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Quality Contributions Report for April 2023

This is the Quality Contributions Roundup. It showcases interesting and well-written comments and posts from the period covered. If you want to get an idea of what this community is about or how we want you to participate, look no further (except the rules maybe--those might be important too).

As a reminder, you can nominate Quality Contributions by hitting the report button and selecting the "Actually A Quality Contribution!" option. Additionally, links to all of the roundups can be found in the wiki of /r/theThread which can be found here. For a list of other great community content, see here.

These are mostly chronologically ordered, but I have in some cases tried to cluster comments by topic so if there is something you are looking for (or trying to avoid), this might be helpful. Here we go:

Quality Contributions to the Main Motte




Contributions for the week of April 3, 2023





Recognition Diplomacy




Contributions for the week of April 10, 2023






Transitive Reasoning






Contributions for the week of April 17, 2023




Identity Politics





Contributions for the week of April 24, 2023





Discriminating Taste








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Concerning the @Esperanza post:

Pope Francis said that a man’s gayness was less important than whether “he searches for the Lord and has good will.”

No, he asked who was he to judge, forgetting his position. He could decide to make homosexual actions not a sin. It is within his power.

I've been seeing the question lately in a few places, most recently when Bryan Caplan did a podcast with Richard Hanania: how much "power" do people "in power" actually have? In the podcast, they talked about university presidents, but I've heard it discussed for all sorts of positions. The idea is that, to become a university president, you have to do so many things to please certain people, who have certain interests. To what extent do you need to continue pleasing them to remain university president? Even if you can't be formally kicked out of your role for a particular action, to what extent does your role require cooperation/acquiescence from a variety of stakeholders? If you spend all of your political capital accomplishing one thing that is incredibly controversial among your stakeholders, they may proceed to do everything they can to neuter every last shred of remaining power that you have until they can actually kick you out.

I imagine these constraints vary significantly across different positions of power, but as a non-Catholic, I would argue that the pope does not have the power to "decide to make homosexual actions not a sin", even within the Catholic church. The bulk of the power centers within the Catholic church are committed enough to the position that the bible means something, that one of the somethings that they can easily interpret the bible as meaning is that homosexual actions are sinful, and that this is supported by so great a weight of history and tradition that it would be near inconceivable for a mere pope to, on his own, without a long careful process of arguing for and convincing many stakeholders of his position, suddenly reverse course. They would feel as though a "foreigner" has somehow invaded their group, a spy, a saboteur, an enemy operative. They would view it as illegitimate, do all that they can to remove the invader or at least neutralize his further power until he can be removed. Then, they would go about reversing the decision to whatever extent their history and tradition allows them to. They will declare that it was not "conformable with Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Traditions" (to just copy the words from wikipedia).

In a different time, maybe the pope will gain such power. If the cultural memeplex continues propagating among enough of the rest of the leadership of the Catholic church, perhaps enough will get on board with whatever new argument arises to shift around their traditional position. Different levels of support (or even just apathy) across the leadership will require different expenditures of political capital by a hypothetical future pope, but I think that right now, it's not reasonably "within his power".

I am a Catholic and the moment the Pope claims to have the ability to make something the Church has taught was inherently immoral "not a sin" is the moment I stop being Catholic. Because at that point it's all made up. (Please no zingers here about how it's all made up anyway, I am not going to try to prove Catholicism on TheMotte.) The Pope is one of the last absolute monarchs in the world, but he is absolutely beholden to the dogma of his predecessors. He maintains power to the extent he convinces Catholics that he is genuine.

Now, the Pope has the ability to make something not inherently immoral a sin. For example he could say all Catholics must abstain from wearing pink. But it wouldn't become inherently immoral to wear pink. He would be saying, as a matter of obedience to the Church, he's asking us to abstain from the color pink. (To increase our self-discipline or as reparation for our sins or whatever.)

If he commanded someone to do something inherently immoral under this framework they would be obligated to disobey and no sin would be incurred. We are only obligated to obey just laws.

It sounds complicated when I write it out but I hope the underlying principle makes sense. The Pope is subject to the divine law, but can impose an additional ecclesiastical law on adherents.

Is there a clear, unambiguous definition of "inherently immoral" in an authoritative source – such as the Bible, or maybe something written by one of the great Catholic thinkers like Thomas Aquinas – or is this just begging the question?

The Catholic Church has already had U-turns of a similar magnitude. For the vast majority of its existence, the Church was in favour of capital punishment. Then, in the late 20th century, their stance suddenly flipped and now they're strongly opposed to it.

Their previous stance on capital punishment suggests that they can be flexible about Biblical interpretation if they really feel it is necessary. If they can interpret "do not kill" to mean "actually, you can kill sometimes", then why wouldn't they be able to interpret the much more ambiguous condemnations of homosexuality in the New Testament to mean that homosexuality is not prohibited in general, but only in certain circumstances? (The condemnations of homosexuality in the Old Testament don't matter because the old laws have been "fulfilled" – whatever that means – and Christians are no longer required to follow them and are permitted to eat pork, not get circumcised, wear mixed fabrics, etc.)

A definitive list of Catholic Dogmas and their teaching weight has been made, yes. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott is the best at explaining the degrees of authority each teaching possesses. St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Moral Theology is likely the most thorough explication of Catholic Moral Theology. As Rev. Thomas Slater, S.J. put it, "Moral theology is still what St. Alphonsus left it."

Ott lists 6 grades of Theological Certainty, ranging from "immediately revealed truths... defined by a solemn judgement of faith (definition) of the Pope or a General Council" to "Tolerated Opinions." A solemn judgement of faith cannot be just what the Pope said last Tuesday, or even something put in an instructional document like the Catechism. (The current Catechism of the Catholic Church has many topics with various degrees of authoritativeness, and explicitly states that the degree of authority pertains to the documents outside of the Catechism in which they are defined. Addition to the Catechism does not increase magisterial authority.)

The Church has not U turned on capital punishment, which is infallibly considered not intrinsically immoral. The current Pope skirting heresy does not change the fact that capital punishment is good in a lot of situations. The Pope could even be a full blown heretic and that would still not pose a problem for the Church. What he cannot do is declare he's changing prior dogmatic teaching using his authority as the Pope.

In the case of capital punishment, Pope Francis is clearly making a prudential judgement, which is still binding on Catholics as my first comment shows. Prudentially, in most countries today, is is possible to protect society without killing murders. Much of the benefits to the murderer from killing them are gone as well - in a non-Catholic society it is unlikely that a murderer will repent, go to confession, face the hangman, and go on his way to Heaven. Instead, keeping the murderer alive for longer gives him the best chance at repentance. Prudentially, there is a good argument to not practice Capital Punishment. And as I said above, the Pope doesn't even need a good argument to make Catholics do something under obedience. He could outlaw the color pink arbitrarily.

"Do not murder" in the Bible has always been consistent with God commanding the Israelites to practice capital punishment one book over. There is no ambiguity or conflict there. If you are interested in a more thorough explication of Catholic teaching on Capital Punishment, I recommend, "By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment." (You should be able to pirate it, there's nothing about copyright in Alphonsus' Moral Theology, so it's totally morally fine.) (Also copyright would probably be considered unnatural, like usury, and therefore prohibitions on it are unjust.)

Honestly that reminds me. I owe a debt to Pope Francis for his ambiguous statements on Capital Punishment. It is much, much easier to talk about how Church teaching hasn't changed in regards to Capital Punishment than it is to talk about how Church Teaching hasn't changed in regards to Usury, which used to be the go-to zinger.

Are you sure about that first sentence? My impression was that there wasn't even a consensus on which statements are ex cathedra, beyond the two Marian ones?

That is a common misconception among Catholics. Or rather, the Marian dogma of the Assumption is the only ex cathedra statement made since ex cathedra was defined in 1870.

But obviously, the Church existed for a while before 1870 and defined a lot of dogmas prior to that time. It would be really weird to have a Christian Church where the only thing they are sure of is Mary was assumed into Heaven, and not something like Jesus Christ is True God and True Man.

The ordinary means of infallibility are when all bishops teach the same doctrine, through Church Councils headed and approved by the Pope.

Certainly. I was just saying that I wasn't aware of a list that everyone can agree is good.

Wikipedia says:

There is no complete list of papal statements considered infallible.

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma has been considered as the definitive single­ volume summary of Catholic dogmatic theology ever since its original publication in German in 1952. This great work by Ludwig Ott presents a comprehensive yet concise outline of the entire system of Catholic doctrine, laying out its sources in Scripture and Tradition as taught by the Magisterium of the Church. The level of authority behind each doctrinal point is indicated and there are frequent references to the teachings of Fathers, Doctors and numerous Saints of the Church.

In Catholic Academia, it is widely regarded as the list, though I don't know how to prove that without going through each college class's syllibi and listing how often it shows up.

Do you have a recommended rundown of the development of doctrine relating to usury? As a fellow Catholic I've always been curious.

There are people who argue things like, "our understanding of money has changed" and that sufficiently low interest rates (such that they cover just inflation + a reasonable salary for the employees necessary to facilitate the loan) are acceptable now.

However, I am becoming more and more convinced that the Church hasn't officially developed its teaching in this direction at all. I think loaning money on interest is still a sin. It's not a sin to accept a loan under such terms (though should be avoided if possible.) And yes, this does mean that the Vatican Bank is - at the very least - a near occasion of sin to a lot of people. But that shouldn't be surprising, given what we know of Vatican Bank officials.

If you want to learn more in depth, New Polity did a series on "Good Money."

Church Leaders are not very outspoken on this topic these days. I can only speculate as to why, a charitable guess would be that if the average Catholic understood that the entire system on which they base their livelihood on involves sinning, they will either reject the Church's definition of sin or become scrupulous. It's rare for people to take the middle way, that we live in a fallen world but it's not a sin to be taken advantage of.