Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanum laborant qui aedificaverunt eam - "Unless the Lord has built the house, they labored in vain who built it" Psalm 127

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Christ, or Anti-Christ? Art & the Power of Imagination

This Throwback was first published 1 August 2015 on the blog Principium et Finis.


Who do you see in the picture?
     The Incarnation remains among the most astounding of Catholic doctrines.  It's not easy to believe that the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Word,

 . . . though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phillipians 2:6-8)

The Infinite God, St. Paul tells us, willingly took on finite humanity in the Incarnation.  Because we believe this, Catholics have always understood that humble and material things can serve as channels for greater, immaterial things.  The chief examples, aside from the God-Man Jesus Christ Himself, are the Sacraments, which are created things that serve as vehicles of God’s Grace.  We also find the same principle at work, albeit on a less exalted level, in art, music, and other works of the imagination.
    In recent posts about Star Trek [here] and about biblical films such as Noah [here] I have discussed the power of images and other works that appeal to the imagination to mislead and confuse. Such things can also enlighten us, of course, if they are done properly, and deepen our understanding (which is why the Catholic faith has always had such a large audio-visual component).  I recently came across an interesting example of an imaginative work being used in a more positive manner.  Two imaginative works, actually, because it involves a renaissance fresco appearing in a modern work of fiction.
    The book is michael O’Brien’s apocalyptic novel Father Elijah.  I’m thinking in particular of a scene in which Fr. Elijah himself and a friend are looking at a wall painting in the Cathedral of Orvieto:

Elijah went over to another mural.

His eyes were drawn to the central figure of the image, a figure of Christ.  How strange, he thought, to see a representation of the Lord with the figure of Satan whispering in His ear,and his arm penetrating His robes.  Is that Christ’s hand or the devil’s that emerges from the folds of cloth?

It was not a literal representation of a scriptural scene, he concluded; although it might be the artist’s imaginative rendering of the temptation in the desert?  But there was something out of character in the way Christ leaned into Satan’s embrace and listened with such attention.

He stared at it for a long time.  Suddenly, the meaning of the mural became clear, like a scene viewed through lenses revolving into focus.  The blurred shapes of reality drew together into a sharp, piercing landscape of moral disaster.

The figure held in the devil’s embrace was not Christ but the Antichrist.

Elijah understood why Don Matteo had wanted him to see it.  Now he knew why the old friar would not tell him the reason for his request.  Matteo had wanted Elijah to discover the secret of the mural himself, and in the process, to observe the mechanics of perception.


     I immediately knew the painting by it's description, because I had used a picture of it to illustrate a blog post last winter (called, appropriately enough, "'Choice' And The Father Of Lies", here).  The painting creates a vivid picture of Satan's usual modus operandi: evil working in the guise of good.  The striking image gets the message across much more memorably than a simple explanation (hence the old saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words").
     But there's more to it than that.  Notice that the characters looking at the mural above don't at first realize what they're seeing; neither did I, only it took me a lot longer to figure it out than it does Fr. Elijah.  But that's part of what makes the painting so effective: we think we're seeing Jesus, only to realize that we're actually looking at his opposite.  We are not merely seeing a depiction of deception, we are in fact deceived by the artist's work: we experience deception itself, "in the flesh" as it were.  That's a powerful lesson.  That's why, in O'Brien's novel, Don Matteo wanted Fr. Elijah to experience it first-hand.
     Very often our faith is hindered by emotional barriers: those of us who are believers sometimes give in to doubt, even though we've experienced God's presence;  unbelievers often are incapable of accepting any evidence at all because of such barriers.  A well-crafted work of visual or imaginative art can often weaken those barriers by creating a new emotional experience, and so lead to a new or deeper understanding, while bad or disordered art can lead us further into darkness.  What we see, hear, or read can make all the difference.
     





Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Parable of theTrappists and the Icarians

An earlier version of this Worth Revisiting post was first published 13 February 2015 on the blog Principium et Finis. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at theologyisaverb.com and Allison Gingras at reconciledtoyou.com.


Thomas Merton at Gethsemani Abbey
A  piece by Carl Olsen at Catholic World Report (“More on Merton”) brings to mind one of the more interesting and controversial Catholic figures of the Twentieth Century:  Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton.  The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography he published in 1948, is the beautifully written and compelling story of his conversion to Christ and to Catholicism.  He was not without his failings, however, some of them rather serious. Not only that, but toward the end of his life in the mid to late 1960’s he became increasingly enamored of Zen Buddhism; it was not clear that he could still be truly considered a Catholic at the time of his unexpected death in Thailand in 1968.


The Founding    


      Prior to his later turn toward Buddhism, however, most of Merton’s writing was thoroughly Catholic and often inspirational.  One of my favorite pieces, from his 1949 book The Waters of Siloe, is his account of the founding of the monastery in which he was living, Gethsemani Abbey, which had been established in Kentucky by French monks a century earlier.  The tale starts with the departure of the founding monks, in the dead of night in the pouring rain, from their monastery in France; it details their many adventures in getting to, and then across, the Atlantic Ocean, and finally their arrival at their new home in the rolling Kentucky hills.
     I had at one time hoped to write a children's book drawing on Merton’s story (which is itself based on a contemporary account in the monastery’s records).  My own kids liked the idea, but, sadly, the late monk’s  literary trustees did not share our enthusiasm for the project, so it was not be.  Too bad.
     Nonetheless, it’s worth reading Merton’s version of the story.  He has a wonderful way with a narrative, and makes the most of some of the amusing twists in the story, as when the reclusive Trappists lose their luggage in the worldly sprawl of Paris, or when (again in the pouring rain) the “Silent Monks” need to find a way to wake up the Jesuits under whose roof they were planning to spend their first night on their arrival in Kentucky. 


The Parable of the Icarians

Gethsemani Abbey as it looked during
Merton's residence in the 1950's
     What most strikes me in Merton’s story, however, is a little parable which he weaves into the larger narrative.  As it happens, among the other passengers on the ship that carries the Trappists to America  are members of a secular communal group called the Icarians.  Merton doesn’t miss an opportunity to contrast the peace and order of the Trappists, whose little society is founded on Jesus Christ, with the Icarians, who follow the ideas of the socialist utopian Etienne Cabet: the trappists feed the other travelers, including the Icarians, from their mobile kitchen, while the Icarians prohibit their members from taking spiritual sustenance at the monks’ masses; the Trappists “owned all their property in common.  They were, in fact, vowed to the most uncompromising poverty, forbidden to possess anything as individuals,” whereas when the Icarians decide to divide up their wealth one member attempts to make off with all of it and another “wrote a letter of delirious invective against Cabet and then blew out his brains.”  The Trappist superior is shocked when one Icarian, who had fallen overboard, confided that he was prepared to stab himself to death rather than drown if nobody came to save him; later, the monk is bemused to discover that another Icarian, who is asking to join the Trappists, is in fact a married man.
     Merton himself explains the difference between the two groups as follows:

. . . the monks had Christ living and working in them by faith, by charity.  The monks were united by the Holy Spirit in the peace of God, which tames and dominates and sublimates man’s nature and ordains it to the highest possible ends.  But the Icarians were united only by the frail bonds of an “armed neutrality” of insatiable animal appetites.

     Merton’s thesis is a simple one (which I address from a somewhat different angle in my recent  post :"Random Selection Favors Religion, or What Would Darwin Do?"): Jesus Christ is the foundation of all truth, and a society built on Christ will be orderly and flourishing; a society that relies exclusively on human wisdom is doomed to futility and disintegration.  The Icarians (who were actually more successful than most such groups: their last community didn’t disband until 1898, fifty years after they began) are neither the first nor the last example history offers.  Merton saw it himself in his own history, in the contrast between the disorder and unhappiness of his early, worldly, life, and the joy that he found in the Christ-centered world of the monastery (and one hopes he found his way back to the Lord before the final end).  His tale of the Trappists and the Icarians is just one more illustration that only the house built on the Rock (see Matthew 7:25) will stand.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Star Trek, Secularism, and Christian Faith

This Throwback post was first published on the blog Principium et Finis on July 25th 2015

   One of the great entertainment success stories of the past half-century has been the Star Trek television and film franchise.  I've enjoyed watching its various iterations since I was a child, at first because it's great fun, but more recently for another reason as well.  I've discovered that, although most of the action is set several centuries in the future, Star Trek provides a useful window into the world-view of late twentieth and early twenty-first century cultural elites, a world-view spread and reinforced through the popular media.


    
Data talks to Worf about faith
In later versions of Star Trek, for instance, perhaps as a reflection of the way that western opinion makers want to celebrate every culture in the world but their own (which they tend to treat with disdain), Earth seems to be the only planet whose inhabitants have "outgrown" their need for religion; everyone else in the galaxy is still fully engaged with the traditions of their forebears.  The interactions of the (mostly human) main characters with these other beings nicely illustrate how our secular friends view those of us who take religion seriously.
    The episode "Rightful Heir" from the series Star Trek: The Next Generation is a good example. It focuses on the the religious practices and beliefs of the fictional alien race of Klingons, in particular their expectation that Kahless, who had founded their empire 1,000 before, would return to them in the flesh.  A Klingon claiming to be Kahless does indeed make an appearance, and a DNA test confirms his identity.  There are incongruities, however, and he is eventually discovered to be a clone created by Klingon priests.  Nevertheless, desite the disappointment of their hopes and the trickery of their religious leaders, at the end we see most of the Klingons still confidently awaiting the coming of their savior.
    I found one scene at the end of the show to be particularly interesting.  It is a dialogue between two of the regular characters: Data, who is an android (a human-like robot who has, apparently, achieved something like consciousness - this is science fiction, after all), and Worf, the only main character of Klingon parentage. The events surrounding Kahless have raised some questions in Data's mind:

Data: May I ask a question?  In the absence of empirical data, how will you determine whether or not this is the real Kahless?

Worf: It is not an empirical matter, it is a matter of . .  . (pause) . . . faith.

Data: (musing) Faith . . . (gesturing to Klingons kneeling before the empty throne of Kahless) They insisted upon waiting here until they see Kahless again.  Their "faith" appears unaffected by his inability to defeat Gowron. They still believe. (thoughtful pause)  I once had what could be considered a crisis of the spirit.

Worf: You?

Data: Yes. The Starfleet officers who first activated me on Omicron Theta told me I was an android - nothing more than a sophisticated machine with human form. However, I realized that if I was simply a machine, I could never be anything else; I could never grow beyond my programming. I found that difficult to accept. So I chose to believe... that I was a person; that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and subprocessors. It is a belief which I still hold.

Worf : How did you come to your decision?


Data: I made . . . a leap of faith.




 

Two thoughts immediately came to mind when I saw this scene again the other night.  First, this is just how secularists perceive religious faith, either pure intuition, as in Worf's case: feelings based on no "empirical evidence"; or a "leap of faith" in the sense that Data uses the term, in which the leaper simply chooses to believe that what he desires to be true is actually the truth.  
     The second thing that struck me is that neither of these versions of "faith" correspond to the Catholic meaning of the word.  To see the difference, compare the scene above to the following passage from the gospel of Matthew:


And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.  But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.  But immediately he spoke to them, saying, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."  And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water."  He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  (Matthew 14: 25-32)

   Peter does not need to take a “leap of faith” in the sense that Data means it, nor is he relying on intuition.  He not only sees with his own eyes Jesus walking on the water, he actually walks on water himself, before his faith falters and he sinks.  You can’t get much more empirical than that.  When Jesus tells him that his faith is weak, then, he clearly is not talking about believing something with no evidence: he means trusting what you have truly seen and experienced. Christian Faith is not blind faith.

Allessandro Allori's St. Peter Walking On The Water
    St. Peter himself would later write “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), and in fact there is no shortage of reasons, and no lack of evidence, for God and for Christianity.  There are cogent philosophical arguments from St. Thomas Aquinas and others, well-attested miracles, and the witness of countless Christians whose lives were transformed when they put their trust in the promises of Christ.  The evidence is there.  What is lacking is the will to see it for what it is, to trust what we have seen and heard.
    It is important to bear this distinction in mind when discussing faith with those who don't share it, or who have not been well-formed in their faith.  If we accept the Star Trek version of Christian faith we put ourselves in the position of having to defend a position built on fantasy.  The reality, however, is that we do have the Truth, and we really are prepared to give an account of the hope in us. Let's leave the science fiction explanations to the other guys.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Random Selection Favors Religion, or, What Would Darwin Do?

An earlier version of this Worth Revisiting post was first published 6 February 2015 on the blog Principium et Finis. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at theologyisaverb.com and Allison Gingras at reconciledtoyou.com.  


I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Charles Darwin: Prophet of an angry god
     Let me say at the outset that I am not taking issue in this post with the theory of evolution in general, or even with Darwin's specific take on it in particular.  I am interested in a different discussion, which takes as a starting point the curious fact that many people who reject religious belief treat Darwinian evolutionary theory with almost religious awe, and have turned the man himself into something of a god (Darwin Fish, anyone?), or at least a prophet.  The irony is, Darwinian natural selection seems to have "selected" atheists in particular for extinction.
     Let me start at the beginning. Over the past few years, I have engaged in ongoing dialogue with young unbelievers who are enamored of proselytizing atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (whom I refer to as “Cacangelists”, that is, messengers of bad news, an appropriately ugly word).  In the course of these discussions, I came to an interesting realization: in Darwinian terms, atheism is a negative trait.  In strictly materialist terms, that is, based on the clear, straightforward evidence, if we all became atheists, humanity would cease to exist in short order. 
      I soon discovered that I’m not at all the first person to come to this conclusion: the Scilogs site has a report [here] on the work of German researcher Michael Blume, who says that

It is a great irony but evolution appears to discriminate against atheists and favor those with religious beliefs . . . Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century.

Blume’s research shows that not just atheist societies, but unbelieving individuals consistently undermine their own posterity:  

Blume took data from 82 countries measuring frequency of worship against the number of children.  He found that those who worship more than once a week average 2.5 children [2.1 children per woman is the “replacement rate”, the minimum necessary to maintain a population at its current level] while those who never worship only 1.7 – again below replacement rate.  There was also considerable variation in religious groups . . . Those without a religion, however, consistently averaged less than two per woman below the replacement , whereas those with the strongest and most fundamental religious beliefs had the most children.

What would Charles Darwin say?  It would appear that Evolution is an angry and capricious god indeed, as it has clearly selected its most ardent adherents for extinction.



An Endangered Species?
     The curious hostility of the process of evolution to the materialist worldview casts a bright light on a contradiction that lies at the heart of the project of atheist proselytization: even if you believe it, why would you want to convince other people? The Dawkinses of the world will reply, as the Blume post says, “that religions are like viruses of the mind which infect people and impose great costs in terms of money, time and health risks.”  This, it seems to me, actually defies reason:  as I ask my unbelieving interlocutors, is it logical to conclude that a world populated by those who think we are nothing but matter created by meaningless, random natural forces will be a better, kinder place than a world that is the home of people who believe we have been created intentionally by a loving God, and who are convinced that we have been commanded by Him to love one another?  It just doesn’t make sense.
    And not surprisingly, the empirical evidence agrees.  In addition to the demographic data above, anyone who has studied the history of Rome, before and after the Christianization of the Empire, can attest to the humanizing effect of Christianity, and that it was that same Christian Church that civilized the barbarians who eventually overwhelmed the Roman state.  Modern day sociological evidence shows the same thing: religious believers (especially Christians) report higher levels of personal happiness (see here, for instance), and as in the demographic data above, the more devout the believer, the stronger the effect.  Also, as Arthur C. Brooks copiously documents with a wealth of statistical evidence in his book Who Really Cares, believing Christians are much more involved in donating their time and talents for building up their societies, and are much more willing to spare their personal wealth to help others.   The Catholic Church alone has founded and runs thousands of hospitals, schools, and countless other charitable projects around the world; can you think of any founded or run by atheists? I submit that the reasonable view is the one that fits the evidence, not the one that contradicts both the empirical data and common sense.
     A final point involves getting beyond narrow materialist ideas of what constitutes reason and taking a more expansive (and more traditional) view.  Is The Truth about humanity more likely to be something that diminishes humanity, that tears down our societies, makes our lives meaner, and maybe even leads to our annihilation?  Or does it lift us up, does it promote flourishing societies and happy productive people?  Jesus Christ says “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life” (John 14:6): doesn’t the evidence bear him out?


Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Tribute Vice Pays to Itself (Vasectomy Showers, etc.)

An Age That Knows No Shame 

  The celebrated 17th century wit François de La Rochefoucauld once opined, “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue”.  In other words, we lie about what we are doing because we’re wise enough, at least, to be ashamed of it.  What can we say, however, about an age that knows no shame?
   I’m referring here to an article from Britain’s Daily Mail, whose headline blares:
Forget baby showers! Young couples are holding 'vasectomy parties' to celebrate the start of a childless family, and ask guests to name their CAR instead
   While the Daily Mail further tells us that “The cost of having children is deterring a growing number of couples from expanding the family unit”, the comments of the seemingly happily self-sterilized couples in the article suggest other motives:
        Instead of the traditional baby shower, couples also invite friends to 'car showers' where guests help them name their new car.
They also play board games like The Price Is Right, where they talk about what they can buy now that they've saved money by not having kids.
Clearly, it’s not that they don’t have money, they simply would rather spend their cash on toys for themselves than on their own progeny.
   Now, in order to equate one’s child with a car - or not really equate, actually to value one’s own child as less than a car - one must engage in a certain amount of dehumanization.  We can’t simply say that “I prefer playthings to my own sons and daughters”, so we instead we say things like:
        ‘All a baby shower is a party to celebrate that you had sex,' wrote another user [of the blog WereNotHavingABaby.com]. 'That a sperm managed to hit a fertile egg. A vasectomy shower is a party to celebrate soon to be sex.’
   Nobody, including almost certainly the person who first wrote it, really thinks that a baby shower is intended to celebrate “That a sperm managed to hit a fertile egg”.  People have baby showers to celebrate the creation of new life, to welcome a new member of the family, and as a way of sharing  that life with the wider community.  A “vasectomy shower”, likewise, doesn’t celebrate “soon to be sex”, it “celebrates” the decision to render that sex barren and empty, a meaningless self-indulgence. It is an attempt to glorify, or maybe better yet justify, saying “no” to life.
   Not all vasectomy party supporters put the matter quite so crassly, of course; some aim for a more reasonable-sounding tone.  One woman, for instance posted the comment:
I had swallowed the motherhood mandate hook, line, and sinker and I had never given myself the space and time to question whether I really, really want children.
   In some ways this last comment is sadder than the in-your-face defiance the more outrageous sterilization promoters.  She seems to have truly come to believe the current conventional wisdom that what she “really, really wants” should be the paramount thing.  There is no sense  that she owes anything to any children she might otherwise bear, to her family, to her community, or to her God.

Non Serviam!

   We all want what we want, of course: that’s the way of our fallen human nature.  Our wishes and desires are among our strongest motivators. At the same time, healthy societies have always recognized that if they are to flourish, or even just survive, more is required.  Individuals need to see their own fulfillment as tied in with and subordinate to that of their society. There have always been positive incentives (calls to heroism, public acclaim, etc.), and also negative consequences: our modern word “idiot” comes from the Greek ἰδιώτης (“idiotes”), from the adjective meaning “one’s own”.  The idiot was one who rejected the community to make his own way and set his own standards.
Gustav Dore's depiction of Satan cast down from Heaven
   The revelation of Jesus Christ raises the issue to an even higher level.  Christ tells us not merely to find our own fulfillment within the larger community, but that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (
John 15:13) . . . and he backed it up with his own death “for the many”. For the better part of two millennia the central image of Christianity, God’s self-sacrifice out of love for all, has dominated not only the Church but, to a great degree, Western culture itself.  We can see it in the visual arts, and in music, but also in certain cultural expectations.  When we really, really wanted to follow our own desires in defiance of right order, we knew that we were were also defying the Will of God, and turning our backs on Christ’s willing acceptance of death for our sake.  That didn’t always stop us, of course, but often it did.  Even when it didn’t, the knowledge of the standard Christ set for us on the Cross fed and strengthened the voice of Conscience calling us back.
   That history is important, because it means that our current state of shamelessness is of a different order than that of the age of Caligula and Nero.  The Romans of two thousand years ago were rejecting the the human wisdom of their forbears, which was foolish and destructive: one consequence is that the old patrician nobility of Rome, including families that had been prominent for centuries, virtually died out by the end of the first century A.D.  In our case, we are rejecting not mere human wisdom, but Divine teaching and the example of God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, his gift of Himself offered up for us on the Cross.  We are following a different example, that of Satan, into whose mouth the poet John Milton puts the words, Non Serviam!, “I will not serve!”.

Giving The Devil His Due

   We don’t see these exact words come from the Devil’s mouth in the Bible, but they had been associated with him long before Milton composed Paradise Lost because they so accurately sum up the nature of Satan’s rebellion.  And they do in fact come from Sacred Scripture, in the book of Jeremiah, where we see the prophet chastising the wayward people of Judah:
Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord GOD of hosts.  "For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, 'I will not serve.' Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot.  Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:19-21)
Michelangelo's "Jeremiah"
   Since Non Serviam (as it appears in the Latin Vulgate translation) so perfectly captures the attitude that led Lucifer to his fall, these words naturally came to be associated with the Devil.  To take it a little further, if it was “evil and bitter” for God’s chosen people to abandon his ways, surely it is the same for us Christians, who also were planted “as a choice vine, wholly of pure seed.”  The chastisement that inevitably flows from our collective refusal to Christ’s call to self-sacrifice is abundantly clear, if we’re willing to see it.  It is evident in the disintegration of the institution of the family and all the needless misery that follows, we can see it in the dying populations of the formerly Christian countries of Europe and, soon, North America, and in many other social ills. Even worse, it is manifested in the decline of Faith, and the likelihood that many souls will be therefore lost forever.

Principalities and Powers

   Jeremiah’s image of harlotry itself fits perfectly with our present situation.  After all, isn’t our era’s great refusal of our Lord’s call to service precisely about indulging sexual desire without responsibility, or consequences, or any limits that we don’t choose for ourselves? Which brings us back to the vasectomy showers, a celebration of sexual pleasure without self-sacrifice, without true union, without real love.  Non Serviam! And just as Satan looks to ensnare all of us along with him in his apostasy, the public glorification of sexual rebellion in vasectomy parties is intended to break down the walls of shame in order to make the repugnant seem acceptable . . . and, ultimately, good.  
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis (Buenos Aires Herald)
. . . and if you publicly oppose that newly enshrined “good”, or even refrain from
endorsing it with sufficient enthusiasm, there’s hell to pay.  That has been the strategy of the revolutionaries in every battle of the Sexual Revolution.  That is why not so long the cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires (who has since been promoted to a position of some prominence in Rome) said that the push to “redefine” marriage was "a move by the devil, looking to confuse and deceive all children of God" (article here).  The same judgment applies to other innovations, such as the public celebration of sterilization, that seek to undermine traditional sexual morality. The degradation of our moral norms and the dismantling of social institutions that embody them is, quite simply, diabolical.
Vasectomy parties and and the like may strike us as ridiculous, but they’re not funny.  They might be only a small step on the proverbial Highway to Hell, but who wants to go that way?  More than that, the fact that such a thing can be reported with, apparently, no shame attaching to its promoters is a sign of how far we’ve fallen.  After all, despite the carnality of the battlefield, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Whose battle standard do we want to follow?