Update on “A Lesbian Goes into a Church”

The original post is here, and the update is here.  Put briefly, Fr Guarnizo, who had refused communion to Barbara Johnson,  has had his “priestly faculties” removed until the accuracy of charges against him are determined.  The charges are said to have nothing to do with his behavior during the funeral.  Rather, they are concerned with very negative behavior concerning the parish staff and others that is alleged against him.

While Johnson had requested that he be removed, it is not obvious that the current action will give her much solace.  She is now considered on some conservative Roman Catholic blogs to be an agent of the devil.  Such views could well create a horrible climate for her.

One thing that is interesting is to look at the language of the conservative discussions.  It does look as though some people are operating with an ontology that is radically at odds with modern science.  On the other hand, “acts of the devil” could be a metaphor and not refer to any extra-natural agency.  See here, for example.  Others  accept Guarnizo’s version of the events and see the “Satanic Obama” administration at work. 

These views are mostly in the comments, where one can also see more moderate voices.


Thanks to Occasional Lurker for the update.

15 thoughts on “Update on “A Lesbian Goes into a Church”

  1. One might not think much of the ontology, but the proposition that it is radically at odds with modern science seems to be a matter, at the very least, of philosophical dispute. (And are we talking about ontology more in the philosophical or the computer-science sense?)

  2. The ontology at issue here is (I’d say) in the “devil-made-me-say-that” sense. For the record, the devil didn’t.

    There is a reason I often quip to my classes that the Middle Ages never ended, but the suits of armor and lances certainly got cooler.

  3. The primitive ontology is the raison d’etre of the Church. If liberal Catholic supporters had claimed that the Archdiocese had been “filled with God’s love” in acting to remove the priest, would we be making similar comments?

    I don’t like it either, but the anti-scientific ontology, i.e. the religion itself, is shared by pretty much everyone with a stake in this issue. The entire dispute hinges over a ritual that doesn’t have any meaning unless you accept some extremely implausible metaphysical views.

  4. Nemo,

    Are you suggesting that it’s something like an open question whether demonic possession can take part in an explanatory account of human behavior?

  5. Alan, It would be great if you could say a bit more for our very diverse audience here. I.e., put literally, you are saying …

  6. Sure. Although attributions of human behavior to supernatural forces should carry no weight given a broad naturalistic view of the world, in fact such explanations have a pretty wide currency not just among undereducated populations but lots of folks presumably familiar with how things work according to basic laws. (Though when we consider that a significant percentage of Americans think the sun goes around the earth, maybe I’m being too optimistic here!) The default belief for most people seems to be something like we are supernatural beings in a largely natural world (but a world that still is subject to supernatural forces), and while that’s somewhat different from the medieval mindset, it doesn’t seem significantly different in terms of self-conception. There is a great disconnect with what science shows “out there” and what goes on “in here.” And that provides plenty of explanatory space for something non-naturalistic to slip into how we talk about ourselves. Will we ever be able to see ourselves as natural beings in a natural world? I doubt it–and in that sense we will never collectively move beyond the Medieval mindset.

    Caveat: I am no medievalist in the scholarly sense. So FWIW.

  7. Alan, thanks! Your view reminds me of Paul Blooms’ editorial in the NY Times near the 2004 US elections. He thinks we are all dualists. Here’s the link:

    I’m reminded here of one of my favorites of the nuns’ stories: A young woman in NYC was returning to her parked car. When she got to it, she turned around and saw a man walking down the street toward her. As one sometimes can, she could just tell that he was the devil. So she pulled out of her purse the bottle of holy water she kept there. She opened it up, starting sprinkling the water in his direction while she prayed.

    Sure enough, he took one look at what was going on, turned around and walked quickly away, thus showing he was indeed the devil.

  8. synapseandsyntax,

    More like it’s an open question whether methodological naturalism entails ontological naturalism, if I’ve correctly surmised what the OP was suggesting.

    (And, although, a separate question, even methodological naturalism’s relation to science is a matter of some albeit narrower philosophical dispute.)

  9. Hah Anne (if I may)! Great nun story! Now back to reading how my state legislators (WI) are restricting access to abortions today. What really gets my goat is that they have the temerity to campaign on “getting government out of our lives” after perpetrating this crap on us.

    At least tonight I can teach PHI/SCI and get away from that for a while. And watch Storage Wars later (very guilty pleasure).

  10. Nemo,

    If you accept demonic agency, it seems inevitable that you allow that either (a) demonic possession is a natural phenomenon that we can study scientifically, or (b) some human behaviors are caused by supernatural phenomena. If (a) is true, i.e. demonic possession could be demonstrated conclusively under controlled conditions, I think we’d all like to know about it–it would be one of the most startling scientific discoveries of all time. In that case, we should grant demons ontological standing simply because they would then take part in our best explanations of the world. If on the other hand (b) is true, we are giving up even methodological naturalism, are we not?

    Are we talking past one another here?

  11. Following on Allan’s post, let me note that current historians of philosophy tend to eschew the cliches of older criticism that tended to position periods of philosophy in terms of dichotomies; this is not a disagreement with Alan, btw.

    This trend is probably in part due to Margaret Wilson’s fine work, though a number of other scholars hold very similar views, and indeed John Yolton may be one of the earlier ones. One of the recent explorations of seeing continuities is my colleague, Helen Hattab’s, book on Descartes and mechanism. She argues that though Descartes rejected the notion of form prevalent in medieval philosophy, nonetheless, he drew on mechanistic notions that are in Aristotle’s mechanics.

    I am tempted to add that I have a number of papers on the notion of representation as “re-realization” that shows up in Aristotle, Acquinas, Hume and lots of contemporary cognitive neuroscience. So I will add it. And in fact just did.

    On none of these accounts, however, do angels with agency appear, even fallen angels like the devil. I think it is possible to regard talk today about the devil as a metaphor, but it is hard to see it as anything more than antithetical to modern science if it is supposed to have more ontological robustness.

    Alan’s concern with medieval ontology was pretty clearly concerned with allowing the devil special non-material agency. Paul Bloom, a cognitive psychologist, sees the idea of ourselves as having a non-material agentic aspect as part of our inherited intellectual makeup. He does not, however, think it is right.

  12. synapseandsyntax,

    I think you’ve put your finger on at least part of the subject matter of the dispute to which I was alluding.

  13. Thanks Anne. FYI for everyone I am in fact a long-lapsed evangelical who studied for the ministry, lots of biblical history and textual criticism, koine and Attic greek (the first for the NT, the latter just for the hell of it for ancient philosophy), and so I’m not unfamiliar with the sort of supernatural attributions of agency people make; I once made them. But more and more exploration made such appeals increasingly bizarre, to the point now that they only produce in me Lewis’ incredulous stare. What amazes me is that so many people still subscribe to such explanations, and to the point that they significantly influence public policy and national elections.

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