Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Questions about ethics

It's been two years since I stopped believing in God, but most people in my life still don't know.  When I do tell someone, invariably the first question they ask is some permutation of this: "How can you be moral without God?"

I find this strange, because at the tail end of my time as a believer, my main worry was, "How can I be moral while being religious?"  After all, religion constrains your choices; sometimes you might have to abandon something your conscience wants you to do because your religion forbids it.

But I do try to answer the question, because it's important.  Even if the asker never leaves religion, I want them at least to be thinking about which of their moral choices would still make sense in a godless universe.  Call it the Reverse Pascal's Wager -- act in such a way that, even if there isn't a God, you still haven't done anything horrible.  Believe in God without the Inquisition, is what I'm saying.  And the only way to do that is to know what would be moral if God didn't exist.

I've talked about this a lot before, so you can read all my posts on the topic if you haven't already.  Today I want to talk about a few other moral questions which I've untangled lately.

Question 1: But don't you need objective morality?

I really am not sure what people are asking for here.  Morality is mainly about being objective -- to stop being stuck in your own wants and needs, and consider what is best for humanity as a whole.  Imagine you could pop out of your own body and float above the earth, looking down.  Don't ask "what's best for me" or even "what's best for my friends" but "what's best for everyone?"  The answer that you get from that is a moral answer.  If what is best for everyone is for your nation to, say, allow refugees in -- because the risk to your nation is small but the benefit to the refugees is vast -- then that is the moral thing to do.

Ah, my interlocutor would say, but why should I care what's best for everyone?  You have to give me an objective reason to care.

Well, there is no such thing as an objective reason to care, because caring is a bit subjective, isn't it?  I could tell you there is an omnipotent being who cares, but that is a statement of fact, not a reason for you to care.  I could tell you you'll go to hell if  you don't care, but even that doesn't bring you to an "ought" -- you could claim that you don't mind going to hell.  So no, there is nothing I could say that could universally make you care about this.  It is an observable fact, though, that most people do care.  They don't actually want to make the world a worse place.  And if you really go over it with them, they might admit that they do, in fact, want to have positive relationships with other people, and you get that by being good to people.  The specific arguments against all the various evils people might attempt would be a longer conversation, but I think the arguments could be made.  It won't be an objective proof, though.  It will depend on what the person actually wants, and what their ethical concerns are so far.

Question 2: But why is it moral to care for all people, rather than just some people?

Here's a question that has troubled me for awhile.  A person who's not endowed with much empathy or conscientiousness might be talked into some basic decency because they want to have friends.  They might want to be loyal to their friends; most people at least like to think they are.  But why should they be decent to people who aren't in their tribe?  They might define their tribe as "people they regularly interact with" or "people of their religion" or "people of their race," but that still gives them plenty of people to have positive relationships and engage in trade with, without having to be moral toward strangers.  And human nature doesn't really give us much to combat this tendency with, because it naturally is suspicious of strangers.  This is why there's so much racism and ethnic cleansing and so on -- because neither our reason nor our instincts put the brakes on this tendency very much.

But it occurs to me that the basic game-theory motive for moral action still works on this level.  I am kind to the cashier who scans my groceries because we are both better off if we are both kind, while we will both be worse off if we aren't.  I could be mean, hoping she is still kind, so that I get what I want without being moral, but that doesn't work, because if I'm mean once, she'll be mean in the future.  And this is true of groups as well.  My group can practice reciprocal morality with other groups, just like I can with individuals.  It is better for the US to get along with Canada than for us to fight with Canada, so Americans should be nice to Canadians.

Of course, Machiavelli might say this only holds true if some group, in the future, might have power to hurt us.  If we wipe them out entirely, they can never get revenge on us, so we'll be better off.  And all I can say is that history does not bear this out.  Wiping out an entire race and everyone that cared about that race is virtually impossible.  It didn't work for Hitler, it didn't work for Milosevic, it's not going to work for you.  Keeping them as a powerless subclass doesn't work forever, either.  Haiti is an example of this.

Now the best way to solve tribalism is probably to increase inter-tribal interaction and relationships.  If you have several black friends, and they're actually close, odds are good you won't want to join the KKK.  If you have a Syrian friend on Facebook, you might stop suggesting "bomb the whole region from space" as a solution to the unrest there.  Basically, once you realize that the stranger is not all that different from you, that they have feelings, hopes, aspirations, and loved ones like you have, you will want to be kind.

Still, even if you're a heartless xenophobe, if you really think about it, you should be able to see that a world where people interact positively with one another is better for you to live in than a world where all nations are constantly at war and you're always watching your back in case one of your slaves shanks you.

Question 3: What is a person?

That's a brief way of asking, "How do you define the class of beings that are morally significant?" or "Who has rights?" or possibly, "But who is my neighbor?"

I was brought up keeping it simple: humans.  Humans are morally significant; no other life form is morally significant.  But that sort of leaves out aliens.  If we were to discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, I would argue that we should treat them ethically, for all the reasons discussed in question 2.  They would be able to participate with us in reciprocal morality -- perhaps they might share their technology with us, for instance.  Whereas if we tried to wipe them out, we'd probably get a reputation throughout the galaxy of "these people are mass murderers, kill on sight" long before we managed to wipe them out.  So on that ground, even if we're completely selfish, we should try to be nice to aliens.

Further, just as we can empathize with a fellow human from a different country, with different experiences, because we have many things in common with him ... so too would we have things in common with intelligent aliens.  Their culture and minds would be vastly different from ours, but their experience must have some commonality with us if they're rational like we are.  We might find they make interesting friends.  And our instinct not to kill a being that has hopes and dreams and friends will likely kick in, once we get over our squeamishness over their different appearance and start communicating with them.

But of course once you draw the circle larger than "the human race" you open a massive can of worms.  Are animals morally significant as well?  Should we respect the lives, liberty, and happiness of animals?  How are we to know whether or not we should?

This is a really, really thorny problem and it isn't something I'm going to be able to hash out in its entirety here.  I do think that, to some degree, intelligence matters.  A pig or a dog, which can be trained, read a human's intentions, and solve problems seems a lot more likely to be morally significant than a shrimp or a snail, if only because the "higher" animal will experience longer, more complex kinds of suffering if it's mistreated, while the snail doesn't seem to be capable of it.  (It may be impossible to say for sure.)

My general feeling is that it is good for animals to exist and not suffer.  However, for them to die is not such a big thing.  I know this sounds odd, but animals generally do not seem to comprehend death, and so they aren't upset by being in a situation where they will die, unless they are otherwise afraid or in pain.  Most domesticated animals don't mind a lack of liberty, either, so I don't consider them to have a "right to liberty" the way humans do.

Of course the reason this is so thorny is that humans like to eat animals.  So I feel like I should be able to justify, morally, why I eat meat, or else stop doing it.  My current reason is this: either we farm domesticated animals like cows and chickens, or these animals, with a few lucky exceptions, cease to exist.  If people stopped eating meat, farmers would probably kill their breeding stock, sell them for dog meat, and go out of business.  If there is no money in cows, there is no reason for cows.  They eat a lot, and humans cannot afford such a huge drain on the world's food resources unless we're going to eat the cows.  (We also kill an awful lot of mice and birds to keep them away from our crops, but that's a whole other problem.)  Cows and chickens cannot survive in the wild; they are too thoroughly domesticated.  Pigs can, but pigs are environmentally devastating if you let them run wild, so humans would probably end up having to cull them anyway.

Given that the cow is not distressed, per se, by being kept in captivity and then painlessly killed, it seems that if it had the capacity to choose, it would prefer to live a short time than not at all.  This might change if its life were guaranteed to be full of suffering, as the lives of many farm animals are.  But if you take farming in the abstract, if it were perfectly done, I don't see a problem with eating any animal that cannot visualize and be upset by the prospect of its future death.  It's going to die at some point, anyway, and Temple Grandin pointed out that, if she were a cow, she'd rather get knocked on the head than eaten by a lion.  "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be," is a catchphrase of hers.

I do think that any animal that can suffer, should be treated humanely so that it doesn't suffer.  We shouldn't scare dogs on purpose, or keep pigs in tiny crates, or cut off chickens' beaks.  It's not my life's crusade or anything, because there are still so many humans being mistreated all over the earth, but ideally, we would be humane to all feeling creatures because we too are feeling creatures and can understand that no one wants to suffer.

This isn't something I am able to prove, per se.  There is a great deal of argument on either side of the question of animal rights.  But for the moment, I'm not vegan and have no real intention to be.  I am hoping to buy some pastured beef soon, though, because the more I find out about conventional meat, the less I want to eat it.

Question 4:  Is there any limit to how selfless you're supposed to be?

I've been bothered by "utilitarian guilt" for some time.  I mean, I've rationally worked out that I'm no more important than anyone else.  Then how can it possibly be justified for me to spend more effort on myself than on anyone else?  I just ate some ice cream.  Someone elsewhere in the world died of malaria.  Why did I buy the ice cream instead of a bed net?  Am I a monster?

I was going to call this scrupulosity, but I think if I were really all that scrupulous I would have bought the bed net.  Nah, I'm as selfish as the next person, but it does kind of bother me how selfish I am.  I mean, I could always be doing more.

And the answer, which I got from John -- whose lack of angst on this topic is refreshing -- is this: if you make the world a worse place, you're a bad person.  If you leave it the same, you're an okay person.  And if you make it better, you're a good person.  Instead of trying to divide it between "stuff I do for me" and "stuff I do for other people," why not take it as given that I, as a human being, am going to take care of myself, because that's what we do.  If I eat ice cream, and I pay the person who made it, I'm breaking even.  I didn't do anything good, but I didn't do anything bad either.  I'm still at the neutral place between good and bad.

But if once a week I skip the ice cream and give a buck to the Clean Water Fund, then I'm edging into positive territory.  I haven't done anything that great, but I did a thing and I don't have to weigh it against all the things I did for myself.  Taking care of myself isn't an ethical negative, it's a zero.

I do feel every person has an obligation to do good and not simply avoid evil, but perhaps there is no minimum amount of good you have to do before you count.  If you do something, that's good, and if you do more, that's better.

I am not sure if thinking about it this way helps anyone else, but I'm throwing it out there.

Does anyone have any other questions about morals -- either in the abstract, or my moral reasoning specifically?  Don't be bashful, I like talking about it .... to the point that I often mistake idle questions on the topic for Serious Curiosity and take up hours of somebody's time. 

(If anyone is wondering why I have been posting so rarely .... it took me a solid week to write this post.  That is how little time I have these days.)


Anonymous said...

Are you "out" to your extended family and circle of friends? How did they take the news? How do you answer your kids' questions about God & faith? Do you still go to church? Asking because I had a similar loss of faith a few years ago and am still dealing with fallout. Thank you for your heartfelt blog.

Belfry Bat said...

Re Utilitarian guilt:
The World is going to be full of malarial swamps for a while yet; and while you might not be living in one right now, it doesn't actually make sense for you to take mosquito-netting-for-distant-folk as morally superior to icecream-for-yourself, because it wouldn't make sense for everyone facing the icecream/netting option to always choose netting. Maybe mosquito-netting-provision is a special vocation for you, I don't know; but it's actually Good For The World to feed your own cheerfulness and raise a happy family.

The best way for you to make sure the future has enough mosquito netting, and that it gets to the right people, is to Keep Your House In Order, now, and maybe encourage your children to consider the Textile Industry. The next thing is to export those ideas of responsibility-to-the-neighborhood as gently as we can...

Now. Re. the other thing. You have some funny friends. Everyone knows there is objective morality, and has strong opinions on its specifics, and it's only particularly perverse folk who speak otherwise. And Furthermore, everyone intuits that everyone knows this, and the provocation of intellectual doubt on the point is how we know the folk who speak against Moral-as-a-Thing are speaking perversely. So, you have some friends who ask "without God, how can you have objective morals?" Since Moral is The-Good-in-Act, the question is a special case of "without God, how can you have objective Good?" But my answer to that is: the question is backwards: we know that there is Objective Good, and its fullness Is God.

And I have to say, again, that I'm very sorry that some people were bad to you and used God's Name as the excuse for it; it shows a profound negligence of the 2nd Commandment in what they were...

Sheila said...

I am out to my family but not John's; his are much more hard-core than mine and I don't want to damage his relationship with them. I foresee, though, that before too long they're going to be told. I'm leaving that to John, though, to tell them or not as he feels it best.

Unfortunately, being not-out to one specific group of people means hiding it from a lot of people, just in case. So that's why I'm not out on facebook at all.

Bat, the "raise kids so they can do the thing you would otherwise do" argument is tempting, but I can't control what my kids do. If they follow my example, I suppose *they'd* all have four kids in the hopes that somebody would donate some malaria nets! And even if they did donate some, that doesn't do anything for the person who will die of malaria next year. I really hope that by 2040 we'll have a cure or better preventative for malaria in any case!

But of course, I'm only one person, I can't help all the people who need it. So no matter how much I give, I will always have to deal with the realization that there is more need left. I just have to make peace with that I guess. I still admire people who give everything to serve the poor, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't be very good at that kind of life.

Sheila said...

Oh, I see I missed some of Anonymous's questions. No, I don't go to church; I did for some time, but given that four kids is a bit much to manage in the pew, I've started staying home with them.

I've agreed to raise the kids Catholic, and I don't outright interfere with that. I don't tell them xyz isn't true, but I also don't say it is - I'll say the Bible says so or Daddy says so, or that I heard something like that from a priest. I did make one exception in telling them that while their friend believes bad people go to hell, I don't believe that. I do not want them worrying about hell at a young age.

I do, however, talk to them about how to question whether something is true (stuff like "who told me?" and "how do they know?" and "is there a way to test it for myself?"). And I have told them about the many religions in the world, and that they are people's best guesses about the truth, since no one can just pop up to heaven and see what it's like. I've said that you should always respect someone else's guess, because you're not likely to be able to argue someone else into changing their religion. (This is important because my oldest spent a lot of time last winter trying to convince other people not to believe in Santa. He has a real problem accepting different points of view.)

In time I will tell them I don't believe in God, but I don't mind religion getting the first shot. We're still raising them to be curious and respectful of differences, which I suspect will end in no or very relaxed religious views, but even if it doesn't, I don't really mind.

Anonymous said...

Anon here (longtime fan of your blog): Thanks for the reply. One more question: have you lost friends because of your change in beliefs?

Sheila said...

Not completely, no. I've pretty much only told people I felt pretty confident about sticking with me. Though at least two even of those friendships have been changed. There's not so much closeness or trust as before, and they get offended if I have an opinion about the church. So I find myself half-wishing I hadn't told them, which makes me feel more scared about telling anyone else.

When I'm entirely out (which will happen eventually) you'll have to ask again! I'm sure many of my less-close friends, who really were only friends with me because we had that one thing in commmon, will do a slow fade. I think I'm okay with that. It's all right if you admit you don't have much in common with someone anymore. It doesn't mean you hate them or anything.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bouncing in to give the "lost friend" perspective . . .

You know, we lost you guys first. Sheila, when I finally accepted your deconversion, it was really as if you had died. Barring a miraculous intervention (which, for the record, I'm totally open to), I will never meet the old you again on this earth anymore than my dead brother. And it was the old you whom I had had all the meaningful experiences with. On the other hand, the new you seems like an okay person, too. Maybe we'll have meaningful experiences in the future. I just need to get over your killing my friend! LOL!

In hindsight, I can recall some "outbursts" in the past that foreshadowed your new self. But either because you were actively hiding that part of yourself or because I brushed the hints aside as insignificant ("At least Sheila is Catholic!" LOL!), your deconversion was still a big shock to me. But there were enough of these hints just on your blog to make me think that some people you knew in real life weren't too surprised. But the impression I'm getting in your posts about this topic is that everyone was floored.

I admit that I'm one of the people who gets rubbed the wrong way when you have a negative opinion about the Church. Believe it or not, it's something I want to change! You're not an enemy of the Church (I hope!), so we shouldn't treat you like one. But you also don't seem to have "skin in the game" anymore. If you've ever been annoyed by foreigners or expats who think they know all about how to fix America, even though they don't live there and don't have to deal with day-to-day American life, well, that's how you come across. (Speaking of fixing America, another distinct group of people who have been hurt and stunned to lose life-long friends due to some new views are . . . Trump supporters! LOL!)

In related news, I think I also lost a friend. On one level, it just got harder for D and I to make time for each other. She had to deal with running a business, nursing a sick mother, and getting really serious with her boyfriend; and I had one of the worst work schedules on the planet. But my deeper intuition is that D just doesn't like spending time with me anymore. Perhaps I'm just projecting because our heart-to-heart talks, formerly so consoling, have lately just felt like talking to a wall. A judgmental wall. But I'm definitely not projecting the fact that she hasn't made the first move to meet up in over a year (and that's just when I started to note the imbalance). She doesn't say no when I reach out, but neither does she reach out first. It's tiring and demoralising. And should I decide to stop meeting her more than halfway each time, she'll be able to say, "Well, Enbrethiliel just stopped calling all of a sudden. I guess she didn't want to be friends anymore . . ."

Sarah said...

I'm not sure what your impression of my reaction has been, but I just wanted to let you know I don't feel any differently about our friendship. The older I get and the more people I meet and experiences I have, I realize that the Faith I have is truly an undeserved gift, and not something anyone can be forced to accept or even understand. And I've realized I understand it far less than I ever thought. Its been rather humbling, but in a strange way I've found that's strengthened my Faith, because ultimately it's become more about my needing God and His help and less about knowing all the answers to life's questions because I had a good Catholic education and upbringing. It's become more about the relationship and less about the "law" for its own sake, if that makes any sense. I suppose it helps that I'm totally in love with a man who is about as agnostic as they come, and happy to be married to him. So I know that not believing one thing or another doesn't make us better or worse people, but caring more about others than oneself and striving to live with integrity most definitely does. Not that religion doesn't matter, because I think it really does, but it's not what makes or breaks a relationship for me.

Raising my son Catholic with a agnostic father is going to be a real challenge though. I'm a little intimidated by the prospect, but all I can do is give it my best and trust God for the rest.

Sheila said...

Sarah, you're one person I have felt complete acceptance from. I feel like you get it, because you too have changed in some respects since the old days, and gotten grief from loved ones over it. So you know not to blame a person for following the best knowledge they have -- and you also know, I think, that matters of faith are non-obvious so you don't need to be a bad person not to be convinced.

E ... I hardly know what to say here. I'm not dead, for one thing. It might feel that way, but you can't get out of this that easily. I know you have a serious dread of letting a friend go, but in some ways I think it's better to say "you know, a friend has changed and I stopped liking them so much" than to find a way to pretend you didn't move apart.

When I was younger, I had this deep ideal of staying friends with all my friends forever. I would never drop someone I had once been friends with. But it seems life doesn't let you do this ... people move away and never call, people change interests, and sometimes it turns out they never liked me that much in the first place. We all make excuses like "I still love her lots, if we ran into each other it would be awesome, I just don't happen to ever call," or "maybe she's the one who slowly drifted away from me, it can't be that I changed." But maybe the reality is that friendships shift over time, that you and I are doomed to have a different kind of friendship than we once had, perhaps even if both of us threw our full effort into saving the old one. It doesn't mean we're bad people.

Oddly I have not lost one friend over Trump, unless somebody quietly unfriended me and I didn't notice. (One friend did that on facebook, but then much later messaged me that her unfriending didn't mean she wanted to end our real-life friendship. Which was fine with me; facebook isn't the ideal space for some kinds of friendships.) Basically anyone in my life who was going to be nasty about Trump, was already nasty about other things and had been moved to a small-doses friend ... and anyone who voted for Trump but *wasn't* nasty, was already someone I was accustomed to having civil disagreements with, so why stop?

I think people who don't read this blog will not see it coming. I am not actually a very open person, mainly because I feel social pressures very strongly -- I will agree with almost anything in person rather than argue. This blog is a lot more honest. I've been confessing to faith problems here since 2013 at least. Of course lots of people have those and resolve them without changing beliefs, so of course you had no way to be sure, but it's not like this was totally out of left field. Any more than it was out of left field that you were going to be one of the people who wasn't going to be okay with it.

And by the way ... if you moved to America tomorrow, and happened to voice some opinion about the Philippines the day after ... you might feel a little snubbed and upset if people started shutting you up because "you're an American now, you can't possibly know anything about the Philippines!" You don't erase being from somewhere the moment you no longer live there. It affects you for the rest of your life, even as your news becomes less current over the years.

Enbrethiliel said...


Get out of what that easily? I like you. I wouldn't be commenting here if I weren't. But I miss the old you and I'll never get her back.

If I moved to America tomorrow to settle there (illegally?--LOL), do you have any idea how annoying my opinion would be to Filipinos still in the Philippines? And rightly so. When you give up the fight, you can't tell the people who are still in the trenches what they should be doing. (Unless, of course, it's to give tips to other would-be deserters.) You can bet that my US-based relatives have heard their share of "You don't live here; you don't know what you're talking about." And it's not just about "news." That's the shallowest interpretation. It's about sharing the weight of being somewhere. It's a kind of communion. Thanks to Skype and FaceTime, my aunt and uncle had all the current news during my grandmother's last days; but there's no way they can claim to have shared the burden of caring for her or the guilty relief when she finally died. They are arguably two of the most sensible people in the extended family (proof: they made it to America, didn't they?), and their advice may still have been better than our own decisions . . . but my sister's ditzy girlfriend, involved enough to help us bathe my grandmother after countless soilings, in the end had an opinion that carried more weight.

On a more abstract level, I've thought for some time that second-generation immigrants need to give up the ethnic label. Over a decade ago, when I myself had the chance to be a first-generation immigrant somewhere else, I became part of a parish whose priest had come all the way from Ireland. In one conversation with him, I mentioned a certain author from Chicago, saying, "He's Irish like you," and he made me take it back. Someone who wasn't born or raised in Ireland, whose parents weren't born or raised in Ireland, and who might be culture shocked by daily life in Ireland, no longer had any right to call himself Irish. We might say that Father was living in a glass presbytery back then, but he's retired now and back in his beloved Eire.

In another point in history, Joe Kennedy, repeatedly described as "Irish," once ranted (and I paraphrase): "I was born in this country. My children were born in this country. What do I have to do to be considered an American???"

I understand that we need to keep ethnic labels for clarity, but there's a sense in which an ethnic Chinese who was born and raised in Ireland is more Irish than an ethnic Irish who was born and raised somewhere else.

Sheila said...

Hence the word "Irish-American." Or, in John's family's case, "Chirish" (Chicago Irish). It definitely is its own distinct cultural reality! Whereas I have some Irish descent, but it's not my culture -- I don't claim to be Irish in any sense.

And the term "raised Catholic" is still meaningful. Just today the lady at the school office was telling me about going to Catholic school with the nuns, and I certainly identified. But when a person tells you they were raised Catholic, you might not know their religion, but you know what religion they're *not*!

But here's the thing: if I say, "The Catholic Church teaches xyz," I don't think I should be dismissed as ignorant. Not only is the catechism publicly searchable, but I have studied a lot more of it than the average person! Or when I confess one of my issues with Catholic teaching to a fellow Christendom grad, they start explaining to me stuff from theology 101. It's like -- I know, I was there! I can't imagine you'd slowly and patiently tell your American family, "The Philippines are a group of islands in southeast Asia. One major language there is Tagalog. The most common religion is Catholicism." I mean, they didn't have their minds wiped on all facts about the Philippines when they left!

But I get the impression you are saying, "They may be knowledgeable, but they just don't have the right." And I guess I just don't get that.

Enbrethiliel said...


I regret my choice of words in my first comment. When I said "We lost you first," it made it sound like it was your fault, but all I really meant was that two people lost each other at the same time. That's not literally true, as you point out, but I also think the "lost friends" deserve a tiny bit more credit.

For what it's worth, I think that when deconverts hide what is happening over years, the big news, when it finally drops, becomes more painful than it should be. I kind of was part of your process, Sheila . . . and when I think back on even older posts of yours, I realise there were strong hints--but only for those who knew what to look for! I do know I thought something was up, even if I had no idea what it was. According to my journal, you were my Lent intention for four years in a row, starting in 2013! I can't remember what I was thinking back then, though. I fail as a diarist. Anyway, what I mean to say is that going through a bit of the process with you also altered me. Going with my morbid metaphor, I died a little, too. And for all my moaning about never having the old you back, I feel honored that I got to walk part of the way with the new you. Maybe it's something to build on. At least I hope so.

But others who didn't walk the path with you are really going to be horrified. And I feel for them even more than I feel for you when that happens. At least you came out of the ordeal stronger. It's too late for them to join you in the same crucible. They'll have to work through everything on their own . . . or in a group that doesn't really include you. And that will be hurtful to you, too.

And look at me throw stones . . . Didn't I keep my attendance at an SSPX chapel secret for a year? LOL! Well, actually, no I didn't! It was in written in black and white, for anyone in the world to read, on my old Catholic blog for months. I made the blog private only on the advice of a trusted friend, who feared blowback for me. But I didn't really understand why he thought I should keep it a secret, and that made it feel clandestine and shameful to me, when I don't think it should have been. Then in the months that followed, when I mentioned it to others (including yourself and Bat), everyone had such negative reactions! The most beautiful thing in my life had also become the most painful. And it didn't end until a few months ago, when my friends from there asked why I never invited people to experience a Latin Mass, and I said, surprising even myself: "I don't want anyone I love to suffer the way I'm suffering now." Being able to call what I was feeling "suffering"--for it truly was that, and not mere "cognitive dissonance" or whatever--was what finally ended it. Insert morbid metaphor here.

I don't have doubts any longer, but I hesitate "to come out" because I feel bad for all my Catholic friends who'll be horrified. I think I owed them a clearer heads-up while it was happening, and I regret being so secretive. It wasn't even because I was afraid I'd lose them. (Everyone who already stuck by me through the "Bellita" stage is probably with me for life, aye? LOL!) I personally believe that we should let our friends go through the harrowing stuff with us, if we still want to be friends when it's all over. Because that stuff will change us, and if they truly love us, they should have the chance to be changed, too.

Enbrethiliel said...


Comment #13!!!!!!!

Now, believe it or not, I only brought the SSPX stuff up because I had a point to make about being "raised Catholic." The more I learn about Catholic tradition, the more I am stunned at how different it is from what I grew up with. I was born in one of the most Marian countries in the world, went to a Catholic school run by religious sisters for thirteen years, then became a self-taught "Catholic nerd." But until two years ago, I had no inkling of how how different 1964 was from 1965. I hate the "Trad" stereotype of being stuck in the pre-conciliar years, but the more I dig into tradition, the less "raised Catholic" I feel. "Post Vatican II Catholic" is as valid as "Chirish."

Anyway, I don't know about your other friends, but I'm certainly not dismissing you as "ignorant" with respect to the Church. Again, for me, it's not about "news" or knowledge--especially these days, when I'd say everyone is equally informed. Nor is it about having a "right." At the moment, my best way of putting it is that you don't have "skin in the game" any longer. Let's say something earth-shattering happens to the Catholic world tomorrow. It might be the Pope finally banning the old Mass and excommunicating everyone who refuses to hear the new Mass. Or it might be the pope overturning the new Mass and ordering a return to the old Mass. Choose your own completely different adventure. Catholics all over the world will feel the repercussions of either event for generations. But it probably won't make you lose much sleep at night.

Sheila said...

I think the "Bellita" stage helped teach both of us that "adamantly disagreeing" can be one kind of friendship. Though I knew it theoretically before, because John's best friend disagrees with him on almost everything. They have been arguing since they met. You can even be friends and disapprove of someone, so long as you respect their boundaries enough to put a cap on the number of times you call them out on the same thing.

I must say, it is much more peaceful not having to worry about what the Pope does. Though I never did all that much. I truly believed, on a level most of my friends don't appear to, that the Holy Spirit was leading the Church. During the last conclave, I didn't wonder "will we have a good pope?" I wondered "what will God be trying to teach us with the next pope?"

I am probably more familiar with traditionalism than you think. I don't address it much because it's not something I have a lot of *personal* experience with, but John's experiences with it would wind up reading a good deal like my RC story. We were married in a big two-hour-long Latin mass, but soon after that he started to refuse to attend a Latin Mass at all, even if it meant going separately from his family when we were visiting. So this is why I have such negative reactions ... though my experiences are vicarious, they're negative enough that I feel like warning people off something that harmed him so much. At the same time, I did try to be non-judgmental (I guess I didn't succeed?) because I know different people can have wildly different experiences of the same thing. It seems to be good for you, so I put my hand over my mouth.

Enbrethiliel said...


There's a journalist who calls Pope Francis "The Great Clarifier," saying that his reign is exposing which Catholics are truly faithful and which are truly rebellious. That's an extreme view even for me! But if it weren't for my friends, I also wouldn't know much about what Pope Francis is up to these days.

I believe you when you say you're familiar with traditional Catholics, but you might be slightly misunderstanding me if you jumped to the social aspect immediately. For me, the biggest differences were theological. Until this year, for instance, I had had no idea how "defensively" I was praying the rosary, sticking only to meditations that wouldn't have triggered a Protestant. Looking back now, I'm amazed that Protestantism was able to claim so much real estate in my mind without my realising it.

But yeah that social aspect . . . One of the reasons I wanted to blog about going to an SSPX chapel was that the experience was setting all the "Trad" stereotypes on their head. I had read "Trad" blogs before, and they all seemed to be written by two types of people: super nerdy men and super cranky women. I felt that I had found "a new way to Trad" and wanted to share it with others. My community is vibrant and messy and slightly nuts in a good way. Yet my friend who advised me to stop blogging about it was prudent in a way he might not have realised. When I was blogging about my old 6,000-family parish, I could get as gossipy and detailed as I wanted and even readers from my parish would never have guessed who I meant. But if my new friends read my old blog posts, they would all know exactly "who's who." Not that they would be offended or think I had violated their privacy. Some of them might be upset I hadn't written about them more! But I wasn't kidding when I said the community was messy. And knowing what I do now of the global "Trad" world, I can imagine a nasty busybody reading my more humorous posts, being Highly Offended, and pressuring the district superior to have our pastors relocated.

If John was hurt by traditionalists, that makes him the fifth American I have run into online to say the same thing. I used to think I was just meeting outliers all the time. But last year, an American who was in the Philippines for business started hearing Mass at the chapel. (I feel that's already enough to identify him!!!) He came from a Super Trad family. He became really involved in parish life and was well liked. And the night before he finally flew home to the States, he confided to the guy who had become his closest buddy (which, as you know, means confiding in half the village): "Until I came to the Philippines, I had no idea that I had never been happy." This rocked us for weeks.

Oh, yeah . . . The trusted friend who told me not to blog? He's deeply traditional and had been trying to nudge me into the Latin Mass for years before I finally went. And he's one of the five.

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