ cases would, simultaneously, be a message to women to quietly accept being used as sexual objects by husbands whose desire for sex overrides their concern for the health of their wives, to such a degree that they would, in effect, be disobeying the Bible itself even if the risk they are running is that of contracting a deadly disease.

So no, I don't think the Vatican should make any such decision or declaration. Not only would it be misogynistic, not only would it contradict long-standing Catholic principles, but it would also suffer from what can only be described as "mega-boneheadedness". And no quantity of applause from the world and its pundits can justify such stupidity.

'Nuff said.

Repentence and the laughter of God

In the gospel passage that is read every year for Ash Wednesday, Jesus warns his listeners not to pray or fast or give alms in such a way that others see it. Obviously, this is (in part) because we should avoid doing a penitential action for some sort of reward, or else it isn't really a penance. But I think there is also a deeper sense to what Jesus is saying. For me, penance is not just about doing something or giving something up: it is a call to live in integrity.

To live in integrity means to live in reality. Jesus is warning his listeners to not simply put on their "penance masks" when the pray, fast, and give alms, but for this outward attitude to be a true reflection of a genuine interior disposition. So it means being real with ourselves, first and foremost.

But penance, in my opinion, also means being real (or, if you prefer, "realistic") about the world around us. And this is where Jesus' call to joy-in-penance comes. He tells his disciples, "do not put on a gloomy face". In other words, if we are doing penance properly, the only way to have a gloomy face is to choose to put one on! Real penance, done properly, actually brings joy, thanks to the fact that penance (for it to be real penance) requires us to acknowledge the total truth about ourselves — including the truth that we are sinners! And the acknowledgement of this total truth is the open door to joy.

You may be wondering what I am talking about, and to be honest it is still something I am exploring myself. I can only share one insight to try and explain myself. As I visit patients in the hospital, I have observed something among those who suffer from mental illness: those who are delusional or on the edge of delusions (e.g. schizophenics) almost never laugh. Actually, I have never heard one such person laugh, ever. I've come to realise that it is because laughter is a reaction to the presence of the absurd. Those who suffer from delusions are in some ways disconnected from reality, so they cannot actually recognize the absurd — and so, they never laugh.

Well, we can be pretty absurd sometimes, and the most absurd thing we can do is sin. In my view of things, I expect that the Devil is a very serious individual all the time, while God is very mirthful. Oh yes, God is sorry when he sees us sin, just as we should be sorry for our sins, but at the same time we know we are becoming more and more realistic with ourselves when we can acknowledge how silly and stupid our sins really are.

And it helps us understand why God is so ready to forgive us. Parents, how many times have you seen your kids to something wrong, and you got upset at the time, but later when you thought about it something about the situation was actually pretty funny? Well, we are God's beloved children. Yes, we are constantly getting into trouble and needing correction, but behind the Lord's disapproval of sin is the little smile of his joy — a little smile that turns into a broad gesture of love whenever we turn back to him.

Anger

A number of pastoral encounters recently have prompted me to write something regarding the whole issue of anger, as many people (I have learned) really struggle with feelings of anger and wonder about it.

In my pastoral (and personal) experience, anger is an emotional reaction direction against some sort of "wrongness". It can be because something that is present in a given situation really should not be there, or because something that isn't present should be. Either way, we detect, on what is often a non-rational level, the presence of this wrongness, and anger is the result. It isn't always expressed outward, mind you — that is anger-as-power — but it is real.

Now some people wonder if anger is a sin. It depends: Jesus, as we know, got angry sometimes. What makes the difference is if the anger being felt is in accordance with right reason. Does the "wrongness" we are detecting actually exist? And will getting angry be of any positive use? For anger to be "righteous", both conditions must be fulfilled. Righteous anger, then, actually flows out from a personality imbued with the gift of wisdom. Of course, this gift is not strong in everyone, so while there are some whose anger is habitually righteous, those for whom this gift is not strong are advised to instead regularly take the often-given advice of the Scriptures to keep their mouths shut.

Sinful anger, also known as wrath, is known particularly by its opposition to justice and forgiveness. Wrath is also a response to a "wrongness", but it is a response that is inappropriate in some way. It might be displaced in time, for example: the wrongness happens now, but the anger response comes so much later that there is no real obvious connection except in the vengeful heart of the person detecting the wrongness. Or perhaps the reason the anger is really wrath is because the response is disproportionate to the wrongness: shooting someone out of road rage is clearly disproportionate to the "wrongness" of lousy driving or bad traffic. Wrath is particularly bad when the real "wrongness" being addressed is some character flaw in the angry person: some people only feel alive when mad, and so they look for excuses to get mad so that they can seem to be addressing one wrongness but really are only addressing the "wrongness" of their own dead heart. Wrath, in its worst form, is a direct extension of the sin of pride: like Adam the person "wants to be like God", but isn't, and so turns to habitual anger in order to feel powerful. What makes it truly diabolical is that it creates and feeds the "wrongness" situations that then feed the anger. It is the wrath of tyrants, and of Satan himself.

Now some people are disturbed when they feel angry because they find themselves getting angry about something that never disturbed them before. It is possible that this is a form of moral backsliding, but it is also possible that what is really occurring is that the mind is becoming more precisely tuned to identify the objective existence of "wrongness". An abused child often feels sad more than angry, because the child does not yet realise that it is "not his fault". Once this realisation is made, however, anger often surfaces, and it is not necessarily inappropriate, as (once again) it is a reaction to a situation whose "wrongness" is only now just recently discovered. This kind anger is often the source of great pain, because the motive to correct the "wrongness" may not have an object anymore. At least, however, it is possible to reassure people that the anger is not, in and of itself, necessarily inappropriate.

The simple reality is that anger comes to us, but it isn't always useful. We need to be guided by renewing of our minds and hearts so that, when anger does come, the energy that it brings can be put to positive (rather than destructive or self-destructive) uses. The key is to develop a spirit of forgiveness. The ability to readily and truly forgive the debts owed to us, particularly emotional debts, lets the non-righteous anger roll off us like water off a duck's back. And anger that does remain is then like the righteous wrath of God, which will be manifested on the Last Day when Jesus comes in glory to purge the world of diabolical evil/wrongness. May we all develop hearts like those of the heart of God, whose initial instinct is compassion and mercy.

Fornication, contraception, and the laughter of God

In my pastoral and teaching duties of late I've noticed the increasing emergence of a new (or perhaps very very old) idea within the Catholic sphere. It is the idea that two wrongs can make a right, at least within the bounds of human sexuality.

Faithful Catholics know what the Church teaches about sex outside of marriage: it is a sin. Catholics are also aware that the Church has a teaching regarding the use of artificial contraception: that this kind of direct "closing off" of the possibility of conception is not part of God's plan either.

But curiously, when we put these two things together, I'm noticing an increasing number of Catholics saying that somehow this is morally good. Catholic teenagers patting themselves on the back for having bought condoms before their first sexual experience, Catholic activists who are in favour of distributing condoms in Africa, Catholic cohabitating couples who see the use of contraception as the most "responsible choice" within their sex lives: all these groups share one thing in common, in that they believe that the use of contraception, *in their case*, is somehow a sign of moral responsibility.

There is, of course, a simpler solution: just don't have sex.

The use of contraception in these cases creates a double moral problem. First, there is the problem it shares with the use of artificial contraception within marriage, in that the use of artificial means of birth regulation seems to create a subtle shift in the sexual attitudes of the couple, creating a niche where "sexual selfishness" can fester. But in addition to this, and much more insidious, is the idea that, *because the couple is not married in these cases*, the use of contraception actually is morally good. The moral evaluation of the use of artificial contraception within marriage hinges on the question "Is this right or wrong?" But the moral evaluation of the use of artificial contraception outside of marriage turns not only on the narrow question of the morality of artificial contraception in itself, but also on a broader question on whether one moral evil can reduce the amount of evil possessed by another moral evil. In other words, whether two wrongs can make a right (or at least make it less wrong). The world seems to think they can; the Church says they can't. Hence, (some) people berate the Church, and (some) Catholics just go along with "the world".

What we need to do is regain God's perspective on the question of sexual union and conception.

First of all, we need to realise that God loves life. The Bible describes Him as the "living God", and the book of Genesis shows that the thing that animated the first man was the "breath of God in his nostrils". For God to create life is for God to share, in an initial way, some of his own essence. And since God's goal is to see Love abound all the more in the world, Love being the defining characteristic of his essence, God simply loves life and loves to give life. The fact that there are forms of life that can live in the most hostile of environments is just one small example of this; the greatest example, of course, is the increasing of the gift of human life.

Secondly, we need to realise that the world is governed by God's loving providence. We are called to participate in that providence, and Jesus taught his disciples to do so with great trust. There is a balance that must therefore be maintained: we are not to switch off our brains and act recklessly, but at the same time we are not to try and usurp the guiding hand of God's providence, either. How do we know when we are living the correct balance? When we are living the commandments of God, whether they are those written in the Bible, or simply those written in the pattern of human nature (called the natural law). The problem with the "two wrongs make a right" approach for contraception is that it believes that the middle can be achieved by living both extremes simultaneously: we act recklessly with our sexuality, and we try and balance it by acting outside the bounds of nature. It is true that two evenly balanced teams in a tug of war will prevent any movement, but the system is unstable: sooner or later one end or the other will slip, and you get dragged through the mud. The only real peace of soul comes from occupying the proper moral centre in the first place.

Finally, we need to understand that sexual union is one of the most privileged ways human beings have to participate in God's plan of providence. Couples do not get pregnant every time they have sex, but they need to ask themselves if they are open to the "God who delights in giving life" when they do live such a union. If not, something is not right, and we are no longer in that moral centre. We need to understand that whenever a new life starts, or when it does not, it is never an accident in God's providential plan.

To put this in the simplest possible terms, let me offer a parable:

Whenever a couple is having sexual relations, a bell rings in heaven. God hears that bell, looks down, and says "Great! People are enjoying the activity that I created which allows them to participate in the gift of new life. Now all I have to do is decide if I want to respond to their invitation to give life or not."

Now sometimes God notices something is amiss.

In the case of an infertile couple, God also asks himself, "Should I perform a miracle as well in this case? I do love life, but I also want to respect the laws of the creation that I have created." So often no conception takes place, but let's not forget that the Bible is full of stories of conceptions that took place despite years of infertility — and that each time, it was seen as a tremendous "extra blessing".

In the case of fornication, God looks down and gives Himself something else to consider: "Hmmm....I don't like what's happening here. This is against my divine plan. What can I do to redeem this situation? I know! I'll get them pregnant! That way, my glorious gift of Life, which is always good, will be just another way of demonstrating how my glorious power-as-Love is able to draw good out of any evil." So couples who get pregnant outside of wedlock need to know that the child is not a curse, but a blessing: such a child is a special sign of hope from God, that showcases how much He continues to love you despite any sin we might commit.

The above consideration, I might add, also applies to cases that are even more perverse: adultery, prostitution, orgies, and even rape, can be used by God to give the gift of life. In each case, God is simply trying to offer the greatest gift he can, the gift of new life, to try and redeem the situation.

Regarding the use of artificial contraception, what is God's attitude? Once again, God hears the "invitation to conception" bell in Heaven, the bell that rings when a couple is having sex, and looks down to evaluate what He should do. He then remarks, "This is odd. The couple is performing the act by which they invite me to give life, and yet they are also using something meant to try and prevent that life. Why are they being so contradictory? It seems hypocritical." But far from being sad, God then begins to laugh. "In my power, I've made old women get pregnant, I've made infertile couples get pregnant, I've even made a virgin become pregnant. Do these people honestly think a bit of rubber or a few hormones are capable of foiling my will?" Still chuckling to himself, God then says "Well, I still want to respect the rules of my creation, and these methods do have their physical and chemical properties. Perhaps I'll hold off on the gift of life. But on the other hand, it wouldn't take much to rupture that condom, or to cause a break-through ovulation — it's just a case of 'nature finding a way', hardly even a miracle. And I do so want to draw something good out of something bad."

All these examples serve to illustrate a final consideration of God's attitude, i.e. his attitude towards abortion. God is, of course, tremendously pleased when the couple having relations is one that is doing so as an act of intersubjective unity, because in such cases not only is God cooperating with that act, they are opening themselves up to become more like God: they not only (possibly) receive the gift of physical life, but also (certainly) the gift of divine life and holiness. There is great joy in Heaven in such moments. But God is also pleased with himself when he gives life in morally imperfect situations, because he sees it as a way of showcasing the beautiful power of creation in which he has invited humans to share, as well as demonstrating the hope-giving power of his providence to bring Good out of any Evil. To be blunt, when pregnancy happens, God is happy in some way. To then terminate that life — even in cases of rape or other terrible moral evil — is in some way to tell God, "We don't trust you. We don't want your gift of life. We would rather increase the Evil present by killing another human being, than to accept that Good might come from the new gift of life." What can God's reaction be? If someone were to treat a gift we gave them in such a way, a gift that was tremendously precious to us, we'd be angry: so we should not be surprised that we attribute the emotion of "wrath" to God in such cases. Still, though, I have a feeling that behind any possible anger, God becomes tremendously sad. It is like a parent who sees his or her children doing something wrong: sadness overwhelms the heart, and a great disappointment. I suspect God's wrath is reserved for those whose rejection of His grace is total and with full knowledge and consent; for the rest, He sheds his tears. And happily, those tears can wash away our sins, if only we say we are sorry and pledge our lives to do better.

And so, to all the teenagers out there who are "doing it" but absolutely don't want to get pregnant; to all the young adults who are just "having a good time" without a sense of commitment; to all the cohabitating couples who don't want a child because they feel it does not yet fit within the bounds of their desired lifestyle: DO NOT BE SURPRISED IF GOD DELIGHTFULLY CREATES LIFE AND YOU GET PREGNANT ANYWAY. He desperately wants to bless you as his beloved children, even if the way you are living is contrary to his divine plan. And he may just do that, the very next time you ring that bell in Heaven.

Sexual intersubjectivity

About 6 months ago I offered a lecture in my Introduction to Theology class on the "theology of the body". During this lecture we discussed the idea that one of the functions of sexual union was to permit humans to overcome a sense of being isolated in their individuality, and be able to form, with another person, a joint human subject. This is called the "intersubjective union". When the class was over, one of my students sent me an email with additional questions regarding the whole idea of intersubjective union, particularly regarding why that union must be open to the idea of procreation. She wrote:

Why does intersubjectivity have to pursue a specific end (i.e., creating a new life)? Whether you look at it as an object-subject relationship or a subject-subject relationship, pleasure is an objective. Perhaps my question should be: Why does the Catholic Church insist that couples wishing to marry mustn't prevent having children?

Months later, I finally got around to answering her email. Part of the delay was because I wanted to let my own thinking develop as well, if only because perhaps the explanation I had already given in class wasn't clear enough. As well, I knew this student to be a believer, which allowed my reflection to be a little less "philosophical" than what I had to present in class. Here is my reply to her, which I now share with you:


To be more accurate, intersubjectivity does not pursue the specific end, but rather an "intersubjective union" does. This brings up a couple of questions: (1) Are intersubjective unions even possible? If so, how do we identify them? And (2) Does sexual activity fall into the category of human behaviours that potentially allow for the creation of an intersubjective union?

Regarding #1, the Christian answer must be that intersubjective unions are possible, or else the Trinity itself doesn't make sense. The Trinity is an intersubjective union of three Divine Persons. Their unity is far more than one of mere cooperation, but rather a sharing of essence. The Three truly are One without ceasing to be Three.

It is also possible for God's creation to participate in an intersubjective union with God. Jesus said so himself in his unity prayer (John 17: 20-26), in which the Trinity itself is the example and source of the fullness of unity God wishes us to live. The Incarnation, in which Jesus is 1 Person with 2 distinct natures, is an example of the extent to which union with God can progress. The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which disciples possess, is another.

If such intersubjective unions are possible, it must therefore mean that there is a capacity within us as humans to enter into such unions -- an "openness to the other", if you will, that is not merely an add-on to human nature but which forms part of it. The Catholic Church sees the evidence for such "intersubjective openness" in the first Creation account, in which God created man in his own image, but as a sexually-active couple, in which the two become one "flesh". The term "flesh" is important, as it relates to the "nefesh" concept of the Old Testament: the two truly are a unit.

This perspective elevates sexual union to practically the dignity of a sacrament: it is a concrete physical sign, built into human nature, that expresses the openness present within human nature to the creating of an intersubjective unit -- not just with another human person, but with God. For this reason, the sign cannot remain merely physical: sexual union must have a spiritual aspect as well, or else it is no better than the mating behaviour of animals.

And so now we speak of love. God is love. He is made out of love. It is out of his nature as Love that the Son and the Spirit eternally proceed from the Father, and with them that God lives his divine life as Love. The intersubjective union of the Trinity, whose perfection attains such a level that each Person shares totally in the essence of the others, is rooted in that nature of God-as-Love.

Love is what transforms sexual union into something more than mating. It is possible for sexual union to take place where there is no love, or where it is not a God-like love. It is also possible for people to love each other to a great degree of perfection without physical sexual union. But in those moments when the two can co-exist in their perfection, it is truly wondrous.

And so this is why Christians emphasize that sexual union should only take place within marriage. Marriage is a state of life created by a deliberate act of will to create a union of life and love. It creates the context, therefore, in which sexual union can achieve its fullest expression as a sacramental sign of God's own divine essence, and of his desire to enter into an intersubjective union with humanity.

It also points to why the intersubjective union must be open to procreation. To live the fullness of what sexual union means is to be open to the whole being and essence of the other person. This includes their fertility. It also means giving of oneself totally, including one's fertility. This is called the "theology of the gift". Sexual union is not about taking what I like (the pleasure), it is about a total surrender of myself (kenosis) to the other so that the union can be achieved. The Word became Flesh because Jesus "emptied himself" (Phil 2: 7) for the sake of that union of natures. The "two become one flesh" because each totally surrenders himself/herself to the other as a gift, and each is received totally as a gift. If sexuality is to achieve its highest perfection according to the meaning God has apparently given it, there must therefore be an openness to the fertility aspect of the human person.

I should also, at this point, offer one small correction to your statement. You asked "why does intersubjectivity have to pursue a specific end"? Catholic teaching does not actually state it needs to pursue that end so much as be open to it. It is an attitude of the heart first and foremost, the heart that seeks union-in-Love, and is expressed (among other ways) in an openness to the possibility of conception in each act of sexual embrace. This latter point is important, as Love is not merely an attitude of the moment, something added on to who we are, but is meant to define our very essence, just as it defines God's essence. Therefore, each act of sexual embrace must be open in this way, or else it means we are 100% loving one time, and less loving the next, depending on external factors. That makes love an external add-on, which if it were valid would mean that God could be God-is-Love one day and not be God-is-Love the next. If we really want to live the fulness of God's commandment of Love, to the point that "he who loves dwells in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16), i.e. to the point where it is defining our essence, then it must permeate the whole of married life, both in general and in each specific moment.

In teaching the necessity of this openness without actually making the direct pursuit of conception a moral necessity, the Catholic Church recognizes a certain mystery to God's providence, and that we need to surrender ourselves in trust to that providence. Conception is a physical reality, but the Bible also repeatedly explains it in terms of being a blessing from God. So couples are not asked to chase after conception, but merely be open to the possibility of it occurring, and to leave the rest to God. Therefore, to deliberately engage in practices which block the possibility of conception occurring is not only a withholding of some of the "spirituality of the gift", it is also to essentially tell God to not bless the sexual union with fruitfulness. It strikes me as arrogant to tell God what gifts he can and cannot give.

Going further, the Catholic perspective on "openness" rather than on "pursuit", both to the other person, and to God's providence, is what makes forms of natural family planning legitimate. First of all, NFP can be used to promote the possibility of procreation, which is an honourable pursuit -- while we are not obliged to "pursue" the possibility of procreation at every time, it is still a good thing to desire God's blessings and to seek them. Next, when NFP is being used to avoid procreation, it does so by simply not having sexual relations at specific moments. If unbridled "pursuit" were what God wanted, couples would be obliged to be having sex all the time! But it is possible to think of many cases where sex should not happen, such as in times of illness. Couples therefore have the freedom to *not* have sexual relations, in cooperation with God's providential plan for creation (which is partly expressed in how human fertility works in the first place). I should add that it is possible for even NFP to be used with an attitude of a "closed heart", which would be just as morally problematic as the use of contraception, but it is far less likely, given that there are more "convenient" methods available.

So why can't the object of the intersubjective union be pleasure? It most certainly can be, and for a sexual union to be a truly intersubjective union means that each spouse should be attentive to the pleasurable elements of sex, not for themselves, but for their spouse. "Wham bam thank you ma'am" has no place in Catholic discipleship regarding sex, even if it is open to procreation. But what I think you are really asking is, "Why does *each and every* sexual union have to be intersubjective, i.e. open-to-the-total-gift-of-the-others-fertility-and-the-gift-of-God's-blessing?" But since intersubjective sexual unions are a concrete sacramental sign of God-as-Love, they are moments of holiness. What you are really asking in such a case then is, "Why do we have to be holy all the time? Can't a life of general holiness be punctuated with moments of less-than-holiness (i.e. sin) and still be holy?" Not if we want to become like Christ, and be renewed each day in our inner nature.

In short, then, the Catholic Church believes that sexual union has the potential to be a means by which a person assists their spouse in becoming more like Christ. This is its greatest promise, and it is quite incredible. It means that sexual acts constitute a prayer, a liturgy, a moment of witness to the reality and nature of the loving God. Well lived, the positive elements of a godly sexuality go far beyond the bedroom: openness to one's spouse leads to openness to all men and women, as the person becomes more and more Christ-like. So why should we live this way? For our own spiritual growth, and out of love for God, spouse, and neighbour. To do less is to fall short of the greatness of the call to be a Christian.

Malevolence

A discussion I recently had with a parishioner eventually turned to the question of malevolence, because of things that were being experienced. I firmly believe that there exist malevolent personalities out there. I also think that many of us are poorly equipped to deal with such persons when we encounter them.

What is malevolence? The word comes from the Latin word malevolens, meaning a wicked or spiteful person, and it in turn comes from two root words: malus, which means "evil", and volens, "to wish, desire, be favourable towards". A malevolent personality, then, means a person who engages in seeking evil for others, rather than their good.

The idea that such a thing exists causes many of us to recoil in horror. Evil is ugly, and we do not want to look at it. Many of us make the mistake of trying to reason away the existence of evil. "Perhaps the malevolent person does not realise the harm they are doing," we might say to ourselves. "Perhaps the malevolent person is a victim of a poor upbringing, and so is not really responsible for their choices." "Perhaps the person I think is malevolent is not really making evil choices, but is simply psychologically ill." In any of these cases, evil is reduced to merely being some form of an "accident of life," and it is easy to forgive or excuse accidents. In many cases, one of these may be true. But what if it isn't?

I have found that the difference between persons who are malevolent, versus those who are merely psychologically ill, lies in the nature of their break with reality. A person who has suffered a psychotic break may act out in anti-social behaviours, but their entire life eventually becomes disorganized, and we typically see that they themselves are victims of their unusual behaviour; their contact with reality is characterized by *confusion*. In my honest opinion, such persons probably still seek the same *ends* in life as ordinary folks, but their illness prevents them from using appropriate *means* to attain those ends, because the psychotic break damages their ability to determine true cause and effect.

A malevolent person, on the other hand, is highly functional. They are often very well-spoken, and appear confident and self-assured. They seem in control. They understand cause and effect, but in their pursuit of desired effects they are willing to use two kinds of "causes" that betray them as truly malevolent: lies, and wrath.

Regarding the lies, I am not speaking simply of little while lies, or the lies we sometimes tell when caught off guard; I am speaking of deliberate, calculated, pre-meditated lies which, taken together, eventually spin a "web of deceit" that others can get trapped in -- especially since the malevolent person speaks them with such confidence. Yes, the malevolent person is also living a break with reality, but it is often a self-induced break caused by telling so many lies that you eventually wind up believing them yourself. In a sense, a malevolent person is acting "like God", trying to shape their external reality -- through the agency of deceit -- into something they can control, sometimes only for the thrill of controlling.

Regarding the wrath, the initial stages of this are usually a kind of unease when we are around the malevolent person, and we slowly we realise that, as much as we might like them, we also fear them -- they are like a schoolyard bully, popular in some strange way as long as we are not on the receiving end of their attentions. But the wrath comes out most strongly when the malevolent person gets caught, and someone calls them on their pattern of deceit. It now becomes a test of wills. We need to understand that, for the malevolent person, their whole universe is essentially under attack -- and they are the centre of that universe. The reaction, however, is rarely reasoned debate, but rather emotional violence. People sometimes tell me that when they confronted so-and-so about their behaviour, the look they received in return could chill the Sahara -- there was real *hate* there. It was a look of pure evil -- a look no one wishes to experience. So often we retreat -- but this simply means that, in effect, the other will has won. Perhaps it was not a battle we felt was worth fighting -- who want to fight? But still, the other side has won. So the malevolent person continues their malevolence.

Let me make something perfectly clear: I believe malevolence exists. I do not believe it is simply another form of psychological conditioning that people accidentally fall into. Sure, how we are raised etc. may have something to do with it. But while psychological disorders are a confusion of how to use means, malevolence is all about *ends*. Asking "What is the point of life?" generates horrifying answers from a malevolent person. Unlike the psychologically ill person, they are highly skilled at the various "means" available in life -- this is how they are so successful at manipulation. What makes them different is that they have *chosen*, even if only on some very primitive level, that the regular rules do not apply to them. In a sense, they are the god of their own universe, and humility is not to be found in them.

Let me also point out that Satan, the Evil One, the Accuser, is also called "the father of lies," and (as St. Peter says) he is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). When his attempts at deception and seduction fail, his wrath comes out....just watch Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" to see the extent of that wrath. I sometimes explain the Devil to little kids by saying that he is really just a big bully, who unfortunately hates us just because he is a bully, and Jesus is our big brother who defeated the bully and who will continue to protect us -- as long as we don't choose ourselves to go too far away from him so that the bully can get us again. But this analogy, while useful, does not really capture the true horror of the situation. The Devil and his demons have an ultimate form of a malevolent personality type, with their original angelic purity turned to evil.

God be praised, I have encountered very few malevolent personalities in my life -- but I have encountered them (one tried to take me to court, not once, but twice -- it's quite a story), and more than once I have had to help others recognize them for what they are -- the lies and the wrath, combined with a highly functional but highly manipulative lifestyle, are the classic indicators.

How do we deal with a malevolent personality? To start, we need to be informed. My book recommendation of choice is People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck. The book has its limits, but because it is written from a faith perspective it doesn't fall into the trap of dismissing malevolence as some relic of a pre-scientific religiosity. But once we are informed, then what?

Let me say that, first of all, attempting to gently reason with a malevolent person does *not* work. In fact, it simply feeds them. Often they will engage us in a discussion, even apologize or make excuses for their behaviour, and chalk it up to some sort of misunderstanding. But when we walk away confident that a new modus vivendi has been negotiated, this has simply given the malevolent person more power. Our happy expectations of a brighter future -- in which we emotionally invest -- gives them simply one more target for them to attack: our trust, and with it that emotional investment.

We also need to be wary of misapplied compassion. While I do *not* recommend any sympathy for the Devil, I *do* believe in compassion for persons who are malevolent, because they are still God's children. But because such persons are so manipulative, common expressions of compassion do not work. We need to realise that confronting a malevolent person with their lies is often the most compassionate thing we can do. We are forcing them into reality, we are forcing the truth to be told, even if that truth is as harsh as "You are a liar." By deconstructing their structures of deceit it is possible that we will provoke a wrathful reaction. But sometimes they burst into tears instead, with a "poor me" cry, and it makes us feel guilty. WARNING! This is just another attempt at manipulation and emotional blackmail. In such situation we need a "stern humility" -- we must unwavering in our commitment to the truth of the situation. To call a liar a liar can actually be a gesture of humility and compassion, if in fact the other person is a liar and calling them on it helps them to no longer be rewarded by their lying.

Finally, we need to be sure we protect ourselves. Malevolent persons can try and destroy us, through causing emotional harm, damage to reputations, and the sowing of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). But this is truly one of those situations where the Truth really does set us free. We simply need to sow the truth as much and as effectively as they sow untruth.

As for loving our enemies, dealing with a malevolent personality is truly a tremendous test of this difficult but necessary virtue. Only grace can provide. Sometimes all we can do is pray for the person, but that is already a lot. As much as we need to surrender any prideful belief that we can cure this particular spiritual disease ourselves, we need to remember that there *is* a cure: the Cross of Christ, which is the ultimate victory over evil. The more we cling to Him on his cross, the more we can pick up our cross and face these difficult situations with the strength of his grace. And if there is one silver lining in all of this, when we come face to face with this kind of "devil" we also really come to understand why the cross was necessary....and why it is so beautiful.

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